Check for Bunnies before Mowing

Check for baby bunnies before mowing your lawn.

If you’re here in the South, you’re probably getting ready to break out the lawn mower for the first time this year. Please be sure not to harm any baby bunnies when you mow!

Cottontail rabbits’ reproductive cycles are timed to match the growth of their main foods, like grasses, clover, dandelion, and other soft herbaceous plants. In our region, they are currently giving birth to their first litters of the year and will continue to breed until around August.

Cottontails don’t nest in burrows, like their European cousins, but in easy-to-miss depressions in the grass. A rabbits’ nest can easily be mistaken for a clump of debris or a spot of dead grass.

Please do a quick check for any signs of bunnies before mowing. If you find some, please leave them exactly where they are and give them a few feet of space. (Your neighbors and HOA can deal!) They’ll be weaned and on their way in just a few short weeks!

No Milk for Baby Birds

Baby birds don’t drink milk.

As we get closer to baby bird season, please help spread the word that orphan birds should never be given any kind of milk! This is extremely dangerous, because birds are not made to digest milk of any kind.

A surprising number of people find baby birds and want to help by feeding them. Most “orphan” birds are fine and can simply be renested or reunited with their parents, but, even in cases where a baby bird is clearly orphaned, the best option is always to immediately warm the baby and bring it to a wildlife rehabilitator.

Baby birds of all species are highly sensitive to the wrong foods. Grains and fruits cause explosive diarrhea, earthworms can cause fatal parasites in many species, and milk, especially, is impossible for birds to digest and can cause life-threatening illness. Additionally, it’s very easy to accidentally put liquids into a baby bird’s windpipe, causing it to drown.

Please don’t give milk to baby birds! If nature meant for them to drink milk, their parents would have nipples!

The Opossum Rabies Bluff

Opossums look rabid as a bluff, but they almost never actually have rabies.

Opossums are great fakers. In addition to very convincingly “playing dead,” their other common defense mechanism is to stagger, sway, drool, open their jaws, and hiss when frightened. To anyone with a passing familiarity with rabies— even if only from old movies— it’s easy to mistake these behaviors for symptoms of a serious and fatal illness.

If an opossum’s defensive bluff is enough to make you give it space, that’s a good thing! But if it causes you to panic and kill the little critter out of fear, that’s not good at all.

While absolutely any mammal can get rabies— even bunnies and squirrels!— it’s very rare for it to occur in opossums. Each year, recorded cases of rabies in opossums are even lower than cases in cattle, deer, and horses. This is likely because of a combination of their robust immune systems (necessary for their scavenging lifestyle) and their low body temperature, which doesn’t incubate rabies as readily as most mammals.

With that said, it’s important to listen to an opossum’s “I’m scary and rabid!” bluff, even though it’s pretty much always a bluff. If you do get bitten by an opossum (or any other wild animal) it’s very likely that you’ll have to choose between having the critter put to sleep for testing, and undergoing a series of very expensive and painful shots. Please give wild animals space, for their safety and yours!

Confused Birds: Not Miracles or Social Media Accessories

Social media can be both a very good thing and a very bad thing for wildlife. One of the most unfortunate trends we’ve seen over the last few years involves people taking videos and photos with seriously injured birds while declaring the unfortunate animal’s behavior miraculous.

We’re not here to knock anyone’s spiritual beliefs, but the sad reality is that this trend is seriously hurting wild birds. A disoriented bird always needs a rehabilitator, but the tendency to view them as magical or miraculous means that people fail to get them the help they need. Worse, some even end up bringing these birds home— saying that it’s their “familiar” or a reincarnated loved one— where the birds invariably die due to improper care.

If you find a bird that is landing on humans or seemingly supernaturally docile, that is always a red flag of something amiss. In most cases, this behavior is a result of a serious head injury, usually from hitting a window. (It’s not a coincidence that most of these viral stories take place in front of buildings with large windows.) In a few cases, the birds are unusually friendly because they had been raised as pets or for falconry and are not adapting properly to life in the wild.

Please… If you ever encounter an unusually friendly or docile bird, contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator as quickly as possible. If you’d like to turn the experience into a TikTok video or tweet, please make it a story about saving a bird, rather than a story about encountering a magical omen.

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.