Cheer for the Predators in Ecosystem Gardening

female Florida cooter2011

A female Florida cooter lays a clutch of eggs next to the rain garden. Her head is tucked in because I’ve invaded her privacy and she can’t leave.

So this happened the other day between the natural pond out in our front yard and the front porch: A female cooter turtle (Florida cooter (Pseudemys floridana)) laid some eggs at the edge of a mulched path near a rain garden. After I took several photos that invaded her privacy, I went inside to download the photos. Not five minutes later I saw two fish crows, each carrying an egg, flying from the direction of her cache. I stealthily crept out the front door with my camera on to see if I could capture some of the mayhem.

 

 

Red shouldered hawk

A red shouldered hawk: its nictitating membrane is covering its eyes for protection.

 

There were six or eight crows flying around the area and cawing loudly. I wasn’t fast enough to take a photo of the crows, but I did catch this red-shouldered hawk, which had joined the fracas. It was sitting on top of our pond-side swing and crows were dive-bombing it. My photo caught its nictitating membrane covering its eyes. All birds have this second eyelid that cleans and protects their eyes–at that point the hawk needed to protect its eyes from the crows. All for a turtle egg breakfast.

 

While we humans feel sorry for the cooter and her eggs, in reality it’s the hawk (and maybe the crows) that we should be rooting for. If your yard and its environs can support a top carnivore like a hawk, then you have a balanced ecosystem.

Another consideration is the capacity of the pond, which is about 1/10th of an acre when full. It’s tough to count the turtles since the water is murky, and they come and go between the neighborhood ponds and the 110-acre lake out back. But we’ve seen up to six or seven cooters basking on the shoreline or logs at the edge of the pond. They are shy and plop into the water as we approach. We’ve also seen some snapping turtles (Chelydra serpentina) in the pond in fewer numbers–they don’t tend to bask like the cooters.

The pond can support a limited number of turtles; so how many of those eggs need to survive in a year for a balanced pond ecosystem? Maybe one or two a year at the most. It’s been shown that the female cooters lay a few eggs as a distraction, and while the crows and hawks are fighting over the first clutch of eggs, she may be working on her “real” nest under cover somewhere. Fortunately, we have taken out much of the lawn and the cooters have plenty of places where they can easily lay eggs, so the turtles will have to duke it out for space in the pond.

little blue heron

A little blue heron stalks along the shore during the dry season.

Some of the baby turtles will end up being supper for this little blue heron (Egretta caerulea) or maybe for the other wading birds we host such as the great blue herons, the great white herons, the various egrets, and the little green herons.

 

How much fun are you having in your ecosystem yard?

See my article Pond Pleasures for more adventures in my front pond.

© 2011 – 2012, Ginny Stibolt. All rights reserved. This article is the property of Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens. We have received many requests to reprint our work. Our policy is that you are free to use a short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact form above if you have any questions.

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Comments

  1. says

    Cheer for the predators, big and small; all the wasps, spiders, robber flies, assassin bugs, lacewings, ladybugs and countless others that keep ecosystems in balance. Otherwise the herbivores would eat everything in sight and the world would be mostly brown rather than green. A healthy ecosystem has a good number of the small ones, which we tend to overlook.

  2. Joan Sessions says

    hello we have a small pond and we are located smack dab in the middle of town. we have a standard lot, but we have hawks here daily looking for something to munch on. Usually the doves that hang out here. We have had mockingbirds, doves, cardinals, sparrows and woodpeckers nest on our property this year. We have a family of possums too. Used to have tortoises but they left after Hurr. Charley came thru

  3. says

    Its easy from a mis-informed anthropomorphic understanding of nature to see crows as big, dark and aggressive. Several years back I read a woman’s comment in the local paper that she was feeling some angst at witnessing a hawk swoop down and grab a lunch at her window feeder. She was questioning whether she was in moral error for providing an easy target for this blood thirsty bird of prey. I’m not sure what she thought hawks were eating prior to the invention of Kaytee finch feeders.The real problem was that she wasn’t “thinking” at all – and after all – it did happen at a “bird feeder.” These people are always rather shocked to learn that the petite house wren is murderous on nesting female bluebirds – a quick thrust to the top of the skull with a sharp little beak is all that’s needed – but how can you not love a house wren?

    For that part of me that leans towards Native American Spirituality, I would claim two animal signs – the Frog and the Crow.

    The Crow – integrity and doing unto others as we would like them to do to us. Crow teaches us to know ourselves beyond the limitations of one-dimensional thinking and laws (they have a tendency to be rule breakers). It is about bringing magic into our lives. This animal teaches to appreciate the many dimensions both of reality and ourselves, and to learn to trust our intuition and personal integrity. There is magic wherever crows are. They give us the message that there is magic alive in our world and this magic is ours to use and create a new world for ourselves with.

    Crows are the only birds I bother to feed in the city – nicely chunked pieces of tallow on a cold winter’s day. Here in Minnesota they are completely wary and suspicious of humans – I don’t blame them one bit.
    Peter Dziuk recently posted..Orthilia secunda (One-sided Pyrola)

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Crows probably have a bad reputation because they are predators and scavengers.  Therefore, I found it amusing to see these three mobbing a Cooper’s hawk over the pond. It was almost as if the crows were protecting the smaller birds, which had congregated in large numbers in the cottonwood and willow trees.  The hawk took refuge in a willow for a while, then flew out front. [...]

  2. […] While we have let most of the meadow grow back into a wooded area, we have kept the areas around the sprinkler heads cleared. There are three heads in a line parallel to the fence from point A and then another one out between B & C.  You can see the open area there as a light spot in the satellite photo. The open areas increase the effectiveness of the irrigation system when needed. (The water is drawn from the big spring-fed lake out back.) But another important reason for the open areas is for their habitat value.  The variety of vegetation height is important for lots of wildlife from butterflies to the hawks. Because our yard supports those top predators, then we are successful in our ecosystem gardening. For more on supporting predators, see my post, Cheer for Predators in Ecosystem Gardening. […]

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