Thursday, March 22, 2012

Post #2 The trees in our backyards are animal nurseries

 Tate releasing a rehabilitated red tail hawk in Ohio

Once upon a time I rehabilitated injured raptors (wild eagles, owls, falcons, and hawks).  At the Glen Helen Raptor Center in Yellow Springs, Ohio roughly 150 injured raptors were brought to us each year and we assessed, cared for and (if appropriate) released the birds back into the wild.  In the wild world of raptor rehabilitation there are seasons you can predictably come to rely on, and these seasons reflect the rhythms of the natural world.  For example, we would only expect to see injured rough-legged hawks in the winter (in the summer they nest in the Arctic), fall and winter would bring us many juvenile birds out on their own for the first time, and our busiest season - spring - would bring us many injured babies.  Each spring we took in dozens of baby screech owls and kestrels, both of which nest in holes in trees.  How do baby raptors get injured?  1) They fall out of their nest or, 2) someone cuts down the tree they were nesting in.

As it turns out people do a lot of tree work during the nesting season- felling trees, limbing trees, pruning shrubs- which means there are lots of unhappy parents out there.  Nesting in trees is not unique to birds either- bats, raccoons, squirrels, opossums, hornets and sometimes porcupines all nest off the ground.  Once separated from the nest, young animals stand very little chance of surviving.  The guaranteed food source from mom and dad, warmth of the nest and the protection from predators vanishes instantly.  Could you imagine spending some quality time at home with the newborn when all of the sudden you start to feel your house rattle?  A loud tool with a smoking motor is slicing into your foundation and causing your house to slump.  Obviously devastating.  

Eastern screech owl in a tree cavity

A crow nest in a tree
To avoid cutting down a tree that contains a nest be aware what's living in your backyard.  Singing birds are a dead give away for an active nest.  Look for physical nests (usually made out of sticks) in trees and if you see tree a cavity, watch for animals coming and going.

Try to work around animal's nesting schedule.  Raptors usually next first, in late winter/early spring.  Songbirds start nesting in the early spring and continue through to mid summer.  Squirrels and bats nest in the spring.  To best avoid nesting critters, the fall is the best time to conduct tree work.      

If you do happen to cut down a tree which contains an animal nest you can call your local rehabilitator for instructions on how to help.  Just google 'wildlife rehabilitation' and your location and you will find a place.  Almost any bird will be taken in by a nearby rehabilitator. Mammals of greater conservation concern like bats (yes, bats are mammals) might be taken in.  Raccoons are not people's favorite so you might not find a lot of resources available for their rescue, but again, call your local rehabilitator.  See what they recently did for a squirrel.

As a result of habitat fragmentation (see post #1) our woodlots, backyards, town parks, old fields, and vacant lots are now the wild places for plants and animals to call home.  Like the baby screech owl that falls from its nests during our spring cleaning, our backyard management could mean a great deal to the critters that live there; sometimes the different between life and death.  


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