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Blog Nature

Red-shouldered, Stinkhorn, and Mistletoe

Every now and then one of our resident red-shouldered hawks displays its complete lack of concern for we humans here at the museum. The red-shoulder in these photos was perched perhaps thirty feet from the walkway in the wooded swamp on the north side of our outdoor loop trail.

This past week I noticed two of our adult red-shoulders performing courtship flight maneuvers and even gathering nesting material. One hawk was picking apart a squirrel’s nest and flew off towards the woods behind the red wolf enclosure with a few select twigs in its beak. The twigs were presumably to add to its own nest back up in the woods among the evergreens.

The hunting and courting begins.

Red shouldered hawk
Adult red-shouldered hawk showing no fear.

There’s a hay-bale maze up where the hawks sometimes nest, near the train tunnel. If left in place, the bales tend to sprout various plants and fungi from seeds or spores mixed in with the hay. Rangers Martha and Brooke discovered a small group of stinkhorns next to the maze. They look to me like Ravenel’s stinkhorn (Phallus ravenelii).

The fruiting stalk rises from an egg-shaped structure and has at its tip a fetid smelling spore mass that attracts certain flies to disperse the spores.

Pinkish egg of stinkhorn.
Pinkish egg of stinkhorn.
Stalk emerging from "egg."
Stalk emerging from “egg.”
Stalk with spore mass.
Stalk with spore mass.
Spent stalk.
Spent stalk.

The mushroom was named after South Carolina mycologist and botanist Henry William Ravenel and certain of its physical characteristics.

There are several known mistletoe colonies on our 84-acre campus. Yesterday I discovered a young mistletoe in Explore the Wild, the first I’d seen in that area. It’s on the branch of a river birch on the north side of the wetlands.

Mistletoe in river birch along wetlands shore.
Mistletoe in river birch along wetlands shore.

How did the mistletoe get there? The hemiparasitic plant (parasitic with photosynthetic capabilities) was no doubt planted there by a bird. Birds eat the white berries of the plant and, as birds tend to do, they fly off to other locations during their daily routines. The seeds of the berries pass through the bird and are deposited on branches of trees in their feces.

Another method of seed dispersal is by beak. The seeds are sticky by nature. After gorging on the mistletoe berries, the bird may attempt to rub off the sticky goo from its beak onto a branch, a frequent behavior of birds, depositing the seeds in that manner.

However they get there, the seeds stick to the tree branch and soon send out haustoria, root-like structures, into the tree branch in order to draw water and nutrients from the tree.

Closer shot of mistletoe
Closer shot of mistletoe