Animals Around Banning

Bald Eagle

The Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus Leucocephalus) only lives in North America and has been America’s national emblem since 1782. Bald Eagles are distinguished by their bright white head and tail feathers, however, they don’t get their white head feathers util they are around 5 years old. Bald Eagles can grow to be very large birds with a wing span reaching over 7 feet wide! The female Bald Eagle is actually larger than the males.

Bald Eagles eat mainly fish, small mammals, turtles, snakes, rabbits, and even carrion. The Bald Eagle mates for life and can live 20 to 30 years in the wild. They also build the largest nests of any North American bird. The nests will be used over and over again as long as the tree can support additional “remodeling” to the nest. Nests can be 5-6 feet in diameter and weigh over 2000 lbs! The largest nest ever recorded was 20 feet deep and 9.5 feet wide and weighed over 2 tons!

Did you know Bald Eagles can swim? If a Bald Eagles catches a heavy fish, it will use it’s wings to row itself to shore! They also have extremely good eyesight and have a third eyelid called a nictitating membrane which helps protect their eyes by keeping them clean and moist. The Bald Eagle is a very impressive flyer with the ability to dive at 100 mph and can fly 30 to 60 mph.

Bald Eagles are commonly misconstrued in movies by having a high pitched piercing call. That is actually the sound a red tailed hawk makes. The Bald Eagle actually makes a whinny sound that comes out like a high pitched giggle! Bald Eagles were once very endangered, but since the 1970’s they’ve made a tremendous come back!

The Great Blue Heron

The Great Blue Heron is a resident bird of Georgia but can be found from Alaska all the way to South America. They are the largest of the heron family and a pleasure to watch as they fly and go about their daily lives.

At Historic Banning Mills, we are proud to have three nesting pair of Blue Herons. See below for some fun facts about them.

Blue Herons can have a wingspan of over six feet. They can stand three to four feet tall and weigh five to six pounds. The Blue Heron mainly nests in the tops of trees and can live together in large colonies called heronries of up to 500 nests! During the breeding season, the mating pair will stay together until the babies are grown. They will have different mates for the next season.

Male Blue Herons are larger than female Blue Herons. The male will bring sticks and present them to the female, who will then proceed to weave them into a platform type nest. She will then line the nest with moss, grasses, and other soft material. It can take up to two weeks to complete construction of the nest. They will return to the nest year after year to reuse it.

Female Blue Herons lay three to six eggs: plate blue in color. The eggs don’t hatch at the same time, meaning one of the babies will usually be stronger and more dominant, leading to a higher chance of survival. It takes twenty two months for a chick to mature before being ready to have its own chicks.

The Blue Heron is a very cautious bird and very wary of humans. The herons will abandon their nests if disturbed by much activity.

Blue Herons primarily eat fish but can be found eating salamanders, frogs, small mammals like voles and even small birds. 

Groundhog

We’ve got several pairs of Groundhogs that like to hang out around Banning Mills. Groundhogs are also called Woodchucks or Whistle Pigs and can be found from the Georgia Piedmont area into the North Georgia Mountain area.

Groundhogs feed exclusively on plant material including fruits and berries, ferns, grasses, leaves and even bark. Groundhogs are most active in the early morning and late evening. Did you know they are excellent diggers? Groundhogs dig extensive networks of burrows which many people find to be a nuisance due to the many holes they create in the ground.

Fun Facts About Groundhogs:

They can climb trees and swim!

They make loud whistling sounds to warn of predators.

They are the largest member of the squirrel family!

Their teeth never stop growing and can average a length of up to 4 inches!

They hibernate beginning late fall for 4 to 5 months. During this time they lower their body temperature to 38 degrees and slow their heartbeats to only 4 beats per minute and take two breaths per minute!

King Snake

King Snakes can be found all over the United States and are often seen sunning themselves on rocks. While they are not a venomous snake, they can bite if you get too close, so they are best viewed from a distance.

King Snakes can be found in swamps, woodlands, grasslands, and even deserts. They can grow up to 7 feet long and weight as much as 4 lbs. King Snakes can be identified by their round eyes and black bodies with yellow and white bands that look like a chain wrapping down their bodies. Some King Snakes may have red and orange bands which can make them easy to mistake with Coral Snakes.

There’s an old saying to help you distinguish King Snakes from Coral Snakes: “Red touching black is a friend to Jack but red touching yellow will kill a fellow!” While this is a great way to identify potentially dangerous snakes, we have an even more fool proof saying to keep you safe: “Don’t touch snakes”.

King Snakes tend to be nocturnal and eat other snakes, lizards, turtle eggs, frogs, and small mammals. King Snakes can rattle their tails in leaves like a rattlesnake when faced with danger. They also emit a foul odor when they are spooked to ward off danger. King Snakes hibernate in winter and emerge during the spring to mate.

Female King Snakes lay three to thirteen eggs. Baby snakes hatch after two to three months and are about four to twelve inches long. King Snakes typically live 20 to 30 years in the wild and while snakes can be scary, King Snakes are very good to have around so please don’t harm them if you come across one!

Raccoon

The Raccoon (Procyon Loto) is a mainly nocturnal mammal but will occasionally come out during the daytime, especially if it’s hungry. The name “raccoon” comes from the Powhatan Indian world “aroughcun” meaning “animal that scratches with its hands”. Did you know there are six different species of Raccoon?

Raccoons aren’t particularly picky on where they live, and can be found in the city as well as the countryside. They have a very diverse diet including: birds, insects, fish, mussels, fruit, berries, and nuts. They are also most commonly known for scavenging into any garbage left out by us!

Adult male raccoons can reach 20 lbs! They communicate with each other with over 50 different and distinct noises. What do you call a group of raccoons? A Nursery or a Gaze. They are also very fast for short distances, with the ability to reach up to 15 mph.

Do you like Raccoons? President Coolidge and his wife sure did! They had a pet raccoon that lived with them in the White House! Our favorite thing about raccoons are their cool looking black masks that make them look like little bandits. The black mask isn’t just for show, however. It actually helps them see better by absorbing incoming light which reduces glare.

Remember, while raccoons might look really cool and even cute, they are wild animals and can be very aggressive by biting or scratching if they feel threatened.

Flying Squirrel

The Flying Squirrel (Pteromyini) is one of over 50 different species of squirrels. They are strictly nocturnal and very social! In fact, 20 to 25 flying squirrels can share one nest! They’ll even share a nest with bats and screech owls! Flying Squirrels live on average about 5 years but can live longer in captivity.

They grow to about 12 inches in length and can weight up to 4 to 6.5 oz They also have large, bulging eyes which give them excellent night vision. Flying Squirrels will only hibernate in very cold weather. They will wake up on occasion during the cold weather to eat some of their stored food that they’ve accumulated and then go back to sleep. They eat tree bark, pine needles, pine nuts, magnolia leaves, maple seeds, oak buds and acorns, slugs and snails, and sometimes small mice and birds.

Flying Squirrels actually don’t fly like a bird, but glide through the air from one place to the next. They have a furry membrane, called a patagia, that stretches from their wrists to their ankles and acts as a parachute. Their tail is large and flat and is used as a rudder to help steer their body. The flying squirrel usually glides 20 – 30 feet but have been documented to glide over 295 feet!

River Otter

River Otters (Lontra Canadensis) are large members of the weasel family. They are semi aquatic mammals that can be found along waterways and coast lines. Otters establish burrows close to the water’s edge with several tunnel openings. Within these dens, otters will have their babies, called pups.

Otters prefer to eat fish but will eat mussels, salamanders, frogs, small turtles, mice, and squirrels. Otters like staying very clean and will wash themselves after every meal. All that eating can really start the add up, as otters can grow to way up to 31 lbs!

They have a thick, water repellent coat of fur and a third eyelid to protect the eye and allow the otter to see while swimming underwater. Otter’s are great swimmers. They can hold their breath for up to 8 minutes underwater. Otters are very fun to watch. They are very social and playful but can also be very aggressive. They will bite and can cause serious damage so do not approach one in the wild.

Red Tail Hawk

Red Tail Hawks live all over North America. Like many birds they are migratory and are also the second largest hawk species on the continent. They are dark brown with light colored underbellies. The Red Tail Hawk gets its name from its short wide tail that is warm red in color on top. The Red Tail Hawk can grow to have a wingspan of 3.5 to 4.8 feet in width and 18 to 26 inches long!

Red Tail Hawks can live up to 20 years in the wild and mate for life. Red Tail Hawks wait until they are at least 3 years old before seeking a mate. During mating season, the hawks will sometimes lock talons and hurtle towards the ground, breaking only just before the ground. They will lay one to three eggs and then feed the chicks from 6 to 10 weeks old before teaching the babies how to hunt on their own. They like to build nests in high places with commanding views.

They are known for amazing aerial displays in flight. During flight they can dive up to 120 miles per hour. Red Tail Hawks can’t move their eyes within their eye sockets, so they must move their heads to look around and spot prey. They like to hunt in open spaces and sometimes hunt in pairs. Red Tail Hawks eat small mammals, rodents, and snakes. They will even steal food from other birds. Did you know the Red Tail Hawk doesn’t need to eat everyday? They can go as long as one week in between meals! Once a Red Tail Hawk finds its home, they usually stay at the same location all their lives within a radius or 2 to 10 miles.

Pileated Woodpecker

The Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus Pileatus) is the largest of the woodpecker family. They are native to North America and live in deciduous forests. They can reach 16 – 19 inches long with up to a 28 inch wingspan. The Pileated Woodpecker has an average lifespan, typically living 4 to 14 years in the wild.

Pileated Woodpeckers are monogamous, meaning they choose one mate. The pair will build a new nest every year in a dead tree. Each nest will have more than one opening to help escape from potential predators. The openings of their nests are always oval or oblong in shape. These woodpeckers lay between 2 and 5 eggs, which incubate 11 – 14 days. The Pileated Woodpecker then cares for the chicks for 18 – 30 days before the chicks are ready to leave the nest. When the Pileated Woodpeckers abandon their old nests, other birds and animals use them as instant, move-in-ready homes.

Like most woodpeckers, they eat insects, nuts, seeds, fruit, sap, and nectar. Did you know the Pileated Woodpecker doesn’t just tap its beak to find food? They make a drumming noise on different objects to communicate with each other, to attract each other, to play, and even for exercise. Those beaks of theirs can actually peck up to 20 times per second!

Wouldn’t that give you a terrible headache? The Pileated Woodpecker’s beak or bill is actually as long as their head. The bills help distribute the shock from pecking through their thick skulls. They also have really long tongues. Their tongue is twice as long as their skull and is sticky to help grab insects. When they aren’t using their tongue, it actually wraps around the back of their head between the skull and skin until they need it again! Their heads aren’t the only thing special about them however. They also have two back toes that allow them to stay upright on a tree and lean back as needed. Look closely at their bill and you may notice tiny feathers covering it. These tiny feathers help protect the woodpecker from getting wood splinters in its nose!

Blue Birds

The Blue Bird (Sialia sialis) lives all throughout North America. The are most commonly found near grass or woodlands, parks, gardens, and orchards. Male Blue Birds can be easily identified by their dark blue back and wings and reddish chest and white belly. The females are grayish in color with a little blue on the tips of their wings and have an orange chest. Blue birds are a small bird, only 6 to 8.3 inches long and weigh between 0.9 to 1.2 oz. Even with their small proportions, Blue birds are pretty quick, with the ability to fly up to 17 mph.

The Blue Bird is monogamous and will stay with their mate through several breeding seasons. They also like to live in groups. Sometimes a Blue Bird community can include up to 100 birds! During mating season, Blue Birds lay between 3 to 7 pale blue eggs. The eggs hatch after only 13 to 16 days of being laid. Because of this quick process, a female Blue Bird can hatch two batches of eggs in one mating season. The female is also the only one that will incubate the eggs during this time. Blue Birds like to have cozy nests. They build them out of grass, pine needles, fur, and twigs.

Blue Birds have exceptional vision with the ability to spot an insect up to 60 feet away! Their favorite meals include insects, beetles, fruit, berries, frogs, and small snakes, but their favorite of all is the mealy worm!