Squirrel McDonald’s 

It’s another dreary day here in the Midwest. The clear, bright, new windows we had installed don’t make it look any more friendly outside. It’s February… In Illinois… what do I expect?

Although the day is dreary, I do enjoy watching the gray squirrels taking care of business in the front yard. There are many spruce and large trees in my area, which allows for a large population of these furry, funny entertainers.

February is an exciting time in a gray squirrel’s life… It’s MATING SEASON! Woo hoo! Time to frolic, play, tease, fight, love, share, chase, eat and all other forms of craziness!! You can easily identify the sexes without seeing their undercarriages during this time. The female is in the lead, with a dominate male directly behind here, if there are any other following in line, they are young, subordinate males… waiting for their chance.

Males will fight for dominance when there are no females around to chase. You’ll hear the “Chu-chu-chu” noise or see the squirrel stomping its feet and swishing its tail as a form of war dance! To adorable.

**Click here to learn how smart squirrels are**

If you’ve been following me for awhile, you know I have many bird feeders and perch areas to feed the wildlife at work. At my home, not so much. I do have a suet holder and otherwise, I only toss ‘left overs’ out to the wildlife I share my space with. Left overs can vary from bread to nuts to fruit to seeds, nothing I think is dangerous to the wildlife, nor anything I want out there that attracts unwanted wildlife, like skunks or ‘possoms. All approved items get thrown on the front lawn at dawn. The front lawn is devoid of crazy Border Collies and if thrown out at dawn, all trace of food will be gone by mid-day, thus won’t be attracting any nightlife creatures of the stinky variety.

As I know I might catch some flack from feeding the wildlife anything but proper foods… I did consult the ALL KNOWING INTERNET to back or deflate my decision to give my furries bread. Seems there are as many pro’s as con’s out there for feeding any type of wildlife (ducks, birds, squirrels…) bread. In my opinion, and how I try to live my life (mostly)… It’s all about moderation. Going to McDonald’s twice a year isn’t going to kill you, in the same as giving wildlife bread will kill them. I don’t share it that often and they seem to enjoy their Squirrel McDonald’s!

© Ilex ~ Midwestern Plant Girl


House Finch Eye Disease ~ Mycoplasmal conjunctivitis


House Finch eye disease, Mycoplasmal conjunctivitis (MC) was first noticed in 1994 in the New England area. The disease later spread to states along the East Coast, and has now been reported throughout most of eastern North America, as far north as Quebec, Canada, as far south as Florida, and as far west as California.

Birds infected with this disease have swollen, red, runny, or crusty eyes. In extreme cases, the eyes become swollen shut and the bird becomes blind. While infected birds can recover, many die from starvation or predation.

Although infected bird’s symptoms show in the eyes, the disease is primarily a respiratory infection. It is caused by a strain of the MC bacterium, Mycoplasma gallisepticum. The bacterium poses no known health threat to humans.

MC has affected domestic turkeys and chickens for a long time. The disease also inflicts several other wild bird species including, Purple Finch, American Goldfinch, Evening Grosbeak.

There are treatments out there for this disease, however it is illegal to posses a wild bird. The best way to reduce the potential spread of MG and other feeder-bird diseases is to observe the following guidelines:

  • Clean feeders and bird baths every two weeks with a 10 percent bleach solution.
  • Use fresh seed, and keep the ground area around the feeder as clean as possible. During the summer, rake the area to remove accumulated seeds/shells under the feeder. During the winter, shovel fresh snow over the area.
  • Use nonporous plastic, metal, or glass feeders that are easy to clean, and offer ample feeder space to reduce crowding.
  • Keep platform feeders clean and only offer a day’s worth of seed.


© Ilex – Midwestern Plant Girl

Courtship Dance & Serenade – House Finch Style

House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus) breed between March and August. Courtship practices can entail some crazy serenading like in the video below. After the female chooses the perfect, bright red suitor, she builds a nest, which is made of any soft material available. A pair can lay as many as three clutches of eggs in one summer, however they usually can only successfully raise two. The female lays 3 to 6 bluish or greenish-white eggs, with each egg weighing approximately 2.4 g that take about 14 or 15 days to hatch. The female incubates the brood and feeds the naked chicks for five days, then both parents take over feeding.

The nestlings leave the nest when they are 13 to 20 days old. The male continues to feed the fledglings for about two more weeks. (It’s actually quite comical to see the ragged-feathered dad with three youngsters in tow, all screaming FEED ME!!!) The female avoids this nonsense and begins to build a new nest so the cycle can continue…

© Ilex – Midwestern Plant Girl

Grape Leafroller – Desmia funeralis

Desmia funeralis or possibly, Desmia maculalis

A significant white spot on the head is, according to the Covell Field Guide, a characteristic mark of Desmia maculalis. Brian Scholtens informs me that this is not a reliable character and that two species (D. maculalis and D. funeralis) cannot be distinguished in typical dorsal view photos. It would be necessary to see mouth parts at high magnification or examine genitalia to make specific determinations. It is best to consider photos of these species as representing a species group.

Moth Photographers Group

image  image

The caterpillar host plants are evening primrose, grapes and redbud. As their name suggests, as larvae, they roll themselves in leaves and nibble on the inner curl.

The grape leafroller is a minor pest to the wine industry. Severe outbreaks can happen when their natural predators are low. Many times the leafroller attacks after harvest, when the farmers have stopped treating for pests. Unfortunately, the defoliation may cause a reduced crop size next season. 😯

Honestly, had I had this information available to me when I had it on my finger, this post may have ended in a funeralis…


© Ilex – Midwestern Plant Girl

Wile E. Coyote ~ Canis latrans

I am always on duty if I see a loose dog. I have a leash, treats and water in my car. I have been known to run into traffic to save dogs. Don’t try to stop me!

On my way home from work, I was sitting at a particularly long light and staring out into the beautiful prairie. I saw movement below… A dog? Lemmie see a bit closer… Hmmm, nope, that’s a coyote!

Coyotes were infrequent in Illinois for a long time after settlement of the state, but their numbers have increased dramatically during the 1970’s and early 1980’s.

An average home range of the coyote incorporates 2-10 square miles.  Members of packs tend to have smaller home ranges than the “loners”.  Sizes of home ranges are also subjective by the quality of habitat, presence of nearby packs and seasons of the year. This especially applies when coyotes are breeding or rearing pups.

Home ranges are not exclusive; many coyotes may live in the same area.  These groups, referred to as packs, usually contain extended families.  Members of one pack rarely venture into another’s territory. Some coyotes do not belong to packs. These solitary coyotes or ‘loners’ tend to have larger home ranges than pack coyotes and are less respectful of pack boundaries. They sometimes join a pack when one of the members leaves or dies.

Coyotes normally mate in February, however, only the alpha pair in a pack will mate and subordinates will usually help raise the young. Coyotes appear to be monogamous and bonds between alpha pairs have only been broken upon the death of one of the pair. In April, just before the 62 to 65-day gestation period, the female will begin looking for existing dens or dig one herself.

When scientist had analyzed stomach contents, the most common food items were small rodents (42%), fruit (23%), deer (22%), and rabbit (18%). Apparently, the majority of coyotes in this study area do not rely on pets or garbage for their diets.

coyote deaths


© Ilex – Midwestern Plant Girl