Native Plant Profile...Elderberry
The elderberry can be considered either a large shrub, or a small tree.
Height ranges from 8 to 12 feet. Elderberry has a short trunk with multiple stems.
It may be pruned to reduce the suckers growing from the base of the plant.
In the wild, elderberry grows in large, dense stands in moist places such as
marshes, streams, moist woods and rural roadsides.
American Elder, Sweet Elder
Leaf: Opposite, feather –like compound leaves that are 6”to 11” long.
Twig: The twigs are noted for their spongy , white pith.
Bark: Bark is smooth and brown; with older plants the bark forms corky bumps.
Flower: Small, white, dense flat-topped clusters, 8” across.
Bloom from late
spring throughout the summer.
Very showy in display.
Fruit: Berry-like, purple to black in color, ¼’ in diameter, maturing in late
The berry clusters are quite juicy and can weigh down the the branches.
Elderberry will tolerate many soil types and some drought.
The plant does best
in full sun with moist fertile soil. You can use it in a border or patio
There are about 10 species of elderberry in the United States.
Some cultivars of Sambucus canadensis that may be found commercially are
"Acutuloba" and "Aurea" – with red berries and "Adams" – with large berry clusters.
Best time to plant elderberry is in the early spring using bare root stock.
You may also grow elderberry by seed.
Elderberry provides food for many species of wildlife:
Elderberry fruit: Eastern Bluebird, Indigo Bunting, Cardinal, Catbird, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Eastern Kingbird, Mockingbird, Phoebe, Robin, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (will also consume the sap), Scarlet Tanager, Tufted Titmouse, Brown Thrasher, Hermit Thrush, Veery, Wood Thrush, Vireos, Cedar Waxwing, Red-bellied and Red Headed Woodpecker, Chipmunk and White-footed Mouse
Fruit and Bark: Eastern Cottontail Rabbit, Grey, Red and Fox Squirrels, Red Fox,
Twigs and Foliage: White-tailed Deer
Elderberry fruit may be
used for human consummation in pies, jelly and wine, if you can pick the
berries before the birds do!
Maryland Wildlife: Gray
Fox “Tree Fox”
Range: The gray fox is found
throughout most of Eastern North America.
Habitat: This species of fox prefers deciduous woodlands. It
sometimes will forage in old fields for food. Unlike the red fox this
creature does not utilize agriculture or open areas. Gray fox do not
tolerate humans as much as red fox so tend to be found in more rural areas.
Appearance: Looks very dog like with
a bushy tail and pointed ears. Weighs about 8 to 15 pounds, with an average
length of 31-44 inches. Males are slightly larger than the females. The gray
fox has a grayish, grizzled fur, with red patches on the neck and back, with
white at the throat. It does not have the black legs of a red fox. The
biggest difference in appearance from the red fox is the gray fox has a
black – tipped tail, (the red’s is white tipped).
Habits: Gray fox are unique in the
dog family for their ability to climb trees. These foxes have semi
retractable nails that act like hooked claws. Climbing in trees helps them
get food, especially fruit, avoid predators and sun themselves on a limb.
They get down from the trees by jumping from limb to limb. These foxes are
very nocturnal, but will sometimes hunt in the daytime in thick cover. Grays
den up in daytime hours using groundhog burrows, tree cavities, crevices and
logs. Have excellent sense of smell and sight.
Behavior: Gray fox are monogamous.
They breed once a year in late February to early March. These foxes breed
two weeks after red fox, which may account for no cross breeding of these
species in the wild.
The tree fox gives birth after 52-53 days of a litter of 3 to 4 pups,
although the size of litter can range from 1 to 7. The adult male will help
feed and train the young to hunt. At three months old the pups learn to hunt
and by 4 months the young are hunting on their own. By the fall the young
disperse to live on their own.
Home range of grays is 2 to 4 square miles. These foxes live from 5 to 10
years old in the wild.
Although not as vocal as red fox, the gray's bark is much louder. The
tree foxes tracks, as compared to the red, are smaller. Since the gray’s
nails are semi-tractable, the nails do not always leave an imprint, so the
tracks can be mistaken for a cat. If you look closer at the tracks you will
see their heel pad is smaller than that of a cat. A gray fox’s tracks show a
shorter stride, but a wider trail than a red fox. Like red fox, they will
also leave scent posts marking their territory on vegetation, rocks, etc.;
however, it does not have the strong smell of the red.
Food: Gray fox eat a variety of food.
They eat more vegetable matter than red fox, but their primary diet is meat,
including rabbits, small rodents, and insects such as grasshoppers and
crickets. The gray fox helps control many rodent populations from becoming
pests. They are known to eat apples, persimmons, grapes, cherries,
blackberries, pears, corn and sunflowers seeds. Gray fox are not a threat to
Let's Go Owling!
Owling is a pastime that can involve the whole family.
and listening for owls is a wonderful way to
develop listening and viewing
skills. Owling also develops
patience as it takes several minutes before
adjust to the dark of the native nocturnal world.
When is the Best Time to Go Owling?
Some owls are active at dawn and dusk.
Another good time is after 10pm.
Moon light or moonless nights (owl watchers opinions vary quite a bit on
which is best!)
Two owl species are more easily seen in the daytime.
Short-eared owls, unlike other owls, will frequently hunt in the very late
afternoon in meadows or marshes.
When the lemming food source in the North is scarce, you may see the Snowy
Owl in our area in the daytime in pastures, and beach and dune areas.
Some Helpful Owling Tips:
Dress warmly for the activity.
Avoid wearing any material that makes noise when you walk.
Take a powerful flashlight, but use artificial light sparingly, as it will
interfere with the ability of your eyes to adjust to the dim light of the
moon and the stars.
It is a good idea to hold the flashlight at eye level when you hear an
owl. Don’t take the beam of the flashlight wide, this can scare off birds.
Wait for the owl to come to you or approach slowly.
A good idea to remember when owling is to look for the owl at half the
distance you think it is at.
You may also wish to take portable recordings of owl sounds with you.
- Play the recordings or imitate the sounds.
- Owls are territorial and will react to stimulus as if a real owl was
coming into their territory.
- The calls can be done softly as owls have keen hearing.
- Using rabbit or rodent sounds, an owl's prey, are also effective in
causing an owl to appear to investigate the sounds.
- It is important to remember to not overuse these sounds, as it might
disrupt an owl's breeding behavior in early winter.
- Five minutes of a hand held player at one site should be your maximum
All you need is a location that has trees: a wooded backyard, forest, or a
wooded stream are some good places to try.
Screech owls are vocal in late winter to early spring. You can get
quite close to these birds.
They often sound farther away than they actually are.
Barn owls prefer open areas. Riparian corridors with fields are
good locations to check out.
These white owls are often found perched on
fence posts. Watch open places between trees to see owls flying.
Great Horned owls can be found in rural and suburban woods that
Barred owls are quite vocal and are usually located in swamps, or
To find Long-eared and Saw-whet owls search coniferous woods.
Note: Photographs in collage above provided courtesy of Laura Erickson,
Staff Ornithologist, Binoculars.com and hostess of BirderBlog.com (http://www.birderblog.com)
Top Row (l-r): Saw-whet Owl, Barred Owl
Bottom Row (l-r): Great Horned Owl, Eastern Screech Owl
Photograph of Barn Owl (left), courtesy of Scott A. Smith
We do not think of insects being active in the wintertime, especially with
snow on the ground. Winter is the time where the only signs of insects are
the eggs they have lain, waiting for the spring to hatch. Mole crickets are
dormant just below the frost line in the soil. Bees remain dormant in hives
and ants are in underground chambers. Both are in a slowed metabolic state.
Some butterflies, such as the Monarchs have migrated to warmer, Southern
sites. Other butterflies and moths are either in cocoons or exist as dormant
caterpillars. There are a few that survive as adults in the winter, such as
the Mourning Cloak butterfly. You may find them hibernating in a woodpile or
flying about on a sunny winter afternoon.
However, some insects are the most active in the winter snow! Why? Because
being active and adult in this season gives them a huge advantage. Their
predators such as spiders, frogs and birds are either dormant or have
The best time to find these snow insects is in late winter to early spring
on a sunny afternoon. Decomposing logs generate heat, as does leaf litter
especially near the base of a tree trunk and it is at these sites that you
find the following three species:
Snow fleas are in the insect order commonly called springtails. They
are wingless insects that have springing organs, which are short appendages
that allow the creatures to “spring” in the air. There are some species of
snow flea however that does not have this organ. These insects have long
slender bodies no more than 1/8 “ in size. They are often found as grayish
dots jumping about the base of a tree on top of the snow. Snow fleas can
also be found around maple sugaring buckets. Decaying plant material and
algae are their food sources.
Scorpion Fly species found in winter are wingless. The larvae have
been laid at the base of a tree, especially in moist woods. The adults about
2/3” in length, emerge in the winter with a beak – like head, and the tip of
the abdomen bending up giving the appearance of a scorpion. This harmless
insect eats dead or living insects. They can often be found on the top of
Snow Flies are not the common flies that you find the in summer, but
are often mistaken for small spiders. They are not spiders, count their legs
and you will see they have the six of insect species. The wingless adults
walk around on the snow looking for mates. Once the female has mated, she
goes into the snow or soil to lay eggs. The snow fly larva are found in the
summer in mouse burrows, underground wasp nests or rich organic soil Much of
the life history of the snow fly has yet to be studied.
Some hints for hunting snow insects:
Warm afternoons are the best time. February is the peak month to find the
most activity. Look on the south side of trees and logs to find insects
instead of the colder north side. Trees in moist areas, or close to open,
running water produce the most finds.
Click here for online back issues
Photograph of Elderberry tree, courtesy of Steven J. Baskauf, Ph.D., Bioimages,
Photograph of Elderberry flowers, courtesy of Steven J. Baskauf, Ph.D., Bioimages,
Photographs of Elderberry bark, foliage and berries, courtesy of Steven J. Baskauf, Ph.D., Bioimages,
Photograph of Elderberry tree courtesy of Patrick J. Alexander @
USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database
Photograph of Gray Fox in winter woodland, courtesy of Dave
Photograph of Gray Fox in meadow courtesy of US Dept. of
Interior - Bureau of Reclamation
Photographs of owls in owl collage, courtesy of Laura Erickson, Staff
and hostess of BirderBlog.com (http://www.birderblog.com)
Photograph of Barn Owl, courtesy of Scott A. Smith
Illustrations of Snow Flea, Scorpion Fly and Snow Fly courtesy of Ann Haven
Morgan, "Field Book of Animals in Winter."
Snow Critters, Published in January
1999 Micscape Magazine.
Here is a listing of phone numbers, web sites and organizations that you might find helpful or interesting in your search for ideas to manage your wild acres.
DNR Online... Inspired by nature!
Project FeederWatch is a winter-long survey of birds that visit feeders at
backyards, nature centers, community areas, and other locales in North
America. FeederWatchers periodically count the highest numbers of each
species they see at their feeders from November through early April.
FeederWatch helps scientists track broadscale movements of winter bird
populations and long-term trends in bird distribution and abundance. Project
FeederWatch is operated by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in partnership
with the National Audubon Society, Bird Studies Canada, and Canadian
Nature Federation. http://birds.cornell.edu/pfw
National Wildlife Federation - Details on their backyard habitat program www.nwf.org or call them at 1-800-822-9919.
Native plants - The Maryland Native Plant Society offers information dedicated to protecting, conserving and restoring Maryland's native plants and habitats, visit them at
Maryland Cooperative Extension offers home and garden information, tips publications, plant problems, Bay issues, and other links at
Their Home and Garden Information number is statewide and can be reached at
1-800-342-2507, and from outside Maryland at 1-410-531-1757.
Bioimages, a project of
Vanderbilt University, provides educational information to the public on
biologically related topics, as well as a source of biological images for
personal and non-commercial use.
Maryland's "Becoming an Outdoors - Woman Program
"- One of the topics covered in the three-day workshops is Backyard
For a free wildlife & native
plant newsletter, visit the WindStar Wildlife Institute at
and subscribe to the WindStar Wildlife Garden Weekly e-newsletter. You can
also visit this website to learn how you can become a certified wildlife habitat
For more information on butterflies - visit the North American Butterfly Association at
Warm season grasses and wild meadows for upland nesting birds visit Pheasants
Forever at www.pheasantsforever.org or e-mail:
We want to hear from you!
Letters, e-mail, photos, drawings. Let us know how
successful you are as you create wildlife habitat on
Write to Me!
Natural Resources Biologist II
Maryland Wildlife and Heritage Service
MD Dept of Natural Resources
580 Taylor Ave., E-1
Annapolis MD 21401
Access For All
Click here for online back issues.
Habichat, the newsletter for Wild Acres participants, is published by the Wildlife and Heritage Service, Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
The facilities and services of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources are available to all without regard to race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, age, national origin, physical or mental disability. This document is available in alternative format upon request from a qualified individual with a disability.