Q: Seeing my lawns dug up and wonder if there is a proliferation of moles. Don’t remember seeing so much activity before. And what animal preys on them?
-- Mary, Dalton
A: Moles are members of a diverse group of burrowing mammals, have tiny eyes and, as a family, most are practically blind, having eyes modified by natural selection differently than those of surface-living species.
The eastern mole, most likely the species beneath your property (for the most part), can probably see light, but little more I would imagine. Living most of the time underground it depends on its other senses.
Among things moles have most in common with others in their order Insectivora, is their voracious appetites for insects. Their diet also consists of other invertebrates (including earthworms), and they sometimes consume small vertebrates, such as salamanders.
Do they live underground because they are diggers or they are diggers because they live underground? I cannot answer that, but diggers they are and can tunnel about 10 to 20 feet an hour, more in wet weather. If they didn’t make the ugly piles when surfacing, we might never know they are neighbors.
As for animals that prey upon them, there are a number, including humans (mostly with traps and dangerous poisons), weasels, shrews, foxes, coyotes, dogs, cats, owls, and even snakes. Those are the vertebrates; invertebrate parasites, like fleas, lice and tapeworms, and roundworms cause them problems, even death.
Sometimes vole and mole evidence is confusing, especially following the spring thaw, when runways or piles of soil become visible. Remember surface, or visible signs below matted grass, of runways indicate the plant-eating voles while piles of soil indicate the insect-eating moles. And although more unsightly, I would prefer the insectivores busily removing grubs from my lawn and gardens, rather than the vegetarians, removing my lawns and gardens.
Q: We know that red-wing blackbirds are marsh birds found in wet places, but the other day there was a male red-wing at our feeders, how is this? We do not live near water.
-- Thomas, Pittsfield
A: True, red-wing blackbirds nest most commonly in cattail marshes and along waterways and wet places, but that does not say they never venture elsewhere.
When not nesting, they are often found in very large flocks, and in winter change their insect diet to plants, gleaning left over seeds and grains in fields and pastures, and farther south, a regular visitor at wild bird feeders, feed lots and farm yards.
In the south, where they winter by the (many) thousands, even millions, being one of the most numerous bird species in North America, they cause large-scale damage to crops, often opening husks of developing corn, ripening sunflowers, and damaging rice paddies. And because of this, are controlled often by inhumane methods like using wetting agents, poisons, trapping -- together, a major cause of adult mortality.
Again this year, I am interested in the first arrival of ruby-throated hummingbirds. Email Naturewatch with number, location, and date. If you can determine if male, also include that information.
Questions and comments for Thom Smith: Email Naturewatch@live.com