Eastern Screech Owl

Common Name(s): Eastern Screech Owl
Latin Name: Megascops asio (recently reclassified from Otus Asio)

Size: Eastern screech owls are one of our smaller sized owls. Only the saw-whet owl is smaller in our area. They can reach sizes between 6-10 inches tall with a wingspan of 19-24 inches. They generally weigh 4-9 oz.
Habitat: The screech owl can be found in any treed habitat including rural and suburban areas.

Eats: Carnivorous in nature eat rodents, small mammals, insects, songbirds and crayfish.
Is Eaten by: The largest predator is the great horned owl.

Cool facts:

  • The eastern screech owl is the smallest of the tufted owls in our area. The ear tufts or horns on the top of the head are not truly the owls’ ears. The tufts are used for communication and camouflage. The ears are actually hidden under the feathers.
  • A cavity nester, the screech enjoys all the nooks and crannies of old apple orchards. They will use nest boxes.
  • The screech owl does not make a screeching noise. Their vocalization is more of a high pitched trill. They also make a high pitched whinny sound.
  • The eastern screech owl can be gray or rusty red in color. They gray phase is more common that the red with only about 1/3 of the population being red. An occasional brown color will be found in our area.
  • Owls can turn their heads about 270 degrees in either direction due to the 14 vertebrae in their necks. This is necessary due to the fact that their eyes are cone shaped to let more light in and are stationary in their heads.
  • An owl’s hearing is exceptional and is a primary hunting tool. One ear is lower on the head than the other to allow for triangulation, which allows the owl to pinpoint their prey more efficiently.

Tips for Walk Leaders:

  • Screech owls are common at Beaver Meadow Nature Center.
  • Being nocturnal they can often be heard during night hikes.

Photo Credits:

Learn More:

Posted by: Paul Fehringer

January 17, 2010 at 8:04 am

Barred Owl

Common Name(s): Barred Owl
Latin Name: Strix varia

Size: Barred owls are one of our medium sized owls. They can reach sizes between 17-20 inches tall with a wingspan of 39-43 inches. They generally weigh 17-37 oz.
Habitat: The barred owl is one of our more reclusive owls and prefers deep woods and wetlands. Dense woods near swampy areas are one of their favorite habitats.

Eats: Carnivorous in nature they have a wide variety of foods that they eat including mice, small rodents, crayfish, frogs, toads, fish, and small mammals.
Is Eaten by: At the top of the food chain, this owl has very few predators.

Cool facts:

  • The barred owl is known as the “who cooks for you” owl due to its distinctive “who cooks for you, who cooks for you all” hooting. Possibly the most vocal of the owls, they produce hoots, screams and barks. They often sound like monkeys while communicating with each other in the woods.
  • Barred owls are most active during the night, but can be seen and heard during the daylight hours on occasion.
  • Barred owls prefer nesting in the cavity of large trees, but will use a cup nest if necessary.
  • Some barred owls have pink plumage on their breast which is believed to be caused by a diet of crayfish.
  • Owls can turn their heads about 270 degrees in either direction due to the 14 vertebrae in their necks. This is necessary due to the fact that their eyes are cone shaped to let more light in and are stationary in their heads.
  • An owls hearing is exceptional and is a primary hunting tool. One ear is lower on the head than the other to allow for triangulation, which allows the owl to pinpoint their prey more efficiently.

Tips for Walk Leaders:

  • Barred owls are common at the Beaver Pond at Beaver Meadow Nature Center. They can be called in during the early evening hours.
  • Watch for barred owls “bathing” and fishing along the edge of the wetlands.

Photo Credits:

Learn More:

Posted by: Paul Fehringer

January 17, 2010 at 7:47 am


Muskrat CollageCommon Name(s): Muskrat
Latin Name: Ondata zibethicus

Size: Muskrats can grow to 47-67cm (18-25 in) in total length, of which about 20-27cm (8-11in) is tail. They usually weigh about 0.8-1.5 kg (1.8-3.3 lb)
Habitat: While the semi-aquatic muskrats prefer standing water such as ponds, lakes, and marshes, they may take up residence in slow-moving streams too. In well-defined ponds with elevated shorelines, these rodents dig out bank dens, a system of tunnels located above the water level but with underwater exits. In marshes, the muskrat will more likely build a house with emergent plants, bearing the resemblance of a modest beaver lodge.

Eats: Mostly roots or basal portions of aquatic plants, occasionally crayfish, mussels, and small frogs and turtles.
Is Eaten by: Primary predators are minks and raccoons, though some muskrats become the meals of foxes, eagles, hawks, snapping turtles, and domestic dogs.

Cool facts:

  • A muskrat’s tail is laterally flattened, a unique trait among North American mammals, and in stark contrast to the other aquatic rodent, the beaver, whose tail is flattened dorsally.
  • The muskrats toes are slightly webbed, and it toes have stiff hairs; this furthers helps in swimming.
  • The dens of muskrats can be as large as of 2m (6ft) in diameter, with walls as thick as 30cm (1ft) and the capacity to keep the inside nearly 20º C (36º F) warmer during the winter. These require constant maintenance, and only last one season.
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  • Muskrats like building others things too: During the spring and summer, they build canals, dug-out paths at the bottom of ponds cleared of mud and vegetation to speed transport from the den to important feeding areas.
  • During the late autumn and winter, construction is centered on push-ups, patches of vegetation forced up through recently frozen, thin ice. As the rest of the water freezes, these spots provide a breathing hole and warm resting area.

Tips for Walk Leaders:

  • Muskrats are common in the sanctuary’s ponds, and they don’t seem to be too scared of people. Look among the emergent plants for a wake of water to see these creatures busy at construction.
  • Even if the muskrats themselves aren’t about, look for their constructions; dens can be seen on Big Pond, and there are frequently entrances to bank dens right on the trails.
  • If you do find a bank den, the canals are sure to be nearby! If it’s sunny, see if you can make these straight routes along the pond bed.
  • Even if you can’t see any sign of their industrial side, you may be able to spot droppings. Muskrats have an odd habit of leaving their round, greenish scat in plain sight. Once you spot it for the first time, you may start noticing it everywhere near the ponds.

Photo Credits


(1) Muskrat by Jeremy Martin
(2) Muskrat Swimming by Tom LeBlanc
(3) Muskrat  by Jenn Schlick
(4) Muskrat House Building by Dave Mellenbruch


Muskrat Den by Dave Mellenbruch

Learn More:

Posted by: Jim Middleton

March 26, 2009 at 12:23 pm

White-tailed Deer

White-tailed Deer Photos by Ruth JohnsonCommon Name: White-tailed Deer
Latin Name: Odocoileus virginianus

Size: Length 4-7 feet; Tail 6-12 inches; Height 3-4 feet
Weight:  Males 100-300 lbs, Females 75-200 lbs

Habitat: can be found just about anywhere, from deep woods, to farm fields, to residential backyards

Eats:  grass and other green plants including soybeans, alfalfa and your backyard hostas and daylilies, they will also eat acorns and nuts in summer and twigs, buds, birdseed and shelled corn in the winter
Is Eaten by: humans; injured or sick deer and fawns may be killed by coyotes or bears

Cool Facts:

  • Newborn fawns have virtually no scent and will lay still all day while their mother is away feeding. Their perfectly camouflaged coloration helps to hide them from predators.
  • Deer have a digestive system very similar to a cow (more than one stomach). This allows them to eat large amounts of food at dusk and dawn and then quickly go back to their “safe” cover areas. During their resting periods during the day or at night, they can “regurgitate” small amounts of the food they consumed earlier and rechew it (like a cow “chewing its cud”).
  • Deer have a thick winter coat which is a grayish-brown. Their winter coat is shed in the spring and replaced by a thinner reddish-brown summer coat.
  • The underside of a deer’s tail is white and when they’re threatened you’ll see them running away with their tail straight up and the white fur flared out.
  • Deer can run up to 37 miles per hour and have the ability to leap over an obstacle (like a fence) up to 8½ feet high. They’re also excellent swimmers.
  • Does and fawns will stay together for most of the year and in separate groups from the bucks.
  • Deer make lots of different noises including snorts, wheezes, grunts, coughs, and bleats. A baby deer looking for its mom sounds a lot like a baby lamb.
  • If food supplies are readily available to keep the deer healthy, does will usually have twin fawns and sometimes even have triplets.

Tips for Walk Leaders:

  • Deer usually follow the same trails and these can be found in the woods most readily by finding deer “poop” which looks a lot like a pile of “Raisinets.”
  • In the fall, look for small trees that have been “rubbed” by the bucks. These will be easy to spot because all the bark will be rubbed off about 2-3 feet up on the trunk of a tree.
  • A deer “bedding area” can sometimes be found in sheltered spots (under cedar trees or a similar protected area). You will usually find the grass matted down in a large oval shape where the deer have laid down.
  • During the rut (breeding) season in the fall, a “scrape” can also be discovered at the edge of a wooded area. Look for a 1-2 square foot area on the ground where all the vegetation has been scraped away, then look above that scrape (about eye level for an adult) for a spot where the tips have been broken off an overhanging branch. The buck scent marks this spot (with urine) and also scent marks the branches with his orbital glands. If a doe passes through the area, she also scent marks this area to let the buck know she’s receptive for breeding.
  • Deer hoof prints vary in size from just a little over an inch for a fawn to 3 inches for a large doe or buck.

Photo Credits:  (all photos by Ruth Johnson)

(1) Doe and Newborn fawn
(2) Fawn hiding in roadside ditch
(3) Mom and fawn in fall woods (already wearing their dark winter coat)
(4) Triplets!
(5) A pretty doe (wearing her summer coat)
(6) A small 8-point buck
(7) A “monster buck” (trail camera pic)
(8) A small deer hoof print (with my fingers for size comparison)
(9) Deer bedding area in winter

Learn More:

  • The White-Tailed Deer – Wisconsin Dept of Natural Resources
  • White-tailed Deer – New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
  • Whitetail Deer Antlers – PA Bucks.com
  • Antlers – Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy
  • Mammals of Minnesota Field Guide by Stan Tekiela
  • A Guide to Animal Tracking and Behavior by Don and Lillian Stokes

Posted by: Ruth Johnson

March 21, 2009 at 6:33 am

Eastern Garter Snake

Eastern Garter SnakeCommon Name(s): Eastern Garter Snake
Latin Name: Thamnophis sirtalis

Size: 47 to 137 cm (18 to 54 in)
Habitat: Nearly all natural habitats in Western New York, and occasionally vacant urban or suburban construction sites.

Eats: Earthworms and smaller amphibians, though they can eat a full grown toads, without effect from their toxic secretions. They will also eat leeches, crayfish, slugs, smaller fish or snakes, and, in the case of larger individuals, occasionally nesting birds or rodents.
Is Eaten By: Bullfrogs, various birds, Snapping Turtles, larger fish and snakes, and numerous mammals, both wild and domestic.

Cool facts:

  • Eastern Garter Snakes are sometimes difficult to identify, as they have a very high degree of color variation. Their main coloration can be black, brown, gray, or olive, and the three stripes on its side may be yellow, brown, bluish, or white. There may also be one stripe running down its midsection and two more along its lower sides, but all stripes may be faint to absent. Checkered patterns are also common as are snakes found with all black scales save for some white on their chins.
  • While these snakes do hibernate from November to late March, they also may emerge from time to time to bask in the sun during warms spells. Some populations may travel great distances to migrate from their winter dens to their summer feeding grounds, while others simply stay put.
  • Garter snakes have few natural defenses, and their primary tool is escape. Their stripes make them particularly difficult to keep track of in underbrush or grass, and they can move remarkably quickly to avoid the clutches of predators.
  • The second line of defense is a malodorous anal musk, which it deploys and smears on its would-be captor.
  • Unlike most snakes (and most reptiles, for that matter) the Female Eastern Garter Snake gives birth to live young who linger around her for the first few days of their lives. Apart from this proximity, however, there is no evidence of any parental care provided to the newborns.
  • Garter Snakes can absorb scents on the air with their tongue, and then draw these to a powerful olfactory organ called the vomeronasal organ, located on the roof of their mouth.
  • Garter Snake Using Vomeronasal Organ

  • Males are very competitive for mates, sometimes forming a writhing ball around a female. At this time, males will occasionally release feminine odors to confuse the other suitors.
  • Despite the fact that this is a common and highly adaptable species—in fact, because of it—ecologists often watch their populations carefully. If the population is suffering, it is a very bad sign for environmental health.

Tips for Walk Leaders:

  • Garter Snake’s camouflage is variable and effective, so don’t think you can just spot one with keen eyes. Be patient and quiet, and use your periphery to spot movement rather than color.
  • Though some snakes will try to bite humans, they acclimate to human contact remarkably quickly.  Despite the presense of a slight toxin on the teeth of these snakes that can sedate small mammals , it is extremely rare for humans to have more than a slightly irritated response to the toxin. The Eastern Garter Snake is truly a harmless snake. Therefore, if you are lucky enough to find one, don’t have any qualms about trying to catch it or allowing small children to hold it: unless you’re afraid of a little bite. Whenever handling wildlife, show care and respect! Don’t harm animals in the act of trying to appreciate them!
  • For any who do feel brave enough to try to tame a Garter, remember that their second line of defense is a rather foul-smelling anal musk. Keep this in your calculation when you decide to hold the snake or give it to another.
  • Garter snakes enjoy hiding under large stones near small streams. These rocks can also be interesting places to see crayfish, salamanders, and decomposers at work. Take care, though; other snakes like these spots as well, and not all are as harmless as the Eastern Garter.

Photo Credits:

(1) Hiss by Darel Heitkamp
(2) Garter Snake With Tongue Out by Jennifer Schlick
(3) Its about Eye Contact! by Tom LeBlanc
(4) Garter Snake by Jennifer Schlick


(1) Hiss! by Jeremy Martin

Learn More:

Posted by Jim Middleton

March 14, 2009 at 6:23 am

Eastern American Toad

Eastern American Toad

Common Name(s): Eastern American Toad
Latin Name: Bufo americanus americanus

Size: 5.1 to 11.1cm (toads of Great Lakes’ islands are known to grow to 15.1 cm).
Habitat: very adaptable, and can be found in forests, fields, prairies, marshes, yards, and even agricultural areas

Eats: insects and their larvae, spiders, snails, slugs, and earthworms
Is Eaten by: Raccoons, hawks, herons, Garter and Hognose Snakes

Cool facts:

  • The tiny, black tadpoles that children collect from ponds in suburban areas are usually American Toads.
  • Though nowhere near as effective as some reptiles, American toads can change their color, shifting to slightly darker or brighter tones to match with their surroundings.
  • Although most American toads grow only to a little over 10 cm, those living on the islands of the great lakes have been found at 15.5 cm. Herpetologists disagree whether this is the result of greater longevity, genetic variation, or other factors. As a result, some would classify these island toads as Bufo americanus alani.
  • Due to their appetite for garden pests, toads are welcome to gardeners and farmers.
  • Like all toads, the American Toad cannot hop, and instead crawls for mobility.
  • Preferring to be active during rainy or humid times, these toads will burrow during the winter or dry spells. To dig, they use their hind feet, slowly backing into the hole they create.
  • To scare aware predators, American toads will rise up on their hind legs and puff out their lungs to make themselves as large and intimidating as possible.
  • In case this behavior is not enough to scare away predators, the toads also have chemical protection as well. The large wart-like growths behind their eyes are called parotial glands. These produce and can excrete a steroid which affects the heart and blood pressure, and is strong enough to kill small mammals who try to ingest the toad.

Tips for Walk Leaders:

  • Toads prefer humid weather. On damp days in spring approaching twilight, listen for high pitched trill going on for nearly thirty seconds.
  • During mating season (late May), toads gather around shallow temporary waters. Keep alert for male calls near flooded fields.
  • If you are walking with children, try having the child act out the toads’ defense strategy. Assign one child the predator, and have the rest be toads. The toads should squat down in the familiar frog/toad position, and the predator can crawl on hands and knees. When the predator gets too near to a toad, tell the children they can, while remaining on all fours, lift themselves up to look as big and scary as possible.

Photo Credit:

(1) American Toad by Jamestown Audubon
(2) FAT toad by Jamestown Audubon
(3) Tiny Toad by Jamestown Audubon
(4) Toad by Jamestown Audubon

Learn More:

Posted by James H. Middleton

March 9, 2009 at 12:02 pm

Gray Catbird

Common Name(s):  Gray Catbird
Latin NameDumetella carolinensis

Size:  8-9 inches length, 9-12 inches wingspan
Habitat:  thicket, wetland edges, preferring areas without many conifers

Eats:  insects, spiders, and fruits
Is Eaten by:  Adults are eaten by raptors such as Cooper’s Hawks, Red-tailed Hawks, and Peregrin Falcons.  Eggs and babies are eaten by snakes, rats, foxes, domestic cats, squirrels, chipmunks, raccoons, Blue Jays, American Crows and Common Grackles.

Cool Facts:

  • Catbirds probably got their name from the mew-like sound that is one of their songs.
  • Catbirds can make over 100 different kinds of sounds.
  • Catbirds are mimics and can learn sounds from their surroundings including the songs of frogs and other birds and mechanical sounds.
  • A Catbird can operate each side of its syrinx (bird vocal organ) independently and make two different sounds at one time.
  • Sometimes, two Catbirds will sing a duet.

Tips for Walk Leaders:

  • You will most often hear a Gray Catbird before you see one.  Learn to recognize some of the songs in his repetoire.  Cornell has a nice recording which you can hear by clicking here.
  • Many young children have not heard the word “thicket” before.  If you hear a Gray Catbird, you can stop the group and tell them that there is a bird called a “Catbird” that lives around here and he loves thickets.  Point to the shrubs in front of you and explain that this is a thicket.  Ask them to describe what they see.  Prompt them with questions:  What kinds of plants do you see here?  Why do you think a Catbird would like such a habitat?
  • See if the children can find the bird making the songs.  If not, pull a photograph from you pack to show them what the Gray Catbird looks like.
  • Tell some of the cool facts from above.

Photo Credits:

(1) Catbird on Branch – by Pat Schleiffer
(2) Catbird in Flight – by Alfred Yan
(3) Mom on Nest – by Audrey Michael
(4) Catbird Nest – from Cornell Lab

Learn More:

Posted by: Jennifer Schlick

March 4, 2009 at 6:06 am

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The Animals of Western New York

Welcome to this site dedicated to learning about the animals of our region!



Contributors to this blog include the naturalists at the

Audubon Center & Sanctuary
Jamestown Audubon Society, Inc.
1600 Riverside Road
Jamestown, NY 14701
Phone: 716.569.2345

  • Jennifer Schlick,
    Program Director
  • Jeff Tome, Senior Naturalist for Programs and Exhibits
  • Sarah Hatfield, Teacher/Naturalist, Animal Care Specialist
  • Hollyann Leach, Teacher/Naturalist


Beaver Meadow Audubon Center
Buffalo Audubon Society, Inc.
1610 Welch Road
North Java, NY 14113
Phone: 800.377.1520

  • Paul Fehringer, Senior Naturalist


These guest naturalists:

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