Climate Change and Wildlife Reproduction
by A.M. Checkeye
This year in January, a time of year that is usually marked by a low amount of rehab admissions, our volunteers welcomed the first baby bird admission of 2018, a beautiful juvenile pigeon:
Unlike songbirds, pigeons can actually breed throughout the year, but most frequently breed from spring through fall due to abundance of food and better weather conditions. The young pigeon pictured above was likely born around midwinter, making it an exception to the “norm.” With winter temperatures rising in recent years, and deep freezes becoming less common, are these optimal breeding conditions going to change? Here in SW Pennsylvania, we had drastic temperature fluctuations this winter: in one week, the temperatures rose from 8-10 degrees Farenheit to over 60 degrees Farenheit. The fluctuation in temperature, general mildness of our winter, and climate change affecting the entire country is impacting our wildlife in some very important ways.
The appearance of this baby bird comes perhaps as an example of a disturbing pattern in our wildlife community; the unseasonable births of baby wildlings. Most birds will lay eggs in the early spring, and through some misfortune or natural disaster, Wildlife Works will receive orphaned baby birds from early spring through mid-summer. Yet within the last few years, we are seeing baby birds born earlier and earlier, extending the amount of time that our volunteers spend raising babies.
Drastic changes in temperature, or unseasonable temperatures, create confusion for birds which use temperature and/or photoperiod (amount of sunlight per day) as an indicator for nesting and migrating. Research indicates that many types of birds are nesting earlier in the year when the temperatures rise sooner, but that mono-brooding species (which breed once per year, and have a shorter nesting period) are more at risk than multi-brooding species (can breed more than once per year, and but typically have longer nesting periods) such as pigeons. The survival rate for the nest is directly impacted by the availability of food, whether plant or insect, and whether the birth of baby birds remains synchronous with the emergence of new leaves and insects needed for food.
Sudden temperature fluctuations can also send false signals to animals who hibernate or enter a dormant period, such as bats. Feeling warmth, the animals’ instincts may lead them to venture out for food, or build a nest only to be faced with a sudden freeze. This is a threat both to adult animals and their offspring; an adult animal who leaves a nest full of babies to search for food can put the entire nest at risk of abandonment.
In addition to bird nesting habits, we are observing a change in birth patterns for squirrels in our area. Squirrels typically reproduce in the spring and fall, coinciding with the springtime baby birds to fuel our rehab “busy season.” Yet last year, we saw baby squirrels admitted to our care starting March 27, continuing through the summer, and ending with a 6 week old squirrel admitted on November 1. This late-season squirrel, and a few others near it in age, are spending the winter at our facility due to their late birth: by the time they were weaned and ready for release, the weather was too cold for them to easily adapt to life in the wild. “Overwintering” nine squirrels, even though they no longer require the constant care of formula feeding, presents a cost of time and money beyond what we normally see.
We want to offer all of our wildlings, whether juveniles or adults, a fighting chance in our world despite the rapidly changing climate. From the standpoint of a wildlife rehabilitator, this means that we will need a larger volunteer force to deal with a (probable) upswing of admitted baby birds and squirrels, both in volume and in duration of care. Baby birds are fed by hand multiple times per hour (for hatchling birds) and baby squirrels are fed by syringe multiple times per day, consuming a great deal of time from our volunteers. If you are over the age of 18 and want to become a wildlife care volunteer, the time for you to volunteer is now! Just one 3-4 hour shift per week makes you a part of our team, and can make a huge difference. For more information on becoming a wildlife care volunteer, visit the get involved page here.
Everyone who cares about this planet, whether they are animal caretakers or not, can fight climate change in their everyday life. Lifestyle changes such as generating less carbon emissions, using less plastic (a big danger to wildlife), recycling, growing native plants, and contributing to soil health by composting and using compost are great ways to help wildlife and their ecosystem.
If you want to read more about how climate change is impacting our planet, please visit:
Tips for Winter Wildlife
-A source of fresh, unfrozen water is as important to birds during the winter as food! If possible, consider purchasing a bird bath heater (not for use in terra cotta).
-Whole corn (on or off the cob), apples, and scratch are all good supplements to a wide variety of wildlife, including deer, opossums, squirrels, turkeys and other ground feeding birds.
-Black Oil sunflower seed provides the most calories for winter-feeding birds.
-If you’ve never fed suet, please consider doing so through the winter. Suet is a high calorie favorite of woodpeckers, nuthatches, blue jays, starlings and others. It provides the much needed fat to sustain many native birds during the cold months.
-Consider building a brush pile in your backyard. Even in a small yard a brush pile can provide shelter and foraging sites for birds and other critters year round. Wildlife use cover throughout the year for refuge.
-Providing nest boxes for squirrels and other cavity dwelling wildlife is a wonderful way to help local wildlife year-round. WWI has plans for a variety of boxes and will happily mail or email them to you.
Summer/ Fall 2017 Newsletter
Wildlife Rescue Rules
Spring is on its way and wildlings will soon be out and about! If you see an animal that may be in distress, please refer to our Wildlife Rescue Rules before intervening. In many situations, it is actually better to leave the wildling alone! To view our suggestions on how to handle a wildlife situation, please click here.
Shopping Using Amazon Smile!
When shopping through Amazon.com, please consider using the web address http://smile.amazon.com/ch/25-1719093 . If you use this web address instead of the Amazon home page, Amazon.com will donate 0.5% of your purchase price to support Wildlife Works, Inc. at no extra cost to you. You may change or update your charity or nonprofit of choice any time that you login at smile.amazon.com; the above link simply helps you find us more easily. Additional information can be found at Amazon Smile's FAQ webpage. Thank you for supporting our mission.
Golden Eagle Success Story
This past March, we took in a Golden Eagle that had been hit by a train and had a broken wing. After months of rehabilitation, we are proud to say that he was successfully released on July 24th! Take a look at our slideshow below to see the progress this gorgeous animal made during his stay with us! A big thanks to Milly Gallik for taking these amazing photographs! Also, watch the WPXI news story here!