Archive for the ‘Animals’ Category

Turn Your Back Yard Into Wildlife Refuge

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

By Suzanne Sproul

YOUR BACKYARD is for the birds, butterflies and whatever form of wildlife you like.

To ensure they are attracted to your yard, set out the welcome mat. Create a habitat or environment that combines sources of food, water, shelter and space. With the proper landscaping, nature’s creatures will want to stop and stay a spell.

“I’m a gardener, so all this comes naturally to me. Creating the habitat is part of my life’s mission, really. My husband and I are involved with the local humane society and we try to help where we can. With our population growing so quickly, the land is falling to development all the time. We still need space for wildlife. I believe that one individual can make a difference, that one back yard can make all the difference,” said Nancy Alexander of Redlands, CA.

Alexander isn’t alone in her beliefs. She and her husband, Cliff, bought their present home eight years ago. The former owner of the house told them that the yard was certified as a backyard habitat.

“That intrigued me, so I found out more about the program. I liked what I found out, and we decided to do something ourselves. We wanted to create our own habitat and get the yard recertified,” she said. So the Alexanders relandscaped their back yard.

“We chose to go native, and it’s been wonderful. Choosing native plants works because birds and wildlife already are accustomed to it and the plants are so easy to work with. There’s very little maintenance. The yard basically takes care of itself.”

Local wildlife love it, especially a family of California Thrashers that used to live next door in what was once a 40-acre field. The field is gone, replaced by development, but the thrashers apparently have jumped the fence and now enjoy the confines of the Alexander yard. They have joined the birds that stop by daily and lizards that scamper at will.

“You don’t have to relandscape like we did. All you need to do is carve out a small piece of your back yard. Plant some natives. If they provide berries, all the better. Then you’ll have shelter and a food source all in one place. Add a birdbath. It doesn’t have to take over your life and you can give back a little of the joy that nature gives us.”

Susan Campos also feels a special kinship with nature.

“I was raised with the citrus industry. I love agriculture and animals. I love to garden. I love birds and flowers. Creating a backyard habitat for me is just plain natural,” said the Pomona resident.

Her yard is filled with fragrant roses, vibrant salvias and countless other plants as well as water fountains and feeders. She’s particularly fond of hummingbirds and finches, both frequent and welcome visitors.

“I love to just watch my yard. I discover things every day. One day there was this little green bird that kept coming around my hummer feeder. I watched and loved it and I wanted to learn more. So I asked a friend who knows all about birds and gardening. She said it probably was a finch,” Campos said. So she put in another bird feeder. That one features finch food. Now Campos has aerial ballets every day.

“Hummers are comical characters, and finches are charming. The more I’m out in the yard and the more noise I make, the more the birds get friendly. I saw the most beautiful butterfly the other day. I love it. The more you plant, the more you bring in to your yard.” she said.

Plant your landscape with everything you enjoy, but keep in mind that animals and birds require some basics. Water sources are essential in any backyard habitat. If left unattended, however, they can become stagnant and dirty, providing an ideal climate for mosquitoes. Remember to keep everything clean. –Los Angeles Daily News

Truth About Wildlife Myths

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

THESE popular myths have been around forever, passed on from generation to generation. We are hoping that educating the next generation will ultimately result in a better co-existence between humans and wildlife.”

Myth # 1: Feeding bread to geese and ducks is a wonderful family activity.
Fact: Bread is bad for birds because it offers no nutritional value whatsoever. Severe health problems, including a debilitating condition called “Angel Wing” is caused by bread. Birds have actually starved to death on a diet of bread. Hand-feeding leads to dependency because ducklings and goslings won’t learn how to find native foods on their own, and some birds become aggressive about being fed – all of which leads to a tragic outcome.

Myth # 2: If you find a fawn alone, she has been orphaned.
Fact: It is actually very common to see fawns alone because the mother will “park” her babies in one place and only visit two to three times a day to avoid attracting predators. Until the fawn is four weeks old, you will rarely see the mother. Instead, the fawn relies on camouflage and lying still for protection during this vulnerable period.

Myth # 3: If you touch a baby bird the parents will abandon him.
Fact: Birds have a limited sense of smell, but are strongly bonded to their chicks. They will not abandon them if handled by humans. The best thing humans can do if a baby bird falls from its nest is to put him right back in it. The parents will return to feed them. Watch carefully: They will feed their chicks several times an hour, from dawn ’til dusk.

Myth # 4: If you see a Raccoon during the day, he must be rabid.
Fact: Raccoons are opportunistic and will appear whenever food is around. Although they are normally nocturnal, it is not uncommon to see Raccoons during the day when pet food is out-side, especially in spring and summer when mom Raccoons have high energy demands due to nursing their young cubs. Only if the animal is acting disoriented or sick, such as circling, staggering, or screeching–in addition to being seen by day–should a local animal control officer be contacted.

Myth # 5: If you get close to a skunk, you’ll get sprayed.
Fact: It is actually extremely difficult for a person to get sprayed by a skunk. These animals only spray to defend them-selves, such as when a dog runs up and grabs them. But because they cannot “reload” very fast, skunks do not waste their odiferous weapon. Instead, they will stamp their front feet as a warning to get you to back off.

Myth # 6: Bats get tangled up in your hair if they fly near you.
Fact: The last place a bat wants to be is in your hair! They navigate using a complex sonar-like system called echolocation which allows them to “see” their world with fine precision. The misconception about bats flying in hair is based on a bat’s swooping flight patterns when they get trapped in a confined space, like a house. Bats have a long wingspan; the reason they swoop is not to fly into your hair, but to stay airborne.

Myth # 7: Cats belong outdoors and it is not fair to keep them inside the house.
Fact: Letting cats roam outside subjects them to perils of the outdoor world, particularly being hit by cars. Indoor cats live a healthier and longer life. Outdoor cats, even well-fed ones, spend much time mangling and killing wildlife like ground-nesting baby rabbits, chipmunks and baby birds that have not yet learned to fly. Wildlife and cats are at risk when people let their cats out.

Myth # 8: Opossums are vicious and rabid.
Opossums are resistant to rabies most likely due to their low body temperature. Opossums are also harmless, benign creatures that can hardly defend themselves. Their hissing, teeth-baring, and drooling is not a sign of rabies but rather a bluff to scare off potential predators. When their “I’m scary” act doesn’t work, they play dead.

Myth # 9: Canada Geese stick around because they forgot how to migrate.
Geese that live in one place year-round do so through no fault of their own. They are descendants of captive-bred geese introduced by wildlife agencies over 50 years ago to create “opportunities” for hunters. Geese were also released by people who thought they would simply look nice on their ponds. As a result, transplanted geese never learned to migrate from their parents, and thrive in our suburban landscapes.

Laura Simon, Field Dir.

Tracking Wildlife Is A Worthy Pursuit

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

By Ken Allen
ON NEW YEAR’S DAY, snow had finally coated the ground in central Maine, a perfect, thin layer that did not impede walking and allowed even the most casual observer to see tracks–uncensored stories that told of the comings and goings of wildlife creatures.

What a precious gift for amateur naturalists who want to read the tales.

Each winter, after snow falls around my home in Belgrade Lake–a rather heavily developed spit of land between ponds–the abundance of deer tracks offers a perfect example of deer coexisting with humans. These ungulates roam everywhere in the bottom third of Maine, despite wall-to-wall dwellings in places.

Deer wander between village houses around my home, usually after dark, but daylight raids on shrubs, hard mast and leftover garden produce, herbs and flowers are common enough. Many nights, a doe with three fawns comes onto my back lawn as day turns to full dark, and it seems so odd to sit in a hot tub and watch deer 20 yards away, completely unaware that a human watches.

Recently, light snow cover had made walks in the woods delightful. Wildlife leave tracks galore that can entertain hikers, and these conditions offer adults the perfect opportunity to show children wildlife behavior.

Deer are one of my favorite critters to follow. They move in a predictable pattern, which reassures me that in a chaotic world, some behavior still follows set rules. For example, herding critters like deer walk and forage with their noses into the wind, and as a general rule, we can depend on deer following their noses to tell them what lies ahead in ambush.

One mid-November afternoon in my childhood, I first learned this deer tactic after jumping a huge buck, just a bobbing tail with a wide romp in the distance. The first snowstorm of the season had left a perfect tracking medium two inches deep, and its hoof print was 3-1/2 inches wide. Wind came from the west, and the mammoth male ran straight into it with me in pursuit. Soon, though, he slowed to a walk, easy to decipher.

Meteorologists had predicted a second storm, and sure enough, in early afternoon, the wind began swinging in increments toward the east. When the steady, westerly breeze first shifted, it held from the southwest for a while. When it first moved to the southwest, I looked at my watch as my father had taught me and continued tracking. Fifteen minutes later, I came to the spot where the buck’s trail had turned southwest, telling me the buck was 15 minutes ahead.

A short while later, the wind direction swung to the south, and again, the deer changed directions to keep its nose into the breeze. From the time the wind had changed, it had taken me 25 minutes to walk to the spot where the trail had swung south, so the buck was gaining ground on me. Darkness ended my hunting day, but the lesson about deer moving into the wind stuck.

Here’s another point: The tracker may be 20 minutes or three hours behind deer, but do not despair. Deer bed down, and that gives the pokiest tracker a chance of catching up.

Bucks follow does and offspring through woods and across fields, leading folks to arrive at an erroneous conclusion. Some people think that bucks trailing behind illustrate cowardly behavior, but in truth, their acutely sensitive noses tell them what predator lies ahead. The one vulnerable spot is the back trail, which bucks defend with their antlers–if needed.

I’ve said this before in my column, but it bears reiterating because folks following deer now can see this behavior in snow. Deer love to walk into a thicket below a ridge, where they meander around in the dense cover before continuing in a straight line as if they are heading for another township. They stroll for 100 or more yards and then double-back to the ridge overlooking the thicket and bed down where they can watch the back trail below. When a predator comes along, deer spot the danger and slip off.

In flat country, deer set up this trap in an opening such as a clear-cut. They’ll meander across it, walk off and come back to a spot where they can watch their back trail from a safe distance. With snow, amateur naturalists can watch deer pulling these stunts and marvel. Following deer in early winter has never grown old for me.

Coyotes are fun to track, too. When following one, the tracker cannot miss this canine’s opportunistic nature. For starters, whenever the trail leads to a stump or fallen log that has rotted, coyotes check out the spot for tiny rodents. Occasionally, a smudge of blood shows the mini-hunt’s outcome.

The coyote trail will also lead to swamp edges in bottomlands, where varying hare tracks dot the ground. This prey animal represents an important protein source for coyotes as well as Lynx and Bobcat. In the bottom third of Maine, hare habitat has declined, putting more coyote pressure on deer.

Whitetails fall prey to coyotes, and according to the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife research, deer may comprise 50 percent to 80 percent of a coyote’s winter diet. In fact, depending on the deer herd size, Maine coyote may eat upwards to 22,000 deer and more per year, and of that figure, coyotes may take over 17,500 deer in winter. Because of that, hikers hot on a deer or coyote track may come across a gruesome sight now.

Bobcat tracks can be a rather rare occurrence in this area, but following a cat can create lots of entertainment as does a Fisher trail. Whether the animal is a Moose or mouse, though, a careful eye can read the story in snow and learn plenty about wildlife.–Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel

Top 10 Things to Do in Winter

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

By Bill Thompson, III
JUST because the days are shorter and the warblers and hummingbirds are gone from our midst (for most of us, that is) doesn’t mean we should put our binoculars, field guides, and bird watching plans in storage for the winter.

There are many winter activities we can enjoy as backyard bird watchers. Here are a few suggestions:

1. Feeder check. I know it’s obvious, and the birds don’t really need our feeders to survive, but let this serve as a gentle reminder to check on your seed stock and on the status of your feeders. While inspecting my feeders the other day, I noticed that our large gazebo feeder was nearly falling apart. Its replacement looks a lot better and holds more seed-an all-around upgrade.

2. Switch to high-protein foods. Suet and peanuts are great high-energy foods for winter bird feeding. Today, more than ever before, there is a plethora of great peanut and suet feeders available to discerning consumers. Visit any store selling wild-bird products and ask about these feeders and foods. If there is no retail store in your area, head for the grocery store. Purchase generic unsalted peanuts (shells removed) and offer them on your platform feeder or in a tube or hopper feeder. At the meat counter, look for packages of suet (sometimes labeled as beef kidney fat). Suet can be offered as is, placed in a mesh onion bag, or it can be rendered (melted) and then re-hardened in your freezer. Some feeder operators who render their own suet also add raisins, oats, corn meal, peanut bits, or peanut butter to the mix while it is in liquid form. Poured into small cups or ice trays it will harden into handy sizes for feeding.

3. Watch for unusual visitors. Bad weather can really smoke out the unusual birds. Heavy snows here in Ohio will bring lots of our usual feeder visitors to our yard, plus blackbirds and the occasional oddity such as a swamp sparrow or a Savannah sparrow. Will this be the winter that the northern finches invade southward? I hope so. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a common redpoll or an evening grosbeak.

4. Make bird shelters. Our windy ridgetop yard catches every gust of cold winter weather. We try to make our birds a bit more comfortable by building brushpiles and lean-to wind breaks on the windward side of our feeders. These structures, which take only a few minutes to build, block the full effect of the wind, giving the birds a sheltered spot for feeding and resting. Creating these sheltered spots gives me more satisfaction-almost- than feeding the birds. For an example of a lean-to shelter, please see page 96 of the January/February 2001 issue of Bird Watcher’s Digest.

5. Check your nest boxes for roosters. If you have sturdy nest boxes on your property you may already be providing a sheltered spot for your birds. Check inside your nest boxes for evidence that birds are using them as nighttime roosts. Our bluebird boxes host as many birds in winter as they do in summer. Nuthatches, titmice, chickadees, woodpeckers, wrens, owls, starlings, house sparrows, and bluebirds are just a few of the species that will roost in nest boxes outside the normal breeding season.

6. Follow a feeding flock. While you’re out filling the feeders or out for a walk in the woods, watch and listen for signs of a feeding flock. Winter feeding flocks comprise birds of different species that are loosely knit together in a quest for food, while being vigilant for predators. A typical feeding flock here in Ohio might consist of chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, kinglets, woodpeckers, creepers, and perhaps a yellow-rumped warbler, an eastern bluebird, and a hermit thrush. The flock will make little chips and seets and other noises while flitting through the trees looking for food. If an alarm note sounds, watch for the flock to stop moving or make a dash for thicker cover.

7. Look at tracks. A favorite winter activity of mine is trying to determine what a bird has done by looking at the impressions it has left in the snow. It’s amazing how much of your yard is visited by birds in the course of a day. The bird tracks left behind in the snow can be a great indication of what birds were there and what they were doing. I especially enjoy looking at crow tracks to try to discern what these very smart birds were doing and thinking. Sometimes I’ll find a spot where an owl’s wing and leg prints tell me of a plunge after an unseen mouse, or a set of turkey tracks headed for my neighbor’s cornfield. As an added activity, try to decipher the many animal tracks you’ll also encounter.

8. Listen for owls. January and February are prime courtship and nesting time for many owl species. This means that the owls may be calling in the middle of the night, communicating with potential mates and rivals. Take a moment to step outside and give a listen. Here’s a tip: Cup a hand behind each ear. This focuses the sound, creating a kind of parabolic gathering of sound. If you hear an unfamiliar sound in the night, consult one of the many excellent audio guides to bird sounds to solve your mystery. While listening for owls in the winter of 1998, we discovered that coyotes had moved into our area. Hearing those coyotes yip and howl was thrilling and eerie at the same time.

9. Watch for signs of spring. While your eyes and ears are tuned in to nature, listen and watch for the first subtle signs of spring. Many resident bird species will begin singing on warm, sunny January days, even though the breeding season is weeks or months away. The lengthening days and increasing intensity of sunlight act to stimulate the birds’ hormones. Evidence of this is seen in the increased attention that males will pay to females (singing, chasing, defending) and in the increase in general activity among your birds. Long before any nest building takes place, our mourning doves are doing their sad cooing, our male bluebirds are chortling and waving their wings from the top of our houses, and our male goldfinches are getting just a little bit brighter plumage.

10. Keep a journal. When did the first junco show up at your feeder last fall? When did the last hummingbird depart? What date do the fox sparrows pass through in spring? Did that sapsucker show up in 1996 or 1997? These are questions that can be answered with a quick reference to your bird or nature journal. As I’ve mentioned before in these pages, keeping some sort of written record of your sightings can be fun, useful, and fascinating. We keep our journal in a spiral-bound volume intended for that purpose. We also keep bird sightings notes on our home computer, so we know exactly when the phoebe started building its nest under our deck in 1996. Things to note in a journal include sightings, date, time, weather conditions, plus bird behavior, arrival and departure dates, and interesting tidbits you wish to remember. Try it, you’ll like it! –Birdwatchers Digest

Tips On Living With the Wild

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

By Kathy Van Mullekom
AS neighborhoods sprawl into rural areas and shopping centers claim remaining woods in cities, a new breed of wildlife emerges.

Rabbits, Raccoons and deer aren’t so wild any more because we’re taking away their habitats and they are learning to live among us.

“We’ve forced wildlife to become suburbanized,” says Laura Simon, field director of the urban wildlife program for the Humane Society of the United States.

“They are opportunistic and adaptive. As habitats are cut down and developments move in, they’ve had to move closer to our homes to nest and eke out a life.”

In many cities nationwide, those adapting animals include deer, Raccoons, Canada Geese, squirrels, skunks and rabbits—even foxes.

“The reason foxes are adapting well is that they are moving in where their food sources, such as rabbit, songbirds and the young of Raccoons and opossums, are plentiful,” says Jim Seward, assistant park services and program at Sandy Bottom Nature Park in Hampton, VA.

“A concern on the horizon is the invasion of suburbia by the coyote, which may make the concerns of all the other nuisance wildlife pale in comparison.”

During spring, animals are particularly active because they’re having babies and searching for food and water. Often, their habits clash with ours and life becomes a little combative.

Here are some tips from the humane society and the National Wildlife Federation on how to peacefully co-exist with wild friends that may visit your yard:

What they like to eat: Mice and other creatures people dislike, raid trash cans and bird feeders and nibble on food remains from barbecue grills.

What they like to do:
Raccoons raise their young in dead, hollow trees. But people often cut those down, so raccoons often look for uncapped chimneys to serve as nurseries.

What you can do: Avoid feeding Raccoons or they will hang out all night, every night, expecting free handouts. If your chimney has no cap on the top, and you have no Raccoons in it, have a chimney expert install a cap. If you have a mother and her young in your chimney, wait for her to move them to ground level, which she will do when her young are about 6 weeks old. If you have Raccoon babies in your chimney and you cap it before she gets her babies out, the mother will rip out shingles to get to them.

For bird feeders, install a 2-foot-long plastic-pipe baffle that’s open on the bottom and closed at the top. Position it 4 feet off the ground; a Raccoon’s haunches are not strong enough to scale it. These baffles are available at wildlife specialty stores.

What they like to eat: Young tender plants, including veggies and perennials; clover is their favorite; plants browsed by rabbits have a neat, clipped appearance.

What they like to do: Make baby bunnies three to four litters a year. They create nests in open places, favoring tall grass.

What you can do: To protect plants, use bad-smelling repellents such as Liquid Fence (available at many local garden centers). Black netting over plants also helps protect them; its almost-invisible look is barely noticeable in the garden.

In Colonial Williamsburg, garden historian Wesley Greene uses a granular product called Rabbit No More to protect lettuce; it and Mole No More, both nontoxic, are available at or call (402) 658-5180.

For fencing, use 2-ft.-high chicken fence supported by posts every 6 to 8 feet; make sure the bottom is either buried 6 to 8 inches deep or is staked securely to the ground to prevent rabbits from pushing underneath it.

What they like to eat: They can empty a bird feeder in no time and nibble on your almost-ripe tomatoes; also will chew wires and even the gas line on your grill.

What they like to do: Build nests at the top of chimneys, only to sometimes have them fall down into those cavities; or, jump down into chimneys, thinking they are hollow trees; they can’t climb out those slippery slopes.

What you can do: Cap chimneys. If a wandering squirrel gets in an uncapped chimney, go up on the roof and lower a long -inch rope into the chimney, leaving the rest of the rope hanging off the side of the house; the squirrel will easily climb the rope and get out. Remove rope and cap chimney.

To evict a family of squirrels from an attic, use a blaring radio or put ammonia-soaked rags in the area. Strobe lights in the attic are also effective at “freaking them out,” say wildlife experts. Check to make sure you have no holes in your siding or exterior trim where more squirrels can enter.

Outdoors, use caged bird feeders to keep squirrels from raiding them. Safflower is a bird seed that squirrels seem to dislike. Squirrel baffles on feeders also help; they are available at wildlife specialty stores and garden centers. Wildlife experts suggest you feed the squirrels to keep them happy and away from feeders.

To help prevent squirrels from eating tomatoes, place containers of fresh water outdoors for them; they are usually thirsty and looking for a drink.

What they like to eat: Grubs, mice, baby rats and Japanese beetles

What they like to do: Spray dogs that get too close to them; get under your house and shed; skunks and cats get along fine.

What you can do: Seal up any entry points under your house and outbuildings.

To deodorize a dog, mix a quart of hydrogen peroxide, 1/2 cup of baking soda and 1 teaspoon of a liquid soap. Wash the dog in this concoction, rinse, shampoo, rinse again and the smell is gone. Tip: A black dog may have a few rust-colored highlights after this application. Tomato juice does not work. If a skunk sprays a dog’s tongue, there is no real way to deodorize it.

Canada Geese

What they like to eat: Grass shoots

What they like to do: Litter yards and golf courses with droppings when they land and stay on grassy areas; flock to open water for protection from predators.

What you can do: Reduce fertilizer use and supplemental water to reduce young grass shoots. Allow grass to “naturalize.” Grass that’s 6 inches high has fewer tender shoots, making the food more difficult for geese to find.

To keep them from loitering on grassy areas, establish a hedge or planting of ornamental grasses, cattails or shrubs along the edge of the water; this disrupts the clear sight line they need to have when a predator approaches them. Boulders larger than 2 feet wide and 12 inches high can be mixed between plants.

Border collies have been successful in deterring geese at golf courses, parks, airports and condos.

What they like to eat: After a long winter nap, they fill up on most anything in a garden

What they like to do: These cautious animals generally fear people but will burrow under houses, porches and other buildings.

What you can do: To keep them out of your garden, add objects that blow in the wind, including balloons and reflective Mylar tape.

The best solution is a 3-ft-high mesh or chicken-wire fence with two tricks built into it. The top above-ground part should be floppy, or staked loosely to wooden stakes so it wobbles if the animal tries to climb over it. The bottom 12 inches should run parallel to the ground and be secured with landscaping staples as a “false bottom” to prevent digging under it.

To encourage them to move along, put urine-soaked cat litter inside burrow entrances.

What they like to eat: Plants, plants and more plants, especially tender ones like azaleas, tomatoes and perennials

What they like to do: Strip foliage and bark from plants

What you can do: Garden wisely, including using plants deer dislike: strong-smelling mint, geranium and marigolds; daffodils; toxic foxglove and nightshade species; fuzzy and prickly plants; ornamental grasses and ferns; salvias; asters; allium; and native plants. For a list of deer-resistant plants, visit

To scare them away, use motion-activated sprinklers; battery-operated stakes feature scent lures that deliver a mild shock and teach deer to avoid certain areas of the garden.For repellents, local gardeners and extension offices report good results with a bad-smelling product called Liquid Fence, available at garden centers.

Deer-proof fencing is the most effective method. Fencing options include plastic mesh, electrified polytape, woven wire and electric fence kits that come with a scented lure.

Tips On Living With The Wild
Here’s help on living in harmony with wildlife, courtesy of the Humane Society of the United States, WindStar Wildlife Institute and National Wildlife Federation:

• Button up your house. Check home’s exterior and interior for places where wildlife can enter. Un-capped chimneys, holes in siding or trim and open foundation vents and access doors are entry points for animals. Birds like to build nests inside dryer and bathroom ventilation pipes. Placing screens over the pipe on the outside is an ideal way to fix that problem; if a bird and its nest are already in the pipe, wait until the family has left to remove the nest and screen the area. It takes about 21 days for baby birds to leave home.

• Seal off access to areas under decks and storage sheds. To check for animals, sprinkle a 12-inch band of white flour around the deck or shed, checking for animal footprints; you also can stuff any hole with newspaper and wait 48 hours to see if an animal pushes it away.

• Remove temptation. Songbirds are good to feed, but raccoons are not. If raccoons raid your birdfeeders, remove the feeders at night or install stovepipe-style baffles to keep raccoons from scurrying up the poles supporting the feeders.

• Use trashcans that raccoons can’t open (cans with 4-inch twist-off lids are good) or tip over easily. Keep barbecue grills clean; even nonfood products such as candles, sunscreen and insect repellent can attract animals, so keep those indoors when you’re not using them.

• Make them move along. To safely make your yard inhospitable to wildlife, use rotten egg-smelling repellents such as Liquid Fence on plants. Devices that spray water, move or make noise often help; one that seems to work effectively is the motion-activated scarecrow that shoots sprays of water.

• Clean the roof. Trim branches away from your house to limit access for climbing wildlife; check limbs, chimneys and attics for occupied nests before trimming.

Learn more. For more information, visit, and –Daily Press (Newport News, VA)

Think Of Wildlife When Decorating For Holidays

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

By Laura Bailey
THE COLORADO Division of Wildlife is asking people to be mindful of wildlife while putting up outdoor Christmas displays this year.

Every year wildlife officers are called to help free animals caught in lights and decorations, but the division is trying to reduce such mishaps by instructing people how to safely decorate.

To help reduce the number of the incidents, the division is asking people to follow the following tips:

  • Avoid stringing lights clotheslines-style across the yard.
  • Place flagging along wired decorations so deer can see where the wire is.
  • Use multiple strands of wire plugged together versus one long strand so that if animals become entangled they have less wire get out of.

  • String lights on trees with larger trunks, or more than six inches in diameter. Such trees are less likely to be rubbed by bucks who get antlers entangled in the lights.

Also the division is cautioning people not to approach or try to help an entangled animal, because greater injury to the animal or to the person could result.

“Definitely do not approach an animal on your own,” said spokeswoman Jennifer Churchill. “They’re stressed out from having that stuff on them and they shouldn’t be near people in general,” she said.

In the majority of cases, the animal will work itself out of the lights its own, Churchill said. “Nine times out of ten, if it’s an antler situation they will come off,” she said. If it appears the animal is being constricted and cannot breathe or eat, citizens should call the division for help.

Think About Wildlife in House, Yard Design

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

By Eleanor C. Foerste
MORE HOUSES and more people mean less natural habitat for some wildlife but new homes for others. Wildlife living in close proximity to people means more wildlife encounters.

As we develop the natural landscape, our homes, our pets and our cars put native animals at risk for injury. Do your part to minimize the damage. Our homes can be hazardous to wildlife. Window films with reflective coatings interfere with bird flight patterns, resulting in thousands of deaths and injuries each year. There are other energy-efficient window alternatives to minimize wildlife injury. You can try placing the silhouette of a diving hawk on the window to scare birds from the area.Your Cooperative  Extension office has patterns that may be helpful.

Our homes can invite wildlife into dangerous situations. As seen in the recent cartoon movie Over the Hedge, pet doors allow more than pets to enter your home. The onscreen havoc pales in comparison to some real-life adventures I have heard of when skunks and Raccoons also learn to use the pet doors to gain access to your home for food and shelter. If you are considering this as a convenience option for your pet, perhaps you could limit the access to only the storage room or the garage, rather than the entire house.

Wildlife encounters may be fatal for animals as well as humans when they involve roads. We read signs and change locations when detour routes are posted, but it is hard to train the animals to change their travel paths when roads are built. Cars have overturned when they hit a wild pig on the road because they are small enough to get under the vehicle frame. This is bad news for car, driver and pig. Evasive maneuvers to avoid injuring wildlife on the road can also be dangerous as portrayed in car insurance commercials.

Wildlife rehabilitators, those licensed to care for injured wildlife, provide several other suggestions to reduce animal injuries as we continue to expand human territory:

Check lawns and grass fields for nests before mowing high grass. This is especially important in the spring when rabbits and birds are nesting. Check for active nests before pruning tree limbs and dense shrubbery. Leave some dead trees as homes for cavity-nesting wildlife.

Keep pets and their food indoors. It is safer for them, because they will not be exposed to diseases they can catch from wild animals. Dispose of litter properly and clean up litter in natural areas. Litter can be mistaken for food and cause digestive problems.

Don’t feed wildlife. It is against the law and is not good for the animals. A neighbor’s porch was destroyed by an otter that had gotten used to eating bacon. Locals’ cars and homes have been damaged by the powerful pecking of sandhill cranes looking for another handout.

Wildlife needs to forage or find the best food for their bodies, and our diets may alter their nutritional intake, making them more likely to get sick. It also changes the animal’s behavior and puts them at more risk of injury by humans and our pets. Feeding songbirds to supplement their diet is popular, but be sure to keep feeders and birdbaths clean to prevent disease. Wear gloves so you don’t get germs that can make you sick.

Cap chimneys to keep birds and wildlife from moving in and becoming a nuisance.

Don’t try to keep wild animals for pets, and use special care with injured or orphaned wildlife. The best policy is often to do nothing and let the animals care for themselves. If you want to help injured or orphaned wildlife, support licensed trained wildlife rehabilitators. They need volunteers and donations of feed, blankets and money to pay for veterinary services.

Contact your Cooperative Extension office for names of local rehabbers and a free handout on caring for inured or orphaned wildlife.

Walk in the woods
Take a walk on the wild side and see nature in action. Walks in natural areas provide an opportunity to better understand wildlife behavior and animals’ connection to the ecosystem. Though you may not always see animals and birds, you can learn to look for evidence of their presence and find out why they occur in some areas and not in others. — Orlando Sentinel

EDITOR’S NOTE:  Eleanor Foerste is a natural resources agent with the University of Florida/IFAS Osceola County Extension Office

The Wolves of Winter

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

By Dennis Doyle
THE BIG ONES are solitary and lethal. Patiently stalking their quarry, they attack without warning in slashing, violent rushes that seldom fail. The smaller and medium-sized individuals will often travel in loose packs, lurking around the types of cover that conceal their presence and attract their prey.

They are far more numerous here in the Tidewater of the Chesapeake Bay than you might suspect, for few of us venture out during the colder months on the waters where these finned creatures rule.

The Chain Pickerel has many colloquial names; water wolf is one of the more apt. They also answer to grass pike, river pike, green pike, jackfish and chainsides. Its scientific name is Esox niger. A handsome game fish, it is eagerly aggressive.

I have seen them take snakes and small ducks in the summertime. There are stories—perhaps fanciful, perhaps not—of young muskrats and other small animals falling prey to the larger fish. I’m surprised that Tidewater barracuda has not become one of their many aliases.

They are long, slim, toothy and muscular. Colored a dark, luminous green over a tinted pearl underbelly, they have a distinctive chain-mail pattern covering their flanks that provides excellent camouflage and the source of their common name.

Pickerel can grow to 36 inches in length, but the average size is more in the 18- to 24-inch range. They are somewhat active most of the year, but it is their dominating presence during the coldest winter months that endears them to a devoted group of hardy anglers. In January and February, they are the only gamefish in town.

Light spinning tackle strung with six- to 10-pound test monofilament is the most ideal tool for hooking up and duking it out with this strong fighting fish. A.J. McClane, one of the more accomplished journalists of the angling experience, was fond of referring to them as “chained lightning.” Tangle with one once, and you will recognize how accurate his description is.

These next two months are my favorites for hunting Chain Pickerel. I usually choose calm sunny weather and a spinner bait as my searching lure. The 1⁄6-ounce Rooster Tails that I use for summertime white perch work well, as does a #3 silver Mepps spinner dressed with squirrel tail. Middle-of-the-day moving tides on either side of the flood are best. Avoid low water conditions.

Their many pointed teeth, arranged in a long smirking mouth, are designed for grasping rather than severing, so I don’t bother with a leader, though I do suffer the occasional cutoff. A short section of 20-pound mono or flurocarbon leader will ensure against this.

Small swimming plugs like the Rattle Trap and Rapala Countdown are also excellent lures, but the front treble hooks ought to be removed, and the barbs of the remaining treble should be mashed flat. The fight of a pickerel is especially violent and twisting, and these hooks can cause unwanted wounding to a valiant fish.

The deadliest bait for pickerel is a large shad dart, or small jig, tipped with a bull minnow. Fished typically under a bobber and cast to the kind of ambush structure they favor, it will quickly determine if the fish are present. This is one bait they can’t seem to resist. Retrieve it in a slow, irregular pattern with frequent pauses, or troll it slowly behind a quietly moving boat.

Their favorite brackish water territories are in the shallow, middle and upper reaches of virtually all the Bay tributaries. They prefer to prowl the waters under and around fallen trees, old piers, pilings, weeds and any floating debris or driftwood. They can also be found near similar structures in most of the freshwater lakes and ponds throughout Maryland.

A 6-1/⁄2-pound fish is the record for the Chesapeake, and Johnson’s Pond in Salisbury boasts the freshwater mark of seven pounds four ounces.

Tablewise they are not ideal fare. Although possessed of a firm, sweet, white flesh, they have a multitude of fine bones throughout their musculature, making them a chore to clean and tedious to eat. This makes them perfect candidates to be released to fight again, one of the many fish in our rich waters that are too precious to use only once. –Bay Journal

The Sleeping Buck

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

By David A. Murray
PLANNING is the key element to a successful photo shoot. Although, the best-made plans can’t prevent the inevitable, however, it can stack the odds in your favor. Good preparation and planning can minimize the chances for major oversights or mishaps.

I spent a lot of time planning for a trip to the Great Smoky Mountains. The time of year I would be there was considered the off-season and, as with most seasonal locations, most businesses and services would be closed. This could mean long distances to travel for supplies, and lost shooting time as well.

I previously photographed in the Great Smoky Mountains on several other occasions, but on this trip, instead of flying, I would be driving and staying in my truck camper for about two weeks. This would make it difficult to balance the quantities of food, water, propane, and other necessary supplies needed for the duration of the trip. In the small space of the truck-camper, the storage capacity for supplies and equipment is extremely limited and good planning becomes that much more essential.

For years I have used, and continue to add to, a database list of supplies, equipment, and gear. The database includes items for camping, canoe/boat travel, safety and survival, photography gear and accessories, etcetera – I call this my “Travel List.” The list covers the gamut of supplies, clothing, and gear pertaining to a one-day shoot in the Maine North Woods or a month-long trip in Alaska.

I divide the “Travel List” into categories, such as clothing, footwear, general equipment, photo equipment, personal gear, and so on. All clothing, footwear, and supplies have a designated code for seasonal usage. For example, heavy wool pants are designated as winter clothing, whereas Gore-Tex® rain gear would carry a designation for all the seasons. This allows the ability of filtering through the list for a specific time of year or the climate of the shooting location. The mission

It was still dark outside, as the steam from my first cup of coffee drifted out of the vent hole in the travel mug. The road was pleasantly empty. The driving time to the Smokies would be about twenty hours. I calculated the route using the Rand McNally TripMaker® software. The route and departure time was calculated so that I would not be traveling through the major cities during heavy traffic hours.

The mission was simple. I needed to get to the Smoky Mountains while the white-tailed deer rut was in its final days. The task would not be that simple. Due to conflicts and commitments in my schedule, this trip was postponed for nearly three weeks. By now, many of the big dominant bucks would be heading up into the mountain ridges to feed on acorns in hopes of replenishing some of the fat lost during the rut.

It was a long drive, but fortunately uneventful. The weather fluctuated from cold nights and mornings to sunny and unseasonably warm days. The number of deer sightings was noticeably less than in past years. Did I drive all this way and miss the rut? The poison of discouragement began to set in by the third day of the shoot. The reward of building trust

Things just had to get better, and finally they did. Just after daybreak, I spotted a beautiful buck crossing an overgrown field heading into the woods. I loaded up the photo gear, packed some food and water, and started in where I had last seen him. I was running out of time and needed to locate and work this buck, even if it took until dark.

I came onto a game trail that followed a small stream along the base of a steep hill. After a mile or so, I noticed a deer darting off to the left. It was a doe, and she was acting strangely. I had seen this behavior before, and it wasn’t long before the buck emerged from behind some bushes. He chased her around, and I followed both of them for about three hours. The doe wanted nothing to do with him, at least not yet. Eventually, she ran off and the buck gave up the pursuit.

It was late in the season and the big buck was noticeably tired. It wasn’t long before he found a spot to rest. He was on a hillside, and this gave him the advantage of scent and sight. I knew the only option for photographing him was to gain his acceptance, sneaking up on him was not an option.

I approached from the downhill side, in full view. The buck and I both knew that he could be up and over the other side of the hill in seconds. Slowly, I inched my way up the hill, stopping for ten minutes periodically. I carefully watched the buck’s reaction to my approach. It took about an hour to get within good photographing distance with a 500mm lens. He was still lying down and obviously accepted my being there.

Successful wildlife photography requires patience, persistence, and knowledge of the subject. If the approach had been different, I could have possibly grabbed one or two quick shots. Instead, I chose to invest the time into gaining the trust of this buck and ultimately shot twelve rolls. The buck acknowledged the trust we had established when, for a moment, he fell asleep in my presence. This is my favorite image from those twelve rolls of film. –Boothbay Register

The New Wildlife Biologist

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

By Mike Stahlberg
VIDA, OR–As a teenager, Brian Wolfer rode in the passenger seat of a pick-up truck, holding a spotlight out the window, helping his father survey deer populations for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) in Medford.

At age 32, Wolfer is still spotlighting Blacktail Deer for the state wildlife agency, but now he’s the one in the driver’s seat, one eye on the narrow logging road, the other peering into the woods, looking for the tell-tale glint of deer eyes reflecting light.

Wolfer is the ODFW’s new wildlife biologist in the southern Willamette watershed. Wolfer previously worked as the assistant district biologist, where he dealt with issues ranging from Sage Grouse management to the occasional (unverified) report of a wolf sighting.

The job of wildlife biologists is part wildlife monitor, part wildlife advocate, part public relations, and part lightning rod for any wildlife-related problems or issues that may arise.

Unlike many of his classmates in the wildlife biology program at Oregon State University, Wolfer said, “I knew what I was getting into.” After all, he was simply following his father’s career path.

“Many of those kids had no idea what a biologist actually does,” Wolfer said.  What biologists do during late November and early December–when deer population trend counts and herd composition surveys are conducted after hunting season ends–is log long hours.

On this day, Wolfer arrived at the ODFW’s office in east Springfield at 8:15 a.m. and didn’t head home until almost midnight. In between, he spent the daylight hours on the telephone and at the computer in his office, stepped outside at dusk to take tissue samples from the head of an elk, brought in by a hunter to check for chronic wasting disease, and drove through the darkness for six hours doing deer survey work.

Blacktail Deer tend to bed down during the day and feed in clear cuts at night, so monitoring their population requires biologists to work nights. The deer surveys give wildlife managers an indication of the ratio of bucks and fawns’ does–information that can dictate changes in hunting regulations. In recent years, biologists also have used the surveys to look for signs of deer hair loss syndrome and other diseases.

At other times of the year, Wolfer might be found in the field riding in a helicopter to survey the local elk population, pulling teeth from hunter-harvested Black Bears for use by researchers, monitoring Western Pond Turtle habitat, or counting doves at a spring.

Most of a wildlife biologist’s job, however, involves dealing with people, not animals. And many members of the public have misconceptions about the role of their local wildlife biologist.

“One of the biggest misconceptions is just the size of our staff and the things we have time to respond to ranging from sick and injured wildlife to nuisance wildlife damage,” Wolfer said.

“We’re in a pretty big area here, with a large urban component, and when you have that there are a lot of injured animal issues,” he said. “And we’ve essentially got two people here, so there’s a limit on how much help we can provide to people and still get the rest of our jobs done.”

Indeed, Wolfer and assistant district biologist Christopher Yee rely upon volunteers for such things as wildlife rehabilitation and for help with habitat improvement projects. But Wolfer said he does try to make time to check out reports of sick deer. “I would try to get samples from that animal, as opposed to one that’s been struck by a car.”

Another common misconception is that biologists are available to tranquilize problem animals with dart guns.

“The ability to safely and effectively dart animals is not what people think it is,” Wolfer said. “For instance, we don’t relocate problem Cougars, and the same thing with bears. If an animal is creating enough of a problem that it can’t continue where it’s at, we’re not going to move that problem to somebody else.”

His top job priorities, Wolfer said, include familiarizing himself with his new district and establishing good working relationships with owners and managers of private timberlands in the district.

Due to changes in habitat resulting from reduced timber harvesting on public lands, “private timber is getting more and more important to our hunters,” Wolfer said.

He also wants to use the ODFW’s “Wildlife Access and Habitat Program,” funded by a $2 surcharge on hunting licenses, to help maximize public access to private lands.

“I’d like to try and be a liaison between some of the hunter groups and the timber companies for special projects that the different hunter groups could do,” he said. “I don’t know that we’ve got enough positive face time between our landowners and some of our hunter groups, so I’d like to encourage that.”

The salaries of state wildlife biologists are financed in large part by license and tag fees and excise taxes paid by hunters. (The pay scale for a supervising wildlife biologist ranges from about $40,000 to about $59,000 per year.)

But Wolfer’s job also includes responsibility for non-game species, and he wants to work with owners of private lands used by non-game species.

“We have a lot of unique habitat types around here” such as the oak savannahs on the fringes of the Willamette Valley “that need to be preserved if certain species are going to be maintained in this area,” he said.

“There are landowners who would like to do positive things for wildlife, and I’ll try to work with them to let them know about some of the positive things they can do to enhance habitat values on their lands–just protecting what they have, voluntarily.”

Meanwhile, Wolfer said his first deer surveys in the McKenzie and Indigo units of eastern Lane County are producing mixed results. In some “strongholds” where lots of forage combines with plenty of nearby cover, “deer seem to be doing well, as a whole,” he said, but “we don’t see the numbers” in areas with less-productive habitat.

Of course, Wolfer knows well that spotlighting surveys can produce misleading results.

After all, it was his father, Mervin Wolfer, who came up with the idea of using cameras hidden along deer trails to photograph migrating Blacktail in southern Oregon. The cameras–triggered by breaking a laser beam across the trail–snapped flash or infrared photos of whatever happened along.

And hundreds of Mervin Wolfer’s photos documented that there was a much higher percentage of bucks–and many more big bucks–in the population than had ever seen by hunters, or biologists. –Register-Guard

The Importance of Bridges to Wildlife

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

by DL Ennis
WILDLIFE BRIDGES obviously serve a very important role in our ability to traverse over lakes, streams, rivers, roads, railroads and a multitude of other obstacles.

In our travels we typically drive across bridges and give little thought to what might be residing beneath them. But did you know that bridges are important for wildlife too? Some of you may be familiar with the highly publicized Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin, Texas where 1.5 million Mexican Free-tailed Bats and their young roost.

Or, perhaps you have seen Osprey or gulls nesting on bridges along the coast. But you may be surprised to know that there are a number of different species that have adopted bridges as a place to rest, feed, or raise their young.

Because bridges have become an important habitat structure used by wildlife, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) have begun documenting where and how wildlife is using bridges in Virginia.

What started out as “opportunistic sightings” has turned into a full-scale “Wildlife and Bridges” project. VDGIF is working with Dr. Bill McShea of the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Virginia Department of Transportation to better understand the types of bridges and associated habitats that draw wildlife to them.

Research done by members of the “Wildlife and Bridges” project has revealed, thus far, that seven species of birds, eight species of mammals, and one reptile use bridges.

The birds include Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica), Northern Rough-winged Swallow (Stelgidopteryx serripennis), and Cliff Swallows (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota); Rock Dove or Domestic Pigeon (Columba livia); Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe); Osprey (Pandion haliaetus); and Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus).

The mammals include rafinesque’s Big-eared Bat (Plecotus rafinesquii), Little Brown Bat (Myotis lucifugus), Big Brown Bat (Eptesicus fuscus), Eastern Pipistrelle Bat (Pipistrellus subflavus), Gray Bat (Myotis grisescens), and Northern Long-eared Bat (Myotis septentrionalis); Woodrats (Neotoma floridana); and Gray Fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus).

The only reptile that has been found so far was a Black Rat Snake (Elaphe obsoleta obsolete) that was feeding on a bat. That is a total of 16 different species of wildlife that have been found utilizing bridges so far. It is expected that as the project progresses it will be found that more species use bridges.

While Virginia doesn’t have a situation like that at the Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin, it does have bridges that contain sizable wildlife populations. The actual number of individuals varies depending on the species.

Peregrine Falcons, for example, are highly territorial and will not tolerate another pair in their vicinity. Therefore, you could only expect one pair of peregrines at a bridge. However, bats and swallows are communal breeders; finding 20 to 50 Cliff Swallow nests or 100’s or even 1,000’s of breeding bats would not be unusual. With viewable wildlife becoming a popular pastime, through this project, it is hoped to be able to identify bridges that would be of interest to the naturalist.

The study has looked at bridges throughout the state and found that wildlife uses bridges across all of Virginia. However, when they looked at bridge use in the three major physiographic regions (coastal plain, piedmont, and mountains); some differences in bridge use were found among these regions.

The coastal plain has shown the least amount of use so far with only 18.4% of the bridges being occupied by four species of birds and one species of mammal. The mountain region follows with 34.8% of the bridges being occupied by five species of birds and seven species of mammals. In the Piedmont Region of the state 50% of the bridges are being occupied by five species of birds, three species of mammals, and one reptile. These are preliminary data and as additional bridges in each of the physiographic regions are examined these numbers will likely change.

An understanding of the types of bridges and surrounding habitats being used by wildlife will help the state to better manage the wildlife of Virginia. There may be situations where it would be beneficial to either enhance or discourage bridge use by wildlife.

By understanding the structural components of the bridge or surrounding habitat that attract or discourage wildlife management strategies can be developed for individual bridges or groups of bridges over larger areas. In a few cases the study has found rare or endangered or threatened wildlife using bridges.

The use of this artificial habitat may be a key component in helping to promote some rare species and add to their recovery. As the human population grows our need to understand human-wildlife interactions becomes more important in the use of our natural resources. This project is focused on adding to our knowledge and understanding of Virginia’s wildlife and how we can coexist.

Elsewhere in the US Canada and the UK—Wildlife Bridges, Wildlife Overcrossings, Tunnels, Wildlife Underpass Bridges, and Wildlife corridors—as they are called, are being built to give wildlife, and in some cases cattle, a way to cross busy highways without any danger to themselves or travelers.

For example, just east of Snoqualmie Pass in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State, the state Department of Transportation is proposing to expand Interstate 90 from four lanes to six. This stretch of freeway cuts across several north-south wildlife corridors that must be protected and restored to preserve healthy wildlife populations. State citizens and the US Congress have spent tens of millions of dollars over the last few years to acquire and protect habitat within these corridors.

I believe that most people will be familiar with the narrow concrete cattle bridges which cross some of the UK’s rural motorways which allow a farmer to move cattle across a motorway, without the need for the use of trucks and trailers. Cattle bridges can be fairly narrow, concrete affairs; as the cattle are herded by the farmer, and forced across together; and are more than happy to walk along in a tight group.

A more recent concept is to build so-called wildlife bridges to act as a crossover point for the motorway or a railway line. Whilst a traditional cattle bridge might only be 2, 3 or 4 meters wide, a wildlife bridge might be as wide as 20 or 30 or 40 meters or even wider. Like the wildlife bridges that have already been built in the US, the top of the bridge will be a green space, complete with grass and meadows and shrubs and perhaps even a few small trees. So far as the car or train driver is concerned, he or she is passing through a short tunnel. So far as the wildlife is concerned, they appear to be walking or running across a solid area of safe ground. They are less spooked by traffic noise from below; and, perhaps just as importantly, less pressured by other animals or prey species as they can maintain a larger separation distance between themselves.

What ever they are called, wildlife corridors are necessary because they maintain biodiversity, allow populations to interbreed, and provide access to larger habitats.

Wildlife Corridors connecting Core Reserves are crucial since they increase the effective amount of habitat that is available for species and effectively reverse habitat fragmentation. This is especially important for migratory animals and those with large home ranges. Larger habitats support greater Biodiversity, larger populations, and a wider range of food sources and shelter. They also allow populations to interbreed, improving long-term genetic viability. However, Wildlife Corridors cannot substitute for large areas of protected habitat like those in core reserve systems. –American Chronicle

The Case of the Missing Minnesota Moose

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

By Bill McAuliffe
ISABELLA, MN–Moose 294 lay in deep snow in the scrubby woods, eyes half open in the bright February sun. Huffing steadily, her coat a shimmering walnut brown, she might have been enjoying a winter siesta, but for the pink-tufted tranquilizer dart lodged in her backside.

For researchers Mark Keech and Tiffany Wolf, though, this was no time to relax. From the time Keech had fired the dart from a helicopter into the fleeing 850-pound Moose, Keech and Wolf had about 30 minutes for a full work-up.

Wolf, an associate veterinarian with the Minnesota Zoo, withdrew several tubes of blood. Keech, a research biologist, sliced out the barbed dart and yanked out an incisor. Wolf collected hair and fecal samples. Keech riveted an air tag through the Moose’s ear and screwed on a heavy leather collar equipped with a radio transmitter.

Time was running out. Wolf injected two drugs to reverse the tranquilizers and the researchers scrambled off about 20 yards. As if on cue, Moose 294 gave a little groan, stumbled, rose grandly to her feet, collected her wits and clattered off through the brush.

“Good luck!” Keech called out.

Good luck indeed. Something strange is killing the Moose of northern Minnesota, and wildlife scientists hope Moose 294 and others like it can provide some clues as to why. The task is urgent: In the course of a few years, the number of moose in northwestern Minnesota has plummeted to near extinction.

What the researchers find out could shed light on broader changes in the North Woods, where the Moose is an iconic part of the landscape and the web of life.

“When you think of northern Minnesota, you think of the North Shore, the Boundary Waters, wolves, loons and moose,” said Mike Schrage, wildlife biologist for the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, which is partnering with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the 1854 Treaty Authority in studying the northeast Moose herd. “They’re part of our identity. You pick up a Duluth Pack, and what’s the logo? A big bull moose.”

Scientists say that the Moose are dying from “tipover disease,” less a diagnosis than a description of how Moose simply weaken and crumple to the ground, often to be finished off by wolves or other predators. Minnesota Moose seem to be dying when and where they shouldn’t — in the prime of life, or in the fall, when they should be fat, and amid plenty of food. The causes are still largely unknown.

It might be due to parasites they’ve picked up from an exploding deer population. It might be a complication of heat stress, induced by a climate that’s gotten too warm too fast. It might be combination of those and other factors.

850-pound Canary?
The fate of the state’s largest herbivore is about more than postcard imagery, Schrage and others say. The Moose may be an outsized canary in a coal mine, representative of a struggle facing many other animals whose home ranges and climate are changing, said Dennis Murray, a professor of terrestrial ecology at Ontario’s Trent University.

“We don’t know those other species as well as Moose,” Murray said. “Therefore those changes aren’t as apparent.”

Researchers have been studying the northeast Moose since 2002. Of the 114 they’ve collared and tracked since then, only 28 were still standing this year. Of the other 86, more than half died of unknown causes. No Moose were collared the past two years because there wasn’t any money. Now a $200,000 federal Tribal Wildlife Grant will pay for research through the winter of 2010-11. The Minnesota Deer Hunters Association has also contributed.

Researchers aren’t wasting time. Their goal this year was to put collars on 35 Moose, all cows, so they can focus on pregnancy rates.

Recently, months of planning turned into action. The study partners were joined at the Ely Municipal Airport by the zoo’s Wolf, who handles the tranquilizers and anti- dotes, and two Alaskans in their fourth year on the job. Keech was “vacationing” from his regular job with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and helicopter pilot Scott Gibbens is a retired state trooper who’s been tracking wildlife by air for 10 years. Ground support included a fuel truck and a pair of snowmobiles.

It was just luck that the overnight temperature hit 24 below at Ely.

“Hard on people and equipment, but good for the Moose,” Schrage said.

DNR pilot Al Buchert was the advance scout, flying a single-engine airplane over 30 plots of clearcut, swamp and forest. Buchert relayed Moose sightings over the radio to Gibbens. The helicopter swooped down toward the Moose, sometimes within 15 yards. Keech leaned out of the craft with a rifle much like a .22 and fired a tranquilizer dart. He rarely misses.

Within five to seven minutes, the drug brought the Moose to its knees. Gibbens landed the helicopter nearby, and Keech and Wolf tromped through the snow to the Moose’s side to begin their work.

Researchers look for many things in the Moose samplings. Blood samples can yield evidence that the Moose has tried to fight off a brainworm invasion, or has other diseases, or lacks key trace elements or heavy metals. The feces (extracting them by hand is “the glory part of the job,” Wolf said) can reveal whether the Moose is pregnant or has parasites. The hair contains DNA information, which has already been helpful in busting at least one poacher. And the tooth, like a tree, has rings that reveal the moose’s age.

Cool Retreats
This year, the Moose collars will carry a new device — a thermometer to record the temperature in the Moose’s surroundings. Schrage and DNR wildlife researcher Mark Lenarz said that may help determine whether Moose are finding places in the woods– “microclimates” –where they can stay cool enough, winter and summer, to stay healthy. If they can prove that theory, that could lead to forestry and wildlife management efforts to protect and enhance such areas.

Lenarz pointed out that global warming, or at least the winter warming in northwestern Minnesota in the past 40 years, can be regarded as a “proximate” cause of increasing Moose deaths. That means it’s a context that creates the more direct causes or vulnerabilities, much like alcoholism might lead to a person’s death from liver failure.

Mean midwinter temperatures in northwest Minnesota increased about 11 degrees from 1961-2001, astonishing by most climate change measures; Lenarz said researchers are still examining the trends in the northeast. Schrage said he believes mild winters and longer growing seasons are a threat to the northeast Moose, but they don’t explain everything.

“It’s complicated in between a warm climate and a dead Moose,” he said. “I don’t think I’m ever going to walk up to a dead Moose and say, ‘Oh, it died of heat stress.’ There’s a lot that happens in between.”

A Test Case
Even a dead Moose can help the researchers. Last December, a Moose stumbling near a highway close to Side Lake was shot by a DNR warden. Two days later the Moose was on a table at the Veterinary Diagnostic Lab at the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus. A team led by pathologist Dr. Arno Wunsch-mann had scalpels in hand.

The necropsy was a rare opportunity to examine a dead Moose before predators or decomposition damaged it.

The Moose appeared fairly healthy, if a bit undernourished for the time of year. Wunsch-mann sliced the Moose’s brain, spinal cord and pituitary gland into samples that would be further processed into slides for study under a microscope. After looking at 50 slides for three hours over two days, Wunschman had a cause of death: brainworm, a parasite that has passed from deer to Moose and burrows through their spinal column and brains. White-tailed Deer, however, are largely immune to the damage.

End of Story?
Not quite. Blood sampling of collared Minnesota Moose, Lenarz said, has shown that between 16 and 18 percent have been exposed to brainworm. That’s less than the annual non-hunting mortality rate, and in any case it doesn’t indicate anything about how successfully Moose might resist the parasite and its effects.

The mobilization ended with 34 Moose collared, one short of the goal because a radio on one collar didn’t work. The samples from the darted Moose will take months to analyze. Now that she has a radio collar, Moose 294 will be tracked weekly by the DNR. By all appearances, she’s healthy and even a little fat, Keech and Wolf noted in their encounter.

Minutes after she pushed off through the thicket of small maple and poplar, Gibbens and two passengers spotted Moose 294 in a clearing, already nearly 300 yards away. Alert to the helicopter overhead, she darted toward cover, high-stepping through the deep snow toward an uncertain future. –Star-Tribune

Tell Me About the Cottontail Rabbit

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

THE MOST distinctive features of the Eastern Cottontail are its long ears, long hind legs and short white tail.

An adult cottontail is about 15 to 18 inches long and weighs between two and three pounds. It varies in color from gray to brown and has a rust-colored patch on the back of its neck.

Eight species of cottontail rabbits occur in the United States. The Eastern Cottontail is the most widely occurring cottontail. The Desert Cottontail occurs in western states. 

Habitat and Home
A cottontail is attracted to field and cover edges and early successional, or weedy, habitats. The Eastern Cottontail can be found almost anywhere two types of cover meet; however, it prefers a mixture of grass, forbs such as wildflowers or weeds, and dense thorny shrubs. It most prefers ground cover that is a mixture of open areas and dense vegetation. In the Midwest, fence rows, shelterbelts, streamsides, and roadsides are locations where this type of habitat may be found.

The U. S. Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Reserve Program has allowed for the development of excellent habitat in which weeds grow before planted grasses become established. However, after two years these fields become pure stands of grass which will not support many rabbits.

A cottontail must rely on shrubs or woody cover for escape cover, and the denser and thornier that cover is, the better the rabbit likes it. Succulent forbs are also necessary for nutrition. Habitat that is capable of supporting cottontails is decreasing throughout the rabbit’s range, as a result of aging and deteriorating shelterbelts, the removal of hedge rows, the farming of roadsides, and the over grazing of pastures, streambanks and lakeshores. All habitat components needed by an animal are found in its home range. The female cottontail’s home range is one to 15 acres in size, while the male’s may be as much as 100 acres.

A rabbit uses above-ground structures called “fomms” and underground holes such as those of Badger, Prairie Dog and Woodchuck for escape and shelter. Fomms are pockets the rabbit creates by trampling down small areas of grass and small shrubs. It uses fomms at night and during daytime rest periods throughout the year, even during the reproductive period.

After her litter is born, the female cottontail stays in a fomm near the nest, only visiting her nest at dawn and dusk. The cottontail uses underground holes for emergency escape throughout the year and during winter for shelter.

A rabbit nest is a shallow depression that the female digs and lines with grass and fur. Because the female does not stay at the nest after the litter is born, she covers the young with grass and fur to help protect them from predators while she is away.

You may see a cottontail at any time of the day or night but the rabbit is most active at dusk
and dawn. Its activity during midday is greatly decreased unless the sky is heavily overcast.

Different behavior patterns are used by a threatened rabbit. If the danger is far away, it may freeze and remain motionless, using its background as camouflage. When the threat is near, the rabbit moves quickly to nearby thick cover such as a thicket or brush pile. When cornered, it may thump its pursuer with a hind foot to stun it and then make a break for freedom. A rabbit may make a shrill, high-pitched squeal when it is captured.

A cottontail may easily go into shock when captured. A person who finds it necessary to handle a cottontail should cover the captured or injured rabbit’s eyes and handle it very slowly and carefully.

A cottontail produces two types of droppings–hard and brown or soft and green. The softer pellets are eaten again to further break down food. This is called coprophagy.

Basically a vegetarian, the cottontail eats primarily grasses and legumes, such as clover and lespedezas, during the growing season. A young rabbit consumes a considerable amount of forbs such as dandelions, ragweed and prickly lettuce. It eats numerous crops such as soybeans, wheat and corn, and during the non-growing season, young shoots and buds. When more preferred foods are scarce its diet may also include twigs and bark, and when other foods are not available, it may resort to eating non-plant foods such as snails or carrion.

The breeding season begins in early spring. With a gestation period of 28 days and the capability of a female to become pregnant the day after giving birth, litters can be produced on a monthly basis. By late June this efficiency breaks down and the female may not breed for several days or not at all after giving birth. A female cottontail may have five to seven litters of four to five young in one year.

Therefore, many rabbits can be produced in a year that has suitable weather for food availability and nest survival. In several studies the number of juvenile cottontails taken by hunters in the fall compared to the number of adult rabbits is 80 to 85%, which is an indication of very high reproductive rates.

Young rabbits are an easy-to-catch and plentiful food for many predator species from weasels to coyotes to birds of prey, making them a very important part of the food chain.

As vegetative habitat dries in the fall, escape cover is reduced and the rabbits become more and more exposed to predators. Many of the young produced each spring and summer are not alive by winter and even fewer are available for breeding the next spring.

This is the typical reproductive strategy of such a highly used prey species–produce large numbers of young quickly to ensure that some will survive to reproduce the next year.

Predation is the primary direct cause of mortality for the cottontail. Poor habitat conditions, disease and severe weather can all increase its chances of being taken by a predator.

Numerous parasites and diseases affect rabbits. The bacterial disease tularemia can cause a rabbit to be more susceptible to predation by making it less able to detect potentially dangerous movement or to evade capture.

Severe winter storms can cover food sources to the point that a rabbit has to eat low-quality food such as tree bark. During prolonged periods of severe weather, the rabbit’s physical condition may decrease to the point that it is unable to evade capture.

The cottontail rabbit is important as a game animal across its entire range. In the United States, deer are the only game more pursued by hunters than the rabbit or hare.

Unfortunately, many rabbit carcasses are needlessly discarded by hunters each year due to the presence of two parasites which do not affect man. The larvae of botflies (commonly called warbles) are sometimes found under a rabbit’s skin.

Tapeworm cysts are also found in rabbits. These are sacs of clear fluid that contain small white floating objects and are found attached to the rabbit’s liver, intestines and occasionally to its lungs. These cysts are the larval stage in the life cycle of the dog tapeworm. If a dog or wild canine consumes one of these larvae it may develop into a tapeworm, but tapeworms do not develop in humans from these larvae. This disease is often confused with “white spots on the liver” that are known to be indicative of tularemia.

Tularemia is a bacterial disease of rabbits that is transmittible to man, usually through openings in the skin. Tularemia is transmitted between rabbits by fleas and ticks. Rabbits die from the disease, so it is not a problem once there has been a good hard frost and the temperature remains cool. A hard frost kills ticks and fleas which carry the disease, and a rabbit infected prior to the freeze will normally die within a few days of contracting the disease.

Management for the cottontail is habitat related. Management can be accomplished by maintaining small areas of different types of cover to develop the maximum amount of edge (places where two or more different types of vegetation meet). It is necessary to have grass in and around escape cover that is of sufficient height for the cottontail to hide its nests and build forms. Large fields of grass are not as useful as grass intermixed with low-growing thick woody cover. It is a good idea to mow trails in areas of dense vegetation, and moderate grazing and prescribed burning are useful in suitable situations.

Planting a variety of shrub species, particularly thorny shrubs, is recommended, combined with a maintenance program to keep the shrub growing low to the ground and spreading out from its center. If naturally growing escape cover is currently unavailable, brushpiles can be used as an immediate but temporary substitute until planted cover is established. An individual brush-pile becomes useless as escape cover after a couple of years. –Nebraska DNR

Teen Is Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

By Tracy Grant
RICK STANLEY can’t remember a time when he didn’t love nature–prowling around in the forest and learning about animals.

But he definitely remembers his first camera, which was given to him by his mom when he was 8. That gift allowed Rick to turn his love of nature into award-winning photography.

Rick, now 17 and a student at Georgetown Day School in Washington, D.C., was named Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year for 2006. The annual competition is held by the Natural History Museum in London and BBC Wildlife Magazine.

His winning photograph, selected from more than 750 entries by kids 17 and younger, shows a tree frog in the Dominican Republic about to be eaten by a snake. Rick had been exploring with a friend when they heard the frog’s squeaks of distress.

“I photographed the drama as the frog dangled in front of me, but Rubio (his friend) was unable to resist helping the victim and gently touched the snake, which promptly dropped its meal and slithered away,” Rick wrote in describing his photograph.

Rick said he felt sorry for the frog, too, and was glad to see it get away. But “if I had been on my own, I probably would have left it alone.”

That’s because Rick thinks that one of the most important lessons a nature photographer can learn is to let nature be nature. “Try not to disturb what you photograph too much,” he says.

While some photographers set out knowing what they want to take a picture of, Rick has a different approach. “I like to be ready for whatever I happen to see,” he says. “Whenever you go out into the woods, you’re going to see something interesting.”

Preserving nature is important to Rick, a Bethesda, MD, resident who plans to study biology at Harvard University in the fall. But he doesn’t plan on giving up photography. I want to do (biology) work in the field and take photographs,” he says.

“It’s really amazing. It seems that every year the contest gets better photographs, especially from the younger photographers,” he says. “I almost feel guilty beating some of their pictures.” –Washington Post

Taking The Wild Card Out Of Wildlife

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

By Chamois L. Andersen
PEOPLE have always been drawn to the wilderness–to fish, to hike, to view wildlife. While the chances of seeing a bear or lion out there is rare, many nature lovers, like me, enjoy at least knowing these predators exist and are doing their part to keep nature in balance.

As a wildlife communicator, I have spent much of my career contemplating wildlife and its wild ways. And what I have learned is that we play a vital role in its existence. But our wildlife species are changing–largely because of people. And those changes have profound implications for all of us.

As we look out on the landscape where bears and lions make their home, the wilderness appears so vast it’s hard to believe we could alter its inhabitants. But, we are. As we move closer into the wilderness, fail to use bear-proof trash containers, and allow our pets to roam, wildlife is becoming habituated to us and to its detriment. We grossly underestimate the enormous power we have to drive change–both good and bad–in our natural world.

Today, wildlife conflicts are occurring at an alarming rate. And, we are affecting nature by destroying these animals that we have turned into problem cases. We call them problem animals because it is not their normal behavior to get so close to humans and cause a problem.

Do we want to do away with them like the Eastern Puma, which was decimated by the effects of human encroachment? Most of the experts will agree, it’s the human environment we’re creating that cannot support wildlife, and thus we’re forced to kill aggressive animals.

Statistically, people are quite safe from bears, lions and other predatory animals. In fact, many experts say you have a better chance of being struck by lighting than being attacked.

The problem is while predators are normally accustomed to roaming great distances and faring quite well on natural foods or prey items, development across the West has forced these animals into isolated habitats, limiting their territories and pushing them closer to people. Wildlife attacks on humans are exceedingly rare but have increased in recent decades. When they do occur, how do we handle them? Attendees of the wildlife conference seek to answer this question and to learn from other states how to deal with wildlife conflicts.

One thing is certain: Our respect for wildlife is intimately connected to the health of these species and the natural systems that sustain us and them. It is obvious to any citizen of colorful Colorado that healthy wildlife populations not only provide a role in our tourism economy, they play an integral part of our understanding of nature.

I have no question about what will come if we don’t change our ways. If we are forced to continue to destroy these animals and the habitats they depend on, we will further weaken nature’s ability to remain sustainable.

If we are capable of making such profound changes to our environment, we can also change our behavior – and keep wildlife wild. — Aspen Times

EDITOR’S NOTE: Chamois Andersen is a communications consultant and former information officer for the California Dept. of Fish and Game and the Colorado Division of Wildlife. She was a moderator for a wildlife conflicts media panel at the Sept. 17-22 Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies’ Annual Conference in Snowmass, CO.

Taking A Look At Wildlife Problems

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

CONWAY, AR–You folks with squirrels in the attic, or maybe it’s Raccoons, could disagree, but Beavers are close to the top of our wildlife problem list.

We are not talking about the deer that didn’t cooperate by walking into and standing still before your rifle sights this year. And we’re not talking about the absence of mallards when and where you wanted them.

Beavers are headaches for farmers in our area, and from recent news reports in the Log Cabin Democrat, they are troublesome on some Faulkner County roads and inside the city of Conway itself.

Right off the bat here, we’ll pass along a comment made a number of times of wildlife biologists, especially those involved with ducks. Beavers are partly responsible for the favorable duck habitat we have in Arkansas. Beavers create ponds in wooded areas. These are what wintered Mallards and other ducks love small and shallow areas close to food sources.

Beavers were plentiful in Arkansas in early days, and trappers, mostly French, had successful careers working in the beaver pelt industry before there was an Arkansas, territory or state. Settlement by white pioneers and clearing of forests eliminated Beavers to the point they were scarce early in the last century.

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission imported several dozen Beavers to re-establish their numbers in the state, and for several decades now AGFC has been blamed “for putting Beaver in Arkansas.” True, some were brought in. False is the notion that we didn’t have Beaver in Arkansas before those state people imported a few.

But when Beaver are in excess, they indeed are nuisances.

In the recent past, the Game and Fish Commission had several trappers on its staff, but their function was educational. They showed farmers and other landowners how to trap Beaver to cut down on these problems. They didn’t trap Beaver as a service.

Large quantities of explosives, mostly dynamite, are used every year in Arkansas for “blowing beaver dams.” And nearly anyone who has done this adds the words, “the Beaver had the dam built back the next day.” Yes, “busy as a Beaver” is a phrase founded through experience with the critters.

Wildlife people, the biologists of state, federal and private connections, uniformly tell us that trapping is the most efficient means of getting rid of beaver or at least removing them where a problem exists.

Shooting beavers seldom works. It is frowned upon, of course, inside the city, and elsewhere, even a good hand with a rifle is shooting at an animal that swims with just its nose above the water surface. When a shot is fired, that nose disappears, so the shooter doesn’t know if the Beaver is killed or not. A Beaver carcass sinks.

There remains a market for Beaver pelts, according to veteran trapper Phillip Worm of Conway. It is not overwhelmingly lucrative, but the hides can be sold. Skinning Beavers is quick a chore, too.

Beaver meat is edible and in the hands of a proficient wild game cook can be tasty. Our personal experience with Beaver on the dinner table leads to an assessment of well below deer, far beneath squirrel, not nearly as good as rabbit. But it is palatable barbecued or in stews or chili-type dishes. –Log Cabin Democrat

Suburban Sprawl Pitting Man Vs. Nature

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

By Thomas Korosec
DALLAS, TX–Destructive feral pigs, coyotes losing their fear of humans, and deer overpopulation rank as the chief “flashpoints” in conflicts between man and nature in Texas’ ever-expanding cityscapes, say organizers of the state’s first comprehensive urban wildlife conference.

John Davis, a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department urban wildlife biologist, said human-animal entanglements are on the rise statewide, fueled by suburban sprawl and creatures steadily adapting to man.

The issue prompted the state to schedule a conference in Dallas recently of biologists, animal control officials, parks departments and others who will discuss the latest approaches and information.

Davis said researchers have found it important to identify and locate problem animals such as coyotes that have become dangerously comfortable around humans.

“Some coyotes learn fairly quickly that we are more afraid of them than they are of us,” he said, describing how the animals will begin boldly scavenging for dog food, trash, scraps and such in well-populated neighborhoods. “Most people will run into their houses or their car when they see one, which is poor training for the animal.”

Davis said the only solution to nuisance coyotes is to catch and destroy them before the problem grows. “They will teach these behaviors to their young,” he said. “We want to make sure we nip the behavior in the bud to protect the survival of the species.”

Experts recommend a completely different solution for the more common problem of pesky raccoons that den in or under houses, Davis said.

“We’ve found that excluding them by sealing off the opening and letting them remain in the area works best,” he said.

Research has shown that raccoons have dozens of alternate denning sites, while animals that are caught and relocated have poor survival rates, Davis said. On the move, they tend to be hit by cars or injured by other raccoons whose territory they cross.

Over the last several years, feral pigs have begun invading urban settings, including the Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge, a 3,600-acre park on the city’s northwestern edge.

“Because we’re so closely associated with people who love animals, we needed to educate people about the ecological damage they cause,” said Rob Denkhaus, natural resource manager for the city of Fort Worth.

He said that once people understood that the 300-pound pigs are a non-native, habitat-destroying species that endangers ground-nesting birds and small mammals, they understood the pigs needed to be eliminated.

Denkhaus said the center first proposed trapping and relocating the pernicious porkers. But the state, citing fears of spreading animal disease, would not grant a license to transport the pigs.

In 2003, the center began trapping and killing the pigs with a gunshot to the head. The carcasses are left on the ground to feed the center’s coyotes. Denkhaus would not say how many pigs have been killed, but three years ago, he said, staffers saw them daily. “Now it’s not uncommon to go a week or two without seeing one,” he said.

Davis, the state biologist, said overpopulation of deer, which is often dealt with by bans on feeding, is most pronounced in the area around Austin and San Antonio, but it also affects the Houston and Dallas areas. Human-alligator encounters, on the other hand, “are more of a problem people perceive than a real problem,” he said.

“There have been deaths in Florida, but we just don’t see that happening here in Texas,” Davis said.

According to state parks officials, alligators cause about one human injury per year, but there have been no deaths reported in the past 16 years. –Houston Chronicle

Squirrels Are the Most Fed and Observed Animals

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

THE GREY SQUIRREL–is the most common squirrel in North America. Its habit of gathering and storing food for the winter has allowed the species to survive for more than 35 million years.

Their teeth are constantly growing to compensate for wear, so squirrels keep them “filed down” by constantly chewing. They even grind their teeth while they are sleeping! And contrary to the opinion of some birders, a squirrel’s stomach is not a bottomless pit. They need about a pound of food per week and enjoy a varied diet of bugs, nuts, fruit and seeds.

Ecologically, squirrels are important re-seeders of trees and woodland plants, busily burying their stash of nuts and seeds in preparation for winter. A squirrel can hide as many as 10,000 nuts each fall and can find his buried food under as much as a foot of winter snow.

Some of these nuts and seeds are not retrieved and grow into plants in the spring. Squirrels’ winter survival is dependent on remembering where he has deposited his caches. And what’s fascinating is that the portion of his brain that controls memory actually grows by 15% in fall; so squirrels really do remember where they stored all those nuts–and where your bird feeders are.

Baby squirrels weigh approximately one ounce at birth and are only about an inch long. They do not have hair or teeth and are virtually blind for six to eight weeks. A common misconception about squirrels is that they hibernate during the winter. While true that squirrels are rarely seen during extreme cold, this is because they remain near their nest where it is warm.

An interesting fact about squirrels is that the adult male squirrel is the cleanest member of the rodent family. It should also be said that the male does not play a role in raising the young. This may explain why they have more time for cleanliness.

Squirrels can jump a distance of up to 20 ft. They have long, muscular hind legs and short front legs that work together to aid in leaping. The hind legs of squirrels are double-jointed. This helps them run up and down trees quickly.

A male squirrel can smell a female in heat up to a mile away. Mating season is February through May with a 44-day gestation period. Typically 2 to 4 young are born per litter. Squirrels have 5 toes on their back feet and 4 toes on their front. Their front toes are very sharp and help in gripping tree bark for climbing.

In addition to residing in the Eastern US, Eastern Gray Squirrels can be found in many Western states, Great Britain, Ireland and South Africa. Squirrels in general are found on every continent except Antarctica and Australia.

Squirrels can eat their own body weight every week, and can fall up to 100 ft. without hurting themselves. They’ll use their tail both for balance and as a parachute. The word “squirrel” means “shadow tail” in Greek. The hibernating arctic ground squirrel is the only warm-blooded mammal able to withstand body temperatures below freezing. Squirrels eyes are positioned in such a way that they can see some things behind them.

These little furry critters may be your friend or your foe, but after reading these fascinating facts about squirrels, you will have to admit they are very interesting!

1. Did you know that there are more than 365 species of squirrels in the world?

2. 40% of all the mammals in the world are in the squirrel family.

3. The smallest squirrel is the African Pygmy. They are 5 inches long from their heads to the tip of their tails. They are found in Nigeria, Cameroon and Gabon.

4. The largest squirrel is the Ratufa. It can be as long as 3 feet in length. This beauty is found in Asia and Nepal.

5. Squirrels have been known to live as long as 20 years in captivity. Our Common Gray squirrel lives an average of 5 years in the wild, if they are lucky enough to survive their first year.

6. The squirrel has a brain about the size of a walnut.

7. Squirrels can run as fast as 20 miles per hour.

8. The oldest known squirrel skeleton is over 50 million years old.

9. Lafayette Park in Washington, DC has the largest concentration of squirrels in the United States.

10. President Ronald Reagan loved the squirrels at the White House so much that he commissioned an artist to paint a squirrel running across the White House lawn for the Presidential Christmas Card.

11. If a squirrel’s nest is high in a tree, it is called a drey. A squirrel’s nest in a hollow tree is called a den.

As you can see, these little creatures have been a part of our world for a long time and being the adaptable animals they are, will surely survive well into the future. So, we must learn to live with them, laugh at them and love them for what they are!

How To Choose a Squirrel Proof Birdfeeder
With so many bird feeders claiming to be squirrel proof, how do you choose the one that’s right for you?

Here we will describe the basic types of squirrel proof feeders and how they work.  Keep in mind that squirrel proof doesn’t mean that a squirrel won’t try to get on the feeder. It means that in the majority of cases, the squirrel won’t be able to damage the feeder, or get food from it.

Hanging vs. Pole Mounted Feeders
Pole mounted feeders are generally easier to defend than hanging feeders. Pole mounting solves a lot of problems inherent in hanging feeders, as long as the feeder is located at least 10 ft. away from trees, fences or other places a squirrel can jump from and at least 5 ft. up. Squirrels can jump about 5 ft., straight off the ground!

Usually a simple post baffle can be used to prevent squirrels from climbing the pole to the feeder. When you pole mount your feeder correctly, you can be less concerned about having a squirrel proof feeder, because squirrels shouldn’t be able to get on the feeder at all.  However, a squirrel proof feeder that is pole mounted is generally an unbeatable combination.

When a feeder is hung from a tree or shepherds hook, squirrels will likely be able to get on the feeder. Even if they cannot get to the seed, they will tip it so seed pours out, chew any plastic parts, or possibly knock it down.  If you plan to hang your feeder, look for feeders that have little or no plastic parts exposed, or choose an all metal, chew proof feeder. Plan to hang it so that squirrels cannot defeat the squirrel proofing mechanisms; that is, if the feeder has a weighted perch system, make sure the squirrel can’t just reach over from a handy tree branch and avoid the perch altogether. Also consider how the hanger will attach to the branch. Choose a sturdy branch that won’t break and if necessary, add hardware to be sure the squirrel can’t pull the feeder off.

Caged Feeders
A common squirrel proof feeder has a stationary cage with a central plastic tube. The grid prevents squirrels from entering the feeder, reaching in for the seed or chewing the tube. They usually are 8 to 10 inches in diameter which helps to keep out troublesome black birds as well as squirrels, while allowing smaller birds to enter the grid.  Look for those with some sort of lock to prevent squirrels from lifting the filler cap. These feeders are offered as regular mixed seed feeders or for Nyjer seed. 

Other squirrel proof caged feeders are set up with a smaller grid that even small birds cannot enter, but they can reach in to the seed. These feeders usually have a metal mesh tube with no perches and are meant for sunflower seed only. Both types of feeders work well when hung or post mounted, and are quite affordable. Another benefit is that there are no moving parts to break.  Unfortunately these feeders cannot accommodate birds such as cardinals, blue jays, grosbeaks, woodpeckers, doves and other large birds.

Moveable Caged Feeders
These feeders are much like stationary caged feeders in appearance but usually have a narrower profile. This is because they discriminate based on weight and don’t need a large space between the caging and the tube to keep squirrels out. When a squirrel climbs onto the caging, their weight causes the caging to drop down. When this happens, a small grid or cover comes into position over the feeding ports. As long as the squirrel stays on the feeder, the ports remain blocked.

The feeders usually have springs that can be adjusted to work with the smallest squirrels.  Some larger birds can use these feeders, but a bird as big as a dove might find difficulty with the small perches as would a cardinal. When adjusted correctly, these feeders might help to keep starlings and grackles off as well. Some can be pole mounted as well as hung and are priced in the low to mid range.

Weighted Perch Feeders
Some larger hopper feeders offer the flexibility of adjusting the perch so that you can decide what weight bird will be able to use the feeder. Usually a spring adjustment trips the perch, causing it to drop down and bring a door over the seed whenever a bird or animal of a certain weight gets on the perch. Common types have three weight settings, for light birds only, light and medium birds, or light, medium and heavy birds. Even the heavy bird setting will trip when a squirrel gets on.

These feeders are nice if you like to feed cardinals and blue jays (medium setting), or even doves (heavy setting), because they have a long, sturdy perch.  These feeders are all metal and very rugged. They can be either hung or post mounted. Because they tend to be heavy and the hoppers hold a lot of seed, you would probably want to use a ground socket cemented in the ground to support the feeder on a pole. They are generally priced in the mid to high range.

Drawbacks are that sometimes the springs break (but can usually be replaced) and sometimes a larger squirrel can access the seed by hanging down from the top of the feeder where it doesn’t have to touch the perch. However, if properly pole mounted, squirrels will not be able to get on the feeder and you can use the feeder to discriminate against unwanted large birds such as blackbirds, pigeons and doves.

Weighted perches can also be found on long hanging tube feeders. The perches are situated at the bottom of the tube and some are equipped with adjustable perches that can be moved out to accommodate larger birds, or even optional attachments for cardinals.  Larger birds such as pigeons and doves would have difficulty with the perches if no adjustments or attachments were used. Hang these feeders in a location where squirrels can’t defeat the perch mechanism simply by reaching out from a convenient tree limb.

Double Grid System Feeders
Another method to keep squirrels’ paws out of the seed is with two horizontal grids set in a hopper or platform feeder that are placed about one inch on top of the other. The seed is kept below the bottom grid. The top grid allows birds beaks to reach through, but it is too small for a squirrel’s paw to reach in.

These feeders can be hung or post mounted and prices range from low to mid level, depending on the style you choose. A benefit of these types of feeders is that they allow all birds to feed, and the platform style is very appealing to cardinals. Don’t expect these types of feeders to keep out grackles, starlings, doves or other commonly unwanted birds. These feeders are available in all metal or plastic. Plastic feeders are economical, but are prone to being chewed by squirrels.

Battery Operated Squirrel Proof Feeders

The most prevalent battery operated feeders are those that have a spinning perch that flips squirrels off, or those that will issue a slight jolt of electricity when a squirrel makes a complete circuit between a feeder tray and a perch.

In the spinning type, a circular perch is located at the bottom of a hanging tube feeder. When a squirrel gets on the perch, its weight activates a motor which causes the perch to spin, making it impossible for the squirrel to stay on. These feeders utilize a rechargeable battery and come with a charging device. All birds can use this feeder, since none weigh enough to trip the spinning mechanism.  Although expensive, these are very effective squirrel proof feeders. They cannot be pole mounted.

Feeders that use a jolt of electricity are also expensive but equally effective. A metal feeding tray is located at the bottom of the feeder and wired to a 9 volt battery. Metal perches are also wired to the battery. When a squirrel lands on the tray and reaches up for the seed ports, his body makes a complete connection to the battery and causes a mild electric shock. The squirrel quickly jumps off!

These feeders can be pole mounted or hung. Now that you know the basic types of squirrel proof bird feeders, consider these questions before you make a decision on which one to buy:

  • Do you plan to pole mount or hang the feeder?
  • How bad is the squirrel problem?
  • How much can you afford?
  • Do you want to discriminate against certain birds as well as squirrels, or should the feeder accommodate all the birds?

Good luck in your war against the squirrels!

Spring Is In The Air–Really!

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

By Kathy Reshetiloff
ALL AROUND, there is an eruption of life beyond the typical signs of spring like robins and crocuses. The land, skies and waters—quiet and gray throughout the winter months—now sing day and night and burst with color.

In the waters, anadromous fish, like shad, journey from oceans to rivers to spawn. The word anadromous comes from the Greek word meaning “running uphill.”

What’s really amazing is these fish return to the same area where they were born. How they accomplish this remains a mystery. Many scientists believe that this homing instinct may be due to an uncanny sense of smell and sensitivity to magnetic signals, polarized light and unique characteristics of the natal stream or waterway.

Prompted by rising temperature, shad leave the ocean to spawn from March through June. Spawning runs of the American Shad (Alosa sappidissima) are particularly famed in the Chesapeake Bay. Native Americans harvested shad and taught colonists how to catch them.

By the 1800s, fishermen caught shad by the ton. Farmers took advantage of this seemingly endless supply of fish, using shad as fertilizer for their fields. Shad are also prized for their succulent meat and tasty roe.

Meanwhile, in the understory of woodlands, another messenger of spring is appearing: creamy white blossoms of the serviceberry tree (Amelanchier spp.). The flowers often appear in mid-April, before other flowering trees, making them quite conspicuous against the background of a still gray forest.

The common name, serviceberry, is believed to come from a colonial tradition. After the spring thaw, clergy would ride a circuit through the mountains to provide services to those who had died over the winter. This usually coincided with the blooming of the serviceberry shrubs. In the East, they are also known as shadbush because they flower around the same time that shad are spawning.

There are about a dozen Amelanchier species native to the United States. They range from low-spreading shrubs to tall trees. These flowering shrubs and trees are a food source for early pollinating insects. The word Amelanchier is an ancient Celtic word for “apple.” The sweet, reddish purple fruits are an important food for songbirds, squirrels, bears and other woodland wildlife.

Besides being an important source of food for wildlife, serviceberries make excellent additions to one’s yard. In addition to the early white blossoms and dark fruits, serviceberries have brilliant fall colors of yellow and orange that deepen to red.

Also in the woodlands and meadows throughout the Northeast, spring rains are creating temporary ponds known as vernal pools. Vernal pools may be small and inconspicuous but they explode with activity as frogs and toads call to attract mates and breed.

The Greek word, amphibios, means “creatures with a double life.” Amphibians spend part of their lives living in water and part living on land. Most amphibians lay soft eggs in water. Toads and frogs eggs hatch into tadpoles, which can only survive in water. As the larvae grow, they go through radical physiological changes, a process known as metamorphosis, transforming them into adults.

Wood Frogs (Rana sylvatica) migrate to vernal pools early in the spring. Their call is a hoarse clacking sound, reminiscent of a quack. The wood frog is an explosive breeder, usually laying a large mass of eggs in a few days and leaving soon after.

Spring Peeper (Hyla crucifer), a tree frog, follows the Wood Frog by a week or two. Its unmistakable mating call, the peep, and large geographic range makes the spring peeper one of the most familiar frogs in North America. Its mating call can sometimes be heard up to a half a mile away.

Another familiar amphibian is the American Toad (Bufo americanus). Its habitat ranges from mountains to backyards. American Toads are found wherever there are moist places, plenty of insects to eat and shallow waters to breed. Despite their warty appearance, their mating call is a pleasant musical trill.

As the landscape gets greener and trees and flowers blossom, there is an explosion of worms, spiders and insects. And right on their heels are migratory birds.

Although they nest in North America, these birds eat foods that are not available in winter—such as insects and pollen—and must migrate to South and Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean. As spring returns to North America, so do these species, following their food sources to the birds’ breeding grounds.

More than 360 species of birds make this annual migration, including songbirds—such as warblers, thrushes, tanagers and vireos—some raptors—hawks, kites and vultures—and a few waterfowl, such as teal.

Some of these birds are common: the American Robin, Eastern Bluebird, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Gray Catbird, Purple Martin, Barn Swallow and Chimney Swift. Others, such as the Red-eyed Vireo, Scarlet Tanager, Wood Thrush and Cape May Warbler, may be familiar only to bird watchers.

Like frogs and toads, birds sing to attract their mates. The bold spring colors of males also help to entice females. Birds add color, song and aerial displays as they ready for nesting. –Bay Journal

Spotting A Fox Usually A Rare Treat

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

By Scott Shalaway
OVER the years, only a few mammals have proven difficult to see in the woods around my home. Foxes are near the top of the list.

Just this week I spotted an animal on the road that seemed just a bit too big and bushy-tailed to be a cat. It was a Red Fox. As I approached, it trotted into the woods about 50 yards, then stopped and returned my stare. We studied each other for about 30 seconds, then it disappeared deeper into the woods.

My interactions with Red Foxes are usually brief encounters along a country road. That’s why I appreciate readers who send me photos each spring of Red Fox pups playing outside a den visible from their back porch. Sometimes reds truly qualify as backyard wildlife.

Gray Foxes, on the other hand, are more elusive. In fact, I often find myself describing them as “ghost-like.” They seem to appear and then vanish right before my eyes.

My most recent encounter with a Gray Fox took place about a year ago one evening at dusk. I glanced out a window overlooking the backyard and noticed it scavenging at the compost pile.

A few minutes later, a Cottontail in another part of the yard caught the fox’s attention. The rabbit noticed the fox at the same moment and froze. A forewarned prey usually escapes a predator, but still the fox gave chase. The Cottontail bounded away in a series of zigzag hops.

The natural history of Red and Gray Foxes reflects their canine ancestry. Like all canids, foxes are opportunistic carnivores, but they’ll eat just about anything when food is scarce. And like most members of the dog family, foxes store surplus food in shallow holes they cover with leaves and dirt. They mark these caches with urine and return later when hungry.

The bulk of a fox’s diet consists of rabbits, mice, rats and other small rodents. In spring and summer they supplement this basic diet with birds, eggs, insects, frogs and snakes. In the fall they eat fruits, such as grapes, cherries and persimmons. And in winter, they’ll even eat carrion and garbage if they get hungry enough.

Foxes have few natural predators. Great Horned Owls and Red-tailed Hawks can kill adult foxes, which weigh just 6 to 12 pounds. Speeding cars and trucks are their greatest enemies.

The breeding biology of Red and Gray Foxes is a study in monogamy. Males and females mate for life, though they go their separate ways each fall and reunite each winter. Foxes mate once each year between late January and mid-March. A Red Fox pregnancy lasts about 50 days, a gray fox’s 50 to 60 days. Between late March and early May, four to six pups are born.

The male is a good provider for both the pups and his mate. He brings food to the den while the pups are too small for the female to leave them alone. The pups grow rapidly and venture forth from the den when four or five weeks old. Both parents then teach the pups to hunt.

The female weans the pups at about eight weeks. In late autumn the family breaks up, and each member goes its own way until pairs reform in January. Young foxes can breed their first winter.

Despite their similarities, Red and Gray Foxes differ in a number of important ways. Red Foxes sport bushy, white-tipped tails. Salt-and-pepper Gray Foxes have courser, black-tipped tails.

Gray Foxes are native to the hardwood forests of North America, while many biologists believe that Red Foxes were introduced from Europe in the mid-1700s. Presumably, they were introduced to provide the aristocracy with a favorite sport–fox hunting.

Reds adapt well to human environments; they call farmland, old fields and forest edges home. Grays, on the other hand, are forest dwellers, well adapted to climbing trees. The long, sharp, curved claws on their front feet enable them to shinny up a tree trunk and jump from branch to branch. This skill probably explains why grays eat more birds than reds.

Differences aside, foxes are a wary breed. It’s a good day anytime you see one in the wild. –Pittsburgh Post Gazette