Tag Archives: migration

Where do Wildlife Go in the Winter?

It is officially November! All around us, trees are shedding their summer skins to make way for a winter slumber. While the weather still allows us to enjoy some measure of comfort in the outdoors without the numbing chill, it is slowly beginning to make its presence more apparent through cold tinges in the air. Around this time last year, it seemed as if we skipped autumn entirely—one day it was summery and full of the sun’s blissful brightness, and the next saw the dimness of winter and a freeze seeped into our bones, knocking our teeth together as we rubbed our arms in a desperate attempt to retain heat.

Luckily, many of us have heated homes and thick jackets to bundle in once winter fully strikes. But where does various wildlife go in the winter? What happens to them as the earth snows itself to sleep for a couple of months? The answer is that it depends on the species!

Each species has developed a unique approach to winter survival that allows them to maintain their existence in the ecosystem. For instance, large species, such as the white-tailed deer, change fur colors in the winter, transforming from a beautiful copper hair into a gray-brown winter coat during wintertime.

Deer in winter

Deer in winter. [Image: http://7-themes.com/]

This adaptive ability is useful as the gray-brown winter coat has hollow hair shafts and a dense underfur that keeps deer insulated during harsh winter conditions. During the fall months, deer also start to store body fat around their skin and internal organs, which is helpful for diet changes when they switch from high to low protein intake. Disregarding the movement patterns of these regally impressive species, deer survive in groups with fawns traveling closely alongside adults to preserve their numbers during the spring and summer months, due to the possibility of a high mortality rate if winters become too severe.

On the other hand, other species such as birds and monarch butterflies deal with winter through migration.

Wildlife Image of Migrating Birds

Birds migrating under setting sun. [Image: http://www.songbirdgarden.com/]

While some birds do migrate during winter months, many bird species generally don’t. This migration pattern is largely due to the availability of food sources during winter; if there’s a food source that’s readily available, there is no viable reason to migrate. For this reason, you may still see chickadees and blue jays during winter, but not birds such as swallows and hummingbirds, who migrate either North or South depending on the viable food source available.

Aside from the common method of migration, though, another way for animals to deal with winter is through hibernation.

Typically the term “hibernation” is assigned to deep hibernating animals like rodents, but has since expanded to include bears, other mammals, and even snakes. The act of hibernation is the state of inactivity that involves a decrease in body temperature and a slowing of breathing, heart rate, and metabolic rate to conserve as much energy as possible during the winter months when food is scarce. It is worth noting that true hibernation is only with warm-blooded animals, though. Animals such as snakes undergo what is called “brumation,” a state where the animals are awake yet exhibit typical hibernation behaviors.

Hibernating dormice

Dormice hibernating. [Image: http://joannekraft.com/]

Then there are insects, such as grasshoppers and praying mantis’s, whose lives are much shorter. These insects do not survive in winter, dying once the cold settles in. As such, they survive by leaving their eggs in the ground, which hatch as the weather becomes warmer when spring rolls around.

Praying mantis egg case

Praying mantis egg case in winter. [Image: https://rosemoon.files.wordpress.com/]

It seems like harsh lives for insects such as the praying mantis, which only survive during three seasons, but they are actually doing perfectly well. And so are the other animals. Being in the wild during winter and surviving it through the spring has shown them to be extremely resilient to weather conditions, even developing abilities to the extent of altering their own physiological components to survive.

Despite the harsh weather conditions, animals manage to work their way around it and continually impress us with their resiliency. Wildlife is indeed amazing!

But while we still have a few days or weeks of autumnal sunshine, don’t forget that you can still take some time to watch wildlife through the Pocket Ranger® mobile apps available in your state! Find us in Apple Store and Google Play. Happy wildlife watching!

Wildlife Rescue 9-1-1

Family of opossums [Image: Missouri Department of Conservation]

Image: Missouri Department of Conservation

With so many wild animals migrating, nesting, and raising new broods, you are bound to come into contact with wildlife this spring. Of course, nothing in Nature ever runs smoothly. Thanks to the efforts of Fish and Wildlife, wildlife rescues, and people like yourself, injured and orphaned wildlife can receive extra care that will see them through those rough spots.

Common Wildlife “Emergencies”

When it comes to wildlife, we like the Center for Wildlife‘s motto: Don’t rescue unless rescuing is needed. While some wildlife injuries require expert medical attention, there are other injuries or situations that either do not need human intervention or can be treated or resolved at home. Here are three common wildlife emergencies and what you can do to help.

Situation 1: You heard or saw a bird strike a window.

From raptors to tiny songbirds, when the sun strikes a window just right, a bird in flight may not see it in time or believe it’s a valid flight corridor. Some birds succumb to the injuries sustained from such a collision. Others may survive the collision, but — due to shock — become easy pickings for a predator. It’s these disoriented survivors that could use a little help! Below are six steps for rescuing just such a stunned bird:

  1. If you have seen or heard a bird careen into a window, the first thing you can do is find a box with a lid. Poke holes in the lid for ventilation and add some paper towels as bedding.
  2. Bring the box with lid outside and begin looking for your bird. Most likely, the bird will be directly under the window in a dazed state. If the bird is in this condition (dazed, on the ground, easily caught), it could use your help.
  3. Gently scoop up the bird and place in the box. Take a moment to assess the bird’s condition. Is there any blood, and if so, how much? Do the bird’s wings look broken? If there is a lot of blood or the bird appears to have broken bones, call your local wildlife rescue for guidance. If the bird only appears dazed, secure the lid over the box and bring inside.
    A goldfinch in flight [Image: www.flickr.com/photos/fixersphotos]

    A goldfinch in flight. [Image: www.flickr.com/photos/fixersphotos]

  4. Find a quiet, warm, dark space inside your home, such as a closet or a kitchen cabinet. With the lid still in place, leave the box with the bird in this quiet place. The quiet darkness mimics nighttime, which puts the bird in a restorative sleeping state.
  5. After thirty minutes to an hour, check on your bird. Quietly and carefully pull up the lid on the box. If the bird seems more energetic, take the box outside, remove the lid and let the bird fly away.
  6. If the bird does not leave the box or if you can easily catch him again, place the bird back in the box, secure with lid, and return to that quiet place within your house for an hour more. When another hour is up, take the box outside again, open lid, and give the bird another chance to fly away. If the bird still shows signs of injury, contact your local wildlife rescue. The bird may be suffering from internal injuries that need to be professionally treated.

Situation 2: You’ve found a baby bird on the ground.

Finding a baby bird outside it’s nest may be disconcerting, but don’t sound the alarm just yet! A chick outside the nest doesn’t always mean that it’s in danger. First, assess the situation. Does the chick look injured? If the chick looks healthy, decide if it is a fledgling or a nestling. For most birds, the key difference between the two is that a fledgling is feathered, closely resembles an adult bird and can easily perch on a thumb or finger. A nestling is too young to perch and is often more fuzz than feathers. If you’ve come across a nestling, locate the nest and carefully place the chick inside. Unlike the old wives’ tale, the parents will return to the nest to care for the chick. If you can’t find the nest or the nest appears damaged, call your local wildlife rescue. They will have the staff and facilities for successfully raising a chick.

Grackles are a common backyard bird. On the left, is a nestling grackle; to the right, the fledgling grackle. [Image:  www.eastvalleywildlife.org & wildobs.com]

Grackles are a common backyard bird, often amassing in large, raucous flocks. On the left, is a nestling grackle; to the right, the fledgling grackle. [Images: www.eastvalleywildlife.org & wildobs.com]

While it may appear incapable of survival, a fledgling outside the nest is oftentimes perfectly okay. Even when on the ground, the parents will continue to feed a fledgling, and within a few days, the fledgling will be flying. Give the fledgling space; keep children and pets away so the parent birds will not be deterred from caring for the chick. Also keep in mind that not all bird species raise their young in trees. Some birds (such as shorebirds, pheasants and certain owls species) raise their young in scrapes on the ground.

Situation 3: You’ve found baby squirrels out of their nest and/or on the ground.

With the nice weather comes construction projects, and oftentimes this means cutting down old or nuisance trees. Trees provide valuable habitat for a variety of species, such as birds, porcupines, and squirrels. When a tree is cut down, these animal inhabitants have to re-home themselves.

Don't create orphans! Here is a mother squirrel relocates her baby to a safer spot. [Image:  wildlifecoalition.com]

Don’t create orphans! Above: a mother squirrel relocates her baby to a safer spot. [Image: wildlifecoalition.com]

Nests of baby squirrels are frequently found within these logged trees. If the nest is in a relatively safe spot on the fallen tree, resist the urge to scoop up the baby squirrels and rush them to a wildlife rescue! Instead observe the nest from a distance for about an hour. Oftentimes, the mother squirrel is busy locating and reassembling a nest in a nearby tree. Within an hour, this mother squirrel will have moved all of her babies to the new location. Only if the mother squirrel does not appear or if you can confirm that the mother has died, call your local wildlife rescue for guidance. Raising baby squirrels is immensely time-consuming and should only be done by professionals to ensure that the squirrels can be released back into the wild when they are old enough.

Ways You Can Keep Wildlife Safe

  • Be prepared for wildlife rescues by storing a box with a lid, heavy work gloves and blankets in the trunk of your car and/or a closet at home. Save contact information for the nearest wildlife rescue and Fish and Wildlife office in your phone. Remember all wild animals are potentially dangerous and when injured, their first means of defense may be to attack. Keep yourself safe by adequately judging the situation first, approaching and handling injured wildlife only when absolutely necessary.
  • Keep birds from striking your windows by breaking up their external reflection. You can do this by drawing the shades or adhering stickers of hawks, crows or owls to the glass. If you have bird feeders in front of your windows, consider relocating them to a safer area.
  • Don’t throw food scraps from your car window! All this time you may have been chucking banana peels and apple cores from your car window thinking you were helping the planet when in reality you’re setting a deadly trap for wildlife. Trash brings all kinds of wildlife looking for a snack onto the roadways. Keep wildlife safe by throwing away your trash in the proper receptacles.
A wildlife rescue treats an injured screech owl. [Image:  www.yorkcenterforwildlife.org]

Volunteer your time at a local wildlife rescue! [Image: www.yorkcenterforwildlife.org]

  • Keep your cat indoors! Scientists from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that domestic cats kill around 2.4 billion birds and 12.3 billion mammals a year in the United States! Give birds and the small mammals in your neighborhood a fighting chance by keeping your cat indoors.
  • If not endangering your property, consider leaving construction projects until after the spring. From birds to squirrels to skunks, each spring wildlife locates quiet shelters to raise their young, and this may be the very shelter you are gearing up to renovate or demolish. Delaying your construction project a few weeks keeps you from disrupting or harming wildlife. Also, wildlife viewing opportunities abound when you temporarily provide habitat for these wildlife families.
  • Volunteer at a local wildlife rehabilitation center! Wildlife rescues often need assistance with cleaning enclosures, caring for orphaned baby mammals, and repairing on-site structures.

Looking for wildlife? Discover wildlife viewing opportunities near you with our Pocket Ranger® apps. Share your bird and wildlife sightings with fellow outdoor enthusiasts on our Bird Feed® and Pocket Ranger Trophy Case® apps!

What Climate Change Means for Birds

It’s no secret that wildlife are losing their habitats and resources due to climate change. These two words hover above us like a bad omen. Not to mention human expansion: it’s hard leaving ourselves out from the equation. Since the Industrial Revolution, human activity has increased CO2,  thereby creating a warming effect. What does climate change mean for birds that rely on fragile habitats and age-old migration patterns? If you’re already seeing variations in bird behavior, you’re not alone. According to Audubon‘s recent Birds and Climate Change Report, 60% of 305 bird species found in the North American are altering their flight northward by an average of 35 miles, as the atmosphere and oceans continue warming.

A large number of birds flying together.

Red Knots are seeing their main source of food, horseshoe crab eggs, depleted by fishing and harvest along the Mid-Atlantic coast. [Image: www.flickr.com/photos/usfwsnortheast/]

Some of our favorite birds are showing signs of distress under our new system of global warming. Birds are facing depleting forests, grassland and other habitats corrupted by hydro-fracking. Add to that, the stress of climate adaptation. The Audubon report analyzed over 40 years of data and 588 North American bird species, finding clues that show grim realities upsetting the natural balance.

Audubon Society representing birds at the People's Climate March against climate change [Image: www.twitter.com]

Audubon Society representing birds at the People’s Climate March, which drew 400,000 protesters to NYC on September 21. [Image: www.twitter.com]

Using international greenhouse emission samples, Audubon has created maps predicting each bird’s ideal climatic range in the future. These maps can be used for conservation efforts. Citizen-scientist observations also point to what temperatures, precipitation, and seasonal changes birds will need to survive.

For those that say climate change just means birds will have to travel farther up north, possibly to higher elevation– this is not a clear-cut survival plan. At least 314 at-risk-species not only face changing their movement, but also low survival numbers, due to habitat loss or inhospitable areas. What if there are no alternative habitats?

Oil-covered pelican just off the Gulf of Mexico

Aftermath of the BP oil spill. Near the Gulf of Mexico.  [Image: AP Photo/Gerald Herbert allisonkilkenny.files.wordpress.com]

Some at-risk species include the Hooded Oriole, Bald Eagle, and Spotted Owl. The Mississippi Kite will lose 88% of its current summer range by 2080, meaning it won’t be living within its home state. It is predicted that the Black-billed Magpie found in California, which usually nests in small colonies will lose 80% of it summer range and 100% of its winter range by 2080 due to climate change. Though these magpies prefer mature oaks, it may not be possible to find them up north, and forest growth can’t fix the problem quickly enough.

Map showing birds spending winters higher up north.

A past study showing changes in migration patterns. [Image: www.neotropicalbirding.files.wordpress.com]

Then there’s the Cerulean Warbler, the tiny blue birds who love nesting in the treetops. They can be found in the deciduous forests of West Virginia, North Carolina, and Virginia. Their numbers are declining at an alarming rate. The warblers’ winter habitat in the Northern Andes is being invaded by coffee plantations, and its summer home in eastern North America (Appalachia region) is being taken by coal mining and residential development. But all is not lost, the Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative (ARRI) is working to restore forest areas on once mined land. So far, they have taken part in the planting of 60 million trees on about 87,000 acres, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

American Kestrel sitting on a branch.

American Kestrel nesting areas continue to lessen in northeastern U.S. due to clearing of trees for farming. [Image: www.birdingisfun.com]

In the long-term, birds will need to adapt to changes in climate and habitat by finding new migration patterns, resources, and habitats. Only those birds that adapt within these stressful conditions will survive. But it is also through curving our consumption and living sustainably that we can lessen the speed at which climate change is accelerating, and save our birds from extinction.

A guy and a girl holding an earth globe.

The symbolic gesture of our planet at the People’s Climate March. [Image: Cynthia Via]

Want to help conservation efforts? Some parks offer bird conservation events and programs. Check out our Pocket Ranger® mobile Apps to find a park with great bird watching near you. To document your findings or bird rarities, use the new, Pocket Ranger Bird Feed™ App.