Reindeer: Yuki the Reindeer from the Mountain West Animal Hospital. Courtesy & Copyright Mary Heers, Photographer
Yuki the Reindeer from the Mountain West Animal Hospital
Courtesy & Copyright Mary Heers, Photographer

Mary with Bluebell the Reindeer from the Rockin Reindeer Ranch at the Ogden City Christmas Square. Copyright Mary Heers Mary with Bluebell the Reindeer
from the
Rockin Reindeer Ranch
Ogden City Christmas Square
Copyright Mary Heers

I first time I came face to face with a living, breathing reindeer was a few weeks ago at the Reindeer Express hosted by Utah State University vet students. Two vets from the Mt. West Animal Hospital near Provo had brought two of their reindeer with them to Cache Valley and were standing by to answer our questions.

The first thing I learned was that both male and female reindeer grow a new set of antlers every year. The antlers are solid bone and can weigh up to 15 pounds. The males usually drop their antlers in Nov after the mating season, while the females keep theirs a few months longer – until after they drop their calves in the Spring. A vet student chimed in. He said reindeer losing their antlers looks a lot like us losing a baby tooth. The antlers get a little wobbly and simply fall off. The reindeer just keeps grazing.

Now I was hot on the trail of reindeer in Utah. I went to the Ogden City Christmas Square to meet Bluebell from the Rockin Reindeer farm near Ogden. As admirers were taking pictures, Bluebell’s owner told me that watching the antlers regrow could be pretty exciting. Every morning you could get up and easily see how the antlers had grown another inch overnight.

I also learned if you listened closely, you could hear a clicking when the reindeer walked. The first time they heard it, they thought something was terribly wrong. But all reindeer click when the tendon in their leg slides over a bone. Clicking seems to be a way for the herd to find each other in white-out winter weather.

Another adaptation to intense cold is the hair that covers every reindeer’s nose This helps keep it warm in the reindeers natural habitat in the far north.

I can trace my own fascination with reindeer to my childhood days when my father arranged for a friend of his to dress up as Santa and personally deliver a big white sack full of presents to our house. The fact that Santa rang our doorbell didn’t strike me as odd since we didn’t have a chimney. One Christmas Eve I was talking all day about how I would soon get to meet Santa’s reindeer. When the doorbell rang, I rushed to open the door. There was Santa with his big white sack. No reindeer.

“Where are the reindeer?” I asked.

“I left them down the street,” Santa said. “Let’s go see them after we open the presents. “

That did the trick. I forgot all about the reindeer.

But now that I’m older and wiser, I know that most male reindeer drop their antlers in Nov, while the females keep theirs a few more months. So the odds are very, very good that the Santa that rang my doorbell was driving an all-female dream team.

This is Mary Heers and I’m Wild About Utah

Photos: Courtesy Mary Heers,
Featured Audio: Courtesy & Copyright © Friend Weller, Utah Public Radio
Text: Mary Heers,
Additional Reading: Lyle Bingham,

Additional Reading

Wild About Utah, Mary Heers’ Wild About Utah Postings

Heaps, Spenser, (The Daily Herald), Springville veterinarian and his reindeer find success, Salt Lake Tribune, June 6, 2015

Bott, Isaac, DocBott – Musings of a mixed animal veterinarian,

Rockin Reindeer Ranch,

I’m a Beaver Believer

I'm a Beaver Believer: North American Beaver (Castor canadensis) Courtesy US FWS, Larry Palmer, Photographer
North American Beaver (Castor canadensis)
Courtesy US FWS, Larry Palmer, Photographer

Beaver-Chewed Tree Courtesy US FWS, Brett Billings, Photographer Beaver-Chewed Tree
Courtesy US FWS, Brett Billings, Photographer

Beaver-Chewed Tree Courtesy US FWS, Brett Billings, Photographer Beaver-Chewed Tree
Courtesy US FWS, Brett Billings, Photographer

I’m a beaver believer. These remarkable rodents are a critical part of the ecosystem, a keystone species. The beaver’s role in creating wildlife and fisheries habitat, filtering and cooling water, and adding new water storage capacity, is essential for our prolonged drought in a warming climate.
When I had a neighbor call a few weeks ago to report he thought a beaver might be cutting down his aspen trees. I was in disbelief. Right here in our little city of Smithfield no less! John invited me over to confirm his suspicions.

After inspecting the tree stumps, teeth marks were undoubtedly those of beaver. We discussed on how to address the situation. John had lost several thousand dollars-worth of trees, and was quite desperate to remediate the situation. I suggested reporting the rogue beaver to animal control or UDWR. Perhaps they could live trap and transport the animal to a more favorable location, while dreading the possibility of having to destroy my iconic, heroic mammal friend. In the interim, I suggested he use chicken wire to save what remained. Another personal conflict arose from my position as Smithfield Tree Committee chair. I was fully aware of the many values urban forests offer to our local environment and quality of life. It was my mission to protect our trees.

I inquired as to where the beaver was setting up shop. There must be a tangle of aspen leavings nearby. John hadn’t noticed any. I began searching the stream to find the missing trees, never expecting to see a beaver. Not more than 20 yards upstream from his property boundary, there it was. I quickly took a picture before it slid into the water disappearing beneath the ice.

I returned to my neighbor who was busy installing chicken wire around his remaining aspen. He too was not wishing to exterminate the animal, but there were homes with aspen, willow, and cottonwood both up and downstream from our location, a veritable feast for this wanderer. I mentioned that I had some acquaintances at USU who worked with beaver reintroduction, and may offer some solutions as well.

Given its small size and unexpected location, this was most likely a two-year-old juvenile who had been forced from its family, similar to how we gently nudge our young adults out the door. I was well acquainted with our mountain landscape and quite certain this beaver had traveled a distance of many miles to end up in Smithfield.

After consulting my USU friends, it did not bode well for poor beaver. To catch and release this animal during the winter offered little hope for its survival. Further, it would not fare well in several months of captivity, being alone in a high stress environment.

I’m now waiting to hear from my neighbor for the rest of the story. May it be favorable for this remarkable aquatic mammal, so essential for creating healthy watersheds, which equals abundant, high quality water!

Jack Greene for Bridgerland Audubon, and I’m wild about Utah’s wild beaver!

Picture: Courtesy US FWS, Larry Palmer & Brett Billings, Photographers
Audio: Courtesy & © Friend Weller,
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon,
Additional Reading: Lyle W Bingham, Webmaster, and Jack Greene, Author, Bridgerland Audubon,

Additional Reading:

Jack Greene’s Postings on Wild About Utah,

Bingham, Lyle, Welcoming Rodent Engineers, Wild About Utah, February 7, 2022,

Heers, Mary, Beaver Tail Slap, Wild About Utah, October 12, 2020,

Heers, Mary, Birch Creek Beaver Restoration, Wild About Utah, June 20, 2022,

Hellstern, Ron, Leave it to Beaver, Wild About Utah, July 30, 2018,

Leavitt, Shauna, Beaver–Helping Keep Water on Drying Lands, Wild About Utah, April 17, 2017,

Leavitt, Shauna, Beaver in Utah’s Desert Rivers, Wild About Utah, July 6, 2020,

Leavitt, Shauna, Proposed Beaver Holding Facility in Millville, Utah, Wild About Utah, September 3, 2018,

Leavitt, Shauna, Sixty In-stream Habitat Structures in Four Days: Demonstrating Creek Restoration Techniques, Wild About Utah, December 18, 2017,

Strand, Holly, Beavers: The Original Army Corps of Engineers, Wild About Utah, April 29, 2010,

Christmas Bird Count December 2022

Christmas Bird Count December 2022: Cassin's Finch, Carpodacus cassinii Courtesy US FWS, Dave Menke, Photographer
Cassin’s Finch, Carpodacus cassinii
Courtesy US FWS, Dave Menke, Photographer

Male House Finch in Mating Plumage, Haemorhous mexicanus, Courtesy US FWS Gary Kramer, Photographer Male House Finch in Mating Plumage
Haemorhous mexicanus
Courtesy US FWS, Gary Kramer, Photographer

Audubon chapters everywhere invite volunteers to join the 123rd Christmas Bird Count, and that means it’s time to hone our bird watching skills for the longest-running community science project. Seasoned birders and beginners alike spend a few minutes or a full day on this annual census of birds. Those just starting to notice birds can be valuable spotters in the mobile sectors, and can quickly learn to observe the subtle differences between similar species seen from the comfort of home, where no bird feeder is required, and valuable contributions can be made with just a few minutes of counting birds.

The Bridgerland Audubon Society launched the Cache Christmas Bird Count watch circle in 1955, contributing to a tradition launched in1900 by ornithologist Frank M. Chapman who out of concern for dwindling bird populations managed to change the culture from annual Christmas bird shooting contests into bird counting contests. Bridgerland Audubon always schedules on the first Saturday on or following December 14th, and typically documents about 100 species of birds.

The Cache Valley watch circle is divided into eleven sectors, including a 4 a.m. owling sector, and includes all homes within a 7.5 mile radius from the center of the circle which is located at Main Street & Hyde Park Lane (Hwy 91 & 3600 N). The same 15-mile diameter watch circle is surveyed each December – that’s about 177 square miles, and we can use all the help we can get, especially from folks watching from home. Don’t worry if you can’t identify all of the birds you see – you will just report the ones you do recognize. You can also get help by posting photos to the Bridgerland Audubon Facebook group, where you’ll also see posts about the Dark-eyed Junco, a small dark bird with a white belly, and subspecies which include the Oregon Junco with a black hood and neck, the Pink-Sided, the Gray-headed, and the Slate Junco.

The Home Sector provides a lot of extra data on about 32 species, the most common of which are available on a one page photo-illustrated checklist on the Bridgerland Audubon website where you will also find links to the free Merlin App which identifies birds by their songs. The Visitors Bureau has a nice selection of Utah Bird field guides which are great for beginners.

Bird identification is all about learning to notice the little differences in size, coloration patterns, shape of the beak, the crown of the head, and the tip of the tail. For example a House Finch and a Cassin’s Finch may look the same at first glance, but the House Finch has streaks on the side of the body, a rounded tail tip, and the red over the eyes is more like a headband than a top hat. The Cassin’s Finch has a notched tail, red cap, and lacks those streaks on the breast and and sides. The Pine Siskin looks like a tiny House Finch but it has a hint of yellow on its wings and the beak is more delicate and pointed. Large flocks of birds can be counted by blocking off a group of individuals, counting them, and then extrapolating to the whole of the flock. Don’t forget that zero is a number to report!

Visit to find a Christmas Bird Count near you, and visit to join the local count sector leaders on Saturday, December 17th, 2022. Pre- registration is free but required.

I’m Hilary Shughart with Bridgerland Audubon and I am Wild About Utah!

Images: Courtesy US FWS, Dave Menke and Gary Kramer, Photographers
Featured Audio: Courtesy & Copyright © Kevin Colver,
Text: Hilary Shughart, President, Bridgerland Audubon Society
Additional Reading: Hilary Shughart and Lyle Bingham,

Additional Reading

WildAboutUtah pieces by Hilary Shughart,

Liberatore, Andrea, Dark-eyed Juncos, Wild About Utah, January 12, 2012,

Greene, Jack, Juncos, Wild About Utah, December 21, 2020,

Bridgerland Audubon CBC Toolkit

National Audubon Data: Annual Summaries of the Christmas Bird Count, 1901-Present

Tips from eBird on How to count large flocks of birds:
“Big numbers of Moving Birds. Their are two ways to count large flocks of moving birds: either by blocking off a group of individuals, counting them, and then extrapolating to the whole of the flock; or by counting birds per unit of time.”
Team eBird, Bird Counting 101, eBird is a project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology,

General Tips for Bird Identification:
Mayntz, Melissa, Bird Bill Parts, The Spruce, Updated on 08/01/22,

Sibley Guides, The annual plumage cycle of a male American Goldfinch,

Lesser Goldfinch-Similar Species Comparison, All About Birds, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology,

House Finches, Purple Finches, and Cassin’s Finches, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University,

Junco Coloring Page:

Utah-Centric Books & Field Guides:
Tekiela, Stan, Birds of Utah Field Guide, Adventure Publications, Apr 21, 2003, https://

Fenimore, Bill, Backyard Birds of Utah: How to Identify and Attract the Top 25 Birds, Gibbs Smith, March 27, 2008, Attract/dp/1423603532/

Kavanagh, James, Utah Birds: A Folding Pocket Guide to Familiar Species (Wildlife and Nature Identification) Pamphlet, Waterford Press, September 1, 2017, https://

A Wild Utah Thanksgiving

Box Elder Bug on Milkweed Courtesy US FWS, Chelsi Burns, Photographer
Box Elder Bug on Milkweed
Courtesy US FWS, Chelsi Burns, Photographer

Perigrine Falcon Courtesy US FWS, Alan Schmierer, Photographer Perigrine Falcon
Courtesy US FWS, Alan Schmierer, Photographer

Northern Shrike Courtesy US FWS, Dave Menke, Photographer Northern Shrike
Courtesy US FWS, Dave Menke, Photographer

Robin with Chicks in Nest Courtesy US FWS, James C. Leopold, Photographer Robin with Chicks in Nest
Courtesy US FWS,
James C. Leopold, Photographer

Jerusalem Cricket Orthoptera: Stenopelmatidae Copyright 2013 Holly Strand Jerusalem Cricket
Orthoptera: Stenopelmatidae
Copyright 2013 Holly Strand

A Wild Utah Thanksgiving: Wild Turkeys
Courtesy Pixabay, Public Domain Images Wild Turkeys
Courtesy Pixabay, Public Domain Images

Wild Turkeys: Wild Turkey Tom Courtesy Pixabay, Biggles55 Contributor & Photographer Wild Turkey Tom
Courtesy Pixabay
Biggles55 Contributor & Photographer

Wild Turkeys: Rio Grande Turkey Tom, Meleagris gallopavo, Courtesy US FWS, Robert H. Burton, Photographer, Rio Grande Turkey Tom
Meleagris gallopavo
Courtesy US FWS
Robert H. Burton, Photographer

I’m Giving thanks for a Wild Utah, which is all around us- in our yards, downtown, and even in our homes. I will make my case with the following vignettes.

Box elder bugs are my nemesis, reproducing numbers far beyond what their predators can control. But my grandkids adore them. Calling them “Boxies”, they are enthralled with their “cute” little friends. They will make a home for them in a jar, making sure they’re comfortable and well fed with collected leaves.

While sauntering through Temple Square on a lovely June day, I was startled by the kee-kee-kee call of peregrine falcons. One lit atop Moroni’s head, which adorns the temple, soon to be joined by another. The elder missionary who had begun his missionary pitch to me was aghast as I explained the peregrine coupling on their sacred figure.

My grandkids and I were keeping track of a robins nest which had been built over our front door facing. Checking the eggs, which were near hatching, we discovered a great basin gopher snake had crawled up the vertical house wall for egg soufflé, devouring all four eggs. How in the world did this reptile even know there was a nest with eggs in this unusual location, and make the vertical climb to eat them? A natural wonder!

Our bird feeder is quite popular with predatory birds. We noticed a darling little saw-whet owl sitting in the tree where the feeder hung with a junco in its beak. On another occasion, my wife alerted me to a stellar jay sitting on a limb outside the kitchen window with a fat meadow vole dangling from its mouth.

A few weeks ago, my daughter texted me a photo of a mystery bird that had slammed into their window. What is this bird? A northern shrike was the victim- a rarity indeed. Fortunately, it recovered, hopefully without serious injury, to hunt her birds another day.

When our children were young, a Jerusalem cricket was discovered in the basement. These Tonka Toy-like insects are marvels- and very scary. It kept our children occupied for hours. On another occasion, we came home to find baby skunks had invaded us. One of our sons had found them near their road-killed mother and adopted them. These cute little critters soon adapted to our presence, and no one was sprayed, but they did harbor a skunky odor for some time, probably from their deceased mother.

Given the Thanks Giving season, I’ll wrap this up with turkeys. Downtown Logan had four tom turkeys who were causing mayhem with traffic at the Center and Main intersection. Our fearless law officer were called out to remediate the situation. Following an hour of frantic scramble, the officers were defeated, as were the turkeys, who found an open door for refuge in a butcher shop. True story.

Wishing you a Wild Utah Thanksgiving!

This is Jack Greene for BAS, and I’m wild about this Utah!

Picture: Peregrine Falcon, Courtesy US FWS, Alan Schmierer, Photographer
Picture: Northern Shrike, Courtesy US FWS Dave Menke, Photographer
Picture: Robin with Chicks, Courtesy US FWS, James C. Leopold, Photographer
Picture: Jerusalem Cricket, Copyright 2013 Holly Strand
Picture: Courtesy Pixabay, PublicDomainImages AND
Picture: Courtesy Pixabay, Biggles55 Contributor & Photographer,
Picture: Courtesy US FWS, Robert H Burton, Photographer
Audio: Courtesy & © Vince Guaraldi
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon,
Additional Reading: Lyle W Bingham, Webmaster, and Jack Greene, Author, Bridgerland Audubon,

Additional Reading:

Jack Greene’s Postings on Wild About Utah,

Greene, Jack, Wild Turkeys, Wild About Utah, November 22, 2021,

Bingham, Lyle, Read by Linda Kervin, Wild Turkeys – Recently Moved to Utah, Wild About Utah, November 19, 2009,

Strand, Holly, Boxelder Bug Poetry, Wild About Utah, March 3, 2009,

Kervin, Linda, Shrikes, Wild About Utah, October 31, 2013,