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Critter Information – Guest Blogger Mary Nordeen

The difference between….

Just the other day, someone asked me “What’s the difference between a snowshoe hare and a rabbit?”    I realized I was able to answer automatically because I get that type of question quite often.  What’s the difference between two similar animals?  So many fun little facts separating similar animals.    With that in mind, here’s a few quick facts about three commonly seen critters.

Hares vs Rabbits

We have three “bunnies” in Minnesota, the snowshoe hare, the cottontail rabbit and the white-tailed jackrabbit.  Did you know, despite its name, the jackrabbit is a hare!

Range:    The Chippewa National Forest is home to the snowshoe hare and cottontail rabbit. Snowshoe hares are found in the northern half of the state, cottontails live in the lower three-fourths of the state.  The white-tailed jackrabbit tends toward prairie habitat and is found more to the west of the Forest.

Winter White:  Both snowshoe hares and white-tailed jackrabbits turn white in the winter.  Cottontail rabbit fur remains brown year-round.

Rabbit feet and bunny ears:   Snowshoes hares have…snowshoes!   Big rear feet to stay on top of the snow.  Cottontail rabbits have smaller feet and are just a bit smaller overall.  Jackrabbits are noticeably bigger and have big ears.

Born to run:  Hares are precocial, meaning when they are born, they are fully furred, eyes open, ready to run.  Rabbits are born without fur, eyes closed and stay in the nest for three weeks.

Crows vs Ravens

We get so used to seeing miscellaneous black birds in the trees and along the highways that we don’t often stop to think about what bird we are looking at.  Crows and ravens are in the corvid family—some of the smartest birds in the world.  Get to know them.  They are so interesting!

Snowbirds:   Crows are summer residents in northern Minnesota and migrate south in the winter.  Ravens are year-round residents here.   Crows are found across the United States, including all of Minnesota.   Ravens are found only in north-central and north-eastern Minnesota, and across the western United States.  Both are found on the Chippewa National Forest.

Listen for the difference:  Crows have that “caw caw” classic call.  Ravens have a croak and rattle sound, loud and low.

Size:  Ravens are the size of a red-tailed hawk, much larger than a crow.  A raven’s beak is chunky looking, noticeably bigger than a crow’s beak.

Look at the tail!   Tail feathers on a crow are all the same size. When they fly, the tail feather opens into a fan shape.  Ravens have longer center tail feather, and have a distinct wedge-shape to their tail.


Bald Eagle and Golden Eagle:

The Chippewa National Forest is home to one of the largest breeding populations of bald eagles in the lower 48 United States.  Our staff and visitors see bald eagles every day, throughout the year.  Now and then, we have someone report a golden eagle sighting.  But, how can you tell the difference?  Do golden eagles live on the Forest?

Range:  Golden eagles have a range that stretches across North America, but is year-round mainly in the western states.   Your best chance to see a golden eagle in Minnesota is in the winter!  The MN DNR reports that over 60 birds overwinter in the bluffs of southeastern Minnesota.  Bald eagles in Minnesota show mainly as a summer breeding range in northern Minnesota and a winter breeding range in southern Minnesota.    Bald eagles are seen throughout the year on the Forest, but in much smaller numbers during winter months.

Size: Golden eagles are larger in body size than a bald eagle, but bald eagles have a bigger head.    When flying over, a bald eagles head and talk seem to be proportioned the same.  A golden eagle flying over you seems to have a longer tale and smaller head.

It’s all in the leg:  Golden eagles have feathers on their legs that go all the way to their toes.  Bald eagles have leg feathers that stop above the toes, exposing a yellow leg.

Golden eagles are considered rare sights in the eastern United States, but many people on the Forest will swear they’ve seen golden eagles.  Most likely, what they are seeing is the immature bald eagle.  Eagles do not gain their white head and tail feather until they are four years old.  Immatures are golden brown, and are as large (or larger!) than there parents by July of their first year.  Easily mistaken for goldens, young bald eagles are mottled brown and white under the wing as they fly overhead.   Juvenile golden eagles have white as well, but in more of a pattern on their shoulders and tail feathers.


Mice and Voles and Shrews and Moles

Finally, just for fun….a quick guide to small rodents that might be running around this winter.  Trust me, next time you see a rodent, you’ll find yourself looking at ears, nose and tails!

Mice:  Big ears, long tail, pointed nose

Voles:  Short ears, short tail, small eyes, rounded nose

Shrews:  Tiny, long nose, short tail, no ears, tiny little eyes

Moles:  Big bodied, star-nosed, small eyes, big claws to dig through snow and dirt


Enjoy your explorations out in the winter world!   Pay attention to when you start seeing the seasons change.  Note when the crows come back!  Start a phenology journal with all your sightings!

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