Have you heard this Southern colloquialism? Although it’s not very common anymore, some people in the Southeast (especially older folks) will refer to this animal as a “polecat.” My grandmother always used the term not just for skunks, but anyone and anything that she found malodorous!
So where does this term come from? In reality, a polecat isn’t a skunk, but a wild ferret native to Europe, Asia, and parts of Africa. Polecats emit a musky odor when threatened, though it’s not quite as strong as they of a skunk.
Because skunks don’t live in Europe, the first English speakers in the Southeast didn’t know what they were and mistook them for polecats. The term persists, particularly in rural areas.
Far, far too often, wildlife rehabilitators get calls about baby animals that the finders have had for weeks. Often, it’s urgent— “Something’s wrong,” or, “It cant walk right,” or, “I think it may be dying.” These animals ultimately die due to improper care by people who thought that a Google search could enable them to successfully rehabilitate wildlife.
One of the most common reasons people give for raising wild animals without training is, “I thought it would be a good educational opportunity for my kids.” Seeing an animal die a very slow, painful death from improper care is certainly not what these parents had in mind.
I’m a parent myself. I do understand how attached children can get to wildlife and how hard it is to say no to, “Can I keep him?”
But as parents, we all have a duty to teach our kids proper lessons about wildlife. Use an orphaned or injured wild animal as a way to teach your children respect for nature, and to emphasize the importance of giving them a good chance at life in the wild where they belong. Teach your children that a living creature is not a plaything or an experiment or an after-school hobby. Teach your children that loving something sometimes means saying goodbye.
Please call a rehabilitator if you find a baby animal in need of help.
It’s that time of year! We’ve started getting our annual influx of calls about raccoons seen during daylight hours. Many callers are concerned that these animals have rabies. Don’t worry: unless you see other worrisome symptoms, being awake in the daytime isn’t cause for alarm.
From April through August, most of the female raccoons in our area are either pregnant or nursing. Raccoons don’t start eating solids on their own until they’re nearly three months old, and the mom has to eat a lot of extra food to sustain a whole litter of growing babies. That means she has to work around the clock to find food. These very tired and hungry mamas won’t get much rest until fall!
Please don’t harm raccoons seen during the daytime. If you see signs that the animal might actually be sick— such as staggering, drooling, loud noises, or unusual aggression — please call a wildlife rehabilitator or your local animal control for assistance.
Snapping turtles, like all aquatic turtles outside the tropics, have to hibernate underwater every winter. They don’t have gills and can’t rise to the surface while asleep for a full season, and may even be completely locked under a thick layer of ice. So how do they breathe? Through their butts!
If you want to sound more technical and scientific, butt breathing is known as “cloacal respirstion.” The cloaca is the all-purpose hole that turtles use for reproduction, pee, and poop, and in snapping turtles, it also contains special cells called cloacal bursae. These cells extract oxygen through the water, which gets absorbed into the bloodstream and keeps them going through winter.
This is actually an important thing to be aware of, because snapping turtles and other aquatic turtles depend on safe, clean water to survive the winter. If oxygen levels on water drop too much, cloacal respiration isn’t enough to survive, and they may suffocate under the water or come out of hibernation far too early. Please do your part to avoid contributing to water pollution, especially in winter!
Wildlife rehabilitators get a lot of calls in the late spring and early summer about birds described with words like “mean,” “crazy,” and “dangerous.” Blue jays, mockingbirds, geese, and robins are the ones most commonly considered aggressive— and it’s no coincidence that they’re the ones most likely to be nesting near our homes and businesses.
In most cases, a seemingly aggressive bird isn’t actually aggressive, but defensive. It’s scary to raise helpless babies in a world filled with people, cars, pets, and wild predators. Any good parent wants to defend their young. Because this behavior is seasonal and baby birds grow quickly, these protective moms and dads will calm down within a few weeks when their youngsters leave the nest.
In the meantime, please respect your bird neighbors by giving them the space they need to keep their families safe. Take the longer path or the back door and have your kids play somewhere else. Keep your cats inside and supervise your dogs. We can all coexist with our bird neighbors!
Groundhogs are incredible! We only see the entrances and exits to their burrows, so it’s hard to imagine the complex homes they build underground. A groundhog’s burrow averages about twenty feet in width and five to six feet in depth, but there are records of burrows as large as 66 feet wide. Amazing!
A groundhog burrow isn’t simply a big hole in the ground, either. All groundhog burrows have rooms with individual purposes, like a bathroom for eliminating waste, a pantry for storing food, a nursery for raising young, and a bedroom for sleep. There will also be chambers to turn around and at least two exits. When a groundhog has moved out of a burrow, these intricate structures become ideal dens for other animals!
Well-meaning people often move cottontail rabbit babies, assuming that their mother will be able to find them. The most commonly given reasons are that they needed to mow their lawn or needed to get the babies further away from dogs or cats. Unfortunately, this spells death for the young rabbits.
Cottontail rabbit babies produce no scent whatsoever and don’t generally make any kind of noise, so their mothers have no way to find them. Even if they’re moved by just a foot or two, their mothers simply can’t locate them, and they’ll starve to death.
If you have baby bunnies in your yard, the correct thing to do is to simply leave them alone. Avoid mowing the area for a couple of weeks. And don’t worry about your dogs— since the bunnies don’t have a scent, a dog will only find the babies if it happens to see the mother feeding them at dawn and dusk. Moving the babies is a much bigger risk than allowing them to exist in your yard.
Coyotes are naturally fearful of humans and other large predators, since they evolved in ecosystems where bears, pumas, and wolves ruled the landscape. We average five times their size and they know we’re boss! When you see a coyote that is overly confident around humans, that’s a learned behavior, not just natural curiosity or friendliness.
You might think it’s cute when you feed a coyote dog food or meat scraps, but most people don’t agree. People tend to panic when a coyote has learned to associate humans and their houses and pets with food, and when they stop cowering at the sight of people. It’s nearly inevitable that a friendly coyote will end up trapped or shot.
Please don’t contribute to this problem. Feed your pets indoors and don’t leave scraps of food for neighborhood wildlife.
Rodent poison should never be used, especially on an animal that isn’t a rat or mouse. No matter which poison you choose, the animal is going to suffer from an incredibly painful and brutal death.
But if you don’t care about the animals, remember that poisoning a large animal like a raccoon won’t be good for you either. If you’re trying to get rid of a “nuisance” raccoon in your attic or crawl space, the critter will go to its den in your home to die. There, it will start rotting, and it won’t be pretty. If the smell isn’t enough to turn your stomach, the maggots will be.
Don’t do this to the animals and don’t do it to yourself. If you have unwanted raccoons or other wild animals that mistook your home for a den, please humanely repel this with bright lights, loud noises, and strong odors. Once they’ve left on their own, make sure all their entry points are closed. There is no need to poison any animal.
I have to admit: before I started working with wildlife, I had no idea that there were still people who had superstitious beliefs and fears about crows. It turns out these ideas didn’t get left behind in the Victorian Era where they belong. Even in 2020, a lot of people fear crows and some will even violate federal law by killing them.
It’s long past time to lay these myths to rest. Crows aren’t demonic and don’t have anything to do with Hell or the Devil. Like us, they’re simply families with animals trying to survive day to day. Crows are members of the same family as blue jays and are an important part of our ecosystem.
A crow’s brain is surprisingly similar to a human brain. Their intelligence tests on the same level as great apes and dolphins. They can solve complex puzzles, recognize hundreds to thousands of human words, and can communicate with us.
In the wild, crows form tight-knit relationships with their families. They form monogamous pairs for life and work together to raise their young. Crows are doting, loving creatures who clearly express grief and pain if they lose a friend or relative.
Please make a conscious effort to move past fear and superstition! Crows deserve our love.