Bobcats Eat Venomous Snakes

Venomous snakes aren’t bad or evil. Like all other animals, they have an important role to play in our ecosystem. Among other things, snakes help to control populations of rats and mice. This in turn helps reduce the incidence of diseases these rodents might carry.

Nevertheless, you probably don’t want venomous snakes living too close to your house. While fatal bites are extremely rare, they do happen occasionally. This is one of the many reasons that bobcats can be useful neighbors to have around!

Bobcats are some of nature’s most fearless predators, making them one of the few native creatures bold enough to kill and eat venomous snakes. And bobcats are even less likely than venomous snakes to harm humans. No human has ever died of a bobcat attack! Letting your bobcat neighbor stick around is one of many ways you can keep your family (and your neighborhood ecosystem) safe and healthy for all.

How Feeding Pets Outside Hurts Wildlife

Are you one of the people who tends to leave bowls of cat and dog food outdoors at all times? As strange as it sounds, this seemingly innocent act is one of the most harmful things that can happen to wild animals. Before leaving pet food outside, please consider this:

  1. Outdoor pet food spreads disease and parasites. Just as one of many examples: have you seen those warnings about opossums carrying typhus? Opossums don’t actually carry or spread it naturally. Typhus is spread by cat fleas, which didn’t exist on opossums until the last decade or two. They caught cat fleas— and the diseases they carry— because they shared food with feral cats at outdoor feeding stations. Other diseases and parasites spread between pets and wildlife include distemper, panleukopenia, parvovirus, leptospirosis, ticks, and more.
  2. Wild animals don’t get appropriate nutrition from pet food. It’s heartbreaking— not cute— when animals become morbidly obese or develop bone deformities because they have started eating pet food instead of their natural diets. Native animals evolved to eat specific wild foods in time with the seasons. When we create a uniform, artificial food source, they often gorge themselves on it and avoid the natural foods their bodies need.
  3. Animals kill, or get killed, for associating humans and pets with food. Animals get exterminated when they’re labeled as “nuisances” or “dangerous” because they look for human handouts. Wild animals also get attacked by cats and dogs when they start approaching them looking for the easy meal they expect to be nearby. Even worse, large predators like bears can actually attack and kill humans and pets, because pet owners have trained them to expect food from us.
  4. Pet food often attracts the wrong animals. Maybe you don’t mind feeding the cute, chubby raccoon in your neighborhood, but he’s not the only one who is going to accept the freebies. Less desirable animals like rats, mice, and cockroaches will also eat pet food. When they cause an infestation at your home or nearby, someone is very likely to use rodenticides to kill them. This creates a chain of poisoning that will harm other predators.
  5. Outdoor pet food can affect animal migration and dispersal. In some cases, having a lot of available food will mean that wild animals stick around in places where they shouldn’t be. This can mean that young adult animals stay in the area where they were raised and overpopulate the area, leading to disease. Animals can also become dependent on humans because there are an unnaturally large number of animals in a space too small to sustain them.

Please do what’s best for wildlife by always feeding your pets indoors!

A Bird Hit My Window. What Now?

“A bird hit my window!”

This is one of the most common wildlife emergencies people encounter. Windows strikes are a common cause of death and injury among native birds, but the good news is that they can sometimes be treated and can usually be prevented.

You may notice a window-struck bird because you see it happen or because you hear it hit. The bird will usually have symptoms of concussion, including being unusually still, appearing “calm,” and being unable or unwilling to fly away when approached by humans. They may also have visibly broken wings, blood around the face, or hold their heads in a tilted position.

If this happens, please capture the bird as safely and gently as possible and call a licensed rehabilitator as quickly as you can. It’s best to put the bird into a dark, quiet place (such as a shoebox) and avoid handling it any more than absolutely necessary. Even if the bird seems “friendly,” please understand that it is extremely stressed and should not be pet or played with.

Please do not give the bird food or water while reaching out to rehabilitators, since concussed birds can drown in small amounts of water and food may make the bird sick.

While exact policies vary from rehabber to rehabber, most licensed bird rehabilitation experts agree that a bird that has hit a window needs to be admitted for rehabilitation even if it seems to “come to,” or “shake off” the concussion relatively quickly. Birds that appear to be okay may have serious internal injuries or may need a day or two of supportive care and rest. Please don’t release the injured bird unless instructed to do so by a professional.

Once you’ve gotten the injured bird to a rehabilitator (or, preferably, before this ever happens to you to begin within) please take steps to make sure it never happens again! At For Fox Sake, we use Bird Tape on large windows. We’ve had no window strikes at all since applying it, and we’ve even seen birds approach our windows, hover for a moment, and then turn around! There are several different brands and products that can make your windows less dangerous to wildlife. It’s a simple way to save lives.

Food Litter Kills Owls

Ever tossed a French fry, sandwich crust, or apple core out your car window? Please, please never do it again! Your food waste is actually causing many wild animals to die, and owls are among the most likely victims.

That sandwich crust you threw in the road is likely going to stay there until evening, when it will start looking appealing to small, nocturnal scavengers like rats and mice. Owls are excellent hunters who hyperfocus their eyesight and attention on their scurrying prey. When the rodent pauses to eat in the road, that’s when an owl will often go for the kill— swooping right in front of a car.

Car collisions have become a leading cause of death and injury among wild owls, but it doesn’t have to be this way. One of the kindest, simplest ways to protect native wildlife is to hold onto your food trash until you’re able to dispose of it properly in a trash can or compost bin.

Coyotes: Not Very Big!

Human perception is a funny thing. We can’t count the number of times that someone has brought us a “huge, twenty or thirty pound” fox that barely weighed seven pounds, or reported a coyote “the size of a German shepherd” that was actually smaller than a border collie. For whatever reason, people’s minds play tricks on them when they encounter wild animals.

If we were to ask most people how big the coyotes they’ve seen in the wild are, most would tell us that they weigh a minimum of seventy pounds, with a few people coming up with fanciful descriptions of two-hundred-pound monsters. Real coyotes, though, are actually pretty small.

A typical healthy adult coyote in our area will weigh roughly thirty pounds. That can lean a little higher for males and a little lower for females, with many females going their whole lives weighing no more than a medium-sized terrier. The absolute largest record-breaking male coyote weighed 75 pounds. (Compare that to the largest domestic dog, who weighed nearly 350.)

It’s important to rethink how we visualize our wild predators. When we promote an image of coyotes as huge, terrifying, bear-sized beasts, it contributes to fear and panic, and makes it harder for us to coexist. While we certainly don’t recommend provoking or handling wild predators of any kind, try to remember that they’re much smaller and much less dangerous than you imagine.

Speak Up Against Turtle Poaching!

A typical Eastern box turtle will have only two surviving young in its fifty-year-long life. In many parts of their range, their numbers have fallen by 30-60% in recent decades. If their populations continue declining at this rate, they will become extinct quickly.

Box turtles aren’t our only native turtle facing possible extinction. Bog turtles are our most threatened species, and it’s only because of diligent efforts at captive breeding and habitat protection that we haven’t already lost them.

Tennessee is one of many states that protects our sensitive native reptiles by forbidding the public from capturing or selling them as pets. Despite this, you can look at nearly any Facebook “rehoming” group and any Craigslist at any given time, and you’ll see people buying and selling native turtles.

Watch out for the kind of sugar-coating and coded language that some of these poachers use. They may call the sale price of a native turtle a “rehoming fee” or may have a backstory about how they saved it from a bad owner or rescued it from a construction site or predator. They may say it was captive-bred or that they are licensed to sell them. Please don’t be fooled if you see this sort of listing. Selling native reptiles is illegal regardless of the circumstances, and legitimate rehabilitators do not rehome turtles to the general public.

If you see this happening, please, for the love of these incredible little creatures, say something! You can contact your local TWRA officers by phone or email. By speaking up when you see poaching, you can help save our native wildlife.

Rice-Like Grains on Wild Animals are an Emergency

Ok, we know this is weird, but knowing this not-so-fun fact can save an animal’s life!

If you ever see a wild animal and it has what appear to be grains of rice stuck on its body, that’s a do-not-pass-go, do-not-collect-$200 emergency in need of a rehabilitator.

Get ready for some nightmare fuel: those rice-like grains are actually fly eggs, and they’re a sign that an animal is very close to death. Eggs may be laid inside an open wound, in the animal’s mouth or rectum, in the critter’s eyes, or sometimes simply on their flesh. Flies don’t only lay their eggs on dead flesh, but may also choose an animal because it is weak or dirty due to being sick orphan. When they hatch, the maggots quickly start consuming the animal, and it’s a particularly horrific way to pass.

Some people ignore fly eggs when they see them, either because they don’t know what they are or because they believe maggots will “clean” a wound. While so-called maggot therapy has been used in clinical environments to debride injuries in humans, the grim reality is that maggots can and do kill animals rather than just benignly cleaning them up.

If you find a critter with rice-like grains on its body, please immediately help if it’s safe for you to do so. Put the animal somewhere dark, warm, and quiet and contact a rehabilitator for further assistance.

Tennessee Coyotes: Natural Mutts

Happy National Mutt Day! Did know that coyotes in Tennessee (and everywhere else east of the Mississippi River) are naturally-occurring mutts?

After humans killed off most of the red wolves and gray wolves that once dominated North American forests, wolves were left with so few available mates that they had no choice but to cross-breed with dogs and coyotes. Coyotes slowly migrated from the Western U.S. to fill the gaps in the ecosystem left by the loss of our original apex predators. As newcomers, they also had few mates available and adapted by seeking out dogs and wolves as mates.

Most coyotes in Tennessee aren’t the result of recent hybrids. Their last dog and wolf ancestors were usually 10-30 generations ago. But dogs and wolves had enough influence on our local coyotes that you can see their “mutt” nature in their size, behavior, and coloration. For example, this beautiful girl, who was a patient at For Fox Sake, weighed over 40 pounds, which is over twice the size of a female Western coyote, and her markings were wolf-like. Coyotes here in Tennessee are also more social, and more likely to hunt in groups, than their Western cousins, which tend to be solitary hunters.

Aren’t our local wild animals amazing? We’d love to see your photos of mutts, both coyote and domestic!

Oops! Opossums Don’t Actually Eat Ticks

We goofed.

Like many organizations, we’ve spent several years claiming that opossums eat a large number of ticks, and that they help to combat the spread of tickborne illness. We had fact-checked our information— we always do!— and claims about opossums as tick-eaters were supported by credible sources like the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies and the National Wildlife Federation.

But environmental science and zoology are ever-evolving fields, and new research emerges constantly about the role that native animals do, and don’t, play in North America’s web of life. It’s turns out that the newest, best research disproves the claims we’ve been making about opossums’ role in reducing tick populations.

Scientists at Eureka College analyzed the stomach contents of 32 wild opossums and couldn’t find any ticks, tick larvae, or tick body parts. They also looked into the findings from 23 similar studies and found no evidence that opossums eat a significant number of ticks. So it turns out that this whole tick-eating thing was incorrect.

We admit that it’s tempting to keep repeating misinformation without correcting ourselves. After all, the belief that opossums eat tons of ticks has tremendously improved the way people perceive them, and has encouraged a lot of people to rethink their desire to harm them. But we believe that truth matters, and that we have a responsibility to correct ourselves after perpetuating misinformation.

While opossums don’t really eat a lot of ticks, they still matter, and they still deserve our love and respect. Opossums are miracles of the natural world, and have survived nearly unchanged since they shared the planet with dinosaurs. They consistently score high on intelligence tests despite having what appear to be very primitive brains. They are naturally resistant to rabies and most snake venoms. They help keep the world clean by eating large amounts of decaying animal matter and rotting fruit. While they may not be the tick-vacuums we thought they were, our world wouldn’t be the same without them.

Please continue to respect opossums for their role in the natural world, but accept our apologies for the role we played in the spread of incorrect information about their diets.

Snapping Turtles Aren’t Dangerous

Lots of people are terrified of snapping turtles. We get calls throughout the summer from people who want snapping turtles relocated, or even killed, because they’re afraid that these peaceful dinosaurs will eat their kids or pets. But a snapping turtle in your yard isn’t anything to worry about!

Snapping turtles don’t eat kids or pets. They almost exclusively feed in the water on fish, crayfish, and aquatic insects and don’t have any reason to try to eat a toddler. We certainly don’t recommend letting your Yorkie lick a snapping turtle’s face or sending your toddler outside to play with one, but snapping turtles prefer to be left alone and aren’t going to go out seeking humans or pets to eat.

In the unlikely event that you provoke a snapping turtle and get bitten, their bite isn’t nearly as bad as you expect, averaging about 200 Newtons of force. By comparison, if you were to bite something with your second molars, you can easily exceed 1,200 Newtons.

You may have seen videos of people intentionally provoking snapping turtles into biting thick sticks or broom handles with scary-looking results. Keep in mind, when watching these, that these people are provoking the snapping turtles very deliberately, often repeatedly, and that the only results that make it to YouTube are the ones that look shocking. Disappointing videos of snapping turtles nipping at the stick and trying to be left alone never go viral.

If you’re fortunate enough to have a snapping turtle as your neighbor, please leave it alone! There is no habitat for it better than the one it has already chosen, and it has a right to exist in its home just as much as you have a right to exist in yours. Please give your turtle neighbor the space and respect it needs.

Native Bird Nests are Legally Protected

We received a frustrating— and all-too-common— call yesterday. After barn swallows chose an apartment complex in Red Bank to raise their young, management hired a crew to pressure-wash the nests away, resulting in the deaths of many innocent baby birds. The few survivors were picked up by a caring tenant, who we referred to a songbird specialist.

Folks, this isn’t okay, and it happens all the time. Songbird populations all over the country are plumetting and we all have an obligation to do our part to prevent it. Sometimes that means growing a pair and dealing with some poop or unsightly nests for a few weeks while babies grow up.

Native birds are, at worst, a temporary inconvenience. Most people enjoy seeing and hearing birds and watching them raise their young. Aside from being cruel and illegal, killing a bunch of baby birds is also not a good way to keep your tenants happy. If you’re a landlord or business owner and have tenants or customers complaining about native bird nests, simply inform them that the nests are protected by federal law and that you’ll remove them when the babies have left the nests. No big deal!

We’re asking all of our supporters to help us protect native birds. If you know of a property owner or maintenance company that is destroying active native songbird nests or killing adult or baby birds, please report them to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at 1-800-344-WILD or fws_tips@fws.gov.