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:
Making an appointment before you bring an admission to our facility is vital to the recovery of your wild animal friend! As much as we wish that our facility could be staffed 24/7, our volunteers are only on-premise from 10:00 AM until 10:00 PM at the latest; our office is staffed from 10:00 AM -2:00 PM Monday through Friday. For the safety of every animal, and to improve our ability to administer care in a timely fashion, no wildlife admissions should ever be “dropped off” at our door.
Animals which are “dropped off” without our knowledge are susceptible to:
-Inclement weather: Rain, snow, extreme cold, or extreme heat and consequent dehydration.
-Predation: A wounded animal in a box easily becomes a target for hungry predators.
-Premature release: The animal could escape before we ever found it and had a chance to help.
-Being accidentally ignored: Even if there are volunteers on-premise, they might overlook a small box or carrier. These few minutes, or a few hours can make a difference to a badly wounded animal.
Always call the Wildlife Works office to let us know that you have an animal admission before you come to our facility. Having someone ready to accept a wounded animal ensures that we can collect accurate information about the circumstances behind its injury, and to prepare an appropriate enclosure ahead of time. To best allow us time to prepare, we prefer to receive animal admissions between 11:00 AM and 8:00 PM. Monetary donations made at the time of admission are deeply appreciated to us as a non-profit with no funding or sponsorship.
Please also note:
Wildlife Works is NOT licensed to care for or accept rabies vector species, including: raccoons, skunks, bats, coyotes, foxes,or groundhogs. We also do not admit fawns or adult deer. If you find a wounded rabies vector animal, we can advise you to a different care facility or you may consult the Pennsylvania Association of Wildlife Rehabilitators via http://pawr.com/.
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
Juvenile Bald Eagle Rehab
A fledgling Bald Eagle, which we believed to be a female based on her enormous size, was brought to us in early July 2017 by PA Game Commission Conservation Officers from Washington County. She was rescued when she had been found on the ground, wings spread and open-mouth breathing. On admission, we could tell that she was on the thin side, she was dehydrated and her behavior was not normal, leading us to conclude there might have been some head trauma.
The eagle progressed nicely as her rehab continued. Her appetite and weight increased, eating dozens of mice or several rats or trout daily, and she began to make loops around the continuous flyway in our raptor barn. Once we judged her to be in good weight and flying well, it was time to think about her release. On August 31, 2017, we released the young eagle at Cross Creek Park in Avella which is not far from the area in which she was found. The release was a great success for Wildlife Works, as well as a media event for the local press and TV.
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.
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