Above featured image shows a fox with mange.
Article and photography by Procyon Wildlife volunteer Jennifer Howard.
For us at Procyon, it was a very busy winter. Even with pandemic protocols in place and still in place a year later, it sure didn’t stop the wildlife admissions to the Centre. They kept coming; mangy foxes and distemper in raccoons, rabbits with symptoms of head trauma, opossums with frostbite in their ears and tails. All done with a skeleton team of volunteers, and a lot of protocol rules in place, and I am proud to say we did it.
And now the baby season is already upon us. Our first pinky eastern grey squirrel arrived March 2nd as a result of a horrible windstorm. Then our first early raccoon babies arrived shortly after that. So now the Centre is getting back into business; preparing for the baby boom to truly begin in full force. Volunteers are coming back; new and old with everyone getting trained and ready. Some of the animals who overwintered with us, such as the raccoons and squirrels, are patiently, or not so patiently, awaiting their upcoming releases. Their freedom day is so very special to us all. The day they get their lives back to run free, as we say goodbye, we wish them well.
Now that spring has arrived, I know we are all very anxious to get outside to enjoy the better weather and get our chores done. I am taking this opportunity to touch base with you on things you need to know about our wildlife. Some of this will be new to some of you and a refresher for others. But it is all important. I know we all come out of winter a little foggy.
Brush piles. During the winter, branches come down in storms. People build up brush piles during the spring clean up until they can get rid of them. However, they get there, they are eventually burned. Please, and I can not say this enough, never ever just light that brush pile, always check it first for animals. We got a raccoon a couple years ago who had taken up refuge in a brush pile to have her young. But no one checked before they lit that match. She was badly burnt, she started premature labor. Only one little one survived and it was the tiniest. But mom couldn’t look after it. We allowed them time together but could not leave them together. It was so sad. After much struggling, a lot of pain meds, love and care, we lost them both. So sad since this tragic outcome could have been avoided. In case you are interested in helping wildlife, you can keep small brush piles in your yard to provide shelter for small animals, even birds, as a way to escape predators.
Mange has been running rampant in our fox community and a few coyotes have been affected as well. Mange is a tiny mite, only seen under a microscope, that burrows under the animal’s skin. This is sarcoptic mange which causes itching and loss of fur. As time goes on their eyes start getting squinty and may end up crusted shut, causing an inability to hunt and catch prey. They can develop sores and get emaciated and even develop pneumonia. Their eyes can become infected. Please call us or the wildlife rehabilitation centre nearest you to get them help. And know this may take some time, as they are very smart in avoiding capture.
Avoid feeding prey animals, such as foxes and coyotes or even raccoons. Please do not feed these animals. They are perfectly capable of survival. Foxes and coyotes are amazing at rodent control, doing us a big favour. Their favourite meals are rats, mice, squirrels, chipmunks and rabbits. This is why these animals multiply so well. Mother Nature looks after her own. You do not want to food condition coyotes, foxes or raccoons. By doing that you may be sentencing them to their fate. They do not know that not all humans are kind and they are always the one at fault whether they are or not. And then they pay, usually with their life. Because they learn to approach people looking for handouts. And things can go terribly wrong at this point. We know better, so let them be wild.
Remove attractants. Keep the area under the bird feeders clean. Put your garbage out in the morning of the pickup.
Don’t be alarmed if you see wildlife out during the day. It is not uncommon to see these animals out in daylight hours as they are feeding families right now. But any time of year you may see some of them out doing their rounds searching for food, because there is always construction or something that disturbs them, and they have lost so much of their habitat, their home. So, this means they are closer now to us. They have learned to coexist with us, now we must learn to coexist with them. It’s not hard.
Take your pets out on a leash after dusk and make sure your cats are in. Don’t leave tiny dogs out unattended. We have kept our dogs on leash for years here and it has stopped the spraying by skunks or being quilled by porcupines, etc…
Foxes and some raccoons and squirrels have already had their young. Coyotes will be another month approximately as they are later having young. Skunks are also later. But having said that, this year so far is proving to be very different since animals have been mating earlier than usual.
Try to allow parents to raise their young and move on. There is no replacement for mothers. If you want them to move on here are a few things you can try. Leaving a radio on 24/7, they like peace and quiet. Leaving a light on 24/7. Soaking a cloth in ammonia and putting it into a margarine container with holes in the lid. Tuck it under there. The latter one worked last winter to get a fox out from under a cottage. Although it struggled with the margarine tub by throwing it out a few times, we finally won. I had a camera on it and it clearly did not like it. One got electrocuted under this cottage and was found by the owner, he did not want that happening again, he was very upset as you can well imagine.
Don’t feed injured animals. The one thing we always tell people is not to feed them. If they are being fed and we are trying to live trap them because they are injured or sick or both, it is going to make it extremely difficult. A fox who is not hungry is not going into a live trap. Keep them wild. Sometimes it takes a community to catch these guys. So, notifying us of times, locations and dates seen is very helpful. But know that sometimes they just are not ready to be caught. It takes time. They are wild and they are smart.
When you call us we usually hope you are able to get the animal and bring them to us. We are very busy caring for those at the Centre and there is no time to run off. Although some need to be live trapped so arrangements are made for those. Most small animals can go into a box, making sure there are air holes punched in around the top. You also want them to be secured so as not to escape. But please remember that animals may move around. So please make sure there is no way any of them can get stuck to that outside tape inside. We had a wee bat that happened to get stuck on tape inside the box. She has some damage on her wings and we are hoping it will heal up so that when good weather and bugs get here, she can go free.
Please make sure to if you are renovating your home or on a construction site that you leave nothing behind, clean up every day. I had a raccoon once that showed up in my yard, that had red construction tape stuck on his leg and belly. Luckily, we had done a release that night and a vet was there to watch. She was able to get it off him and he wandered off, ticked off, but okay. They are curious and can quickly and easily get into trouble. Keep doors closed as you never know who may wander in. Creating much havoc. If transporting a prickly porcupine, never put anything in with it and if in a crate, carrier or cage never ever cover it. Its quills will get caught and get ripped out. Just adding insult to injury for the poor thing.
Now for more info:
• Cut up six pack holders, turtles, fish and water birds to name a few get caught in these.
• Cut up pull tabs (juices, milk etc ) no matter how big or small, turtles, fish and small animals etc. get stuck in these.
• Please do not use balloons, any balloon because if they get away they are trouble. They deflate and go into our lakes and oceans, wetlands etc. Fish, loons, birds, whales, sea turtles, dolphins and more all ingest this, in fact sea turtles’ favourite food is jellyfish, and balloons are a perfect replica of those. They die.
• Don’t litter. Help in shoreline cleanups carefully and wear gloves. Being very aware of what you are picking up.
• Wash your recycling and put lids on, even washed, animals have keen noses and can get heads stuck in jars or coffee cups.
• Cut up lids to iced coffees or ice cream lids (Mcflurries)
• Check for leaks in your engine ( antifreeze). This sweet deadly liquid kills when ingested.
• Check your homes for any openings that may let mice in, you can try rolling up tin foil and shove in the hole, apparently, the mice will not chew that, or bigger openings for larger animals like raccoons, try to seal them off before the problem arises. If you know there are no babies a one way door installed will let them out but not back in, but do this only if there are no babies.
• Do not, and I can’t stress this enough, do not use poison to get rid of pests. Poisoning a prey animal will also poison the predator animal. It’s a chain reaction and it’s a slow horrible death. In California they have found traces of poison in many animals, even deer from grazing an area where something has defecated or died and it’s gone into the ground. So it not only kills a slow horrible death but it stays around.
• Lead Poisoning. Change to tungsten, steel, tin, or bismuth as alternatives to lead in fishing. Lead can kill those that ingest it while foraging for food at the bottom of wetland areas. Swans are one bird heavily affected by this. If caught early there is a treatment they can try but it is very expensive and often they still die. The old lead gunshot also sits at the bottom of hunted areas for the next victim who picks it up while feeding.
• Fishing lines. Dispose of your fishing line responsibility. Never leave it behind and always try your best to retrieve it from trees, better yet do not fish near areas your line can get caught up in branches. Every year many of our wildlife friends die, become trapped and maimed in fishing line, losing limbs, losing their lives. This includes swans, loons, owls, diving ducks, geese, birds, turtles and more. Even fish. And people. I know this because I got caught in fishing line once on a dyke as I did not see it. I almost went down, but when I was working to get myself out of it, I kept hearing flapping in the reeds. As it turns out, a grackle fledgling was also caught, line wrapped around its tiny leg and then around the reeds. Dehydrated and exhausted with mom close by not giving up we managed to get it free with some help from a nearby farmer’s wife, and her sewing kit. Mom waited for our return and Mom and babe flew off together and we of course were all smiles.
• Do not put wool or dog hair out for nesting birds. Their nails can get caught in wool and the chemicals in pet shampoos can remain in the fur, and if used for a nest, can be toxic to wildlife. They are fine using the materials Mother Nature intended for them. Keep them safe.
• Do not use pesticides on your lawn or garden. I had a baby grackle die in my hands after being fed solely from a treated lawn. The new owners just kept it going and once this happened they never used it again. It broke their hearts.
• Fireworks kill. The season is upon us so please do not use fireworks. Fireworks kill, I saw a mother raccoon and her 5 babies dead on the road after the big display, trying to bolt from fear, and getting hit by passing cars. That was the last display we ever went to and I will never forget that horrible scene. And I am dead against fireworks now with good reason. I know dogs that literally try to get out of the house in any way they can because of fireworks, it’s terrifying. And sometimes absolutely nothing works to comfort them. Birds drop dead from their perches, moms and babies get separated and dogs and cats bolt out of sheer fear.
Following these tips will keep our wildlife safe and alive, and well and away from rehab centres.
One more thing I’m going to touch base on is orphaned or injured wildlife. Again, please get them to us ASAP. Do not feed them, do not keep them unless you have to keep them overnight under our instructions. Legally you can keep them 24 hours, not to care for them, but to enable you time to find a rehab centre. You can do more harm than good should you try to care for them. You may think they enjoy your gentle touch when in fact they are terrified. Remember these are wild animals and we are their predators. It’s very stressful so please get them help and get them to us. Keep them covered or in a container with air holes, quiet and warm. That’s why we are there, for them, for you. Make that call.
And remember, a rabbit mother may be out foraging leaving her babies safely covered in their nest. They have no scent, she comes dusk and dawn to feed them. If you are unsure you can sprinkle flour around the outside of the nest, it will show her prints. And if your dog or cat happens to get one and even if you think it is okay, please have us check it. Not often are they okay and will need antibiotics to get better.
Fawns are the same. Young are left curled up in a place mom thinks they are safe. She will come to feed them. However if the fawn has been alone 24 hours or if you know the mother has been killed, or if the fawn is frantically crying, then call us. Do not feed them. And to be sure, watch from a safe distance so you don’t spook the mother so she will come back.
Can you volunteer?
We are always looking for volunteers. Animal care, cleaning, phones or even someone to fetch an animal if the finder can’t get it to us. We run solely on donations and on our web page we have a wish list of things we need. https://www.procyonwildlife.com/our-wish-list-2/
If you need to find a wildlife rehabilitation near you, visit: https://ontariowildliferescue.com for a list of rehabilitation centres or call Procyon wildlife at 905-729-0033. We are located in Beeton.
I’m sure I’ve missed some points but these are the most common things that create issues for our wildlife friends, putting them into harm’s way and having them end up with us for care. Not all make it but we must focus on those that do.
HELP is In YOUR Hands.