English Sparrow

            Photo Credit –

                It doesn’t matter if one lives in the country or the city, all of our readers should be familiar with the English Sparrow, Passer domesticus. Another common name is House Sparrow.

                Generally considered a pest or nuisance, this sparrow is one of the most commonly encountered birds in North America. Not a naturally occurring species in America the English sparrow was introduced in the 1850’s. Reported reasons for these releases vary but some listed are for insect control, or just to have a bird more familiar to European immigrants. If insect control was a reason it is doubtful the program was very successful because although these sparrows eat some insects the majority of their diet consist of seeds and grains.

                Shown here is the male with his distinctive black throat and gray/brown head crest. Juveniles and females are mostly brown and ten and can be difficult to distinguish from other sparrow species.

                English sparrows prefer to build nest inside some object. This can include holes in banks or cliffs, hollow trees, behind loose bark, or more commonly in eves of houses and outbuildings and nesting boxes placed for other species. Usually there are from four to five eggs in a clutch and these birds may raise two to four broods per year.  Eggs hatch in eleven to fourteen days and the young are ready to leave the nest in around two weeks.

                Not only is the English sparrow considered a pest due to eating farm grains and their nesting habits, but their huge numbers have displaced many of our more desirable native songbirds.

                In old England sparrows were considered a delicacy and nesting pots were hung so as to harvest young birds for food. Seems like it would take several though as their size is much smaller than a Cornish hen!

By Jack Glisson

Published in The Ballard County Weekly 01/07/2015



Ring-billed Gull


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                The Ring-billed Gull, scientific name Larus delawarensis, is a common site in all parts of Western Kentucky throughout winter. Although we are officially listed on their migratory route large numbers seem to winter here for the abundant food supply offered by the Ohio, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Cumberland Rivers. Literally thousands of these and other gulls can be seen in winter below the dams in Marshall and Livingston Counties.  Other gulls are present but the most common here is the ring-bill, easily identified by a yellow bill with a black ring near the tip. Older birds have a pure white body with gray on their back and sides whereas younger birds still have some gray plumage present on their breast.

                Nesting in the Northern United States and Canada the ring-bill raises only one brood per year consisting of two to four young. Sometimes two or more females will lay in the same nest so there may be five to seven young.

                The primary food source of these gulls is small fish. They will also take a variety of insects and are opportunistic feeders on human garbage when it presents itself. This is why they are commonly seen in black top parking lots around grocery stores and shopping malls. They are just waiting for someone to drop a French fry or potato chip and it will be gone in a flash! Although open dumps are becoming a thing of the past, when located large numbers of ring-bills may be present.

                At a time when many animals are getting fewer in numbers due to larger human populations the ring-billed gull has adapted well and seems to prefer being around humans. I am sure this is because we are supplying them with easy pickings with scraps of food and the churning up of bait fish around hydroelectric dams.

by Jack Glisson

Published in The Ballard County Weekly 01/14/2015



North American Beaver


 Photo Credit –

                I have noticed in the brief warm spells that have melted some ice, some signs that beavers have been quiet active.

                The North American Beaver, Castor Canadensis, is common in West Kentucky. They are rarely seen however since they are mostly nocturnal, or active at night. What is seen is their handiwork. Beavers are rodents, which mean their upper and lower incisors grow constantly and have to be worn down by gnawing. And gnaw they do! A beaver can fell a tree eight to ten inches in diameter in no time at all. Some smaller saplings are bitten off with one or two bites from those long incisors.

                The beaver will eat the inner bark from the smaller logs and branches and then use what is left to construct dams. These dams bay be up to four feet tall and 50 feet wide. Once the water has backed up to form a pond for protection the beaver may build a lodge as shown above to live and raise young in. In this area though many times they just burrow up into the mud bank and make their dens there. This depends somewhat on the lay of the land and the availability of mud banks with drop offs. Other sticks are jammed into mud at the bottom of the pond and used for food in winter when the pond is frozen over. The beaver can retrieve these to eat at leisure in their den and never be exposed above the ice to predators. They are excellent swimmers and can stay submerged for up to fifteen minutes.

                Bark and twigs is not the only food that beavers consume. They will also feed on tubers from water lilies, cattails, and if available seem to have a fondness for apples!

                Mostly monogamous beavers mate for life but may find another mate if one is lost. They raise one litter a year producing from one to four kits.

                The life span of a beaver can be up to twenty four years and since they have indeterminate growth, (grow continuously through their life), can attain weights of over fifty pounds.

                In the past beavers have been trapped extensively for their fur. Not many folks pursue trapping as a viable income these days so automobiles are their biggest enemy. That and of course when they dam and flood areas where they are not wanted the easiest way to deter them is to call in a trapper and have the family removed, If the dam is tore out the beavers will usually just rebuild it overnight!

                When trapping was popular many trappers lived off beaver meat. Some American Indian tribes considered it a delicacy. It is a dark rather rich flavored meat. And no, it doesn’t taste like chicken - it taste similar to beef!

by Jack Glisson

Published in The Ballard County Weekly 01/21/2015


Deciduous Holly


Photo Credit –

                After doing the column on the American Holly just before Christmas, I decided to write this week on one that occurs naturally and is common in Western Kentucky.

                The Deciduous Holly, scientific name Ilex decidua, derives the first part of this common name because it is a deciduous tree. This means that it drops it leaves in the fall like most of our area trees. The latter part of this name just probably refers to the red berries that resemble those of the American holly. Other common names for this tree are Possumhaw, Swamp Holly, and Meadow Holly.

                A rather small tree the deciduous holly grows only from fifteen to thirty feet tall. Sometimes they may grow in clusters. Covered with small green leaves the berries often go un noticed until the leaves turn yellow and then drop in late fall. These red berries are eaten by a variety of songbirds and small mammals.

                These trees are common for landscape and yard plants due to their small size and hardiness in this zone. The light colored smooth gray bark and the fact that the showy red berries tend to remain attached through winter makes them attractive as border and edging plants.

                Although propagated by seeds, these may take years to sprout. It is best to look for nursery stock or at the very least commercially prepared seeds that have undergone specific temperature regimens prior to attempting germination. Many of the local yard trees just happened to sprout and grow in useful areas.

                With any luck at all, maybe our local trees won’t see much more of this snow cover as pictured for the remainder of this year!


by Jack Glisson

Published in The Ballard County Weekly 01/28/2015