Living with Wildlife

Leave Them Be:  Don’t Move Baby Wildlife

Excerpted from MassWildlife News, Commonwealth of Massachusetts – Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, (508) 389-6300,, 4/30/10 #6

The arrival of spring means the arrival of newborn and just-hatched wildlife. These youngsters soon venture into the world on shaky legs or fragile wings and are discovered by people living and working nearby. Every year, the lives of many young wild creatures are disturbed by people who take young wildlife from the wild in a well-intentioned attempt to “save” them. Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MassWildlife) offices are already receiving calls about young wildlife picked up by people.

These well-meant acts of kindness tend to have the opposite result. Instead of being left to learn their place in the world, young wildlife removed from the wild are denied important natural learning experiences that help them survive on their own. Most people quickly find that they can’t really care for young wildlife, and many of the animals soon die in the hands of well-meaning people. Young wildlife that does survive human “assistance” miss experiences that teach them to fend for themselves. If these animals are released back into the wild, their chances of survival are reduced. Often, the care given to young wildlife results in some attachment to humans and the animals may return to places where people live, only to be attacked by domestic animals or hit by cars. Some animals become nuisances and people have even been injured by once-tamed wildlife.

Avoid these problems by following one simple rule when coming upon young wildlife: If You Care, Leave Them There! It may be difficult to do, but this is a real act of compassion. The young are quite safe when left alone because their color patterns and lack of scent help them remain undetected. Generally the parent will visit their young only a few times a day to avoid leaving traces that attract predators. Wildlife parents are not disturbed by human scent. Baby birds found on the ground may be safely picked up and placed in a nearby bush or tree. Avoid nest and den areas of young wildlife and restrain all pets.

Leave fawns (young deer) where they are found. Fawns are safest when left alone because their camouflaging color helps them remain undetected until the doe returns. Unlike deer, newborn moose calves remain in close proximity to their mothers who, in contrast to a white-tailed doe, will actively defend calves against danger. An adult cow moose weighing over 600 pounds will chase, kick and stomp a potential predator, people included.

Only when young wildlife are found injured or with their dead mother may the young be assisted, but must then be delivered immediately to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. Due to the difficulty in properly caring for them there are no rehabilitators licensed to care of fawns. It is illegal to possess most wildlife in Massachusetts. Information on young wildlife is on-line.

View a list of licensed wildlife rehabilitators.


Let it be: When you find a ‘lost’ baby animal, leave it alone

By Linda Lombardi/FOR THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, The Daily News Transcript
Posted Apr 03, 2008 @ 08:12 PM at

It’s human nature – who can ignore a helpless baby? But if that baby is a wild animal sitting in your backyard, the best way to help it probably is to leave it alone, wildlife experts say.

Many well-intentioned people can do more harm than good by trying to help baby animals that appear to be abandoned. In most cases, they are not.

A mother rabbit, for example, may visit her nest just twice a day. A baby bird on the ground may be perfectly fine. Cindy Reyes, hospital manager at the California Wildlife Center in Calabasas, Calif., says baby birds learn to fly from the ground – which makes a lot more sense than taking the first plunge from a nest high in a tree.

“If it’s got all of its body feathers, maybe a little bit of fluff, but it’s completely covered with feathers, that’s probably a fledgling bird,” she says. “The parents care for them on the ground.”

However, a naked, featherless baby bird does need to be put back in the nest. Don’t let a common myth mislead you: It’s not true that babies will be rejected due to their smell once a human has touched them.

“Birds have a very poor sense of smell,” says Kathleen Handley of the Second Chance Wildlife Center of Gaithersburg, Md. And animals wouldn’t nest in our yards if they disliked human scent so much, she says.

You can use gloves, or scoop the bird into a container to move it. If you can’t find or reach the nest, Reyes suggests making a substitute of a plastic container lined with soft fabric or tissues. You can attach it to a tree; the birds will usually find it and care for the baby there, she says.

(Don’t use a birdhouse – the birds may not find the baby, and some species don’t nest in enclosed spaces.)

This may seem chancy, but it’s more likely to help the animal survive in the long run.

Wildlife rehabilitators can heal injuries, but they’re no substitute for animal parents because they can’t teach babies how to be successful members of their own species in the wild. And when people raise an animal for a while and then decide to give it up, it often doesn’t work, she says.

“(The animals are) so bonded to humans that they can’t be released,” she says. “It’s dangerous. They end up running up to people, and they get frustrated, and they’ll bite.”

A dangerous animal may have to be euthanized.

It’s also illegal to keep native species as pets in most places, and many animals don’t tolerate captivity well as adults.

More good reason to trust in nature: Rehabilitators’ permits, typically issued by various branches of government, don’t allow them to keep animals permanently, only to treat them and care for them until they can be released back into their natural habitats.

And there aren’t enough spaces in nature centers or zoos to place even a small percentage – Second Chance in Maryland takes in up to 5,000 animals in a single year.

So the right course in most cases is simply not to intervene when you see a baby animal on its own. Hanging around may actually delay this reunion.

“People have to leave,” Reyes says. “They can’t be standing over the baby or the parent won’t return – even if it sees you standing at the window.”

There is an exception to the don’t-interfere rule: When a baby is clearly injured, with bleeding or a broken limb, it needs help. Don’t feed it. Instead, call a rehabilitator for advice, even before attempting to move it.

Your local animal shelter can usually help you find an expert, or go to the Web site of the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association,

Generally, the best way to help wildlife is to make your yard a hospitable place: Keep pet cats indoors, plant a wildlife habitat garden, and be careful when you prune, since birds and squirrels could be nesting.


Balancing Wildlife with Domestic

By Nancy Bersani, Town of Milton Animal Control Department
March 7, 2007 –

Footprints at Ponkapoag Golf Course, Canton, January 2010.

Footprints at Ponkapoag Golf Course, Canton, January 2010.

I have seen deer, raccoons, opossums, foxes, coyotes, wild turkeys and even a fisher in Milton. Wildlife, on the whole, does not pose any risk to humans. Humans pose a greater risk to wildlife. Many people love Milton for its wooded back yards and proximity to the Blue Hills. These are wildlife habitats and have been for centuries.

The calls we get from residents generally rise in late winter and late spring. People tend to see more animals at these times as they are breeding and giving birth. Many of our calls are about coyotes. There are many myths surrounding this animal. Coyotes are not nocturnal. Seeing one during the day does not mean it is sick. In order to survive, wild animals have learned to fear and stay away from people. As we take away more and more of their habitats by building new homes they are forced to live closer to us. Coyotes and other wildlife spend a lot of time looking for food. They are opportunistic eaters. If there are open trash barrels, compost heaps, pet food, bird feeders, grease traps on grills, or other food sources left out, the animals will come. It is our job to make our properties uninviting for wildlife.

Last summer we got numerous calls about a young deer in people’s backyards and in the street. It turns out people had been feeding this deer which began losing its fear of people. This put the animal in grave danger. When it got older people stopped feeding it thereby eliminating its main food source. It began coming out of the woods and into the streets. The deer as well as people were now at risk as cars were swerving to avoid her.

Another myth is that some wildlife live to attack and harm humans and pets. The documented cases of wild animals biting humans have shown these animals were sick. Healthy wildlife try hard to avoid humans; their survival depends on it. There are animals and birds of prey that will see some pets as a food source. They don’t distinguish between wild rabbits and cats or occasionally a small dog. Although people are quick to blame coyotes, there are many other animals who will take a pet if their food supply is low. Great Horned Owls and some hawks can easily pick up a small animal in their talons. Both of these species live in Milton. At one time a lot of deer were being killed at the Quabbin Reservoir. It turned out that 50-60 percent of the deer were killed by domestic dogs allowed to run loose; 10 percent were killed by coyotes for food; and the rest were killed by bobcats (another species found in Massachusetts). We have also picked up deceased cats and dogs that had been hit by cars yet managed to get to a yard before succumbing to their injuries. People assume if the animal is found dead on their property that another animal was responsible.

Another species of wildlife has recently taken up residence in Milton. The fisher (also called a fisher cat in New England) is a member of the weasel family. They are great tree climbers and are the only known predator of porcupines. Like the coyote they are not nocturnal. The fisher has been known to kill cats, poultry, and pet rabbits if they are easily available and other food sources are scarce. They can also be attracted to bird feeders as the feeders attract squirrels which in turn attract fishers.

Wildlife pass here, Norwood.

Wildlife pass here, Norwood.

Some residents don’t understand why these animals that may prey on pets can’t be eliminated by humans. Nature is an amazing thing. It has a definite balance that when interrupted by humans will either cause problems or adapt. If coyotes and fishers along with birds of prey were eliminated, we would be overrun with rats, mice and other rodents. The predators keep these species in check. Also if a species’ numbers are lowered the females will begin to have larger litters. Territorial animals like coyotes and fishers will move quickly into an area where others have been eliminated. This is nature and we can easily coexist with very little effort on our part.

Eliminate all potential food sources, cut down brush close to your house, use outdoor lights at varying times and if you do see an animal make loud noises to chase it away.

Keep your pet cats inside. We at the animal shelter will not let cats go to homes where they will be allowed outside. Predators are the least of the dangers facing pets. Cars, poisons, illnesses contracted outdoors, and other domestic animals harm or kill pets much more frequently.

Make poultry houses and outdoor rabbit hutches secure so that no animal can get to them.

Do not leave any animal outside unsupervised. Small dogs especially are vulnerable to attacks by other loose dogs or wildlife entering their yard. Electric fences offer no protection from any animal entering the property and we have taken in countless loose dogs for which this type of fence is ineffective.

Never feed wildlife. If you see an abandoned baby animal, call Animal Control at 617-698-0455.



Bats on Your Property? Report Colonies to MassWildlife

With the onset of hot, humid weather, Bay State homeowners may discover bats residing in their homes. Because Massachusetts and other northeastern states are experiencing a sudden and unexpected decline of bat populations due to a white powdery fungus on bat faces called White Nose Syndrome (WNS), the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MassWildlife) is asking anyone with a summer colony of ten bats or more on their property to report that information to agency biologists. Little Brown Bats and Big Brown Bats are the most likely species to be found in buildings. Please report the colony’s location, what kind of place it is in, and how many bats are in the colony, by calling (508) 389-6300, or email Everyone’s response to this call will be greatly appreciated.

Bats with WNS were first found in New York bat hibernacula during the winter of 2006-2007. Mortality was high and aroused concern among the bat conservation community. By winter 2007-2008, the syndrome and associated mortality had spread to many of the largest New York hibernacula and to sites in Vermont and Massachusetts. In the winter of 2008-2009, WNS was found in bats throughout the Northeast and in caves as far south as Virginia and West Virginia.

Although the reasons are not well understood, bats with WNS deplete their winter fat reserves too quickly by the middle of winter. The affected bats exhibit unusual behavior, often moving to cold parts of the hibernacula, leaving the cave or mine during the day and during cold winter weather in an attempt to find food during a time when insects are not available. Wildlife managers are concerned about WNS because bats congregate by the thousands in caves and mines to hibernate during winter months. Bats, and possibly even people, are spreading WNS from one cave to the next.

High bat mortality is a major concern to MassWildlife biologists because bats have a low reproductive rate. Since most bats raise only one pup per year, it can take decades for a bat population to rebound after a large die-off. For more information about the work in the region conducted by scientists relating to bats and WNS, go to

Excerpt from MassWildlife News, Commonwealth of Massachusetts – Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, (508) 389-6300,, 7/17/09 #8


More Bat Information

After receiving reports in February from Vermont and New York about large numbers of bats dying in caves, biologists from MassWildlife and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service investigated caves and mines in western Massachusetts where colonies of bats are known to spend the winter. Biologists observed bats flying around outside of the state’s larges mine when they should have all been inside hibernating, and found dead bats near the entrance of the hibernacula (winter quarters) which were collected for further study. Biologists confirmed that these bats, like the ones in Vermont and New York, were affected with white nose syndrome (WNS), a term used to describe some of the bats found at these sites that look like their faces were dipped in powdered sugar. This white material is a fungus that is growing on the faces of up to 10% of the bats at the affected sites.   Up to 97% of the bats at some affected sites in New York have died.

Bats with crusting white fungus were first found in New York bat hibernacula during the winter of 2006-2007. Mortality was high and aroused concern among the bat conservation community. By winter 2007-2008 the syndrome and associated mortality had spread to many of the largest New York hibernacula and to sites in Vermont and Massachusetts. New sites are still being reported.  Of the eight species of bats currently found in Massachusetts, it appears that the bat species most affected by WNS include widespread and common species such as Little Brown Bats, Eastern Pipistrelles and Northern Long-eared Bats as well as the rare, state listed Small-footed Bats. These bats hibernate in caves or mines. Big Brown Bats which commonly hibernate in buildings are not yet known to be affected.  The Red Bat, Hoary Bat and Silver-haired Bat are migratory and apparently not affected.

Bats at the affected sites have exhibited some unusual behaviors. These behaviors include clusters of bats roosting in the light zone close to cave or mine entrances; dead bats or bat remains found outside of caves in the snow; nearby citizens reporting bats flying during the day in very cold weather (15-20°F) and bats roosting on exterior house walls.  Flying bats have been observed falling to the ground or crash landing and several have been found roosting in woodpiles.  Midwinter necropsies of bats have found the mammals’ fat stores completely depleted, when they would normally last until the bats emerge in spring and begin to feed on flying insects.

Wildlife managers are concerned about the outbreak because bats congregate by the thousands in caves and mines to hibernate during winter months.  If WNS is caused by an infectious agent, this behavior increases the potential that the disease will spread among hibernating bats.  In addition, hibernating bats disperse in spring and migrate, sometimes hundreds of miles away, to spend the summer.  Bats are important predators of mosquitoes and other insects. A study from Boston University estimates that 14 -15 tons of insects are consumed each summer by the 50,000 Big Brown Bats that live within the bounds of Route 128. “High bat mortality is a major concern because bats have a low reproductive rate,” says Dr. Thomas French, MassWildlife Assistant Director for Natural Heritage and Endangered Species. “Most bats raise one pup per year.  It will take decades for bat populations to rebound after a large die-off.”

Currently, scientists do not know what is causing bats to die in such great numbers. It is not clear if white nose syndrome is a cause or a symptom of bat mortality. Currently, there are 9 universities, 4 or 5 federal agencies, state wildlife agencies and health departments from 3 states, and a host of other volunteers, researchers, and cavers working together to gather data, understand this condition and to diagnose the cause.

The “Homeowners Guide to Bats”, a bat booklet, can be picked up at MassWildlife offices or downloaded.

Excerpt from MA Division of Fisheries & Wildlife MassWildlife News, 03/10/08 Edition, #3


Reporting Fish Kills

With warm weather warming up lakes and ponds, fish kills may be discovered in some bodies of water. The sight of dead and dying fish along the shores of a favorite lake or pond can be distressing and trigger concerns about pollution. Fish do act as the “canary in the coalmine,” so it’s natural to think a fish kill is an indicator of a problem with human caused pollution. However, the vast majority of fish kills reported are natural events.

Natural fish kills are generally the result of low oxygen levels, fish diseases or spawning stress. Depletion of dissolved oxygen is one of the most common causes of natural fish kills. As pond temperature increases, water holds less oxygen. During hot summer weather, oxygen levels in shallow, weedy ponds can further decline as plants consume oxygen at night. This results in low early morning oxygen levels that can become critical if levels fall below the requirement of fish survival. In addition to reduced oxygen levels, late spring and early summer is when most warmwater fish species, such as sunfish (bluegill, pumpkinseed, largemouth bass) begin to spawn. At this time, large numbers of these species crowd into the shallow waters along the shore vying for the best spawning sites. These densely crowded areas become susceptible to disease outbreaks, especially as water temperatures increase. The result is an unavoidable natural fish kill, usually consisting of one or two species of fish.

When a caller reports a fish kill, a MassWildlife fisheries biologist determines if the kill is due to pollution   or is a natural event. Generally, pollution impacts all kinds of aquatic life, therefore the most important piece of evidence for the biologists is knowing the number of fish species associated with the fish kill.  Fish kills in which only one or two species are involved are almost always a natural event. When it is likely a fish kill is due to pollution, MassWildlife notifies the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). DEP takes the lead on a formal investigation which includes analysis of water and fish samples to determine the source of pollution. MassWildlife provides DEP with technical assistance by identifying the kinds and numbers of fish involved.

To report a fish kill Mondays through Fridays between 8:00 am and 4:30 pm, contact Richard Hartley at 508/389-6330. After normal business hours or on holidays and weekends, call the Fish Kill Pager at 508/722-9811 or contact the Environmental Police Radio Room at 1-800-632-8075.

June 2008 MassWildlife Electronic Newsletter