Avoid Drunk Hummingbirds: Clean Your Feeders

If you’re near For Fox Sake, this is the perfect time of year to hang hummingbird feeders! Hummingbird feeders can give you an opportunity to enjoy these beautiful little jewels during their long annual migration.

If you’re not careful, though, your feeders may do much more harm than good. Nectars— whether homemade or store-bought— ferment very quickly in warm weather and become very high in alcohol. Drunk hummingbirds may sound funny or cute, but they are very likely to fly into windows, get caught by predators, or to simply die of liver failure. Not cute at all!

Please change the nectar in your hummingbird feeders at least every three days in cool weather and daily in hot weather.

Wild-Domestic Goose Hybrids

You might one day see a flock of Canada geese, with one goose that looks… well, off. If you see these types of patterns and markings, it’s very likely that you’re looking at an unusual bird whose parents were star-crossed lovers!

Canada geese and domestic geese don’t normally mate with each other. They instinctively tend to stick to their own kind. But occasionally, a Canada goose and a domestic goose will mate and have healthy young. In one case in upstate New York, a domestic goose pair was seen raising hybrid goslings in a park, and the father evidently didn’t notice or care that his mate must have had a little adventure with a Canada goose!

Hybrid geese may ultimately settle into a flock of Canada geese or a flock of domestic geese, depending on which instincts take over and which parent is the target of its early imprinting.

Have you seen a hybrid goose in the wild?

Don’t Kidnap Fawns! Mom Will Return Soon

Babies like this are often kidnapped by well-meaning people who mistake them for orphans, but this baby doesn’t need help.

Mother deer will often leave their babies alone for up to several hours a day, often hidden in underbrush, tall grass, or leaves. The fawn knows to lie down and be very still, to avoid attracting predators.

Capturing a fawn is bad news. Fawns kidnapped from the wild often die even with the best care, and almost always die when raised by people with no training or experience. Kidnapping a fawn from the wild is also illegal in most states.

If a fawn truly does need help, you’ll usually know. A genuinely orphaned fawn will be visibly thin and dehydrated. Its ears will be curled and it may be surrounded by flies, or even covered in fly eggs or maggots. Orphaned fawns will also sometimes follow humans around in confusion and desperation. In these cases, it is a good idea to call a rehabilitator for advice on the next steps to take.

The best thing you can do if you find a healthy fawn is to simply leave it alone. Quietly take a few pictures if you’d like, and then carefully step away. If the fawn is on your own property, you might also want to help protect it by bringing your pets inside until the mother has returned.

The Booming Bobcat Fur Trade

Wild cats have always been a primary target to fur trappers seeking big money. The demand for the skin of beautiful wild cats nearly drove animals like the leopard, snow leopard, and tiger to extinction.

While the sale and trade of big cat furs has declined rapidly since the 1970s thanks to tight international regulations, bobcats are now trapped more than ever. Manufacturers of luxury coats found that they’re able to get that “big cat” look using the skins of bobcats and lynxes, so the furs of these animals are sold overseas at high prices. Fur trappers can expect to receive $250-500 wholesale for the skin of just one bobcat.

Bobcats aren’t endangered— at least not yet. But I think most of us can agree that North American wildlife shouldn’t be extensively trapped and hunted to satisfy the global demand for exotic coats.

Please be kind to wildlife, and wear your own skin instead!

Most American Squirrels Used to be Black

Black squirrels aren’t common anymore in the U.S., but you may still see them if you’re lucky! Believe it or not, there was a time that most squirrels in the U.S. had this interesting (and beautiful!) trait.

Black coloration, or melanism, can occur in both fox squirrels and Eastern grey squirrels. Prior to European invasion of North America, old-growth forests were very abundant, dense, and large, and these shadowy forests were a perfect environment for black squirrels to thrive. Their dark coloration helped them hide in the shadows when seen from above by predators like hawks and owls. Squirrels that were grey in color were at a disadvantage, and easier for raptors to hunt.

Mass deforestation, fur trapping, and hunting ultimately led to a shift in the gene pools of both fox squirrels and eastern grey squirrels. Although the gene for black fur still exists in both species throughout their range, it’s no longer very common except in very dense forests in the Northeast.

Have you seen a black squirrel in the wild?

Copperheads Aren’t Very Dangerous

Although copperheads are venomous, they aren’t nearly as dangerous as many people believe. They are incredibly shy, elusive snakes who greatly prefer to hide rather than to bite. A copperhead will only bite a human if it’s directly provoked, such as when it has been stepped upon or handled.

In the unlikely event that a person might accidentally provoke a copperhead into biting, the copperhead still isn’t likely to cause any harm. A copperhead’s first bite is generally a venomless warning. Only with the second bite is the snake likely to actually inject a significant amount of venom.

For the extremely small number of people who actually do end up receiving that second bite, a life-threatening reaction is very unlikely. Even the few people who are allergic to copperhead venom will usually recover uneventfully with treatment.

It’s always important to avoid provoking snakes and to seek medical attention if you’re bitten by a venomous snake, but copperheads aren’t the terrifying monsters people fear.

Woodchucks Don’t Chuck, Chew, or Eat Wood

Centuries before any English speakers ever laid eyes on this animal, the Narragansett people of Rhode Island— an Algonquian tribe— called it a “wuchak.” This indigenous name likely shared roots with a similar Cree word meaning weasel or fisher.

English speakers turned “wuchak” into “woodchuck,” leading not just to a popular tongue-twister, but a lot of misconceptions. Many people are under the impression that woodchucks chew or eat wood in a manner similar to beavers, but this isn’t accurate. A woodchuck’s diet contains mostly herbs, grasses, dandelions, clovers, and berries— no wood at all!

Why People Call Vultures Buzzards

A lot of people in the South use the word “buzzard” to describe our native vultures, especially the turkey vulture, but this is actually the result of a long-lasting mistake!

“Buzzard” doesn’t mean vulture. Instead, it’s a British name used for any of dozens of species of hawk. As the name might suggest, the most well-known buzzard is the common buzzard, which ranges throughout Europe and some parts of Africa and Asia.

Vultures don’t live in Northern Europe, so, when English speakers first arrived in what is now the U.S., they had never seen one. They applied the name “buzzard” to any large, circling bird they saw, and the misnomer still persists today!

Not Snow White: Wildlife Rehab Ethics Explained

“Don’t you play with them?”
“Don’t you get attached?”
“Do they know any tricks or commands?”
“Do they sleep in your bed with you?”
“Why are they so scared of you? Are they being abused?”

We hear these questions all the time in wildlife rehabilitation. While they’re coming from a good place, they’re also coming from misunderstanding. Wildlife rehabilitation is all about keeping wildlife wild. The ultimate goal of everything we do isn’t simply to rescue animals, but to return them to the natural world where they belong. That means we have minimal contact with our patients, and we don’t form bonds with them in the way that someone might bond with a pet. Their survival in the wild depends on their ability to fend for themselves and to avoid human contact.

There’s nothing ultimately wrong with wanting to bond with animals. If you want to be able to snuggle, train, and play with critters, you may have a calling in pet rescue, whether that involves domesticated animals or exotic pets. But within the field of wildlife rehabilitation, our goal is never to tame or befriend animals. We respect their wildness and aim to keep them wild.

Raccoons Eating Birdseed: What to Do

We’ve heard people give a lot of crazy and cruel excuses for killing wild animals, but perhaps the most upsetting reason we’ve heard is, “It was eating my birdseed.” Several of our patients last year were orphans who came to us because the mothers had inconvenienced someone by nibbling some sunflower seeds.

Folks, this simply isn’t fair. A wild animal doesn’t have any way of knowing that your bird feeders are only meant for birds. When you put out an abundant source of food, animals of all sorts will take advantage of the snack. It’s simply the reality of feeding birds!

Nevertheless, you can dramatically reduce the likelihood of having your feeders raided by raccoons by bringing your feeders inside from dusk until dawn. Raccoons are primarily nocturnal or crepuscular and often avoid foraging in the middle of the day, and songbirds won’t eat from your feeders at night anyway.

If you do have a raccoon who’s learned to eat from bird feeders and comes out in the daytime, consider mixing hot pepper into your seed mixes. Most birds are not bothered by spice, but mammals are, and they’re likely to leave the seed mix for the birds after tasting the heat!