Creature Thoughts, March 2015

Winter’s Tough On Them, Too

“Brutal”, this winter has been called — at least here in the northeastern United States. The Boston area has seen multiple snowstorms that measured in feet instead of inches. Apparently, New York has declared February 2015, officially, “the second-coldest February on record”. We have suffered extended periods of below zero temperatures and negative double-digit wind chills. Those of us with outdoor animals have had to keep them in barn-lockdown for days on end so the wind doesn’t freeze little ears.

Other areas of the country are also suffering more winter-related problems than ever before. Kentucky is still trying to dig out from a major snow storm that made roads impassable for a long stretch of time, collapsed roofs, fractured water mains, and caused entire sections of roads to disappear into sinkholes. I have one Kentucky friend who has not been able to get out of her driveway for nearly two weeks.

I know that many of you can relay stories of this winter’s hardships in your own areas.

You and I, and others who are sensitive to the needs of the animals, also feel deep concern for the wildlife. The deer and turkeys have been scrounging spilled seed around my bird feeders all winter. There has been continual deep snow cover for months — there is just nothing else for them to eat. Although we are not really supposed to “feed wildlife” (other than keeping bird feeders — as with many other areas in the US), my heart breaks for them, so I have not been discouraging them. They need to eat something while we hope and pray for those new spring shoots and leaves to start appearing through the melting snow.

If it ever melts, that is.

Little birds even have trouble flying when the air is so bitterly cold. We had one little Tufted Titmouse who lost her life in our driveway because she could not get off the ground after she landed. Sadly, I found her too late to help her, and could only pray that her little spirit has found warmth and sunshine on the other side.

The big birds are suffering, also. Wildlife rehabbers in New York received the following request from the Department of Environmental Conservation. If you live in NY, I include it here, in case you wish to pass it along to your own veterinarian:

Wildlife Health Team,

We are starting to get increasing numbers of calls about dead owls and hawks. We suspect that this is due to the deep snow cover and below normal temperatures. We are interested in documenting these mortalities and would like to examine as many as possible to confirm cause of death. If you cannot collect and submit the carcasses, please compile a list of calls and the species (which can be tough with phone calls) so we can get a rough idea of the number of raptors involved over the next few months Thanks -Kevin”

Kevin Hynes
Wildlife Health Unit
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
108 Game Farm Road
Delmar, NY 12054

What can you do to help your wild neighbors get through these last few weeks of winter? I’m sure many of you already have been doing much of this all winter long, but right now, after having suffered for so long, it’s important to continue to provide. I know that getting out to change water and fill bird feeders when the temps drop below zero can be a pain (in more ways than one), but the birds (and their occasional dinner guests) will truly appreciate it.

Be sure your bird-feeding stations include higher protein and higher fat foods, particularly for our bug-eating friends when there are no real buggies to be found. These may include:

  • seed mixes that contain peanuts, cracked corn and sunflower seed
  • suet and suet-mix products
  • peanut butter makes a great high-energy binder for cakes of bird seed and cracked corn
  • left-over cat and dog food, scattered on the ground beneath feeders for insectivores such as Blue Jays, Starlings and Crows, will be beneficial after a protein-scarce winter

Try to provide liquid water for the birds each day, as well. Although they will eat snow for water, they really do appreciate being able to get a real drink once in a while. Plus, the water actually helps them metabolize their food.

Are your feeders located close to shelter from the wind? If not, you might want to scatter some of the food in and under the branches of nearby bushes and trees.

Keep an eye out for spring, too. It’s coming soon. The little birds and other critters will shift their focus from the struggle for survival to bringing a new generation into the world. It’s time to think about cleaning out your nest boxes and providing nesting material for the prospective parents.

This morning, for the first time, I heard a Chickadee across the lane singing his spring song. That sweet handful of high-pitched notes did more to lift my spirits than anything else could have done. It said, “I’m here! I’m happy! I survived! Come on, spring!”

Helping The Animals

If would like to support a not-for-profit organization that does a great deal to help animals, please consider making a donation to New York Wildlife Rescue/Northeast Llama Rescue. Wes Laraway and his family and volunteers help hundreds of animals every year, with no funding except your donations and what comes out of their own pockets. You can support their efforts by visiting their website and clicking the “Donate” button. You can also look at their “Other Ways To Help” page (found under several of the top level drop-down menus) for more ideas. They can’t do it without the support of friends like you!