A Mama Raccoon carries one of her little ones up a tree.

Article by Elizabeth Trickey, images by Jen Howard

Read Time: Three Minutes

Spring has arrived, welcoming many infant critters to the world.  As these tiny babies snuggle up to momma for warmth and feeding, they wonder where poppa is.  OK, maybe not.  But, where is he?  Who is he?

For most wildlife animals, the male has just one mission – keep the species abundant.  Yup, it’s “slam, bam, thank you ma’am”.  Poppa does his job then moves on, leaving the child-rearing to momma, with not even a crumb of child support.

With squirrels, a female in estrus might mate with several different males.  When the babies are born, usually about 3-5 of them, there could be more than one father represented in the litter.  Momma does all the work of caring for the young ones until they scoot off at about 3 months of age.

It’s pretty much the same for most of our Ontario mammals.  Bears, raccoons, chipmunks, skunks, porcupines, rabbits, moose, muskrat, otters – all of these species, and more, are born into one-parent families.  The sperm donor is long gone before the birth even happens.  These dead-beat dads wouldn’t even recognize their progeny despite living within the same habitat.

But not all wildlife fathers take off after the dirty deed has been done.  Some species mate for life, with both parents taking on child-rearing responsibilities.  Beaver families stay together for at least two years, with the poppa sharing in the feeding, teaching and protection of the kits.  These fathers have also been seen taking on sole responsibility for the children after the death of momma.

Fox and wolf families share a warm and caring environment with their children.  While momma stays in the den with her kits, poppa is out hunting, bringing her food every four to six hours since she can’t leave her babies.  As the wee ones grow, he demonstrates excitement about fatherhood, enjoying the play time together.  And it’s the poppa who teaches the kits the survival skills of hunting and protecting themselves from predators.

Most male frogs are very involved in the welfare of their tadpoles.  The poison dart dads guard the eggs until they hatch, then carry them all on his back to a pond where they will live.  The male of another frog species will carry them in his mouth to keep them safe!

Many species of birds have involved fathers – herons, Canada geese, owls, and several songbirds.  The male heron will help build the nest, take turns sitting on eggs, and hunt for food for the family.  Geese mate for life, with the male taking on the role of protector of the family as well as helping to feed them, and teaching the fledglings to fly.

Although the male of all species is hardwired to procreate, it is surprising that some might kill their own.  Bears will do that.  Why?  It can be for a few reasons.  Perhaps there are already too many bears in the area without enough food for all of them, so killing off younger ones will keep the bear population down.  And if there isn’t enough food, perhaps the bears are just hungry and going after whatever prey they can get.  Seems an absent father is better than a murderous one!

Wildlife mothers of almost all species tend to be caring and protective of her little ones.  When animals in need of care are brought to Procyon, moms and babies are always kept together.  As attentive as Procyon volunteers are, we acknowledge that mom does a far better job than we do!  And this month is Mother’s Day, so here’s to all the mothers of our wildlife world!

Who’s Your Daddy?
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