Archive for the ‘Birds’ Category

Birds and Plants–An Ancient Collaboration

Monday, June 28th, 2010

By Mariette Nowak
OVER THOUSANDS of years, birds and plants have developed a mutually beneficial relationship.

Birds help to pollinate plants, disperse their seeds, and eat the insects that can ravage them. To entice birds to do this work for them, plants have evolved colorful, nectar-filled flowers and luscious, nutrient-packed fruits and seeds to nourish them. In addition, their limbs and leaves offer nesting sites and cover.

Why landscape for birds?

“Small ‘islands’ of habitat can provide food resources to birds, particularly during migration.”, Victoria D. Piaskowski, International Coordinator, Birds Without Borders – Aves Sin Fronteras, Zoological Society of Milwaukee.

Habitat loss is the single most important cause of the decline of species! Your yard, whatever its size, can offer habitat for birds. Many birds seldom or never use feeders, preferring natural foods.Feeder birds get only a relatively small portion of their nutrition from feeder food

Why plant natives?
“Native plants, which have co-evolved with native wild birds, are more likely to provide a mix of foods–just the right size, and with just the right kind of nutrition–and just when the birds need them.” Stephen Kress, National Audubon Society

Researchers have found that native plants are better for birds and for the insects they need for survival. Some of their findings include the following:

  • There are more bird species and greater numbers of birds in areas with native species than in areas with exotic, or non-native, species.

  • Birds nesting in non-native shrubs, like buckthorn and honeysuckle, are more likely to fall victim to predators such as cats and raccoons than birds nesting in native shrubs. This is due to the branching and other characteristics of the non-native shrubs.
  • Cedar Waxwings that eat the berries of one species of non-native honeysuckle develop orange, rather than yellow tail bands. This color change could be harmful to the birds, since they use color in mate selection and territorial disputes
  • Most insects, so important for bird nutrition, prefer their native host plants and, in fact, often lack the enzymes needed to digest non-native plants.
  • Native wildflowers often offer significantly more nectar for hummingbirds than the cultivated hybrids that have been derived from them.
  • The great variety of native species, which provide food for birds throughout the year, is being replaced by a very limited number of invasive non-native species. These invasives offer food of reduced variety, quality, and seasonal availability.

What are native plants?
Native plants are those which existed in an area prior to European settlement. These plants are well adapted to the climate, precipitation, soils, insects, and other local conditions and are consequently easier to grow than non-natives. For information on the plants native to your area, check with your local nature centers, colleges, universities, Wild Ones Natural Landscapers (www.for-wild.org), and your state department of natural resources or similar agency.

Where to get native plants?
Native plants and source lists for native plants are often available at local nature centers, native plant nurseries, chapters of Wild Ones Natural Landscapers or native plant societies. Some states, like Wisconsin, maintain lists of native plant nurseries, seed suppliers and consultants.

Plants should be purchased from reputable suppliers
not dug from the wild. It is, in fact, illegal to remove plants from public lands. In the case of private lands, be sure to get the landowner’s permission. For “Guidelines on the Selection of Native Plants,” see the Wild Ones Natural Landscapers website (www.for-wild.org).

Getting Started
Take an inventory. For full yard restorations, you may want to let neighbors know what you are doing and check with officials regarding local regulations.

  • Test your soil, a service which may be offered through your county university extension service.

  • Keep the native plants in your yard; remove the invasive exotics.
  • Mimic the multiple layers of growth found in many natural settings: trees, shrubs, vines and herbaceous plants.
  • Select plants that will provide berries, seeds, and nuts during different seasons.
  • Provide evergreens for winter shelter.
  • Keep dead trees, standing or fallen, to provide insect food, cavities, and perching sites for birds. The branches of dead trees can be removed if they are dangerous.
  • Create a brush pile to provide shelter.
  • Leave at least some leaf litter for ground-feeding birds, who will scrape through the litter for insects.
  • Stop using herbicides and pesticides, which can be ingested by birds as they feed on insects and plants. Also, don’t use rodenticides which will harm birds of prey when they feed on animals that have ingested the poison in bait.
  • Limit or eliminate your lawn for less mowing, fertilizing, watering, and pollution and to make more room for natives

Additional Possibilities
“Some habitats are of particular interest to backyard birdwatchers because small examples can be replicated in backyards, including freshwater marshes, ponds, brooks, wooded swamps, bogs, woodlots, pine barrens, streamside forests, thickets, prairies, deserts, and alpine meadows.” Donald S. Heintzelman, The Complete Backyard Birdwatcher’s Home Companion.

  • Restore or recreate the habitat(s) once native to your area – woodland, wetland, prairie, or savannah, etc. – which will attract birds native to those habitats.
  • Create habitats for particular birds: a hummingbird garden, a migratory bird stopover, a bluebird haven, a woodland bird retreat, a finch garden (prairie), a winter bird area, or a wetland bird habitat.
  • Regardless of the size of your yard, you can help reverse the loss of bird habitat. By planting the native plants upon which our birds depend, you’ll be rewarded with a bounty of birds and natural beauty just beyond your doorstep.

Protect Your Birds
Keep your pet cats indoors and urge your neighbors to do so. Cats kill millions of birds in Wisconsin each year and it has been documented that bells and declawing are mostly ineffective in preventing this predation. For more information, see American Bird Conservancy’s brochure: Cats Indoors!. –Wild Ones

You Can Make A Difference For Carolina Wrens

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

By Scott Shalaway
SOMETIMES a simple act can produce significant results.

About a year ago I explained how to provide a winter roosting site for Carolina Wrens– small, handsome birds marked by chestnut above, cinnamon below and a prominent white eye stripe. They spend most of their time in dense vegetation, and are more often heard than seen. The song is a loud, ringing, musical whistle that can sometimes be heard in mid-winter. Usually it’s a series of triplets: “Tea kettle! Tea kettle! Tea kettle!” or “Chirpity, chirpity, chirpity!” They are common around homes and often explore sheds, barns and open garages.

In fact, it’s the Carolina Wren’s affinity for nooks and crannies that first brought them to my attention. Though classified as cavity nesters, Carolina Wrens usually forsake tree cavities and nest boxes in favor of more unusual nest sites. Over the years I’ve found their nests in mail boxes, cans of nails, old boots and a clothes pin bag. Three years ago they discovered a one-gallon bucket hung on a hook just outside the side door to out garage. Protected from above by a porch, it was completely weather-proof.

Over the last two winters, I also discovered wrens were using the bucket as a night time roosting site. The nesting material, which I hadn’t removed, provides adequate insulation, and every evening at dusk the wrens slip into the buckets. On one occasion I watched two individuals retire to a single bucket.

The key is to keep the buckets under a roof so the insulating vegetation cannot get wet from rain or snow. I now have three buckets on porches, two in sheds, and the original one at the garage. In the buckets that didn’t contain old nests, I simply added a handful of dried grass and leaves and formed a small cup with my fist. The birds took right to the roosting buckets, They now use four of the six buckets every night.

This simple discovery could have a profound impact on Carolina Wren survival. They are southern birds that expand their range northward during years of mild winters. The winters of 1977, 1978 and 1993 were brutal and killed off the Carolina Wrens in temperate states such as Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, New York and Michigan. After each of these hard winters, it took years for wren numbers to rebound.

Since watching two Carolina Wrens slip into a bucket one evening two years ago, I’ve wondered if pairs frequently sleep together. So over the last few weeks, I’ve checked each of the buckets just before dawn on chilly mornings. Since it was just minutes before daylight, I figured the disturbance wouldn’t be disruptive. And sure enough, two individuals flushed from each bucket I checked. Not only do Carolina Wrens use the insulation provided by the dry vegetation in the buckets, they also generate and conserve their own body heat by sleeping in pairs. It’s gratifying to learn that something as simple and cheap as a plastic bucket can be a valuable conservation tool.

Presently, Carolina Wrens are quite common here on the ridge, and have been since the late 1990s. When the next hard winter strikes they will surely disappear again, unless the factor limiting their survival is finding a suitable place to stay warm and dry during the night. If that’s the case, a simple bucket hung under a roof might be just enough to get them through a cold snap or an ice storm.

You can also help Carolina Wrens survive the winter by providing food. Though they are not seed eaters by nature, mine have learned to eat shelled nuts and sunflower kernels. Wire mesh tubes are ideal for offering these foods. The birds cling directly to the mesh and remove one piece of food at a time.

Wrens also eat suet and live food: mealworms. They actually prefer mealworms to nuts, but competition is intense from woodpeckers, chickadees, titmice and nuthatches. Wild bird stores and bait shops sell mealworms, and you can find them online by Googling “mealworms.” —Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Wren Adds Just The Right Note

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

By Michael Burke
A SLIGHT movement on the periphery of my vision alerted me to the wren before I fully realized he was there. A moment later, the clear, fluting notes boldly announced his presence. The Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus) is like that: a diminutive bird that might be overlooked except for an outsized song that commands attention.

It was one of those brutally hot and muggy August days that have been driving people out of Washington since the earliest days of the republic. We were visiting a friend on the western shore of the Chesapeake. The sun was setting, a light Bay breeze had arisen, and the cool drinks and congenial conservation had put us into a better frame of mind.

The birds were a bonus. Osprey swirled above and egrets and herons worked the shoreline. Meanwhile, gulls and terns soared over open water. The Carolina Wren, which landed briefly on a patio chair, was looking for spiders and insects and reminding everyone that the backyard was his.

All wrens are small, and at just less than 6 inches, the Carolina Wren can lay claim to being the largest of the wrens found in the eastern United States. They have that distinctive wren shape—a rather plump body with a slender, slightly down-curved bill and a tail that is often cocked straight up over its back.

In addition to its size, the Carolina Wren is distinguished from its cousins by a bright white eye stripe set off in rich reddish-brown upper parts. The breast is a warm buff color that becomes somewhat darker on its belly. Dark barring is visible on the wing and tail.

These birds nest in virtually any cavity. Old woodpecker holes and other natural cavities in trees are prime locations. The wrens also nest in the roots of upturned trees, holes in stone or masonry walls, even unused watering cans and clothespin bags in the backyard. And, of course, birdhouses. A few years ago, my brother and sister-in-law gave us a ceramic birdhouse in the shape of a tea kettle with a side entrance and a little chain to hang it up. It didn’t look like a nesting box, but it would make a nice accent piece in the flower garden, we thought. It has turned out to be a popular nesting site for backyard wrens.

The sexes look alike and jointly build the nest in less than a week. Females lay five to six eggs, which they incubate for about 14 days. Males feed the females on the nest. The chicks fledge in two weeks. Typically, a pair produces two broods each summer.

They are year-round residents throughout their breeding range, which extends from southern New England, across to the Great Lakes and south to Florida and Texas. Scientists who study global climate change and its effects on different species note that the range of Carolina Wrens is extending northward into southern Maine as winters get warmer.

The tea kettle birdhouse is a bit of a visual joke. The startling loud, clear song of the Carolina Wren is sometimes written as “tea-kettle, tea-kettle, tea-kettle.” The small bird with the big voice sings this three-syllable chord, or others with the same cadence and tone, over and over again. They sing each set of chords in bursts of three-to-five repetitions, sometimes adding a final “tea” to close the chorus.

Early this summer, the male in our backyard would awaken me every morning at sunrise with those phrases repeated dozens of times. He was claiming this as his territory, and each note was clear and sharp and true. It’s hard to imagine a more pleasing alarm clock.

By mid-August, Carolina Wrens have already established their well-defended territories. The song of the bird I saw on our friend’s patio chair wasn’t defining turf, but that short musical burst was attention-getting nevertheless.

After that one brief display of his glorious voice, the Carolina Wren retired to the hedgerow for the night.

It was not the full symphony that I knew was there, but somehow that unfinished bit seemed just right for that August night. Sometimes a single, clear phrase is enough to savor. –Bay Journal

Woodlands Give Shelter To Local Wildlife

Sunday, June 27th, 2010


By Susanne Norgard
MENDOCINO, CA–Each person finds their own way to “give back” by doing something that is most meaningful to them.

Ronnie James found her calling when she received a phone call from veterinarian Jan Dietrich. Dr. Dietrich knew Ronnie had volunteered at the Raptor Center in Davis, CA and wanted to know if she could provide a home for a Great Horned Owl that he had saved.

Giving shelter to wildlife is not as easy as it would seem. An ordinary citizen is not allowed to keep wildlife unless he or she has federal and state licenses. And the only way to keep wildlife that cannot be returned to the wild is to have additional federal and state licenses as a wildlife educator. Ronnie pursued all of these licenses, and Woodlands Wildlife was born.

Ronnie and three other volunteers do most of the work at Woodlands Wildlife. “Everybody wants to volunteer until they discover that it means scrubbing poop out of cages every day, and there is little contact with the animals,” Ronnie explains. “For animals to heal, they need a stress free environment, and that means as little human contact as possible.” Ronnie admits that she has only had two vacations in the last 15 years, but does not complain. Instead she finds working with animals to be a “special privilege.”

The work is clearly the reward. Ronnie remembers a Spotted Owl that was brought to her after being hit by a car on Highway 20. “The owl was unconscious for two weeks,” she relates. “And then it took three months to heal the bird. We ultimately released him where he was found and both his territory and mate were waiting for him.” Ronnie explains that she worked with Mendocino Redwood Company foresters to call for other owls in the area to make sure that a new male had not claimed the territory while the injured owl was recuperating.

Ninety percent of the animals cared for are orphaned. But Ronnie warns against one of the most common mistakes. “People pick up fawns not realizing the mother leaves the fawn alone while she forages. It is normal for a baby to be alone. If we can return it within 72 hours, the mother will take the baby back.” She also warns against placing an unconscious animal in the car, describing how one man put an unconscious bobcat in his back seat after he had hit the animal in the road. Imagine the man’s fright when the unconscious animal awoke and was suddenly in the front seat of the car, snarling.

Although wildlife rehabilitation is an important part of her work, equally important is education. Ronnie leads over 24 educational programs each year. This year, with a grant from the Community Foundation, she is presenting a Mountain Lion safety program in school classrooms and to the general public. She is careful not to scare children, but to help them understand how humans and mountain lions can co-exist. The adult program covers legal issues, protecting pets and livestock, and safe behavior for adults and children.

The Community Foundation also funded the Owl Box Project, a Woodlands Wildlife project a few years ago that involved educating children about owls and building owl boxes for rodent control around schools in the Mendocino School District. Although only about half of the boxes have attracted owls, Ronnie says that they continue to be very successful as educational tools.

Woodlands Wildlife is a part of an animal rehabilitation referral network that is used by veterinarians and people who work in the woods. The Willits Wildlife Team serves the Willits and Ukiah area. Animals are also sent to the Marine Mammal Center, Santa Rosa Bird Rescue, Sonoma Wildlife, and Clearlake Fawn Rescue.


Some of these organizations have paid staff. Others, like Woodlands Wildlife, are supported entirely by volunteer efforts. In the case of Woodlands Wildlife, one of the primary expenses is food, which must be USDA approved (wild rodents might carry disease). It is purchased, dead and frozen, from a zoo supplier. — Mendocino Beacon

Woodcock ‘Dances’ Peak At Dusk and Dawn

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

By Scott Shalaway
I’VE BEEN WATCHING a dance here on the ridge for the last 10 days. American Woodcock are back, and on warm, late winter nights they dance up a storm.

Woodcock are plump, quail-sized migratory birds that weigh 6 or 7 ounces. Though classified taxonomically as shorebirds, woodcock live in damp, lowland woods. They usually return in late February, but I can always count on them in March.

A woodcock’s huge, dark eyes and long bill dominate its appearance. Woodcock have excellent night vision. Their eyes are positioned high and far back on their skulls, so woodcock actually can see above and behind their heads.

They use their long, flesh-colored bill to probe moist, soft soil for earthworms and other invertebrates. Since woodcock spend so much time with their bills in the ground, their near 360-degree field of vision helps them to detect aerial predators. During daylight hours, “probe holes” and whitewash splash are the best evidence of these odd birds.

Woodcock also enjoy the protection of cryptic coloration or camouflage. Dappled in shades of brown, woodcock are almost impossible to see as they rest among leaves on the forest floor. They don’t flush until almost stepped on.

In spring woodcock are best known for their song and dance routine. The show typically begins at dusk in an opening near the woods. It could be an overgrazed pasture, a gravel pit, or even an interstate highway median strip. Males emerge from the woods and search for patches of poor soil with minimal vegetation. Dense ground cover hinders the movement of these short-legged birds.

A displaying male woodcock wants to be seen–by females. To watch the show, creep into position just before dark and wait. The performance begins with a loud, exclamatory, nasal “Peent!” It’s reminiscent of the summertime call of common nighthawks. A few minutes later, another nasal “peent” sounds. Soon the peculiar calls come faster and faster. After a few minutes, the time between calls can be measured in seconds.

Suddenly the calls stop abruptly, and the bird jumps into the sky. He ascends in an ever-widening spiral flight to a height of 250 to 300 ft. At that point he hovers momentarily, then descends in zig-zag fashion, almost like a falling leaf. Air rushing through the three stiff outer wing feathers makes whistling sounds and is accompanied by a liquid, vocal twitter. In his classic A Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold calls this show the “sky dance,” and at twilight or on moonlit nights silhouettes can be seen.

Upon landing, the male fans his tail and wings and struts about boldly, hoping that at least one hen will find his dance irresistible. If one or several females succumb to the charm of the dance, the birds mate. If there are no takers, the dance continues.

Woodcock “dances” peak at dusk and dawn from early-March through early May. Males are promiscuous; they mate with any hen that ventures inside the territory.

Out West on prairies and sage lands, there are other forms of “March madness.” Prairie Chickens, Sharp-tailed Grouse, and Sage Grouse gather on communal mating grounds called “leks” where males face off, stomp their feet, flap their wings, jump off the ground, and make distinctive “wooing” vocalizations. Fortunately for birders, these dances occur during daylight hours.

Here in the East, moonlit nights provide the best chance for observing the dance of the woodcock. But remember, most of the show will be heard, not seen.–Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Wind Farms May Threaten Whooping Cranes

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

By Maria Fisher
STAFFORD, KS—Whooping Cranes have waged a valiant fight against extinction, but federal officials warn of a new potential threat to the endangered birds: wind farms.

Down to about 15 in 1941, the gargantuan birds that migrate each fall from Canada to Texas now number 266, thanks to conservation efforts. But because wind energy has gained such traction, Whooping Cranes could again be at risk—either from crashing into the towering wind turbines and transmission lines or because of habitat lost to the wind farms.

“Basically you can overlay the strongest, best areas for wind turbine development with the Whooping Crane migration corridor,” said Tom Stehn, Whooping Crane coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.The service estimates as many as 40,000 turbines will be erected in the U.S. section of the Whooping Cranes’ 200-mile wide migration corridor.

“Even if they avoid killing the cranes, the wind farms would be taking hundreds of square miles of migration stopover habitat away from the cranes,” Stehn said.

The American Wind Energy Association says the industry grew by 45 percent last year, providing about 1 percent of the nation’s energy. It says its 1,400 member companies don’t want their turbines, power lines, transmission towers and roadways to hurt the cranes, which are protected by the Endangered Species Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty.

“We would hate to see any collisions with Whooping Cranes,” said Laurie Jodziewicz, the association’s manager of siting policy. “It would be very distressing for everybody.” But Jodziewicz said the wind industry will continue to grow in the crane’s migration corridor and should not be subject to regulations that don’t apply to other industries.

“It’s a very windy area,” she said. “We certainly want to work toward minimizing impacts, but there is a real driver behind wind energy, which is the need for clean, renewable electricity. There are many other things going on in that corridor that could potentially affect that species. So to say that wind development should be stopped while allowing all sorts of other activities to continue might not be the right course of action.”

Nicholas Throckmorton, a spokesman for the Fish and Wildlife Service, said the agency lacks the authority to demand that wind developers confer with it.

“There are no forced consultations,” Throckmorton said, “other than pointing out that it’s illegal to kill endangered species or migrating species.”

Stehn and others say no Whooping Cranes have been killed by a wind turbine, though they remain concerned.

“In the natural world, birds and bats have gotten used to flying around a lot of things,” Throckmorton said. “But nowhere in the natural world is there a big spinning rotor.”

The wind industry has been criticized for its impact on other birds and wildlife, as well as its visual effect on the landscape.

The U.S. Department of the Interior has named a Wind Turbine Advisory Committee to make recommendations on how to avoid or minimize wind farms’ impact on wildlife and habitats. The committee had its first public meeting last week in Washington.

There are three flocks of Whooping Cranes in North America, with a total of about 525 Whooping Cranes in the wild and in captivity. But the flock that migrates 2,400 miles from Wood Buffalo National Park in northern Canada’s boreal forest to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge near Corpus Christi, TX, is the only self-sustaining flock. That means it is the species’ best chance for survival, Stehn said.

Whooping Cranes, the tallest birds in North America, fly at altitudes of between 500 and 5,000 ft.—enough room to clear the turbines, which range in height from about 200 ft. to 295 ft., and their blades, with diameters from 230 ft. to 295 ft.

The problem, Stehn said, is that the cranes stop every night.

“It’s actually the landing and taking off that’s problematic,” he said. “That’s when they’re most likely to encounter the turbines and transmission towers.”

The most common cause of death for Whooping Cranes is crashing into power lines. Stehn said the industry could help by marking its power lines, which run from transmission towers.

“Each crane is precious when you only have 266,” he said.–AP

Wind Farm Strikes At Eagle Stronghold

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

EDITOR’S NOTE: With the large number of wind farms being built in the U.S., it is important to learn from Norway’s experience in siting the huge windmills.  Here is that story:

A KEY POPULATION of Europe’s largest eagle has been significantly reduced by a wind farm.

Only one White-tailed Eagle is expected to fledge from the wind farm site on the bird’s former stronghold of Smøla, a set of islands about six miles (10 kilometres) off the northwest Norwegian coast.

Turbine blades have killed nine of the birds in the last ten months including all three chicks that fledged last year. The number of young has crashed from at least ten each year before the wind farm was built, with numbers outside the wind farm falling as well–there are no breeding pairs within one kilometre of the turbines. In 1989, BirdLife International made Smøla an “Important Bird Area” because it had one of the highest densities of White-tailed Eagles in the World.

Scientists now fear that wind farms planned for the rest of Norway–there are more than 100 proposals–could replicate the impact on wildlife of Smøla. Norway is the most important country in the world for White-tailed Eagles.

Dr. Rowena Langston, Senior Research Biologist at The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) said, “Smøla is demonstrating the damage that can be caused by a wind farm in the wrong location. The RSPB strongly supports renewable energies including wind, but the deaths of adult birds and the three young born last year make the prospects for White-tailed Eagles on the island look bleak.The Norwegian government ignored warnings of the consequences for wildlife of the Smøla wind farm proposal before it was built.

There are other wind farms close to Smøla which are putting more eagles in jeopardy too. The deaths of these birds show just how inadequate existing decision-making processes are for new technologies such as wind farms.

Developers and governments should be taking note; these types of impact must be properly considered and acted upon when proposals are first made to avoid the unnecessary losses we are witnessing on Smøla.

Researchers are now running weekly checks for dead birds at the 68-turbine Smøla site and pressure is mounting on the Norwegian government to improve environmental assessments, both from conservationists and the wind farm operator, Statkraft.

At the same time, the RSPB is backing a new four-year study at the site by the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (NINA)  to assess the effects of turbines on swans and wading birds such as Golden Plover, Dunlin and Whimbrel, and on the ability of White-tailed Eagles to adapt to the wind farm.

Arne Follestad, a Research Scientist at NINA said, “We know little of the cumulative effects of the many wind farms planned for Norway, so it is important to study their long term effects on the eagle population both on Smøla and elsewhere.”

The RSPB believes climate change poses the greatest long-term threat to wildlife and strongly supports the development of renewable energy including wind farms, so long as they are well sited.

The Norwegian government ignored warnings of the consequences for wildlife of the Smøla wind farm proposal before it was built. Dr Mark Avery, Conservation Director at the RSPB said, “The eagles’ deaths confirm the fears we expressed at that time and show how devastating a poorly sited wind farm can be.

‘Wind farms can and should be helping us tackle climate change and can do so without affecting important wildlife sites. It is vital now that environmental impact assessments take full account of conservationists’ advice and that those assessments help form the backbone of future decisions on wind farm
applications.–Royal Society for the Protection of Birds

Wildlife, Homeowners Often Live In Conflict

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

CONFLICTS with squirrels, skunks, raccoons, birds and other wildlife are a reality for many homeowners.

“There are many common household items that can serve homeowners well in their conflict with wildlife,” said Laura Simon, field director of urban wildlife for the Humane Society of the United States. Here are a few:

Problem: Dog sprayed by a skunk

Solution: A simple recipe. Mix together in a bowl 1 quart of hydrogen peroxide, 1/8 cup of baking soda, and 1 teaspoon of liquid dish soap. Apply to dog with a towel. Bathe and rinse dog and the odor will instantly disappear. Side effect: this solution may give dark fur a “highlight” effect.

Problem: Woodpeckers pecking; Woodchucks digging; geese hanging out

Solution: Shiny party store (Mylar) balloons with a “face” that features big eyes, creates a predator image for wild animals and keeps them away from areas they are not wanted. Hang from windows or downspouts, tie to garden posts.

Problem: Squirrels/Raccoons on patio or deck, a little too close to your door

Solution: Remove any potential food attractant such as cat food or birdseed. If they still remain, know that the sound of a vacuum cleaner is very frightening to a wild animal. Run one for a few minutes and they will scurry away.

Problem: Sparrows, pigeons and others are landing on balcony railings

Solution: A Slinky toy stretched with an inch between spirals, secured on the sill, will keep the birds from landing or nesting there.

Problem: Woodchucks getting in the garden

Solution: Put up a simple L-shaped chicken wire fence. The two tricks are: run the bottom part 12 inches out, parallel to the ground, secured with landscaping staples, which creates a “false bottom” that the animal cannot dig under; make sure the vertical part is not too taut. If it wobbles when the woodchuck tries to climb, he will be discouraged and stop trying.

Problem: Birds crashing into windows

Solution: Aluminum foil cut in one foot squares and secured with a piece of tape at the top can be applied to windows to prevent migrating birds from hitting them. It also works to prevent cardinals and robins from attacking them, when they mistake their own reflection for that of a competitor.

Problem: Skunks stuck in window wells

Solution: Place a chunk of strong-smelling cheese in the bottom of a rectangular kitchen garbage can. Put the can on its side to get a skunk who has fallen into a window well out. The skunk will walk in to feast on the cheese, then tip the garbage can up and raise it, elevator style, to ground level and lower it on its side again to allow the skunk to amble out. Then buy an inexpensive window well cover at a home or hardware store so it does not happen again.

Problem: Squirrels in the attic

Solution: An inexpensive strobe light can be helpful in getting squirrel families to leave an attic and find a less disconcerting place to raise their young.

Problem: Raccoons or squirrels in the chimney

Solution: Loud hard rock music and a bowl of ammonia works for raccoons. Place a radio and bowl of ammonia on a footstool in the fireplace at dusk to convince them to move to a new den. For squirrels, a long rope hung down the chimney and draped over the side of the house will allow them to climb out. To permanently solve this problem, have a chimney cap installed. — Hendersonville Times News

Wildlife Reminds Us of Winter’s Blessing

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

By Matt VanderVelde, DVM
DESOTO, KS–This time of year I think we all get a bit too much cabin fever and may get too melancholy or down about the constant battle of cold and ice.<p>

At times, I find myself pretty depressed about not being able to take my early morning trek down the country lane outside our farm for lack of bearable temperatures. Bearable temperatures to me are anything above 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Otherwise, my only exposed skin–my face–would be deadened and numbed by the bitter cold of Old Man Winter’s breath.

Then I look around me and see all these wonderful animals frolicking about as if it’s just another season’s passage.

As I turned up the lane for the homestretch to the house earlier this week, I had lunch on my mind in a warm abode near my warm and loving wife. As I turned through the bend in the gravel road, I could see a blur of black fur. It seemed to be picking up speed as I near it.

Soon I could make out the image. It was that little feral black cat I released a few years back at the edge of my property. Without a home and way too ornery to be placed with a family, I had spayed, vaccinated and dewormed it beforehand. Then, with a prayer and a push, I let the cage door open and “swoosh,” she sped for the nearby timber.

“Freedom, thank God, I’m free at last,” I could hear her purr.

I hoped that maybe it was slightly better than the end of life by mercy. This time it was survival in the wild. And yet, here she was, romping up and down the road, dashing in and out of cover, seemingly at home with her surroundings, even in these subfreezing temperatures. I was humbled by her relative enthusiasm of existence of life as I quietly complained earlier of the limitations of the winter’s cold.

As many of you have been, we have enjoyed feeding the many varieties of song birds this past month as seeds get scarce and the need for fuel to warm their precious little feathered and winged bodies increases.

As the snow fell Saturday afternoon, we looked on from our living room as various birds including cardinals, jays, sparrows and occasional bluebirds vied for position at the hanging feeder. It seems we cannot keep enough seed and suet out as our nearby throng subsides.

We have a virtual two-story feeding going as the bigger birds knock seeds to the ground, the smaller birds get the fallen feed on the ground. It is at this time all cats and dogs get confined to the garage so the dining of the aviary can go on undisturbed.

I got into trouble the other day, though, after I found the suet cage grounded by recent sustained, high winds. Thinking I would just hang the cage in the umbrella tree near our front door and windows for close view of the birds, I never thought an animal other than a bird might prey upon it. Sure enough, the next day, the cage lay open, the suet was gone and small little canine footprint impressions were left in the snow below.

The evidence was damning and conviction was evident. Minnie had done it.

“I hope her bowels suffer for it tonight,” my wife said. “I think I’ll skip feeding her tonight.”

Such fun it is, though, to have bird feeders. It takes the edge off winter’s doldrums, too. I am reminded of the pure luxury of our lives and the verse in the good book that alludes to the fact that even God provides for the sparrows of the earth.

As I headed back down Golden Road when I finished lunch, I spied a flock of Wild Turkey in a former soybean field. Their numbers exceeded 65. They seemed content in their pursuit of leftover soybeans, neither starving nor showing signs of demise. And I’m worried about putting food on the table?

Around the corner I could see row upon row of descending Canada Geese. They, too, had designs on an open former soybean field as their numbers swelled in the hundreds, not once complaining of the cold, snow or ice. Actually, it seemed almost a party scene as they flapped their wings and honked at each other. What a sight of nature.

You know, winter is not such a bad time after all; if only we compare ourselves to those animal friends we live near outside our warm and cozy abodes.

If we would all but thank our Creator for the warmth of our homes and the luxuries of our lifestyles this time of year, the joy of the past holiday season might be shared throughout the year, even in the cold of winter. –The DeSoto Explorer

Wildlife Rehab Center Overwhelmed With Animals

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

By Chris Robinson
FOR THE FIRST time since opening in 1995, Second Chance Wildlife Center near Gaithersburg, MD was so overburdened with animals needing care it was forced to deny new arrivals late last month.

The respite allowed the center to release about 120 animals back to the wild and reopen a week later. Second Chance Executive Director Christine Montuori is optimistic they won’t have to close again this summer.

However, she warns that the closure reflects a broader dilemma created by increased development, a particularly active spring and a decline in wildlife rehabilitators.

‘‘Whenever a rehabilitator gives it up, the slack has to be taken up some place,” Montuori said.

There are 70 licensed wildlife rehabilitators in Maryland and Second Chance is one of the largest in the Washington, DC, metropolitan area, said Paul Peditto, director of the Wildlife and Heritage Service for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

Second Chance, which is operated 365 days a year from a 2,600-sq.-ft. farmhouse nestled in a wooded, 10-acre plot, can care for as many as 1,000 animals a month, Montuori said. She estimated they were currently housing about 600 animals.

Peditto said that while his department handles rare and threatened animals as well as wildlife emergencies that threaten human safety, the rehabilitators offer care for general wildlife that is largely not provided by other local or state agencies. Still, Peditto said the number of licensed rehabilitators has remained stable and factors such as suburban sprawl must be considered.

‘‘At the same time, we would certainly welcome new volunteers into the apprentice program to become master rehabilitators,” Peditto said.

Montuori, who said she has been a rehabilitator for 20 years and currently is employed full time with Second Chance, encouraged anyone with the interest, time and dedication to investigate rehabilitation. Additional government funding also could lighten the financial disincentive many potential rehabilitators face, she said.

‘‘The idea is if it’s a wild animal, let nature take its course,” Montuori said. ‘‘That kind of mentality lasts until you are the one that finds that injured baby squirrel, or sees the animal hit by a car and is still struggling, then all of that ‘nature takes its course’ thing goes out the window.”

JC Crist, president and chief executive officer of the Montgomery County Humane Society, said that the situation is a wakeup call every spring.

‘‘I think we need to come up with a plan,” he said. ‘‘We, collectively as a community, with a plan so we don’t hit critical mass and God’s creatures don’t suffer.” –The Gazette

Wildlife Moving In Next Door (Cats Beware)

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

By Christine McConville
MEDFORD, MA–So it’s officially winter: the ground is frozen solid, there’s ice in the streams and ponds, and animal control officers are getting lots of calls.

“They’ll usually say, ‘There’s a fox or a coyote in my backyard. What should I do?’ ” said Jerry Smith, Winchester’s longtime animal control officer. He tells them it’s just that time of year.

“It’s mating season, and they are all out there looking,” Smith said. “And if they’ve already got a mate, chances are they are looking for food.” Mating habits aside, wildlife specialists say that throughout the Boston suburbs, there are more frequent, and more varied, sightings than ever before.

“There are some wildlife sightings that people would have been surprised about 20 years ago,” said Marion Larson, information and education biologist at the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. Moose sightings in Lowell and Westford, for example– “that’s something you wouldn’t have seen 20 years ago,” she said.

Some of that has been part of an effort by wildlife specialists to restore certain indigenous species, such as the Wild Turkey, which was virtually extinct in Massachusetts 20 years ago. In other cases, such as Moose, animals are going to greater lengths to keep their bellies full.

“We’ve got Phil the Turkey,” said Medford Mayor Michael McGlynn about the wild bird who frequently jams up morning commuters. McGlynn said he often hears from neighbors who see herds of deer nibbling on bushes, reports he never heard 20 or 30 years ago.

Red and Gray Foxes, Wild Turkeys, and Whitetail Deer have been in Massachusetts for centuries, while coyotes are relative newcomers. But it is only recently that humans and animals are brushing up against each other with any frequency.

Many say the change can be linked to decades of suburban sprawl.

“Every time a house goes up,” Smith said, “the animals that lived in that spot have to go someplace else to find their food,” he said. “Now, you take a five-, six-, seven-acre lot–that’s a lot of animals that have been displaced.”

Medford animal control officer Patrick Hogan said many wildlife observers believe that foxes and coyotes simply prefer the suburbs, because food is more easily available there than in the woods.

“There’s more trash, and bird seed,” he said, “and a lot of people feed their dogs and cats outside, and that’s a really good food source, too.” Animal control officers also say callers’ concerns vary from season to season.

From December to March, coyotes and foxes are out looking for mates, and they’ll cover a good distance, and show up in some unusual places, in their quest. They’ll also create a ruckus. When coyotes howl in the winter, it’s generally part of their mating ritual. Sometimes, they howl to let other coyotes know of their presence. Other times, they’ll howl to keep the competition away.

Eventually the females will get pregnant, and the animals will cover greater distances in their quest for food.

“It can get tough,” Smith said. “The mice and the moles and snakes aren’t around. The only thing they have to eat are the squirrels.”

And it is times like these when a well-fed cat can look pretty tempting to foxes and coyotes. Smith said foxes and coyotes tend to steer clear of dogs, but will wait in a yard where a cat lives, and when the cat takes a nap, the predator might pounce.

Coyote pups and fox kits arrive in April, and soon after that, animal control officers receive a different kind of call.

“Some people get alarmed when they see these animals out in the middle of the day,” Smith said. “One lady called to say there’s a fox in her yard, with three little ones. She wanted to know what to do, so I told her, ‘Get a camera.’ “

Some springtime callers will report a “sick looking” coyote or fox; Smith said it’s usually because the animal is shedding its winter coat, so its fur looks dull and mangy.

By summer, the entire coyote family will go out looking for food, and people frequently mention nighttime howling.

“A lot of times that howling happens when the mother gets a Raccoon,” Smith said. “She’ll start howling, to let her pups know, ‘I’ve got something.’ “

No matter what time of year a sighting occurs, Smith, Hogan, and others frequently remind people that coyotes and foxes are afraid of humans, and encourage people to keep it that way. To make your property less attractive to coyotes and foxes, wildlife specialists suggest securing your garbage and feeding your pets indoors. They also suggest closing off crawl spaces and trimming overgrown brush. –Boston Globe

Wildlife In Our Own Backyard

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

By Ken Bailey
WHEN WAS the last time you had a special day in the great outdoors?

Although every day that we can get outside and enjoy nature is special, I had an extra unique day last week when I encountered a wide variety of wildlife—all in our own Midcoast Maine backyard.

In the period of a couple of hours, I walked to within 50 ft. of a young Moose, snuck up on a sunning Snapping Turtle, watched three ducks nap on a sunny rock and paddled a boat close to a snake swimming across the lake.

If you spend any time in nature you will soon discover how fortunate we are to be living in this amazing period of abundant wildlife. As far as wildlife goes—today is much better than the so-called “good old days.”

I received a call from a local resident who was concerned about a young Moose that had camped on her property for a week. She said the Moose would paddle around in her small farm pond, lay down for hours on end near the edge of the woods, and appeared lethargic. Was the Moose sick?

Arriving at the Moose’s location, I met with the homeowner, who pointed me in the right direction. Once I knew where to look, it was easy to see the youngster as it lay in the tall grass where the field met the thick woods.

With camera and binoculars in hand, I headed across the freshly mowed field toward the resting moose. As I approached within 100 ft. she casually lifted her head and looked my way. Ears up and alert, the youngster looked me over but did not seem alarmed.

When I closed to within 50 ft., she slowly stood up, shook her head and again looked my way. She almost seemed perturbed that I had interrupted her nap. Slowly moving her gangly legs, the yearling Moose ambled along the edge of the woods, stopping briefly to strip some tender, green leaves from a young maple tree for a mid-afternoon snack.

I looked closely with the binoculars and could see no obvious injuries. She seemed in good shape, alert and her weight seemed average. She cast one more look over her shoulder as she quietly slipped into the thick underbrush, disappearing into the woods.

A biologist with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife said this was most likely a lonely yearling Moose that had be forced to leave her mother because a new calf was on the way. He also stated that Moose often prefer—especially if not harassed —to stay out in the open fields to avoid the ever-present, and often nasty, biting insects in the thick woods in the summer. The Moose appears to like her summer vacation spot and seems in no hurry to leave.

Later that day, while cruising the shores of Megunticook Lake, I was fortunate to observe other native wildlife. The young eagles that hatched just a few short weeks ago are now flying around the lake and will soon be abandoned by their parents, forcing the youngsters to survive on their own. This crucial time in a young eagle’s life is when it quickly finds out if it has learned the important lessons of life in the wild. Studies show that only 50 percent of the young eaglets survive those first challenging months on their own.

I came upon three Black Ducks taking a nap on rocks located in a shallow cove. Their necks were twisted around and their beaks were tucked into feathers on their back. I passed by without disturbing them.

I turned the boat into the sheltered cove where it is moored and came upon a large Snapping Turtle soaking up the late August sun. It followed me with its menacing head and slid into the water with a loud splash when I came too close for comfort. When I turned away from the now submerged turtle, I saw movement in the water.

As I came closer, I could see it was a Garter Snake slithering across the dark surface of the lake. The closer I managed to get, the faster the snake undulated over the water. Once it was on dry land, it quickly disappeared into the thick shoreline brush.

This was another memorable day in beautiful Midcoast, Maine. The next time you’re out for a hike, or go for a quiet cruise on one of our many beautiful waters, take time to look around. Don’t just look at the scenery. Look deep into the woods. Investigate every movement; every sound. You’ll be amazed at what you will find. –VillageSoup

Wildlife Habitat Loss Biggest Threat

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

By Pam Owen
THE SINGLE greatest threat to our native wildlife is habitat loss.

While some native species can adapt more readily to changes in habitat, others depend on particular plants, geology, and climatic conditions to survive. With increasing development of land, habitat that is necessary to the very survival of some species is rapidly disappearing.

The good news is that a growing number of private property owners recognize the value of native habitat and are restoring and protecting it on their land. In Rappahannock County we’re fortunate to have a strong conservation ethic. Many individual property owners have taken on the challenging task of restoring land that was once used for farming to native habitat, and farmers are increasingly using sustainable practices that integrate native habitat with crops and pasture, to provide for wildlife as well as humans.

Want to go wild in your backyard but don’t own hundreds of acres?
While large properties can support larger and more diverse wildlife, you can make a difference with considerably less-and even if you rent. Planting a single native plant can provide food and shelter for many species. Put up a bird or bat house, and you’ll provide a home and help keep the local insect population in balance.

In some cases not taking action can benefit wildlife-leaving a dead tree standing can provide a wildlife hotel; leaving a field fallow can provide rich habitat for myriad species; not draining a wetland can give you a frog chorus in the spring.

One of the most endangered habitats in Virginia is forest edge-that space between field and forest that that has a mix of grasses, shrubs, and saplings. Just by not plowing or mowing up to the forest, you can provide habitat for species that are rapidly disappearing, like our native bobwhite quail. If you have a large forest tract, you can cut down a few trees along the edge and leave them where they fall, instantly providing shelter for these edge species.

Another significant threat to wildlife is habitat fragmentation, where tracts of native habitat are interrupted by farming or development. Many native animal species need large areas of native habitat to survive, or at least corridors to move from one area to the next-for food, shelter, and finding a mate.

Before herbicides and sophisticated machinery, the fences and stone walls that separated fields were often covered with native vines and shrubs, providing a link from one wild area to another. Today, it’s easier to keep these fence lines “tidy” by human standards but barren of food and cover for wildlife. By planting native shrubs or vines, or just not clearing out what will naturally grow if left alone, you can link habitat fragments for some species and provide habitat similar to forest edge for others.

If you’re more ambitious and want to really go back to the land, you may have to start from scratch by clearing land of nonnative invasive species. This may entail using a range of tools-from prescribed burns, to manual extraction, to careful application of herbicides.Habitat projects can be exciting but daunting.

Where can you get help? Many government and nongovernmental organizations offer information, onsite expertise, plants, and even funding for habitat management. –Rappahannock News

Wildlife Detective Stars In A Real-Life Drama

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

By Tom Stienstra
THE CASE of the worst mass killing of elk in the past 100 years– 15 Roosevelt elk slaughtered by poachers in Northern California– was solved by wildlife detective Jim Banks using DNA analysis at the Department of Fish and Game’s forensic lab.

This was the most dramatic crime among thousands of wildlife violations in which Banks’ lab work has led to convictions. As the godfather of wildlife DNA lab work, Banks was named the top game warden in America this week, the International Conservation Officer of the Year, by the Shikar-Safari Club.

Game Warden John Dawson said many suspects confess when they are told what they are up against. “I tell them we have the best forensic scientist in the nation who will be able to tell me the exact sex and the number of animals represented by a blood smear or meat sample,” Dawson said.

Facing the combination of Banks and DNA science, they often give up.

Banks first developed using DNA evidence in 1993 to catch deer poachers. It was a revolution in wildlife crime enforcement in America. With small tissue, blood or hair samples, Banks could match up evidence found in the field with meat in a suspect’s freezer. In a significant breakthrough, Banks could test deer meat and testify if the animal was a doe. That discovery alone could lead to a conviction; shooting does is banned throughout California.

In addition, Banks was able to reduce the cost of DNA analysis to only $7 per sample, making the work practical for high-volume operation anywhere in America. The DFG has accused poachers of illegally killing up to 50,000 deer per year in California, crimes that undermine deer populations and attempts at herd management. By comparison, about 25,000 to 30,000 are taken by legal hunters in the state.

“Poaching can have a profound impact on the overall health of wildlife populations,” Banks said. “We are a society of laws, not only designed to protect people but to regulate and protect wildlife. If we don’t respect and uphold these laws, then we revert back to the days of the Wild West, and that’s when the very survival of wild species came into question.”

Wildlife law enforcement, paid for by anglers and hunters, has helped many species rebound to 100-year population highs.

The DFG estimates that commercial poaching is a $100 million-a-year business in California. An illegal elk head with impressive antlers can be sold for $20,000 and bear gall bladders for $5,000. In one DFG undercover operation, an estimated 10,000 illegal abalone were involved, worth $350,000 for the poachers and $1 million in restaurants.

Banks’ work has helped bust open many landmark cases:

Elk slaughter: In a grisly kill scene, game wardens found the carcasses of 15 elk in national forest near Burney in Shasta County. They represented nearly the entire herd in the area. Four game wardens collected the evidence and handed it over to Banks, who was also on the scene.

A phone tip reported that elk meat had been bagged and hidden underwater in a tributary of Fall River. State divers found the meat. “We were able to match the bagged meat with the evidence from the kill site,” Banks said.

Game wardens conducted a search of the suspects’ homes and found traces of blood and meat. “We compared the blood at the suspects’ home with that from the kill site and meat found in the water,” Banks said. “It was from the same animals.”

Six poachers were arrested and convicted.

Gall bladder crackdown: In an undercover operation, game warden John Dawson infiltrated an extensive wildlife crime ring. Poachers in Northern California were illegally killing bears, taking the gall bladder and paws, and selling the parts on the black market in Los Angeles. They were then sold in Korea, where they are dried, ground into powder and sprinkled on food as a medical cure-all.

Banks became involved when Dawson wanted proof that the same bear gall bladders were being sold in the chain of illegal activity. In an elaborate scam, some of the gall bladders being sold were not from bears but from pigs and steers. The case went to trial and the kingpins of the operation, based in Los Angeles, were convicted, fined and jailed.

Chinatown fraud: In San Francisco’s Chinatown, game wardens busted markets that advertised selling sea lion penises as sexual-enhancement food additive. Banks shocked the sellers, buyers and game wardens by determining the penises were actually from cows.

Elk and deer surprise: In the town of Klamath in Humboldt County, game warden Rick Banko spotted two men cleaning elk and deer. When confronted, the men claimed they were Hoopa Indians and that they had shot the elk and deer on the Hoopa Reservation. The next day, a ranger from Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park near Orick found three elk heads and other animal parts stashed in brush at the park. At the same time, a tip told of another kill site, where two gut piles were discovered. Banks rushed to scene and collected the evidence.

In the meantime, Banko returned to Klamath, confronted the suspects and found the elk and deer still hanging (cooling) prior to butchering. Banko cut meat from each of the animals, and immediately drove it to the lab in Rancho Cordova. It took a week for Banks to make an irrefutable match. The poachers were arrested and convicted.

Abalone scam: For very high prices, restaurants and markets in Los Angeles were selling abalone. That’s illegal unless the abalone is grown at a mariculture farm. The lack of paperwork and the large quantity involved indicated to investigators this was an illegal operation.

Banks analyzed meat samples that were being sold as abalone and determined the “abalone” was actually — common squid.

Dead deer can talk: In the Sierra foothills east of Fresno last year, game warden Lorraine Doyle received a tip that several deer, including a juvenile buck, were being killed in the area. Doyle found the kill site; there were hides, a head and other remains.

Meanwhile, a butcher in Fresno reported to the DFG that an individual brought meat to him for boning, butchering and packing. When Doyle confronted the suspect, he said the deer were legally taken. Doyle tracked down four other suspects and, with a search warrant, collected meat samples from their freezers.

At the lab, Banks matched up the parts from the kill site, including the juvenile buck, to the meat in their freezers. It turned out that six bucks were illegally taken. The five suspects were convicted and fined. –San Francisco Chronicle

Wildlife Depend On Open Space

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

By Jeff Gearino
CASPER, WY–Animals generally don’t respond to those pesky boundaries placed by human society–they pretty much move among private, state, federal and tribal lands across Wyoming.

But ask a wildlife biologist, rancher or farmer, and they’ll all say the same thing: Private lands play a hugely important role to Wyoming’s wildlife, mostly by providing seasonal range for big game.

A recent University of Wyoming-sponsored “Open Spaces Initiative” report showed private lands are critically important to herd size and viability for Wyoming’s six major big game species–Elk, Moose, Antelope, Bighorn Sheep, Mule Deer and White-tailed Deer.

“Clearly, something in the neighborhood of 70 percent of the wildlife in this state spend part or all of their time on private lands,” said Bob Budd, executive director of the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resources Trust board. “Development tends to break that landscape up, and when you do, that has an impact on a lot of species.”

Budd pointed out that residential development can have a more lasting impact than oil and gas production or mining. While the disturbance from energy development can be significant, those lands eventually are reclaimed.

“Housing and land conversion for those purposes tends to be pretty permanent,” Budd said. “You have a certain amount of space, and as it gets taken up by a use that’s a little less friendly to wildlife, that’s a problem.”

Maintenance of open spaces on private land is important to the state’s hunting economy as well. Private lands have supported more than $58 million in hunter expenditures each year for Wyoming’s six big game species since 2000, according to the report. That’s just under 50 percent of the $120 million total spent by resident and nonresident hunters annually in Wyoming.

The UW report said big game animals in Wyoming that traditionally spend the summer on public lands in the higher elevations can also often be found on private lands at lower elevations, particularly during winter. Budd said more than a century of ranching has altered the landscape in many ways, and some of those ways are beneficial to certain species–for example, alfalfa fields provide forage for Mule Deer.

The overall importance of private land is greater for some big game species than others. For example, White-tailed Deer habitat generally occurs in bottom land along rivers, areas mostly privately owned. The study said about 80 percent of White-tailed Deer seasonally range on private lands. Bighorn Sheep, on the other hand, have the least amount of seasonal range on private lands, about 7 percent.

And it’s not just big game that depend upon open spaces. Budd said that while residential development benefits birds, including robins and sparrows, that adapt well to human presence, other bird species tend to diminish. And Prairie Dogs–which live in “towns” that can cover well over 40 acres–are harmed by development. –Casper Star Tribune

Wildlife Comes To Residential Areas As City Grows

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

By Jeremy Johnson
HENDERSONVILLE, TN–As urban progress continues to turn once empty fields and wooded areas into subdivisions, the animals that once lived there do not always leave when the landscape changes.

From birds building a nest in gutters to Whitetail Deer eating the garden, to Raccoons turning over garbage cans, wild animals can often become pests to their new neighbors.

“Nuisance wildlife is very common and it’s been that way for years,” said Ed Warr, Assistant Chief of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency’s Wildlife Division.

Taking simple steps to remove the elements they need most to make an area their home can usually control problem wildlife, he said.  Warr said one of the most commonly seen problems is squirrels or Raccoons nesting in the attic of a home.

“Sometimes a city itself is a good habitat for raccoons. What they need is food, water and shelter, just like anything else. You’ve got to get rid of these ingredients,” Warr said.

Pet food should not be left out in the open and garbage should be kept secure in cans that cannot be easily tipped over or access by animals, the officer said.

“Just because it is pet food doesn’t stop a Raccoon or a skunk or a possum from feeding on it,” Warr said.

Attics and garages should be kept sealed so that animals like squirrels or Raccoons cannot crawl inside, he added. For those experiencing problems with nuisance animals, the TWRA can offer advice or refer individuals to a handler certified to remove wild animals when taking steps to prevent the animal from returning is not working.

“We’ve got people that are permitted to do that if you can’t handle it yourself,” Warr said, adding he does not recommend individuals attempting to remove wild animals from their property.

The Hendersonville Police Animal Control officers do not handle removal of non-domesticated animals such as deer and raccoons that are outside a citizen’s home, HPD Captain Terry Frizzell, who added the capture or management of such animals is usually turned over to the TWRA.

If the wildlife is inside a citizen’s home, animal control officers will come by and access the situation, but will typically turn the capture of the animal over to someone better equipped and trained to handling wild animals, the captain said.

The risk of wildlife in the Nashville area carrying rabies is very minimal, according to Warr who added the TWRA has not found any cases of rabies in raccoons or possums in the Nashville area in a long time. And while some cases of rabies have been found in skunks, he said there has been none discovered recently.

“If you’ve got household pets, you should get them vaccinated (for rabies) to keep your family safe,” Warr said.

A vaccinated pet will merely get sick and have to be quarantined for a few days if bitten by an animal infected with rabies, Warr said. A pet that is not vaccinated will have to be put down if rabies is suspected. — Hendersonville Star News

Wildlife Artist Paints God’s Creatures

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

By Brad Dokken
KARLSTAD, MN–There’s a scene in the movie “Fargo,” the offbeat, distinctly Minnesota tale of a kidnap scheme gone awry, in which the wildlife artist husband of fictional Brainerd Police Chief Marge Gunderson laments the fact that he finished behind one of the Hautman brothers in a postage stamp contest.

Instead of gracing the 29-cent stamp, Norm Gunderson’s second-place mallard painting was relegated to the 3-cent stamp. “Hautman’s blue-winged teal got the 29 cent,” Norm laments to Marge. “People don’t much use the 3 cent.”

“Oh, for Pete’s sake,” Marge replies. “Of course they do. Whenever they raise the postage, people need the little stamps.”

The dialogue might be fictional but the Hautmans are very real. The Minnesota brothers–James, Robert and Joe–have established themselves among the top wildlife artists in the country, and each has won the prestigious Federal Duck Stamp contest, in addition to numerous state competitions.

Nick Reitzel knows firsthand how good the Hautmans are, and how difficult they are to top in stamp competitions.

“For Minnesota, it always comes back to the Hautmans,” said Reitzel, a Karlstad artist who’s putting this northwestern Minnesota community on the map with his finishes in state fish and wildlife stamp competitions. “There’s a few guys that are just really hard to compete with. It’s really just a handful, too, but those three brothers … they always edge me out.”

Well, not quite always.

Reitzel, 50, recently won the 2008 Minnesota Pheasant Stamp contest. His painting of pheasants in a snowy setting was selected by a panel of judges as the top work among 14 entries.

There’s no financial reward for winning the stamp contest, sponsored by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, but artists retain the rights to market their paintings. The 2008 pheasant stamp with Reitzel’s winning entry will be for sale in March.

The DNR uses proceeds from the stamps, required to hunt or fish the respective species, for habitat enhancement efforts.

As a professional artist, Reitzel says the stamp competitions are a good way to gain recognition. He also won the 2002 Pheasant Stamp contest, and in 2001, took first place in Minnesota’s Trout and Salmon Stamp and Wild Turkey Stamp competitions. He placed second in the 2001, 2005, 2006 and 2007 Pheasant Stamp contests, finishing behind Joe Hautman–there’s that name again–in 2006.

“If I had more time, I’d probably concentrate on landscape,” Reitzel said. “It’s just that the stamp contests get so much recognition.”

A native of the Twin Cities, Reitzel moved to Karlstad in 2001 after learning of the small town from a friend who originally was from Thief River Falls. He’d never even visited northwestern Minnesota, much less lived there.

“This is the only part of the state I’d never been to,” Reitzel said. “I took a trip and found a good price on a house, and I was meaning to move out of the cities for a few years so I thought I’d give it a try.”

The move, Reitzel says, has been a good fit.

“This is turning out be almost a perfect place to work for what I do, just because there’s a lot less distractions,” he said. “It’s quiet, I’ve got more privacy, everything is just simpler up here.”

Reitzel said he spent about 60 hours on his latest winning pheasant stamp, a process that included rough sketches, a more detailed drawing and eventually, the final painting. Contest rules limit the artists to a particular bird or fish, but at the same time, Reitzel says, the restrictions imposed by the competitions often force him to be more innovative.

“I always try to put something in (the painting) that I personally like,” he said. “It’s usually the background.”

Sometimes, Reitzel says, the inspiration for a background setting reflects a moment he experienced decades earlier. The way the light reflected on a stand of trees, for example, or a particular moment afield with his dad, who was an avid hunter.

“These things are bouncing around in my head for years,” Reitzel said. “Sometimes, I actually write them down and file them. But some of my best ideas are impressions I got when I was a kid, and if they’re not too naive, I can use them for a more sophisticated picture.”

After finishing second to a Hautman last year, winning this year’s pheasant stamp contest was gratifying, Reitzel says; but it’s just a step in getting the work produced into a limited edition print and available for sale. Artists, after all, have to sell their work to survive.

“With each win, I’m thinking about what to do as far as promotion,” Reitzel said. “The first win is a lot of fun, but then you start thinking more in terms of business.”

It helps, he says, to have a friend in Minneapolis who owns a print shop and will publish the paintings into limited edition prints.

“For those types of prints, you have to come up with a pretty big cash payment,” Reitzel said. “He trusts me, so I can pay him in installments.”

Wildlife art arguably has given Reitzel his best recognition, but it’s not the only style he pursues. The artist has worked on a mural, actually an attachment for a cooking grill, which depicts the history of the local fire department. Caricatures also are a favorite, Reitzel says.

“What I’m trying to do is become strictly a print artist,” Reitzel said. “That would be the most enjoyable lifestyle.”

Meantime, Reitzel says, he’s on a roll. He lives sparsely in his small Karlstad home, without a telephone or other luxuries, but at the same time, the lifestyle allows him to concentrate on work without interruption.

Before Reitzel, no one from northwestern Minnesota had won a DNR fish or wildlife stamp competition. When he does venture out, Reitzel says people around town are aware of what he’s accomplished as an artist.

“These next few years I might be putting out some of my best work,” he said. “I’m looking forward to just the productivity of what I’m going to be doing.”

In terms of wildlife art, does that mean, “Look out Hautmans?”

“Hopefully,” Reitzel said.

Wildlife Areas Provide Vital Owl Nesting

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

STATE WILDLIFE areas throughout Delaware provide vital nesting boxes for Screech Owls. More than 350 boxes have been placed in the state’s 14 wildlife areas by Delaware’s Divison of Fish and Wildlife biologists.

The boxes are perched high on predator-proof poles at heights from 6 to 30 ft. above the ground in forested wetlands. Although the boxes are primarily for Wood Ducks, they provide the perfect roosting and nesting places for Screech Owls.

According to Wayne Lehman, Fish and Wildlife Regional Manager, the nesting boxes are cleaned annually in January and February before the bird’s breeding season. “Over the years, our conservation efforts to protect Screech Owls by providing safe, nesting and roosting areas have been important,” said Lehman.

“In addition, annual winter cleaning of the nesting boxes provides us with the opportunity to band the owls and record important data that’s used to help assess the overall health of the species. Throughout the year, we ask that the public not open the boxes because owls will abandon nests if disturbed by humans.”

Screech Owls are tiny red to gray birds, about the size of the adult human hand. The nocturnal creatures feed on small mammals, insects, birds, amphibians, such as frogs, and sometimes fish. The owls seldom build their own nests, preferring instead to adopt woodpecker holes, natural cavities in large trees or man-made nesting boxes. Nest predators include Raccoons and Arboreal Black Rat Snakes.

The banding of Screech Owls was initiated in 1993 as an important way to provide scientists with information on the owl’s life span, home range, habitat preferences, nest box fidelity, and migration patterns. The banding serves as a key management tool to access impacts to the species caused by the loss of their natural habitat through increases in land development and man-made infrastructure.

Screech Owls will use Wood Duck boxes or specially-designed Screech Owl nest boxes if placed in a desirable habitat.

Wildlife Are Here To Stay

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

MOST PEOPLE take the indigenous wildlife in stride. It’s fun to see the occasional deer, raccoon, opossum, or maybe even a coyote.

We need to remember that wildlife was here first. The western expansion has limited the area for wildlife to live and raise their young. As life in the woods and storm sewers becomes more crowded, wildlife will spread out into homeowners’ properties, such as attics, sheds, decks and woodpiles to nest and raise their families.

Wildlife is here to stay, so we need to learn to adapt. Trapping and relocating is not the answer to eradicate a species from an area, and trapping is really not the business of animal control. So it is necessary to look for other alternatives.

Homeowners need to look at what drew the animal in the first place. Until that particular problem is solved, you will always draw opportunistic critters just looking for a place to live and raise their young. No yard is completely wildlifeproof, but measures can be taken to minimize a chance of an animal staking a claim on your property.

For some, adopting a dog will solve most of the critter problems. In other cases, you will need to take a good look around your property. See what might be drawing the critters to your home, which might include a low deck, a shed, or even wood or brush piles. Food for other wildlife like birdseed, or even food left out for your own dog. The grease from barbecues has also become a big draw in recent years. Find the potential problems and you can limit your wildlife visitors.

Wildlife Ain’t So Wild And Other Critters

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

By Tom Wharton
THESE DAYS it is possible to find about anything on the Internet. So, when researching a column about official critters, it should have come as no surprise to find www.stateanimals.com.

This certainly would be a useful site for kids who have delayed writing a term paper on some aspect of U.S. geography. It also proved a good place for an outdoor columnist interested in such matters.

While I have never been a big fan of Texas, the Lone Star State has great official critters. These include the Nine-banded Armadillo as the state animal, the Mexican Free-tailed Bat and Longhorn Steer as state mammals (hey, it’s a big state so it needs two), the Blue Lacy as the state dog and the Texas Horned Lizard as the state reptile.

You have to feel sorry for Indiana and Iowa, which have no state animal, reptile, amphibian, insect or fish to represent them. Iowa has an Eastern Goldfinch as state bird while Indiana claims the Northern Cardinal. Guess the fourth-grade students who study their states and often lobby legislatures to create a state animal have work to do in those two states.

Delaware lacks an official animal, but it has the Horseshoe Crab as its marine animal and the Weakfish is its state fish.

And why haven’t American religious groups forced Connecticut to change its state insect, the European Praying Mantis? Aren’t there any home-grown American mantises that pray?

Utah’s state insect, the honeybee, is as common as a cold. We share that distinction with probably a dozen other states whose residents are as busy as, well, a bee.

In Minnesota, the state bird is the Common Loon, perhaps another name for former Gov. Jesse Ventura.

The Lahontan Cutthroat is Nevada’s state fish. It is a native, after all. But, having lost more than a little money in that state’s casinos, the sucker may have been just as appropriate.

Some states, like Tennessee, can’t seem to make up their minds. That state, for example, has three state insects–the ladybug, honeybee and firefly–as well as a butterfly, the Zebra Swallowtail.

My votes for the coolest state animals, in addition to the Nine-banded Armadillo in Texas, include the Killer Whale in Washington, the Appaloosa Horse in Idaho, the Racking–not rocking–horse in Alabama and the dairy cow in Wisconsin.

South Dakota and New Mexico ought to get their animal and bird together. You would then have a great cartoon featuring coyote and roadÂrunner. Or has that been done?

Some places, in addition to Texas, have a state dog. Those would include the Boston Terrier in Massachusetts, the Catahowla Leopard Dog in Louisiana, the Chesapeake Bay Retriever in Maryland, and the Great Dane in Pennsylvania. Massachusetts’ state cat is the Tabby, while Maine has the Coon Cat and Maryland has the Calico.

In several places, you might not want to run into their state symbols, such as the Ridge-nosed Rattlesnake, which is Arizona’s state reptile, the American Alligator, which is Florida’s state reptile, the Carolina Wolf Spider in South Carolina or the Grizzly Bear in Montana. –Salt Lake Tribune