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Watching out for wildlife in the spring

June 8, 2011
By JOE HACKETT, News Outdoors Columnist
For the past two weeks, I have been engaged in a daily battle with a persistent robin. The bird has been attempting to establish a nest in the rafters of my garage.

Every morning, I have found signs of her construction efforts, which included pieces of straw, twigs and scraps taken from an old tarp. The bird weaves the pieces together and secures the whole mess to the rafters with mud.

I’ve discovered the half-completed nests in five different locations, and I’ve removed each one of them. As I conduct the search-and-remove efforts, the bird observes the process from the security of a nearby pine tree. And she scolds me.

Every day, she departs the garage as I enter and returns when I leave. Finally, she took the hint and decided to build elsewhere. I found her happily ensconced on a nest that was built in an open shed, attached to the back of the garage. She now has a nest full of young and our quarrels have been resolved. I’ve learned my lesson.

Wildlife on the move

The spring season, which was rather prolonged this year, has always provided numerous opportunities to enjoy wildlife.

Over the years, I’ve witnessed quite a collection of animals traveling or feeding in our backyard. Often it is a fox vixen with her kits or a nervous woodchuck poking its head from a hole.

I’ve watched a mother otter teach her young to swim and I listened to her squeaky commands. On more than one occasion, I’ve come across a spotted fawn hidden in the tall grass or stumbled upon a snapping turtle laying her eggs along the roadside.

We once had a whitetail in the front yard and a coyote out in the back. I don’t know which animal was the most nervous, but fortunately they each departed in opposite directions.

This is a time of year when birds and animals are on the move, looking for food, for a mate or to establish a nest or den. It is also a time when many outdoor travelers mistakenly assume the young animals they find are lost and helpless, or separated from their parents.

However, wild animals are rarely in trouble and they do not need rescuing, especially from humans. Such efforts usually result in a permanent separation from their mother and a sad ending for the wildlife. Despite our instincts to help, it is best to leave wild animals in the wild.

Give wildlife plenty of leeway and be wary of protective mothers lurking in the background. Even the smallest of birds will attempt to scare off an intruder. Peregrine falcons have actually been known to strike climbers in an effort to protect their nests.

Canada geese, in particular, are extremely protective and both parents protect the nest. As a result, the messy birds have one of the highest chick survival rates. Their reproduction success is obvious and troubling.

While paddling on Fish Creek several years ago, I was dive-bombed by a goose, which actually clipped me with a wing. It delivered a clear and obvious message: “Don’t mess with Mama!”

Co-existing with coyote

From the time that coyotes first appeared on the eastern scene less than a century ago, there has been lingering debate concerning the animal’s origins.

For many years, it was rumored that eastern coyotes had interbred with domestic dogs, or worse yet, with wolves.

Old-time woodsmen often claimed to have seen packs of these large, long-legged wolf-coyotes. There have been a number of photos produced and numerous hoaxes perpetrated.

Fortunately, the truth is now at hand thanks to research conducted by Dr. Roland Kays, curator of mammals at the New York State Museum in Albany.

In collaboration with over a dozen other scientists, Dr. Kays used advanced genetic research and skull morphology to determine that eastern coyotes are actually a hybrid of gray wolves, coyotes and domestic dogs.

However, out of the 696 coyote genetic samples tested, scientists uncovered only one sample that was closely related to domestic dogs. Quite obviously, coyotes do not breed with domestic dogs as frequently as we’ve been led to believe. Coydog may actually be a misnomer.

Research reveals that the genetic stew of the northeastern coyote, which now populates most of the state, is about 82 percent coyote, with an equal 9 percent contribution from both dog and wolf.

This interbreeding of canines eventually resulted in the evolution of a top predator equipped with longer legs and wider jaws, which are better adapted for the harvest of species such as whitetail deer.

It was this hybridization that permitted coyotes to evolve from foraging for mice on the western plains to taking down whitetails in the eastern forests.

However, although many continue to claim that coyotes are responsible for the demise of the Adirondack deer herd, the research indicates otherwise.

In fact, whitetail deer account for only about one-third of a coyote’s diet, with the remaining two-thirds composed of rabbits, mice, berries, eggs, grasshoppers and other insects. According to the state Department of Environmental Conservation, a coyote’s diet typically consists of the easiest meal they can find, catch or kill. Since they are opportunists, it is often road kill.

With an estimated population of approximately 20,000 to 30,000 coyotes in the state, it appears the species is firmly entrenched from the Adirondack Park to Central Park. They are one of the most adaptable species known to man and they are capable of increasing or decreasing the size of their litters, depending on predatory pressures or forage base.

Since it is obvious we can’t live without them, or eradicate them, it is helpful to better understand them. It may be the only way to learn how to coexist.

Article Photos

Photo by Joe Hackett
A female robin works on her nest, located under the cover of an outdoor shed.



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