Source: Grosse Pointe News Online

Down on the Farms

by Brad Lindberg Staff Writer

February 14, 2013

GROSSE POINTE FARMS - A large crowd ignored sub-freezing temperatures to watch a wildlife presentation at this year's Grosse Pointe Farms Winterfest on the Hill.

Taryn Mountain, of the Howell Nature Center, presented Woody, the groundhog, Olive, the Virginia opossum, Xena, the great horned owl and Igor, the turkey vulture.

They are among 60 animals living at the center, which rehabilitates injured animals and provides a haven to those unable to survive in the wild.


Woody the groundhog eat greens, fruit, vegetables and drink very little water, Mountain said.

Woody is female and is at least 15 years old.

She weighs about 20 pounds, is 22 inches long, has coarse, grayish hair and loves peanuts.

“Groundhogs are hibernators,” Mountain said. “In winter, they slow their breathing to about one breath every six minutes, slow heart rate to about one beat every 10 seconds and lower their body temperature to about 40 degrees.”

They sleep until spring.

“Then, they pop out and have a good time,” Mountain said.


“Opossums have a pouch, which makes them marsupials,” Mountain said. “Even though Olive looks like a big rat, these guys are closer related to kangaroos.”

Opossums are immune to snake venom.

“Scientist have found ways to create anti-venom for humans because opossums are immune to the venom,” Mountain said.

When frightened, opossums play dead.

“They'll roll on their back, stick their legs straight out, close their eyes, stick out their tongue, drool and look unappealing,” Mountain said. “I tell kids, next time you're having an argument with your brother or sister, play opossum and there'll just walk away because they won't know what to do.”

Opossums live in the wild about one year, Mountain said. Olive is 2 years old.


Next came a great horned owl named Xena.

“Great horned owls are known as the tigers of the sky, not only because of the pattern of their feathers, but because of their attitude,” Mountain said. “These guys are really tough. That's also why we call her Xena the Warrior Princess.”

Great horned owls steal nests of other birds rather than build their own.

“It's been said if a great horned owl takes over the nest of a bald eagle, the eagle will leave the nest and let the great horned owl have it,” Mountain said.

An owl has 14 neck bones — humans have seven — and can turn its head 270 degrees, three-quarters of a circle.

Owls have large eyes to see better at night.

“If our eyes were (comparatively) as big as owl eyes, our eyes would be about the size of grapefruits on our head,” Mountain said.

Xena is at least 16 years old. She's been at the center since 1997 and can't fly due to a wing injury.

“This time of year is when you'll hear great horned owls the most,” Mountain said. “During February is when great horned owls find their mate and have babies in late February or early March. A lot of times, you'll hear them calling this time of year.”


Lastly came Igor, a turkey vulture with black and brown feathers, red bald head, a scimitar-shaped beak, 5-foot wingspan and a gruesome reputation earned by eating dead animals.

“Even though these guys don't look attractive, they're really useful to have around,” Mountain said. “By eating dead animals, they help clean the environment and cut down on disease.”

Turkey vultures migrate south in winter, but are common in southeast Michigan during warm months.

“You see them in summer circling high in the sky,” Mountain said. “They can smell their food up to a mile in the sky.”