As in humans, motherhood is a primal force in most animals. This week we present mothers* with their offspring at national wildlife refuges.
[*– We are quite certain, but not 100 percent certain, all adults shown here are female.]
Western grebe mothers, and occasionally fathers, regularly carry young on their backs. More about western grebes from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
Female white-tailed deer, called does, help protect fawns from such predators as bobcats, mountain lions and coyotes. Fawns have white spots that enable them to blend in with the forest. More about white-tailed deer from National Geographic.
Female Hawaiian monk seals nurse their pups for five or six weeks. Seal milk is very rich, allowing pups to gain weight rapidly. The mother loses a lot of weight while nursing. More about Hawaiian monk seals from Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge.
Female Kodiak brown bears, called sows, usually have two cubs in their first litter and up to four cubs in subsequent litters. Typically, cubs remain with their mothers until they are two or three years old. In spring, mothers usually move their cubs from the den to areas where they can feed on carrion or roots and other vegetation. In summer, mothers take their cubs to fish in salmon streams. More about Kodiak brown bears.
For the first few weeks of its life, a condor chick is helpless. Luckily for the chick, it has two parents to take turns feeding it. Condor chicks depend on the parents for more than 12 months. Condors are slow to reproduce because females lay only one egg per nesting attempt, because they don’t nest every year, and because young take six to eight years to reach maturity. Slow reproduction is one reason this endangered species’ recovery has been slow. More about California condors from the San Diego Zoo.
Before and after hatching, a female alligator is highly protective of her young. After laying 20 to 50 white, goose-egg-sized eggs, she covers them with vegetation to keep them warm. During the 65-day incubation period, she stays with the eggs to protect them from intruders. When the young begin to hatch, they emit a high-pitched croaking noise, and she quickly digs them out. She stays with the young for the first year of their lives. More about American alligators.
Female Florida panthers have up to three kittens per litter. The kittens are blind and have spotted coats and blue eyes. In about two to three weeks, their eyes open and they begin to walk. The kittens stay in or near the den for about two months until they are weaned. Then they start eating meat. The spots on their coats begin to fade after four to six months. They leave their mother when they are about a year and a half old. Once they leave their mother, they establish their own territory. More about Florida panthers from NatureWorks.
Female groundhogs have precious little time with their young. Adult females give birth to two to six babies – called kits or cubs. Blind and hairless at birth, the kits mature in about three months. At that point, typically, they leave their mother to dig their own homes. More about groundhogs from Live Science.
Wood ducks start life abruptly. When ducklings hatch, they are alert and have a full coat of down. A day after hatching, ducklings jump out of the nest, sometimes from heights of more than 50 feet. Then they typically join an adult bird on the water. Often, they are raised by a female other than their mother. More about wood ducks.
After a nine-month pregnancy, female bison give birth to one calf – away from the herd in a sheltered area. Mothers protect calves from danger without the help of males. The calves are orange-red in color and sometimes are called “red dogs.” After a few months, their hair starts to change to dark brown. Spring is a good time to see bison calves at Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge. More about bison from the Department of the Interior.
Lynx kittens stay with their mother for the first year while they learn to hunt. More about Canada lynx from Defenders of Wildlife.