Springtime means the coming of new life for most animals. From the moment of birth, life for animals in Wind Cave National Park is a constant fight for survival. Fortunately, animals are born with certain protective mechanisms.
This May 50 to 60 bison calves will be born to Wind Cave's herd of about 350 bison. Most cows give birth to one calf each year. Two or three days after the birth the seventy pound, red-coated youngsters will roam with the herd. As bison are gregarious creatures, group protection of calves creates a safe environment. A bison is fully mature at two years.
Extending across the park's prairies are several prairie dog towns. Even on a snowy, early-spring day, much activity can be seen at the prairie dog towns. In a chamber below the ground, a mother prairie dog may be giving birth to 3 to 5 pups. They come into the world blind, hairless, weighing ½ an ounce. At 6 weeks of age the pups will make their first trip above ground. The pups stay close to their burrow to escape any nearby predators.
Coyotes make their homes in dens that are located in the ground or in a hollowed tree. In late April these homes will have new members. Sixty days after mating, the female delivers 5 to 10 brown, furry pups. Under their mother's watchful eye, the pups will venture out of the den at 6 weeks. On such expeditions the youngsters learn to hunt for small mammals. By fall the half grown pups will begin to hunt on their own.
Mule deer fawns, usually twins, are born in May and June. Mule deer are easily identified by their large ears. Does hide their fawns to keep them safe. The fawn's reddish brown coat with white spots blends well with the surrounding forest or prairie. This is called protective coloring and is the fawn's protective mechanism during the first weeks of its life. If you find a fawn do not touch or move it. Its mother has not forgotten it. By grazing away from the fawn she does not draw attention to the young and is helping to protect them. They will lie motionless until their mother returns and calls to them.
The pronghorn spends much of its time on the prairie and can be easily identified by the prominent white patches on its stomach and rump. Pronghorn kids, usually twins, are born in May or June. At birth they weigh 5 to 6 pounds and lack the spots characteristic of deer and elk fawns. The doe will hide the newborn kids until they can walk, about 5 days after birth. They have no odor and will lie motionless for hours while their mother is away grazing. This protects them from predators like coyotes and bobcats. When the kid is strong enough to run distances without tiring, it will join the does and other kids in a nursery herd.
Desert cottontails are found throughout the western states. This popular animal is known for its short bushy white tail and large ears. The female rabbit will produce 3 to 5 litters a year and in each litter she may have up to 8 bunnies. At 2 weeks, the gray-furred bunnies will venture from the protective burrows to feed on grasses. When the cottontail senses danger it thumps its hind feet and other nearby rabbits scatter in different directions, possibly confusing the enemy.
A common bird to the park and to much of the world is the graceful barn swallow. Twice a year these small, colorful birds come together in courtship. Their nests are made of mud and lined with grass or feathers and are built on any building offering overhead protection. The nest houses 3 to 6 eggs. Sixteen days after the eggs are hatched, chicks are able to fly from their homes. Community adult protection of the chicks is common. Sometimes the chicks are protected by adults from up to 40 nearby nests.