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The Hunger Moon

March 11, 2018
Kevin Williams - Grundy County Conservation Director , Reinbeck Courier

I was reminded recently that we are in the Hunger Moon. In the Old Farmers Almanac, there is a name given to each full moon of the year. These are mostly adapted from those used by early American Indians, who kept track of the passing seasons and tied their calendar to the full moons.

The Hunger Moon falls at the end of winter when game is scarce and predators are particularly hungry. Names for the moons varied between different indigenous peoples, but they carried similar meanings. The Hunger Moon was also known as Little Famine Moon and Bony Moon. In those days the threat of famine after a long winter was real, for people as well as for animals.

The worst of winter should be about over with March here but as I write this, we are under the threat of snow and ice with more at the end of the week. We all know that we can see every sort of weather in March.

For many kinds of wildlife, the worst is yet to come. The most sought-after foods that many wild creatures depend on are about gone. Historically, those foods would have included a variety of nuts like white and bur oak acorns, hickory, hazelnuts, walnuts, and chestnuts. Dried berries and fruits of several kinds have mostly been eaten. They'd also have consumed grubs and insect larvae dug out of rotten logs or stumps and insects wintering over under loose tree bark.

And predators have depended on prey animals of many kinds, but as I always stress to students on field trips, mice provide a good bit of nutrition for most predators; even larger ones. Even mice populations hit their lows at this time. Good food gets harder and harder to find by late winter.

Some wildlife can supplement native foods with waste grain today, but many species can't eat corn. It was a hard time of the year for native Americans and our pioneer ancestors, too. Foods stored away in the fall would be running low and might soon be gone. Rations were often pretty thin trying to stretch what was left until spring. Little wonder that this became called "the hunger moon".

Many have to shift their diets to less desirable foods. Robins are back and as the saying goes, will have to dip their tail in snow three times before the snow is gone for good. Robins are a good example of shifting their diet from mostly animal foods (earthworms and insects) to plant-based foods. Dried berries are a staple if they can still be found. Robins will gobble down crab apples. They may eat less desirable fruit like sumac berries that have little nutrition. They may also visit feeders and eat sunflower hearts, suet, or peanut butter.

But by the end of the month, we'll see why March also has a couple of other full moon names. The Worm Moon because the changing soil conditions will see that food source erupting and the Sap Moon as the lifeblood of plants begins to flow again.



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