What You Can See on April 19

From Audubon’s Earth Almanac by Ted Williams and compiled in “Wild Moments,” edited by Connie Isbell, Illustrations by John Burgoyne, Storey Publishing, 174 pages. Underdogs Remove the black-tailed prairie dog from its niche in our western plains and—as Americans have discovered over the past century—the whole biota collapses like the sides of a stone arch. This ground squirrel, whose name derives from its bark, is called a keystone species because it provides food and/or habitat for at least 59 vertebrate species—29 birds, 21 mammals, 5 reptiles, and 4 amphibians. The elaborate subterranean design of a prairie-dog town includes bedrooms, latrines, birthing and nursing chambers, pantries, even cemeteries. In late April and May look for youngsters as they stumble up into the sunlight for the first time in their six-week lives. Soon they’ll be roughhousing, grooming each other, and greeting neighbors with chirps, hugs, and open-mouthed “kisses.” Because prairie dogs eat forbs and grasses, they have been widely poisoned and shot in the mistaken belief that they compete with livestock. Studies, however, show that in aerating and turning over the soil they produce high-quality forage.