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Discover Nature: Wildlife Survival Skills

A red-tailed hawk.
Missouri Department of Conservation
A red-tailed hawk.

Discover Nature this week with Missouri’s wildlife survival skills. Life among nature’s creatures is not all sweetness and delight. There are conflicts in the wild over food, nest sites and mates. And these conflicts can result in life or death.Fights to the death happen among animals. But they are made rare by certain behaviors that animals have evolved.

The “bluff” involves making yourself look big compared to your enemy. It takes different forms in different animals. Owls fluff their feathers and spread their wings. Blackbirds point their bills skyward to look tall. If this posture works to scare off the enemy, the animal benefits by retaining his territory and avoiding a fight that might have injured him.

Sometimes, when threatened, a bird will do something out of place, such as preening or wiping its bill on a branch. This frantic way in which it does this reveals its distress. It is like a nervous person shuffling his feet or chewing his nails. If threat is temporary, and most are, the bird retains his territory without costly combat.

What other tactics are used in the wild to fend off potential threats?

•Tadpoles grow bigger tails when threatened by a predator. They swim faster, and the bigger tails lure bites away from their head and body.

•A monarch’s bright orange wings warn birds of their bad taste. Milkweed, the caterpillar’s favorite snack makes the butterfly bitter tasting and causes birds to upchuck and not to eat them.

•Wood ducks have large wings in relation to their body size. This allows them to rocket straight up off the water at the drop of a feather.

•A lizard can drop its tail like a flip-flopping wriggling worm to distract predators from taking a bigger bite. This tail tactic gives them a split second to get away. A new tail grows back in three to four months.

More information about Missouri wildlife species at

Copyright 2021 KRCU Public Radio

Josh Hartwig is the host of Discover Nature and a media specialist for the Missouri Department of Conservation.