Wildlife Hazards – What We Need to Know!

There is so much to talk about when spring arrives. Things we need to know to protect our wildlife. I am going to try to touch base on the most important ones that can cause the most problems or even life itself.

Winter clean up. That’s right; all those storms and high winds through winter into spring, the downed branches, trimming back bushes and shrubs. What do we do with all that? Some of us make brush piles. The plan is to burn them. But WAIT. Our wildlife is looking for places to birth their little ones, quiet, dark places. Like brush piles. Or places to sleep through the day. Fast asleep unknowing the dangers they could face. Please check that pile thoroughly before you lite that match, kick it, rustle it, do everything you can to make sure nothing is inside it. Having said that, creating small natural brush piles for them on purpose is great to supply them with shelter from predators, but only if you are doing that exclusively for your wildlife friends and NOT to burn.

Last year we lost a mother raccoon and all her newborn babies because she was critically burned. Her condition and stress brought her babies into this world early, she was unable to care for them as her stomach suffered burns, and they were too small for us to successfully care for, and a tad underdeveloped. They all died along with their mother. To watch her try to care for the lone survivor was precious, we gave them time together carefully. But she was just so severely injured outside and internally too. And her babies not ready to come into this world. Not quite yet. None survived. A total disaster.

Crush your soda cans, little wildlife babies love to explore, their little hands can reach into the tiny opening of a pop/ soda can and get stuck. Causing great trauma to that little life and much damage in injuries, or worse, that is if it is lucky to be found.

Wash everything that goes in your recycling bin but also put the lids back on. Wildlife can get their heads in there and get stuck. Starving, suffocating if nobody finds them. Coyotes, raccoons, foxes, skunks and more have suffered in this way, some losing their lives horribly. Other food containers that food comes in. Throw away responsibly, make sure they are empty and lids on. Tim Horton or any other take out place make sure cups or styrofoam take out containers are disposed of properly, ice cap lids washed and cut, straws, don’t accept them, we do not need straws, and our wildlife dies because of them. Unless they are paper.  Balloons, if you must use them, take them down when your event is done right away, burst them carefully and dispose of safely, balloons kill. On land and in the water whether it be lakes, wetlands, streams, rivers, or oceans. Any ring tab or 6 pack rings, cut them and dispose of safely. Fishing line, it kills, do not leave it behind. Change from lead sinkers to none lead.  Lead poisoning is a horrible death and slow. Swans, ducks, loons and more can get tangled in fishing line and even ingest it from the bottom of wetlands where hunting takes place, or fishing line which has snagged and broken with hook and lead still attached. Above the waterline, birds, animals and even owls can get caught in line left on trails or in trees.

And so, can you. I know, I did. And I got caught because the line had carelessly been left on a causeway, a grackle fledgling was also caught, its life threatened. Because I got caught, and it flapped every time I moved, I found that little bird, mother frantically flitting around trying to figure out why her babe was not following her. I almost went down, loaded with camera gear and it almost died in the heat, line tightly wrapped around its leg. Luckily for both of us, it all worked out. But neither should have happened.

Please keep hazardous materials stored safely. Remember wildlife is curious and does not know any different.

Watch out for birds nesting in strange places before you do anything or move anything. A trailer came from Toronto to be loaded with belongings salvaged from a house fire up the street.

I walked by a couple of times before I panicked and realized there were baby birds in their nest in there with their mother left behind in Toronto. It was clear that this trailer was not one that had been used for a while and had become a home for nesting birds.

Before the people showed up, it took us overnight and well into the next day and then more time to figure out how to get into the refrigerator part of this trailer. There we found four perfect blue unhatched eggs and four starving starling nestlings. Nests everywhere throughout, but luckily empty. But those 4 little eggs lost their lives before they began.

My husband searched every nook and every corner, checking every nest while up on a ladder. The babes got fed and hydrated as soon as I got home, then took another trip to a wildlife rehabilitation facility. But I only fed them because I knew what to do since I am a trained rehab volunteer. Contact your nearest wildlife rehabilitation right away should you encounter orphaned or injured wildlife.  That was a close call for these little nestlings. Leaving behind two frantic mothers when their babes and eggs disappeared into thin air.

Another home under construction moved a phoebes nest and put it in another little tree. She was on eggs. She never went back. More lives lost. It is such a short span for birds to lay, sit, hatch and fledge. Furthermore, it is illegal to touch a migratory bird’s nest. They are protected.

Now for a good story about an Eastern Kingbird who decided to nest on the front of a sailboat. The owners of the boat waited until the birds had all fledged and then continued with their travels. Thumbs up to these caring individuals.

Please keep cats inside and dogs on leash; they too are predators to wildlife babies. But that is a whole other story and in fact, the reason a lot of our orphans come to us. Keeping dogs on leash is the law; if they chase wildlife that is illegal, and you can be charged. Remember this is for the safety of your pets as well. More animals are taking back their space, including bears. Bears will not bother you and in fact, are afraid of you. However, an off-leash dog chasing them, and barking will most definitely tick a bear off and it could turn on your dog. Your dog could return to you with a very angry bear in tow. It’s all common sense. Also, your pet could get caught in a trap or worse.

Do not live trap and relocate. This does not work and is inhumane. You could leave innocent babies behind.  Adult wild animals have established homes, such as a den or a nest, know their territory, have food caches, and have families.

The MNRF has protocols we have to follow to protect the wildlife in our care. We must all follow those. This is why we need the location of an animal when you bring it to us. Once rehabilitated and ready for release, it must go back there since that is its home, or within a certain distance depending on the species and age.

We all need to be aware of our wildlife around us especially at this time of year. I’m sure I may have missed some points about wildlife hazards and what we need to know, but the main thing is, think before you act; most of this is common sense.

Our wildlife is way more plentiful due to this pandemic. We are seeing more wild animals. They are not a threat to us; however, they could be to a tiny cat, kitten or dog. It is our responsibility to make sure they are safe;  it is not the wildlife’s fault when they do not know any different and are only trying to survive in this crazy world, raise and feed their young as best they can.

It’s a beautiful thing to see wildlife grow as they are nurtured by their incredible mothers and fathers. They will protect their young or try to if need be. As you would yourself. So you may see them out right now during the day. But they have hungry mouths to feed, it’s okay.

Robin Dying of Pesticide Poisoning
Robin Dying of Pesticide Poisoning from Raptor Education Group, Inc

Do not use pesticides, birds and animals eat the grubs, worms, etc… underneath that poison, feed their young, with many dying. We do not need a perfect lawn. I know they say it is green, but it still kills. Think about it. And I have proof of a baby fledged grackle whose mother fed it from this lawn treated with pesticides. That little bird was brought to me by the young boy who lived across the road, he arrived at my door with this little sick bird and the longest saddest face. It died in my hands from respiratory distress. Remember, this is not good for you, your children, grandchildren or pets or our environment.

Post covid-19, let’s come out of this better than we went in, let’s keep Mother Earth healthy, she is healing, let’s keep our wildlife healthy and safe. And our pets. Be aware, be smart.

It’s in YOUR hands.

Jennifer Howard
Volunteer/ photographer
Procyon Wildlife Rehabilitation & Education Centre

Wildlife Hazards – What We Need to Know!
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