Winter at Procyon by Jennifer Howard

Winter is a time when wildlife centres get a bit of a break. Wildlife still comes in sick or injured and of course, some have had to overwinter for various reasons while others come in because their hibernation has been disrupted. Like bats for example. And this year a very tiny little winter guest has arrived; a blue-spotted salamander. It had crawled up somebody’s drain pipe because they put cayenne pepper down the drain to stop mice from coming up. The little salamander was hibernating in there. Okay then!. Meanwhile, this poor little salamander got peppered. Never heard of that one before. Luckily the lady saw it and got it to help. The little dude is doing well after his long ride from the Huntsville area and is in Procyon’s care.

Bats have come in and are spending the winter; we have up to 7 now. Winter this year has been so unpredictable with warm, cold, freezing rain and then cold again. Crazy on wildlife, especially those who hibernate. Crazy on all of us.

Each day, however, is one day closer to spring. One thing we can all agree with is that we are all looking forward to it. On that note, I have noticed frisky squirrels and cardinals singing at my house. A sure sign of spring. Woodpeckers are drumming. Soon there will be more releases of precious lives back into the wild for those who have overwintered, and then the busiest season of orphans, sick and injured will begin.

If you can volunteer please give Procyon a call. We are always in need of volunteers. It’s not easy work but the rewards are endless. If you are not comfortable with handling the animals, there is so much more to do, laundry, dishes, cleaning cages, preparing food and formula. We also need help manning our phone lines.  The list is endless. And all that is a huge help to those caring for the animals. It’s non-stop with hungry cries hungry mouths routine. Shift to shift. So all the other things getting done for them is much appreciated.

When the baby season arrives Procyon will be ready. New cages line the walls, new incubators, new enclosures outside and more planned. Rooms have been reorganized to make it easier to care for the babies. Easy cleaning for cages which is a must to prevent issues. Laundry washed and stacked ready to go, toys for snuggling all clean and waiting. Medical supplies replenished. New outdoor heated water dishes for all. Volunteers already bringing in their applications with training starting in the next couple of weeks.

Soon Easter will be upon us as well, and another fundraiser with none other than the Easter Bunny anxiously awaiting all those furry, scaley, fuzzy whatever pets to come to sit with him for photos. Oh and also the two-legged humans are all welcome, with pets or no pets.  It will be a fun-filled day for all to help raise money for all the care involved in running the centre. This year’s Easter Bunny photoshoot is set for Saturday, March 28th at Rovilis Pet World in Bolton. We will be there from 10 until 3. Watch Procyon’s website and FB page and Rovili’s FB page for all details. We hope to see you there. I think this year we are going to be sporting a new look for our photoshoot. A surprise you will want to be in on.

But for now, we still have animals in our care; some were too young to release last fall and some have come in with injuries such as opossums with frostbitten tails or who were hit by cars. All coming along. Love those little guys.

Bats disturbed and woken up from hibernation, as I have mentioned before, if you find a bat, please put it into a small container with a good sealing lid with air holes, only with gloved hands, never barehanded. Keep them covered and  warm and call your nearest wildlife rehabilitation centre. Do not wait. Do not put food or water in. Always call ahead and get it there ASAP. Their lives depend on it.

This is the same with any little animal, injured, sick or orphaned. Do Not keep them and try to care for them. Let the trained folks do it. Again, their lives depend on proper care and special diets. They are cute, yes, but they are not pets, they are wild. And without the proper care and food, they can die. I know I say that a lot but you have no idea how many people think they can do it themselves. Then when things go wrong they call. By then, sometimes we can not help since it’s too late, they suffered and they die coming in on their last legs. It is so sad. All for what? Do the right thing. You will feel so good. And by doing that you may have saved that life, there is no better feeling than that one.

Other animals overwintering are a handful of raccoons, many squirrels who are very entertaining at feeding time and a couple of cottontail rabbits. I think that’s it at the moment. Enough to keep busy. Take a breath and get other things done too.

For those who come in with an animal in need, you will see a brand new entrance. A couple of volunteers have given Procyon a new paint job and an uplift to the inside, new photos adorn the walls. This is what goes on behind the scenes caring for the animals in need. To keep them wild and from getting imprinted, visitors are not allowed. So while you wait for admission look around you at the photos. It’s kind of like your own personal tour right there. We now have a board by the door where special cards and articles go. And please remember to keep voices down. There may be critical care patients nearby. All in a days work in a wildlife rehabilitation centre.

And remember there is a wish list. These are the things they need to keep running smoothly. Procyon has been very fortunate with some of their winter donations but so much is still needed. We are not government funded; we depend on donations big and small. There almost is not enough time in the day for our amazing handyman/volunteer who has done so much getting things fixed, installed and built while there is a lull in wildlife care activity. He is truly dedicated and so much appreciated. I’m not sure the work will never really be finished. But without people like this, it would be extremely difficult to keep up. And every time I go in, there is something else going on or being discussed. Volunteers are the root of a wildlife rehabilitation facility, so if you can or know someone who can help out, please check us out.

Winter is moving right along. So now is the time to make that change in your life and come in and be a part of a team of volunteers who make a difference in many little and big lives.

Give us a call at 905.729.0033, email us at or go to, located in Beeton or go to in order to find a wildlife rehabilitation facility nearest you.

You can make a difference. “HELP is in YOUR hands.”

Jen Howard

Procyon volunteer/ photographer.

The Sleepy Heads of Winter

Some people say when winter comes that they wish they could go south or hibernate. Well, although some wildlife can’t go south, they do go into hibernation. During late summer and fall, some are very busy finding food and caching it in their dens so they can get through the winter months, when winter gets bad, while others go into a torpor state. Bears would be an example of this, although, for them, it is not a true hibernation, but semi-hibernation. This month’s article, I will go through a few species and talk about hibernating for the winter, which by the way, there are many days I wish I could hibernate too! LOL.

So basically, surviving the winter months by wildlife is done in many ways. Some develop a camouflage look, like ermine, arctic fox and snowshoe hare, turning white so they are not easy to spot by their predators. Some full out hibernate, and others go into what is called a torpor state. Decreased heart rate, breathing and metabolic rate changes are experienced by these animals.

A bear is a good example of torpor; male and female bears (sows) go into their dens sometimes as late as December. The females birth their cubs in January, but as they go into a torpor state and not a true hibernation, a bear’s heartbeat during torpor drops from 40 to 50 beats per minute to a mere 4 beats per minute. They can last about 100 days with no food or water.  However, they are awake and aware when their cubs are born, and if the den or if they are threatened in any way they can bounce back quickly and move to safety.

Moving around, however, does deplete their stored fat energy that they worked hard to build before they denned up. It is so important to leave those berries for our wildlife since they depend on these berry crops for life. We, on the other hand, can get what we need from grocery stores! Sometimes those berries don’t produce due to weather-related issues during the summer months and that makes it very hard for them. Now back to the den.  They will burn a lot of energy in cold weather, so they may be awake, but you shouldn’t see them out and about unless they were disturbed. They will move around in their den though, sows caring for their tiny cubs.

It’s mostly the larger animals that go into the torpor state and small animals into true hibernation. But with the change in our climate, and yes for you non-believers, it is changing, and it is called climate change and we have done it. Mother Nature is extremely angry as you can see in many parts of the world. Australia, for one example, is literally on fire, it’s devastating in more than one way and brings tears to my eyes. It’s horrible and it’s scary.

If we do have mild winter days, I have seen my little chipmunks out foraging around my bird feeder station which expends a lot of their much-needed energy.

Does everything survive hibernation? No. It does not. Unfortunately, some do not make it back out of their den; extreme winter conditions, flooding, old age, going into hibernation without enough stored body fat,  in poor body condition or without enough stored food to get them through, waking up before they should are all factors which can cause problems for them.

So yes, you may see raccoons, chipmunks or skunks out on a mild winter day. They just get confused. But if you sense they need help don’t hesitate to call a wildlife rehabilitation facility. Let’s talk a bit about a few different wildlife species and how they survive our Canadian winters.

Bats:  true hibernators. When they go into hibernation their tiny heart slows right down from around a whopping 1000 beats per minute to a very slow 25 beats. Taking in a breath every 2 hours; incredible.  If a bat gets disturbed, it will wake up and you may find it on the ground in a distressed state. They cannot survive our winters outside. Get it to a wildlife rehabilitation facility ASAP. Do not touch it with bare hands, always wear gloves or use a small towel, put in a container with a good seal and a lot of air holes, keep it warm and get it to help as soon as you can. Call the wildlife rehabilitation facility first to make sure someone is there; never, ever leave an injured or sick animal on a doorstep. Ever. And never try to care for it yourself. I cannot stress this enough. Could be the life or death of this animal.

Chipmunks: a true hibernator. During hibernation, its heartbeat drops from 350 beats per minute to a very slow 4 beats per minute. These little critters can wake up and eat stored food in their dens, urinate and defecate. But as I mention on a mild winter day you may see one out. It will not be out long and will go back to sleep.

Bumblebees: yes, bees hibernate. I’m talking about the bumblebee here. The males and workers of this species die but the queens after mating find a nice cozy spot to spend their winter such as holes in the ground or just under the surface in flowerpots etc.  6 to 8 months later she emerges and finds a new spot for her nest and begins laying her eggs and starting a new colony. Beware of waking bumblebees in the spring! They don’t just wake up and fly, they are a little slow, so watch going barefoot in your yard as you may encounter one.

Garter snakes: I know a few of you will be squeamish hearing about snakes. But the truth is they are very good to have around. I wish I had some in my garden, but too much development and habitat loss have seen their numbers dwindle, here and in a lot of places. Also, for whatever reason, some people fear snakes; if they see one, they kill it or they run it over. Snakes cannot hurt you; they are amazing rodent controllers and I will even go looking for them to photograph because they are just awesome creatures. There are some beautiful tiny snakes out there, I have even done massasauga rattlesnake surveys, physically going out into their turf and searching for them, to help protect the habitat of this disappearing species. I have never even been struck by one. Rattled yes, but I scared her, and I reacted accordingly, calmly. And believe me, I have been close coming up on females leaving their hibernacula in spring. Very hard to see them. Respect them and their space, they are more afraid of you, believe me. They want nothing to do with you. All snakes are good for our environment. So today I’m going to talk about our cute little garter snakes because most of you have probably seen one of those on your journeys. When hibernation takes place, they are not alone. They hibernate in big groups, maybe even hundreds. Although it’s possible seeing such an event may be rare now, I have seen it when they were emerging in spring years ago. It is incredible. They hibernate together and they emerge together. If you are lucky to see this just remember, they are a living breathing being, like yourselves, are harmless, cannot protect themselves so are helpless, and are good for our environment for rodent control. Snakes are awesome and are not slimy, but smooth and dry. Don’t hurt them.

Turtles:  Another species that people seem to kill senselessly. They can’t hurt you, are totally harmless and defenceless, they cannot protect themselves. Except for our snapping turtles who can inflict a bite, they are, however, terrified of you and if cornered or threatened on land, that is all they have to protect themselves. In water, they will not bite your toes or bother you. And of course, turtles are run over and abused for no reason at all. Studies have proven this, and I have seen this. They are disappearing. They are incredible. All 8 Ontario turtles are now listed at one level or another on the Species at Risk ACT. Very sad. I have rescued many, helped many more to safety and had many injured ones spend the night in my bathtub having found them late in the day, keeping them in a warm box waiting for their long trip in the morning to the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre in Peterborough, as long as they are stable. And I always call the Ontario turtle conservation hospital first (705.741.5000) to confirm their state and make sure they are stable enough to spend the night with me safely. Unless it is a dire emergency then we are off right then after talking to the hospital. I have monitored many turtle nests and recorded the hatchlings upon their arrival into this world. When I find injured ones, I have since learned how to stabilize them, so they are comfortable for their long drive to help. These, my friends, are amazingly incredible little lives.  Think about a pond or wetland in winter. Temperatures drop, ice forms on top, and these little dudes live there all winter. They are cold-blooded and have the ability to actually breath from their butt. It is called “butt breathing”. They depend on stored energy and the uptake of oxygen the pond water gives them by moving it across the turtles’ body surfaces which are flush and full of blood vessels. This keeps them alive. During this process, a turtle gets enough oxygen to support itself without using its lungs. So, using their “butts” which is a vascularized area keeps them alive allowing them to breathe. Is that not incredible or what? Midland painted turtles even have a type of antifreeze in their systems. When little painted turtles hatch late in the season, they can actually overwinter in their nest. Undisturbed tucked in, oblivious to winter. Emerging in spring when the weather is good. No other of our Ontario turtles have this ability, therefore late hatchlings of other species sometimes die when they emerge not making it to the water as the cold freezes them.

The last one I will tell you about is another amazing little creature, the Wood frog. Learning about this frog and many more lives that depend on leaf litter to survive the winters has prompted me to leave most of my leaf cleanup until spring, these tiny little frogs, also like the painted turtle, have a special antifreeze in their system. It enables them to literally freeze solid under the leaves during the winter. Come spring they warm up, thaw out and hop along to find a vernal pool to lay their precious eggs. Another reason when I’m walking a forest trail, I do not go off it.

There are so many more animals I could talk about, but I have chosen a few which I found particularly interesting. Hibernation is triggered by daylight hours, animals will start to gather food, put more leaves in their dens, birds will prepare to fly south, some animals start to change into their winter colours and others get ready to sleep.

Watch out for falling nuts from high in the trees that many animals eat and gather, take it from me, those hurt, I personally need a helmet in my yard, and often they start getting knocked down by the end of July. Berry trees provide fruit for migrating birds to feed upon and flowers for bees and butterflies.  Our mourning cloak butterfly even hibernates under tree bark, emerging in spring where it feeds on the sap the trees produce. Opened up by returning Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers coming back in the spring and other woodpeckers who spend their winters here. As more and more our winters are becoming unpredictable, so are some of our wildlife. So please, if you see an animal you feel may be in distress call your nearest wildlife rehabilitation facility. Like Procyon in Beeton,905.729.0033 or go to to find one nearest you. Call them. Save a life!

Jennifer Howard


Volunteer at Procyon Wildlife Rehabilitation & Education Center