Welcome to the "Bird of the Month" and "Plant of the Month" page. Watch for a different one each month with a bit of information about them. Then, head out to Bremer to spot them!

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April Plant of the Month: Dicentra cucullaria (Dutchman's breeches or Dutchman's britches) is, according to Wikipedia, a perennial herbaceous plant, native to rich woods of eastern North America, with a disjunct population in the Columbia River Basin.
The common name Dutchman's breeches derives from their white flowers that look like white breeches.
Height is 15-40 cm. Root is a cluster of small pink to white teardrop-shaped bulblets. Leaves are 10-36 cm long and 4-18 cm broad, with a petiole up to 15 cm long; they are trifoliate, with finely divided leaflets.
Flowers are white, 1-2 cm long, and are born in spring on flower stalks 12-25 cm long.
Dutchman's breeches is one of many plants whose seeds are spread by ants, a process called myrmecochory. The seeds have a fleshy organ called an elaiosome that attracts ants. The ants take the seeds to their nest, where they eat the elaiosomes, and put the seeds in their nest debris, where they are protected until they germinate. They also get the added bonus of growing in a medium made richer by the ant nest debris.
The western populations have sometimes been separated as Dicentra occidentalis on the basis of often somewhat coarser growth, but do not differ from many eastern plants in the Appalachians.
General Culture:
Grow in average, medium moisture, well-drained soil in part shade to full shade. Prefers rich, moist, humusy soils in part shade. Intolerant of wet soils in winter. This is a spring ephemeral which usually disappears from the garden by early summer (dry soils tend to hasten this process).
Medical uses:
Native Americans and early white practitioners considered this plant useful for syphilis, skin conditions and as a blood purifier. Dutchman's breeches contains several alkaloids that may have effects on the brain and heart.
However, D. cucullaria may be toxic and causes contact dermatitis in some people.
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April Bird of the Month: Ruby-Throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris)
Hummingbirds are one of our most beloved and entertaining birds and the diminutive Ruby-throated Hummingbird is the only one that breeds east of the Mississippi.
Size: 3”-4” in length. Weight: Less than ½ oz; females are a bit heftier than males.
Appearance: Both male and female are iridescent green on their backs and wings. Male breast and belly is dusky, female is dusky whitish from her throat down through her belly. The male, of course, sports the brilliant red throat gorget. Under certain lighting conditions, the gorget will appear black or orange.
Summer Range: All of the eastern US from the Gulf Coast northward into central Canada and conforms generally to the range of the eastern deciduous & mixed forests. It may be found in gardens & parks within that range.
Winter range: Central America; some hummers winter along the Gulf Coast of the US. Migration involves a non-stop, 18-20 hour flight across the Gulf of Mexico. Some may use the land bridge through Mexico.
Breeding & Nesting: Males return first and establish a territory which includes a good, reliable food source. Females return a few weeks later and establish a nesting territory within a male’s territory.
Female alone selects a nest site, builds the nest, defends her territory, incubates the eggs, and cares for the hatchlings. The nest is built near the tip of a downsloping tree branch at least 10 feet up. They might also use chain links, extension cords, etc.
Nest Materials & appearance: Thistle or dandelion down held together by spider silk or pine resin, the 2 inch nest stands about 1 inch high. The outside is decorated with lichen & moss – possibly a camoflauge measure. The base is firm and stiff but the sides expand to accommodate growing chicks. It takes 6 to 10 days to build.
Clutch Size: 1-3 pea sized white eggs.
Incubation: 12-14 days; Nestling Period: 18-22 days
Food: Tiny insects and spiders; flower nectar from red or orange tubular shaped flowers (trumpet creeper, cardinal flower, honeysuckle, jewelweed, e.g.) & sap.
Hummer Predators: Frogs, praying mantises, cats, dragonflies, some songbirds.
Fun Facts: Precision fliers with the ability to fly full out and stop in an instant. These are the only birds that can fly backwards.
Hummers beat their wings 53 times/second.
The oldest known Ruby-throat was 9 years and 1 month old.
They are extremely pugnacious.
Their curiosity will lead them to investigate anything that might be a food source such as a red article of clothing (even if it is being worn!)
They DO NOT migrate by hitching a ride on geese.
In our area, it is not too early to set up a feeder by mid-April.
Hummer Food: Mix 1 cup sugar with 4 cups boiling water. Let cool, fill feeder, refrigerate the remainder until needed. DO NOT ADD RED FOOD COLORING! Nectar is clear and the food coloring might be harmful to the birds. Red on the feeder or the feeder being placed near red flowers is sufficient to attract them. Be sure to change out the solution (and thoroughly clean the feeder) every few days.
Check back later in the summer for our Hummingbird Festival announcement!
Interested in a special video about Hummingbirds? Watch "Hummingbirds: Magic in the Air" Click here.

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The Pale Corydalis (Corydalis flavula) is the March Plant of the Month at Bremer Sanctuary.

It was selected by Restoration Chairman Ken Schaal, with a nudge from Henry Eilers, not because of its winter "dress", but because it will soon be appearing on some of the hillsides in the woods in the northwest portion of the Sanctuary, north of the Twin Oaks trail and then west.

Don Kurz, in his excellent Illinois Wildflowers book, describes the plant as "A delicate, low growing plant, much branched, up to 10" tall. The leaves are green, fern-like, alternate, the lower most on long stalks, the uppermost on short or no stalks. There are several yellow flowers clustered at the end of a stalk, with each flower less than 1/2" long. There are 4 petals, one of them protruding at the base into a spur, the inner petals each with a toothed ridge down its back."

The plant blooms from late winter into early spring. The photo below shows the flower in more detail.

Over the next few months we will feature a flower in bloom or one that will soon be blooming. The trails at Bremer are still a bit muddy, but will soon be ready for exploration. Be sure to bring your camera. It may be too difficult to photograph birds, but flowers and interesting plants are in great abundance.

We hope you enjoy this feature and will look for the featured plants and birds.

Photo above courtesy of Robert H. Mohlenbrock @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / USDA SCS. 1989. Midwest wetland flora: Field office illustrated guide to plant species. Midwest National Technical Center, Lincoln.
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The March Bird of the Month: Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)

This year-round resident of Bremer Sanctuary’s shrubby forest edges and pond-side grasses is one of the most widespread birds in North America. Although similar in appearance across its range, there is much regional variation in color intensity and streaking, as well as in overall size of bird (5 – 7 inches) and bill length and thickness. Ornithologists recognize 24 subspecies from Nova Scotia to the Aleutians and into central Mexico.

In general Song Sparrows are stocky sparrows with cone-shaped seed-cracking bills. They also eat insects and fruits, however. They are rusty brown to dark brown with streaked backs, flanks and breast. Streaks often concentrate into a central spot on the breast. Underparts are white although birds of certain locations may show grayish, buff, or brownish chests and/or flanks. Head is streaked with a pale eyebrow, darker eyeline and dark moustachial stripe bordering a gray to gray-brown cheek. All populations have a pale sub-moustachial stripe above a dark malar stripe. The throat is pale. The bill ranges from dark to horn colored, legs and feet are pale yellowish brown. Tail is long and slightly rounded. Males and females look alike (monomorphic).

Nest: bulky cup of leaves, bark strips, weeds. It is lined with fine grass, rootlets and hair. Nest is placed on the ground in sedges, grasses, or shrubs or low in a small bush.

Eggs: 3-6 glossy, pale green or blue, speckled or blotched with reddish brown.

Incubation: 10-14 days by female alone. Young fledge in 7-14 days. Both parents feed young. As many as 3 broods raised in a season.

Parasitized by Cowbirds.

Migration: Populations may be migratory or resident. Wintering populations in the US may include migratory Song Sparrows from the northern part of the breeding range (Northern Canada).

Voice: Variable. Usually 2-4 clear whistled notes on the same pitch followed by a trill (which may be buzzy) and short notes. Some birds sing all year and territorial birds might sing into the night. Females occasionally sing.

Conservation: Subject to habitat loss and have been extirpated in coastal California marshes where draining has occurred. In surburban yards, Song Sparrows are subject to predation by feral and domestic cats.

For a video of the Song Sparrow singing, go to this youtube site.

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Lespedeza capitata, the Round-Headed Bush Clover, is Bremer Restoration Chairman Ken Schaal's pick for February Plant-of-the-Month at the Sanctuary.

A member of the pea family, it grows to 5' high and the flowers are creamy white with a reddish to purplish spot at the base.

Don Kurz, in his wonderful "Illinois Wildflowers" book, adds that the flowers bloom from July to October and the plant was widely used by Native Americans. He notes that "The Comanche used the leaves to make a tea." The Omahas and Poncas used it to treat pain associated with nerves and rheumatism.

Furthermore, "The leaves and seeds are eaten by wild turkey. The seeds are eaten by songbirds, game birds and other wildlife. This plant provides nutritious, high-protein forage for livestock."

The now brown stems are still visible in the unburned portions of the Bremer prairie.

Enjoy walking these areas in the winter to discover the structure of plants that are now not obscured by leaves.

For more information about this native flower click here.

See photo below of the Round-Headed Bush Clover in the summer time.
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February's Bird of the Month: American Crow (Corvus brachyrynchos)
For this month's featured bird, Bremer's most hard working birder, Vicki Hedrick, chose the common, American Crow, a highly visible member of the corvid family (which includes ravens, jays, magpies and the Clark’s Nutcracker) and which is widespread across North America.  Crows nesting in Canada move into the US during winter.  Crows are omnivores eating everything from seeds and fruits to small animals (including nestlings and eggs of other birds), invertebrates, garbage, dog food, and carrion.  Despite their large bills, crows must wait for something else to tear open a carcass.  Foods such as clams and nuts are opened by dropping from the air or from a high perch. 

Crows are birds of open areas with scattered trees.  Nests are built by both adults in the crotch of a tree near the trunk or on a horizontal branch.  Among some crow populations, young from previous years may help tend and protect the nest (“cooperative breeding”).  Although crows are able to breed by two years old, these helpers delay establishing their own territory and breeding for several more years. Clutches range from 3-9 eggs (although 4-5 is average).  Eggs are bluish-green to olive green with brown or gray spotting at the large end. The female incubates for 16-18 days.  During this time she will be fed by her partner and/or nest helpers. Nestlings fledge in 20-40 days. 

These highly social birds form winter roosts that can number in the thousands.  In the 1950’s, crows began to move into urban areas and such large roosts can be a nuisance for humans. The birds are noted for their intelligence and have been observed shaping twigs, bending wire, and using cups for food procurement.  Crows can learn to recognize humans they see on a regular basis even when several months have elapsed. According to Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s “All About Birds”, the oldest recorded wild American Crow was 16 years old and a captive crow died at age 59.  (In the US, Crows are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, therefore it is unlawful to keep one as a pet.)

The American Crow was the species most impacted by West Nile Virus and numerous breeding colonies were reduced by the virus.  Researchers studying crows noted disruption of crow society and breeding as a result of the virus.  In cases where both adults died, surviving young were adopted by neighboring surviving adults, among other results.  Cornell’s Kevin McGowan noted a “haunted house” response in his study colonies.  Breeding territories left vacant due to the death of the owners were avoided by surviving crows.  Despite this, American Crow populations have been increasing.

For more information on this interesting bird and for links to various studies, visit  All About Birds. A 10-minute video from TED.com focuses on how intelligent these birds are. Here's another video that should teach you to never mess with a crow.
To hear recorded crow calls,
click here.

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January Plant:
Wild Senna

Some of the most interesting parts of a plant aren't visible until the fall and winter.
Wild Senna is a perennial that can be seen towering above some of Bremer's prairie. A single stem often grows to 6' with large, alternate leaves.
The flowers are a yellow-greenish color about 1" across with five narrow yellow petals often curled and 10 brownish-red stamens.
A photo of the plant in bloom is on page 116 of Illinois Wildflowers by Don Kurz. We've borrowed some of the text he used in describing this plant.
He adds that "The Mesquakies ate the seeds, softened by soaking, as a mucilaginous medicine for sore throat. The Cherokees used the bruised root moistened with water for dressing sores. They also used the root in a tea to cure fevers and as a laxative."
The photo was taken by Ken Schaal who is in charge of restoration at Bremer.
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January Bird:
Red-Breasted Nuthatch
This diminutive bird is widespread across the boreal forests of Canada into Alaska, across to New England and Nova Scotia, south along the Appalachian chain, and through our western mountains as far south as New Mexico and Arizona. Unlike our resident (and larger) White-breasted Nuthatch, the Red-breasted Nuthatch has a preference for coniferous forests with a strong fir and spruce component. In the northeastern U.S., however, it may be found in deciduous woods. Insects and conifer seeds comprise its diet.
During winter, the Red-breasted Nuthatch is resident in much of its breeding territory, but a shortage of seed will cause it to ‘irrupt’ southward into uncharacteristic habitat including the Gulf coast of Louisiana and the southwest deserts. During the breeding season, it will excavate its own nest cavity but since it does not have the strong, chisel-like bill of a woodpecker, it requires dead or dying conifers softened by decay.
The Red-breasted Nuthatch exhibits behaviors similar to our more familiar and resident White-breasted Nuthatch. It will walk up and down tree trunks, around branches searching for insects under bark and can be observed hanging from pine cones extracting seeds.
Easily distinguished from the White-breasted Nuthatch, the bird is blue-gray above with a black crown and eyestripe. The eyestripe is bordered above by a white supercilium (eyebrow). Below the eyestripe (which continues back to the bird’s shoulder), is a wide white strip. The underparts are red in the male but paler in the female. The bird looks almost tail-less as the tail is very short and squared.
As you walk through Bremer’s woods this winter, listen for its tin-horn ‘yank-yank’ call as it forages through the tree tops with other nuthatches, chickadees, and titmice. If you provide peanuts, peanut butter, suet, and/or sunflower seeds, you might be fortunate enough to attract one of these little birds to your feeders!
This photo is from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology posted by aka heehaw.