Feet are more than just decorations at the end of our legs. Just ask this bald eagle.

  I knew better than to step out of the RV without my shoes, but I did it anyway. Within seconds, I was hopping on one foot, trying to pull a painful cactus spine out of the other. This only caused me to step on another thorn, one from a puncture vine. I was quickly reminded just how important my feet are as I hobbled to a chair to work on both of them.

Feet are more important than we might like to believe and come in a surprising variety. The most intriguing bird feet might be those of the raptors, or birds of prey. These feet are highly developed with huge talons for grasping prey. A great horned owl is reported to be able to drive talons into prey with 500 pounds pressure per square inch, about the same as a bite from a German Sheppard.

Most bird feet are of a similar configuration with three toes in front and one behind, making track identification a challenge. Size is often the greatest difference. Most woodpeckers have four toes but with two toes forward and two backward. There are several woodpeckers with only three toes though.

Ducks, geese and swans all have webbing between their toes, creating a very efficient propulsion system just like a tail fin on a fish. Grebes and coots don’t have webbed toes but do have wide lobes on each toe that help to propel them on long underwater dives.

Where feet on placed on the body determines whether or not the bird is a diver or a dabbler. Feet far back on the body enable diving but impede walking. Centered feet are best for walking and dabbling.

Mammal feet have taken some interesting developments over time. Human feet and those of other hominids, are fairly boring. Ours are plantigrade, where we walk heel to toe. Many other mammals have feet quite different from this. Dogs and cats, for instance, walk on the ball of their foot and toes. The  heel is actually placed well up the leg. Ungulates, such as cattle, elk, deer and moose, take that a step further. Their hooves are their toe nails, so they walk essentially like ballerinas, on the tips of two toes. Horses are similar except that their foot/hoof is a single toe.

We only have two feet, but most mammals have four. However, all four feet are not necessarily identical. A bear’s hindfoot is similar to that of a hominid, but the front foot is more like that of a dog. Also, with most four-footed mammals, even if front and back feet are similar, like those of an elk or deer, the front feet are almost always larger to help compensate for the extra weight of head and neck.

There are some animals that have feet so highly modified that they have essentially become something else. Marine mammals come to mind. In cetaceans—whales and dolphins--, hind limbs and the pelvic girdle have all but disappeared while front flippers evolved from forefeet with one or two digits elongating significantly. When Pinnipeds—seals and walruses--, returned to the water, their forelimbs developed into flippers much like those of cetaceans. Their hind limbs, however, essentially fused together and the digits lengthened, creating dual flippers out of their rear feet.

Feet make all the running, jumping, landing, digging and swimming possible. Without them, we would all be like the snakes and that doesn’t sound fun at all.

Help Idaho Wildlife

When we traveled across the state in October 2017, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates. Buying wildlife plates is a great way for non-hunters and hunters alike to support wildlife-based recreation like birding.

C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles! 

See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live. 

And tell them that you heard about it from Nature-track.com!

Wildlife License Plates

Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.

No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.

Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.

Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program.

I think it is time we let the Legislature know that Idahoan support wildlife funding and that we would like to see these generic plates come to fruition.

"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson

That is embarrassing, but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.

Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.

Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.

Readers Write:

"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman

"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.

To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version 


Copies are also available at:

Post Register

Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)

Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls

Harriman State Park, Island Park

Museum of Idaho

Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming

Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah

Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho