Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Where's Waldo?

He’s celebrating his favorite holiday with folks from the Wildlife In Need Center and the Milwaukee Groundhog Club!

You too, can join us for a Groundhog Day Celebration and prognostication of spring’s arrival
On Tuesday, February 2nd 10AM
In the Upper Ballroom of the Elks Lodge at 2301 Springdale Road in Waukesha

Several area school groups and lovers of this most whimsical day of prognostication will join the Wildlife In Need Center (WINC) and the Milwaukee Groundhog Club as we celebrate Groundhog Day and we hope you will too.

10AM: Education Coordinator Leslie Kiehl will perform an educational program about the Center including the entire line up of educational animal ambassadors.
11AM: The moment we’ve been waiting for all winter will come as handlers and Groundhog Club President Richard Perschon, present Waldo the woodchuck to make his prediction
11:30AM: Stick around to meet-and-greet our educational animal ambassadors up close

Waldo was brought to WINC during the summer of 2008 after being rescued by a couple spending their vacation in an RV. The couple had tried to keep him as a pet and although our staff tried diligently throughout the remainder of the summer and fall to “wild” him up they were unsuccessful. The goal for each animal admitted to WINC is to rehabilitate it so that it can be released back to the wild, but if Waldo couldn’t protect himself from predators he couldn’t be released. When it isn’t possible to release an animal we evaluate their circumstances, injuries and temperament and if they meet certain requirements we look for opportunities for permanent housing. Oftentimes that is with a nature center or other educational facility, but if we have the space and staff time we will occasionally add an animal to our own educational team. In Waldo’s case, not only was he young and healthy with an agreeable personality, we had recently lost our first educational woodchuck to cancer so he couldn’t have come at a better time.

The celebration of Groundhog Day arose from a variety of traditions, including some religious, some seasonal and most importantly, some observational. It gradually became a time when both people as well as animals emerged from their winter slumber to welcome the strengthening sunshine, only to return in wait for the actual coming of spring. Groundhog Day is now held annually on February 2nd which also happens to be the midpoint between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. The most important thing is that the observance of this day gives those of us in cooler climates an excuse to celebrate, breaking up the monotony that leads to spring fever.

The Milwaukee Groundhog Club began in 1908 with a chance meeting of two men whose birthdays both happened to be February 2nd. They met at the Blatz Hotel along with several others who were discovered to be “groundhogs.” This year will mark their 102nd birthday as a group and they are proud to say that every shape, size and color of person (or groundhog) is invited to become a member, as long as their birthday is February 2nd!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Great Amorous Owls

The image from the Journal Sentinel link above is Dakota, the Great Horned Owl ambassador on our education team. He wasn’t too happy about this photo session, but for the most part he’s been pretty agreeable to things lately. It’s mating season for his kind right now and because he seeks the companionship of humans rather than other owls, he does a lot of showing off this time of year, especially around females.

From as early as December and as late as March you will likely hear far more “hooting” than at other times of the year as current and potential mates call to one another. The reason they begin so early is smart as it means that their young will be old enough to begin hunting on their own during the prime summer season when prey is much easier to obtain.

This unfortunately also means surviving potentially harsh conditions during a very sensitive time in the lives of their young chicks. These youngsters face a lot of challenges in their first few weeks, not only are potentially dangerous winds waiting to blow the downy creatures to the ground, the nests they are raised in are almost always built by someone other than their parents and are often in poor shape as well.

Great Horned owls are definitely one of, if not the earliest wild neighbor in our neck of the woods to begin their “baby” season however, unlike this blog post, there has been rumors of it being an even earlier than usual season for them as well as several other species (rather than late that is; sorry for the delay). Reports abound regarding unbridled squirrel behavior (gray squirrels also breed very early as most will raise two litters each summer season) and some say that there may be Great Horned owls already sitting on eggs!

Check out the We-Energies Peregrine watch cam and you can see one mother whose behavior seems to suggest that she’s been sitting on an egg for some time.

For now we’ll keep our fingers crossed that this isn’t the case because these youngsters already face many challenges being born as early as they are. Most years the center will begin seeing owlets (baby owls), as early as the first or second week of March.

Check back here in a couple of weeks as I plan to try to give you a glimpse of what baby owl season is all about here at the Wildlife In Need Center.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Striped Bandit?

There had been damage done by a wild animal to the caller’s property and they had decided to set a live-trap. On the first night they had successfully caught a skunk. They contacted the Center in the morning and wanted to know what to do with it.

The first thing to do in this situation is to cover up the trap with a heavy towel or tarp as it will help to keep the animal more calm and protect any bystanders from suffering the wrath of a scared skunk at the same time.

The second thing to do is to carry the trap to the most secluded point on THE SAME property and open it facing away from you. Because the skunk will be scared, especially being forced to wander out during the daylight, it may run as far and as fast as possible, or the trap may need to be left alone for several hours in order to give him time to slowly make his way to safety.

Why is this my only recommendation?
Because, regardless of the perceived issues any animal may be causing, they are almost always solved more effectively in other ways like eliminating any food sources.
Because it is a likely possibility you may trap a different individual or a different species altogether than the culprit you are actually after.
Because state rules prohibit trapping and releasing any wild animals on property that you do not own without explicit permission in addition to the regulated seasons and rules thereof for the trapping of various species. (contact your local Department of Natural Resources office or their website to learn more)
Because even when a trap is used in every legal way and a location for release is properly obtained, the chances of the animal surviving post-release are small. When an animal is relocated it has no idea where the best shelter or food sources are, and they may encounter other animals that have already claimed the territory and will often defend it with their lives.

Animals need certain things to survive and more often than not, the places they are found have those things. If you do a little research you may often discover simple steps you can implement that will help to ease your tensions with your wild neighbors. You can also check the living with wildlife page on our website for tips and suggestions. Most importantly, keep in mind that trapping and relocating animals in the spring and summer months not only puts the lives of that individual in danger, but also potentially their offspring who could starve to death if something happens to their parent.

To top it off, short discussion with someone about this skunk and the perceived issues it was causing revealed a compelling case of wrongful blame. Taking the time to do some research or talk with a wildlife rehabilitator, wildlife specialist or even your local humane society will often reveal things about the natural behaviors of animals that can rule out certain species from the usual suspects. Once you are armed with more information, the most cost-effective, humane, and effective long-term solutions are those that address the underlying problem. Over 70% of the cases we discuss regularly are solved by simply removing a food source or performing simple repairs. Other problems are solved easier than you think by just putting yourself in their shoes for a moment. We are humans, we are intelligent and we need to live in harmony with these creatures; it is possible and they provide us with a great number of benefits we would be unable to get elsewhere.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Cat versus Cottontail

A Rabbit was lying in the backyard. It appeared as though the back legs weren’t properly working and it couldn’t get up on its own.

Unfortunately, this animal didn’t survive the night; the caller suspected that the neighbor’s cat had attacked it. We get many, many animals, especially baby birds, bunnies and other small rodents that are attacked by cats each year. Cat bites are very infectious and when anyone calls with animals caught by a cat, we always ask them to bring the animal in for treatment. Even though you may not see a bite wound, the little fangs of most cats can put some nasty bacteria into the flesh of its victim and these small punctures can seal up. We almost always start these patients on antibiotics immediately because within 24-48 hours fatal infections can develop. Some of these cats are feral, but most are pets. We always urge people to keep their cats indoors. Not only does it save the lives of wildlife, but indoor cats live much longer, healthier lives than outdoor cats. They aren’t exposed to cars, diseases, attacks from dogs or other cats, environmental toxins or a myriad of other accidents and dangers that can befall them, not the least of which is simply getting lost.

The Wildlife In Need Center does not deal with cats, even ones that are feral, as they are not considered wildlife. If you have questions or concerns about your own cat always contact your veterinarian. Your local humane society is the best place to contact if you have questions or concerns about feral cats in your neighborhood. Most of them also have spay/neuter release or other outdoor cat programs.