Tennessee’s Flying Squirrels

We love flying squirrels! Because these cuties are nocturnal and aren’t very common in cities and suburbs, many people don’t even realize that they live right here in Tennessee!

We’re actually blessed with not one, but two flying squirrel species. The most common in the state is the Southern flying squirrel, which, as its name suggests, is a resident through much of the Southern U.S and can tolerate warm weather.

The mountainous Eastern part of the state is also home to a small population of Northern flying squirrels, and they really have an amazing history! During the last ice age, the entire Southeast was so chilly that these cold-weather critters were right at home throughout the region. As the glaciers retreated and the South warmed, Northern flying squirrels fled to chilly mountaintops in order to survive in the South.

The Northern flying squirrels living in the mountains of East Tennessee and North Carolina are called Carolina flying squirrels. They’re completely distinct from their Southern cousins and the two can’t breed since their bacula (penis bones) are shaped differently.

Both of Tennessee’s flying squirrel subspecies are facing serious threats. As habitat loss and climate change threaten the landscape, both of these adorable creatures are losing safe grounds for living and breeding. If you’re lucky enough to have flying squirrels living on your land, please treat them kindly! Keep your cats indoors and consider installing nesting boxes to help them find safe places to raise their young.

Fledglings Aren’t Orphans

Have you ever seen a human toddler in their first days on their feet? They stumble, waddle, and often fall… but it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong or that they don’t have parents looking out for them. The awkward first days of toddling are just part of how humans learn and grow.

That’s how it is for fledglings— baby birds who have just left the nest. Like human toddlers, they’re unsteady and clumsy, and this leads many well-meaning people to think they’re orphans or that they have fallen out of the nest prematurely. In reality, fledglings are still under their parents’ care and they’re doing just fine, even if they aren’t flying very well yet.

If you see a baby bird on the ground that you think is an orphan, take a close look. If it has lots of feathers and is able to hop and flap its wings, leave it exactly where you found it. If it can’t hop, appears injured, or has very few feathers, contact a wildlife rehabilitator for the next steps.

You may be tempted to take a fledgling to a rehabilitator, or even to try to raise it yourself, just to be on the safe side. Please don’t! A baby bird’s best chance of survival is always with its natural parents. You can help make sure the fledgling survives this difficult stage by keeping your pets indoors or leashed for the next few days.

Kidnapping a healthy bird is never the answer!

Rat Poison Causes Mange in Bobcats

Rodents aren’t the only ones who suffer from rodent poisoning! Predators like owls, foxes, hawks—and even pet cats and dogs— can become poisoned when they eat animals that are sick or dead from poison.

For bobcats, secondary poisoning can have a strange effect. A bobcat who eats poisoned rats and mice will suffer from constant inflammation throughout the body, sending its entire immune system into chaos.

When a bobcat’s immune system is compromised by rat poison, its body will often become severely infested by a form of mite that causes notoedric mange. Notoedric mange is closely related to the types of mange you’ve likely seen in dogs, and it can get out of control once it takes over a bobcat’s body. A bobcat suffering from a severe case is very likely to die of infections or hypothermia.

Please choose kinder options to control rodents! Snap traps are both humane and effective when used correctly, and don’t risk causing secondary harm to the predators around you.

Bats Make Scary Faces to “See” Better

A lot of people find bats creepy. There are a lot of reasons for this, such as their mythical association with vampires and ghouls. One thing that makes people nervous about bats is that their faces often look menacing and aggressive, like they’re threatening to bite.

But this weird grimace isn’t what you think. When a bat is using echolocation— its primary means if finding bugs to eat— it has to open its mouth to emit sound waves and to interpret those sound waves correctly when they bounce back to its ears.

In tighter spaces, they open their mouths wider so they can focus their sound beams more effectively, so a bat photographed in captivity will almost always have a wide, gaping mouth.

Remember most animals don’t express themselves the same way we do. Don’t let facial expressions get lost in translation. Bats mean you no harm!

That Baby Rabbit is Terrified, Not Calm

People who find cottontail rabbit babies often describe them as calm, comfortable, friendly, and sweet. All too often, wildlife rehabilitators receive photos of baby rabbits snuggled in hands, pockets, and bras, with enthusiastic stories about how much they love to be held. These stories almost always end in tragedy, when the babies die of stress.

Animals don’t always communicate that they’re upset in the same way we do. Prey animals like rabbits don’t usually show fear by screaming or crying or biting, but by simply freezing in place and hoping to be left alone. This is easily mistaken for calmness by well-meaning people.

If you find a baby wild animal that appears to need help, don’t handle it any more than is absolutely necessary to transport the animal to a qualified rehabilitator. Otherwise, you risk causing serious harm through your good intentions.

Lawn Chemicals Kill Salamanders in Winter

You have a whole magical world living right under your feet! Please help protect it. Salamanders and other amphibians are facing a serious crisis as their populations plummet all over the world. You can take very simple steps to make sure your own salamander neighbors are safe.

This time of year, most salamanders are in a natural state of hibernation under soil and leaf litter, especially in flower beds and urban gardens. Amphibians have permeable skin and absorb anything they come into contact with, so they’re extremely susceptible to the effects of pesticides and fertilizers.

If you prepare your lawn for spring with an influx of chemicals, the salamanders in your soil will either die of poisoning fairly quickly, or will wake up and flee above-ground. There, they’ll be susceptible to starvation and hypothermia before spring arrives— a phenomenon known as “winter kill.” Please don’t contribute to this problem!

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!