Well, it’s back again. Winter. It has been a strange season so far. Snow came early, then warmer weather again, now winter is blasting us yet one more time. Just last week I still had chipmunks out. The last couple of days none to be seen. Snuggling in their warm dens full of winter food they worked so hard to put away.

But other animals who are supposed to be hibernating, are sometimes disturbed, bringing them out into unfriendly temperatures. I’m talking about bats. Bats find warm sheltered roosts to overwinter in. It could be your attic, soffits in along your eves or sometimes they even get into your home. You may not even know they are there until one day they get disturbed, wake up and… You find them, or your child or dog or cat finds them.

What do you do? First of all, do not handle a bat without gloved hands. They are a rabies vector species and can bite. It doesn’t mean they have rabies. It’s not common but can occur. Most likely it has been woken up, and now needs help asap. They will need food that is not available and they will quickly use up that fat they stored to help them get through the winter while they hibernated. Now, how do you capture it? You can gently put a towel over it to catch it up. A small plastic container works well with tiny holes in the lid to put it in.  A bat can squeeze out of small spaces. So boxes are not good. And they do need air. So a good lid is needed on that container and it must have tiny air holes in it so the bat can breathe and a lid that seals well to close so it can’t escape. Cover the container to keep the bat calm with a towel. And find the nearest wildlife rehabilitation facility nearest you and call them right away. Or first thing in the morning if it is late. Just keep the bat contained warm and covered. Do not handle it. Bats stress very easily. They have a special diet and they need special care. So time is of the essence to get them where they need to be. And it can be life or death to them if you don’t.

I’m saying this and stressing this because so often a bat or other wildlife will come to us a week or more after it was found. When all efforts have failed to help them by you, it is then that the people call the wildlife rehabilitation in desperation to save that life. And it can then be too far gone to save. And then fighting to get them back often fails because they had the wrong care for too long. And they are lost. A waste of a life that otherwise would have had a good chance to survive. We know people mean well. And a lot is a lack of education. But, if not in inexperienced hands, chances are very slim they will survive. So do not try to care for them yourself, or any wild animal for that matter, besides it is illegal to keep any wild animal for more than 24 hrs. Long enough to find a rehab facility and get it there. You can go online to ontariowildliferescue.ca and find the facility nearest to you. Call them and make arrangements to go there to drop off that bat so it can be cared for properly. Its life may depend on it. It may have to overwinter at the facility. Then be released come spring. Bats are very important to our environment. They eat insects, many many insects. With the decline in numbers of bats and insect-eating bird species, our insects will multiply causing us much grief, carrying disease, biting us, forcing us to retreat inside when we have waited all winter to get out. We need the insect-eating species. We need bats. Bats are such amazing little mammals. I adore them.  So if you find one in distress this winter, please do the right thing and do it quickly, save a life.

One more thing I would like to give a mention to, are winter visitors already showing up; snowy owls. A beautiful white owl who comes from way up North where humans are scarce. When their food gets scarce there they come south to find it. They are not used to humans or cars, are hungry and need to hunt. In other words, they sometimes are easy to approach. But don’t because even though they look calm, they will stress out and they could miss that much-needed meal. A meal that could be life or death to an owl who has travelled many many miles looking for food. Like all wildlife. Give them space, respect them and their space, do not approach, do not try to feed and do not tell people the location of any owl you are lucky to see.

You see, there are people out there who use these owls to make money. They take groups out when they find one, people who pay them to go get that perfect photo, they are baited or fed invasive mice who are non-native, that could become a problem to our native mice. That is illegal because you are introducing non-native species into the environment, should one be missed by the owl. Also very mean to mice who were slated for some child’s pet. It’s just cruel.  However, in doing this, they are also teaching that owl to trust people, that people and cars mean food. They get lazy and dependent with the high probability they will get hit by cars, and some will die. Others end up in wildlife rehabilitation facilities like Procyon for months, if they make it, they are then transferred to the Owl Foundation where they then get the finishing touches on their rehabilitation before release back to the wild. These are magnificent birds of prey, they are amazing to watch from a respectable distance so not to hinder their hunting. But keep it short and let them hunt.

As I said before, that meal they seek may be the one that saves them. Life in the wild is not easy. So respect, keep your distance and do not give out their location. If you find an owl on the ground in distress, like the bat, call a wildlife rehabilitation immediately, do not wait and do not try to care for it yourself. It is a life. A life in trouble. It needs experienced hands and care. Keep it in a warm dry box again making sure there are air holes, and cover the box. Hot paws make an excellent heater, put 1 or 2 on the outside of the box or container wrapped in a towel or fleece. It will provide heat safely for 7 or 8 hours. I usually put it on the outside though because it can get too hot otherwise. Get them to help asap. Your fast action may just save that beautiful life.

Jennifer Howard

Naturalist/ photographer,

Volunteer for Procyon Wildlife Rehabilitation & Education Center.

Winter is Upon Us
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