Nature from Your Back Door (E2323)


August 18, 2015 - Author: Glenn Dudderar

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This book is a compilation of Glenn Dudderar's articles and essays about wildlife throughout the state of Michigan. Written to, "further [the] goal of helping Michigan residents better understand, appreciate and enjoy the wildlife that shares their daily lives", this softcover book features "Scenes from Michigan Seasons", "Wildlife Vignettes" and many other sections offering a wide look at the animals, plants, and habitats in Michigan. The book is illustrated with black and white drawings of animals and natural scenes.

The delightful book that answers the questions…

  • Why is my home being invaded by bats? And how can I make them find somewhere else to live?
  • Why is the great horned owl one of the few predators to regularly dine on skunk?
  • What are the three reasons you may have weasels around your house but never see them?
  • What event in the middle of winter will bring possums out in full force?
  • What common Michigan animal has been dubbed “the most feared mammal on the North American continent”?
  • Why would we be wise to shun the cute little mouse and welcome a big black snake?
  • Why should you be very careful where you stack the firewood?


When I came to Michigan in the Mid-1970s, I was surprised at the prevailing attitude that nature and wildlife were things to see and enjoy if you went "up north". Admittedly, that was my first impression when I saw from the air the greater Detroit metropolitan sprawl and the scattered woodlots of mid-Michigan farm country.

I soon learned otherwise. Of course, cedar swamps, bear, elk, moose, fishers and sprawling forests occur only in the north country, but southern Michigan has bogs, deer, bobcats and even a few beaver and bald eagles, as well as oak-hickory woods and a great variety and abundance of less glamorous wildlife. Even the common cottontail rabbit, raccoon, robin and, yes, even the house sparrow, have fascinating and little known features that can delight and even amaze the astute observer.

When I made a comment along these lines to Bob Neumann, the agricultural writer at what was then MSU's Information Services, he suggested we write a monthly column about backyard nature and wildlife. The column was an instant success and is now published in about 200 newsletters, newspapers and magazines around the state and occasionally adapted for publication out of state. When Bob's job duties changed, Leslie Johnson became my editor, and over the past 13 years, we have produced more than 140 monthly columns. In 1990, Leslie suggested that we edit selected columns and combine them into a book that would further our goal of helping Michigan residents better understand, appreciate and enjoy the wildlife that shares their daily lives. Thus this book came into being.

Compiling the book was easy compared with writing the monthly columns. The usual problem of any column is what to write about that's new, different, timely, interesting and illuminating. Frequently, a telephone call provides a topic.

As an Extension specialist for the MSU Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, I receive many telephone inquiries about wildlife. These often evolve into columns. For example, when someone called to ask about a 10-inch brown and yellow animal that looked like a small dinosaur, I knew the next column would be "The March Tiger", a story about Michigan's tiger salamander.

(Unfortunately, that column was written before we started saving them, so it doesn't appear in this book.)

Timeliness is often difficult, especially when the Upper Peninsula is still buried in snow and ice and southern Michigan is experiencing a balmy early spring. And when unusual weather causes unusual and fascinating wildlife phenomena, the column is, of course, up to a month late reporting on it. Relevance is another problem. Beaver in your backyard is certainly relevant to residents of the U.P. and northern Michigan, but not to folks in southern Michigan — not yet, at least. Making the column applicable to the whole state is difficult even for universal topics such as backyard bird feeding. Some birds that visit bird feeders (e.g., pine grosbeaks) come south to the U.R for most winters, while southern Michigan is too far north in the winter for other birds (e.g., chipping sparrows).

Combining accuracy and readability is another concern. When working on a column about how birds recognize their young or food, I might say, "As an order, birds have less acute olfactory abilities than mammals and they therefore rely primarily on visual recognition." True enough, but to make that jargon-laden professional statement more readable, Leslie would write, "Birds generally do not have a very sharp sense of smell, so they recognize their young (or food) by sight." We often struggle to maintain that easy readability without producing an oversimplified column that prompts huffy letters from learned ornithologists informing us that some birds can detect certain odors very well and may even use their sense of smell to help them navigate during migration. Frequently, Leslie thinks we need more detail rather than less. When I wrote that Michigan's gray tree frogs are almost as good as chameleons in changing color but that very few people know about them while every school child knows about chameleons, she asked where chameleons come from. That seemingly simple question led to several productive hours of research on lizards, anoles and chameleons and the task of resolving all that information into a non-technical sentence or two.

Accuracy also changes with time. Some of the columns in this book were written over 10 years ago, and recent research required that some be revised and updated. Although that made putting this book together more difficult, it is reassuring to know that research will continue to produce new information that can become topics for future columns.

— Glenn Dudderar July 1991

VS.: Brenda Shear, who made the delightful illustrations for this book, has asked us to thank Mike Jackson for allowing her to draw the opossum on page 61 from his award-winning photo and Harper Collins for the same use of photos from the books "World of the White Tailed Deer" and "World of the Racoon."


Tags: fisheries & wildlife, forestry, natural resources

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