Celebrating the wildlife releases of the PAWS Wildlife Center
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The Following Article is an excerpt from the Spring 2004 issue of
"Shared Space", the newsletter of the PAWS Habitat Conservation
Program. The PAWS Habitat Conservation Program encourages landowners to
improve and protect the habitat on their property, and offers them the
possibility of having rehabilitated wildlife released on their land. If
you would like to learn more about the release site component of the
Habitat Conservation Program, click here: http://www.paws.org/work/wildlife/releasesite.html
by Kevin Mack, PAWS Wildlife Naturalist
The arrival of spring means the arrival of breeding season, and it is very likely that you are currently sharing your property with wild animals that are busy raising, the next generation. There is a completely different dynamic between you and the wildlife on your property at this time of year. The nesting or denning behavior of some species may bring them into conflict with humans, or potentially place their young in harm's way. PAWS receives hundreds of injured and/or orphaned baby animals each spring. In addition, we receive hundreds of phone calls from landowners who need information about issues that have arisen with wildlife breeding on their property. Based on the reasons that young animals are typically brought to us, and the content of the phone calls we receive, there are several things to consider if you wish to avoid negatively impacting breeding wildlife on your property.
Be Cautious When Performing Yard Maintenance
This young chipmunk is currently in care at the PAWS Wildlife Center.
Many species of both birds and mammals will nest in cavities. They generally use cavities in snags (standing dead trees), but they will utilize human created structures as well (bird houses, attics, dryer vents, etc.). It is best to leave snags standing whenever possible as they are extremely valuable to wildlife. If you have dead trees on your property that you must remove, it is best to wait until late summer or early fall when any baby animals will have left the nest. You will still need to be cautious in the late summer or fall, as some species will use these cavities for shelter year-round.
Several species of tree squirrel, and dozens of species of wild birds build their nests in the branches of living trees or shrubs. Every spring, many of these nests are inadvertently knocked down or disturbed when landowners prune their trees and hedges. It is a good idea to carefully inspect any plants that you intend to trim. Some nests are extremely well hidden, so even if you don't spot a nest it is also advisable to observe for a period of time to see whether or not adult animals seem to be coming and going with nesting material and/or food in their mouths. If you detect a nest, or if you suspect that one may be present based on the behavior of adult animals in the area, you can delay pruning the tree or shrub until the nesting activity ceases.
Depending on the habitat available on your property, you may also be sharing your space with ground nesting species. Even in a relatively small yard, ground nesting songbirds like Dark-eyed Juncos may be present, and cottontails may have shallow nests hidden in the grass. Care should be taken when mowing the lawn to ensure that nests aren't exposed and babies killed or injured. You may also wish to let certain areas of your property remain unmowed to encourage ground and grass nesters. Larger properties with meadows or hayfields may provide habitat for a wide array of ground nesting species. It can be difficult to detect a nest in a small yard, let alone a 5 acre field, so again care should be taken to ensure that your activities will not disturb or destroy nests. In 2001 PAWS received two nestling Northern Harriers that had been found by a landowner who was mowing a hay field. The nest had been destroyed, and a 3rd nestling had been killed by the mower blades before the property owner realized what had happened. By being vigilant, and thoroughly assessing an area in which you will be performing yard work, you can greatly reduce the chance that you will share that landowner's experience.
Do Not Allow Your Companion Animals to go Outside Unsupervised
This is important advice to follow at any time of year, but it is crucial on your property during breeding season. Young animals are easily found and easily captured by dogs and cats, and they are far too tempting a target for even a well-fed companion animal to pass up. Ground nesting birds and mammals are especially susceptible to cat and dog predation, but even tree and cavity nesters are vulnerable. Most young birds must build up their flight muscles for a period of time before they become effective fliers. They often end up on the ground after attempting their first flights. At this point they are easily captured by companion animals that are allowed to roam free. One of the easiest ways you can make your property safer for breeding wildlife is to eliminate the threat that free-roaming companion animals pose to that wildlife.
Currently being housed in a pre-release flight pen, this fledgling Green Heron will be returning home soon.
An active nest, burrow or den on your property can be an exciting discovery. It's fascinating to watch wild animals raise their young firsthand, and it is tempting to closely monitor their activities. Always remember to keep a respectful distance when watching dens, nests, or burrows. It takes a lot of energy to raise wild babies, and the less energy an adult animal spends fleeing from or defending against a perceived predator (i.e. curious human) the more energy he or she can devote to caring for the young.
Learn the Natural History of the Wildlife on Your Property
The best way to ensure that you will be able to effectively share your property with breeding wildlife is to learn as much as possible about the species living on your land. By learning the behaviors, preferences, needs, and general cycles of your wild neighbors, you can better determine where nests and dens are likely to be found, and what to expect from both adults and young of a given species. You can also use natural history information to determine how best to improve the habitat on your property to increase the chances that a given species will choose to breed there. There are many good volumes on natural history available, but here are a few suggestions to get you started:
Lives of North American Birds, by Kenn Kaufmann, a Peterson Natural History Companion
A Guide to the Nests, Eggs and Nestlings of North American Birds, by Baicich and Harrison
Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mammals, from the National Audubon Society
Peterson Field Guide to North American Mammals, by Burt and Grossheider
Wildlife Release tally: May 12th to May 25th, 2004
Wildlife Release tally: 2004
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