Article and photos by Jennifer Howard
Spring is finally upon us. Cardinals are singing, woodpeckers are drumming and crows are gathering. Migrating birds have been coming back for a few weeks now and our wildlife babies are being born; some earlier than usual.
The sap ran earlier this year for our treasured maple syrup and now will move up the tree trunks to nourish the trees to get those luscious leaves and feed those early butterflies, bees, and other insects. Even hummingbirds will take that tasty healthy sap from the trees, for much-needed nourishment after their long journey home, since often the flowers they need are not up just yet. You can help them along by providing sugar water, 4 parts water to 1 part sugar. Please don’t use food coloring as this can, over time, cause fungus to grow on the little hummers’ tongues so they can no longer eat, and they will starve to death. You can boil the water but is no need to. Just mix well and store covered in the fridge for no more than two weeks. When our weather gets hot, change those feeders every two to three days max. Glass feeders are far better as they are easier to keep clean, and plastic hummingbird feeders are more apt to leak, fade, or warp.
I also buy fuchsias as soon as they are available and put them out during the day and bring them in at night until the nights are warm enough and the danger of frost has passed. Last year by my pond I also saw warblers in my fuchsias, they were getting the insects that had made the plant their home. I had never seen that before but then last year I spent more time out there.
Water is a very important thing to supply our migrating birds and our wildlife passing through. Especially if it’s very hot and dry. Fountains attract warblers. It a wonderful thing to watch them frolicking and having a nice bath.
Once the snow is all gone it’s time to clean up under those feeders. You do not want spoiled seed under there ingested by the birds or animals. Always keep this area clean. Otherwise, you will attract rodents and other wildlife to your feeder area. Predators like foxes, raccoons, and skunks, even coyotes, depending on where you live, will come in to hunt the rodents you have attracted. All the above predators can get sick if one sick animal comes into their close proximity. Let’s start off the new spring season safe for all and keep it clean. Wildlife is quite adept at finding food. The right food will keep them healthy and safe.
Spring is the time of year that other wildlife come out as well. Like bears, beautiful, big, and looking for food. If you live in bear country this is the time to put your bird feeders away. You have gotten the birds through the winter, now insects and sap and grubs, etc…, will keep them nourished.
This is why we leave our leaves until spring. They hold so much food and shelter for animals and birds. And wood frogs overwinter under them as well as certain butterflies, bees, ladybugs, and various larvae. Once it’s been warm for a wee bit and these critters are moving around, then you can do the yard clean up. Think of all the lives you saved. And really, when you think of it, its covered in snow anyways. Bears, raccoons, fox all wildlife will also root through the leaves looking for those tasty treasures underneath. It’s all about life and survival. Nature’s way.
If you go walking in the woods now, bears are out and soon coyotes will be having their young, well every creature will be, or already has. Keep your dogs on a leash. At all times. Make noise when you are approaching so animals will have a chance to hide. And never leave garbage behind. As the saying goes, leave no footprints behind. We are visiting their space, their homes. Keep it clean. If you encounter a bear, be calm. This time of year, if a mother bear has cubs nearby, she will usually put these very tiny babies up a tree while she forages for food, or gets a drink. If she feels her babies are threatened, she may climb a tree and start making clucking noises at you or she may bluff charge you. She is asking you the only way she knows how, to please quietly leave her space. To protect her tiny cubs. Calmly back away and leave. Coyotes may follow you at a distance, they are “escorting” you away from their den and precious babies.
It is important to not go looking for dens for photographs. You are stressing these animals out and habituating their young to accepting humans, and food from them, this can end up in death for a young animal or a parent, they learn to trust all humans and not all are kind as we all know.
“Well, they don’t look stressed,” people will often tell our volunteers.
If you are outside an animal’s den, and they have babies inside, you are in fact their predator. In some cases, you could cause certain animals to abandon their young, and in other cases, cause them to come at you and we all know ‘it’s never your fault,’ the animal pays for your bad behavior. Leaving precious innocent orphans. Never feed wild animals to get them to come out of their dens or to get their babies to come out. This is very wrong. Let them raise their young in peace and safety. So, they can teach their young how to survive in this big world. Their lives depend on that. I have been a photographer for over 30 years and believe me, I have seen it all. And it sickens me
This year Avian Influenza is raising its dark head again. As our beautiful birds are migrating back, please watch for sick and dead birds. Please do not leave carrion out there as our predator and scavenger animals will feed them to their little ones. It’s an easy meal to bring home, parents with lots of mouths to feed will grab an easy meal no problem, and in some species, their babies may catch the disease and die. You may recall the case last year with the tiny fox kits who caught Avian flu after their parents brought them home a dead duck to eat.
There is so much to learn about diseases in wildlife and how it is spread out there. Always wear a mask and gloves if you need to handle a sick or dead bird. Geese, swans, ducks, and most waterfowl can carry or have the disease. If you find a sick bird, call a wildlife rehab that does birds, for example, Shades of Hope in Pefferlaw. Again, wear a mask and gloves to secure it. Wear a mask in your car while transporting, or if you cannot transport the animal, visit the Facebook for Ontario Wildlife Transport. Let them know you need transportation for the animal or bird in distress, that it is secured, and advise them of the Wildlife Centre with which you have made arrangements to take the animal. Ontario Wildlife Transport comprises dedicated volunteers who will do their best to find a driver.
If you find a dead bird be mindful of your safety and double-bag the bird and contact Ontario Regional Centre of the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative (CWHC) or phone them at 1-866-673-4781. They may be very busy, so be patient.
Mother Nature has her ways of keeping the balance in our wildlife from tiny to large and everything in between. She isn’t concerned that it may not be kind. It’s not for us to like or dislike what goes on. It’s to put simply, life.
But we can try to make it better and safer for all life. Be aware. Do not feed. Keep your bird feeders, baths, and the area under your feeders clean. Also do not feed bread to waterfowl. It can cause a disease called Angel Wing. The birds’ feathers do not form correctly and they cannot fly.
It is very serious and I know we don’t want to cause them harm. This is why in a lot of areas they are putting signs up that warn – Do Not Feed the Birds.
Let’s all work together in keeping our wildlife and us safer this year. We can do this.