It has been awhile since I’ve penned a post here at Birder’s Lounge, and it is nice to be writing again. Like this Great Blue Heron, I have been waiting patiently – the heron, for a chance at an evening meal, and me, for a chance to share some photos and some thoughts. This heron, BTW, was standing in what had to be frigid water, since it was about 40 degrees that day! I actually thought I saw him shivering…but maybe it was my imagination. Or my empathy.
When I picture cattails, I envision them much like the compact form on the left side of the above photo. The frayed and fluffed cattails that dominate this scene strike me as very curious. I wonder if this cattail fur might be used by birds to line nests? Do these fibers play a role in the cattail’s reproduction? Are the puffballs as soft as they look? Are the cattail foofies food for wildlife?
I did a little research and found that the the cattail “foofies” are called “down,” and have been used much like feather down from waterfowl. There is an article from 1980 in Mother Earth News that gives a fairly in-depth discussion of cattail down, how to collect it, and how to use it. Another use for cattail down is as a fire-starter…which may be why cattail down hasn’t become all the rage for clothing and linens. Apparently, the flammability of cattail down is not worrisome to wildlife. I found a website that lists quite a few wildlife uses for cattail down and even features a photo of a Marsh Wren collecting the cattail down – probably for a nest.
My little foray into cattail research has resulted in a heightened respect for this plant that seems to provide something useful with every part, from roots, leaves, stalks, seeds, pollen, flowers, and down. Not only are the plants important individually, but the dense stands they tend to form provide cover for birds and other wildlife. Focusing on its down, I have only performed a cursory review of cattail use, but have already answered my initial questions: yes, yes, and yes. It does provide liner for bird nests, it does play a role in reproduction (seeds), and it is indeed soft. I don’t think the down is actually consumed as food by wildlife though.
Speaking of wildlife food, I saw several horse-apples (fruit of the Osage Orange tree) wedged into tree branches like the one pictured above. The puzzling thing is that I don’t believe these trees are Osage Orange trees. I can see where a fruit might fall and land “just so” among the branches. However, the several examples I saw looked like they were actually wedged or stuffed into place. I can’t imagine the squirrel big enough to accomplish a feat like this…but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen. Or could it be another animal? Whether the horse-apples simply fell and wedged themselves or not, I’m betting that they make a convenient winter food source for squirrels. Or the mysterious critter who may have put them “in the fridge” in the first place.
I’ll close with a picture of a sparrow (Song Sparrow?), simply because I am always so happy to spot these little birds when they easily fade into the landscape with their feathered camouflage.