Note: If you’re interested in monthly information about urban/suburban wildlife and WDFW’s Backyard Wildlife Sanctuary Program, you can “e-subscribe” to our “Crossing Paths with Wildlife in Washington’s Towns and Cities” news notes at http://wdfw.wa.gov/lists/ . As an e-mail subscriber to “Crossing Paths,” you’ll receive these news updates automatically in your e-mail inbox, without linking to a download. As always, you can easily unsubscribe by following the instructions on our WDFW Mailing Lists website. We hope you find these news notes timely and useful. If you have any questions, please contact Madonna Luers at Madonna.Luers@dfw.wa.gov
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|Trumpeter and tundra swans
While winter can be a great season to watch wildlife, it’s also the time when we can most easily stress those subjects of our surveillance.
All of us, including our feathered and furred friends in the wild, use more energy to move and function in winter’s cold and snow. Unnecessary disturbance of animals that exist 24-7 in those conditions just depletes their energy reserves more quickly.
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) wildlife biologist Christopher Anderson says minimizing impact to wild animals at this time can be critical to their survival.
“This is the lean season for wildlife,” Anderson said. “Little things can make a difference, like approaching animals too closely and causing them to flush or flee, often times in cold temperatures or through deep snow. You can avoid disturbing wildlife in that way by using your binoculars or scope and telephoto camera lens. Teach children to be respectful of wildlife and their need for space. And leave the dog at home, in the vehicle, or indoors if you’re watching on your own property.”
Some wild animals that winter in Washington are very opportunistic in their survival strategies. A well worn trail through the snow to a site where wildlife beds, roosts or dens will be readily used by predators, both wild and domestic. Food sources inadvertently left accessible -- like garbage, compost, pet food, or poorly placed bird feeders – may draw animals that prey upon winter concentrations of other species.
Feeding wildlife in winter may seem like a good idea to offset their energy deficit, but it often causes more problems and can become very costly. See WDFW’s Winter Wildlife Feeding information for details.
Anderson says a good way to watch wildlife in winter that is less apt to cause disturbance is to use specific sites that separate viewers from wildlife by motor vehicle routes, trails, boardwalks and blinds. These include:
- Whatcom Wildlife Area’s Lake Terrell Unit, ten miles northwest of Bellingham and five miles west of Ferndale in Whatcom County; wildlife viewing is available year-round on a fishing pier from where you can see trumpeter and tundra swans and bald eagles in winter; black-tailed deer are also viewable year-round.
- Skagit Wildlife Area’s Johnson/Debay Swan Reserve, northeast of Mount Vernon in Skagit County; provides a winter feeding and resting reserve for trumpeter and tundra swans, and other wildlife, with grass and corn planted for swans and ducks; the large numbers of wintering waterfowl also attract bald eagles and other raptors; beaver and river otters inhabit the sloughs year-round; public parking and access is provided as well as two parking/viewing areas for disabled users
- Skagit Land Trust’s Hurn Field, west of Sedro-Woolley in Skagit County; offers wintering area for elk, but also viewable waterfowl and winter birds; viewing area constructed by WDFW.
- Skagit Wildlife Area’s Fir Island Farms Snow Goose Reserve, on Fir Island Road, and adjacent to the Skagit Bay estuary in Skagit County; provides a winter-feeding and resting area for thousands of snow geese with fields of winter wheat grown for the birds; walk along the dike to scan for waterfowl and shorebirds, including wintering dunlin and numerous bald eagles.
- Central Puget Sound urban areas: Kent Ponds for waterfowl and raptors, Discovery Park for wintering passerines and bluff overlooks to see wintering seabirds on the sound, Edmonds waterfront/Carkeek Park/Quartermaster Harbor from Vashon or Maury Island/Seahurst Park/Des Moines Beach Park for beach/shoreline wintering seabird watching; Union Bay Natural Area (Center for Urban Horticulture) for winter waterfowl and passerines.
- Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, northeast of Olympia in Pierce County; thousands of ducks and geese through the winter, plus raptors and songbirds year-round; black-tailed deer, mink and coyotes are at the forest edge; one-mile trail provides access to many habitats and numerous observation decks and somenew elevated walkways will be open in January.
- Olympic Peninsula areas: Ocean Shores North Jetty and Damon Point shoreline trails in Grays Harbor County, and Willapa Bay, Long Beach Peninsula, and Leadbetter Point shoreline lines in Pacific County to view wintering seabirds
- Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, in Columbia River floodplain north of Vancouver in Clark County; hosts thousands of wintering waterfowl including tundra swans, Canada geese, cackling geese and many duck species; year-round see raptors, coyotes, river otter and herons; a 4.2-mile auto tour route is open daylight hours through winter; wintering tundra swans also viewable at Franz Lake on Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge and Mirror Pond at the foot of Crown Point in Oregon.
- Oak Creek Wildlife Area, northwest of Yakima in Yakima County; winter elk feeding program (to keep animals off of adjacent private lands where they cause damage) has side benefit of easy and close viewing from high-fenced visitor parking lot off Hwy. 12; bighorn sheep also fed in some units; check recorded message at (509) 653-2390 for updates on feeding start-up and volunteer-led, elk-viewing tours (by reservation only through (509) 698-5106).
- Toppenish National Wildlife Refuge, south of Toppenish in Yakima County; wintering waterfowl and raptors; wildlife observation and hiking are allowed year-round in the southeast portion of the main refuge from Highway 97 to refuge headquarters.
- Pineside Sno-Park Loop on Gifford Pinchot National Forest in Klickitat County; dying trees from budworm outbreak in the 1990s are loaded with insects and attract Williamson’s sapsucker; hairy, white-headed, three-toed, black-backed, and pileated woodpeckers; brown creepers, and other birds; birdwatch while cross-country skiing and snowshoeing the area.
- Conboy Lake National Wildlife Refuge in northwest Klickitat County; wintering rough-legged hawks, northern shrikes, common redpolls; other winter viewable species include tundra and trumpeter swans; greater white-fronted goose; cinnamon teal; northern pintail; northern harrier.
- McNary National Wildlife Refuge, near the confluence of the Snake and Columbia rivers southeast of Tri-Cities in Walla Walla County; some 100,000 Canada geese and mallards winter here, plus tundra swans and a variety of duck species; one-mile loop Burbank Slough Wildlife Trail and viewing blind available.
- Echo Ridge Nordic Ski Area in Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, north of Chelan in Chelan County; snow buntings and other wintering birds; watch for cougar and bobcat tracks from 25-mile cross-country skiing trail loop around ridge tops with vistas of Lake Chelan and surrounding mountains.Sinlahekin Wildlife Area’s Sinlahekin Unit south of Loomis in Okanogan County; year-round hawks, eagles, white-tailed deer and diversity of other wildlife species; watch wildlife from viewing blinds or via 11-mile nature trail traversible in winter when snow conditions exist on cross-county skis or snowshoes.
More details on some of these and other sites for winter wildlife viewing are available in the Audubon Great Washington State Birding Trail series of maps (http://wa.audubon.org/birds_GreatWABirdingTrail.html) and at http://wdfw.wa.gov/viewing/.
Water is often a limiting factor in a backyard wildlife habitat.
While most species need to consume water regularly, either directly or through their food, some also require it for cleanliness and fitness. Many birds need water for bathing and post-bath preening to keep their feathers in shape to provide “all weather” protection.
The provision of water, including through fall and winter freezes, can turn an average wildlife habitat into an extraordinary one.
Those fortunate enough to have a natural waterway running through their property already have that “extraordinary” status. But most of us need to create sources of water, either building ponds, ditches, landscape swales, or rain gardens, or setting up birdbaths.
The trick with maintaining a birdbath through the winter months in many parts of Washington, of course, is keeping the water thawed.
Birds need to drink and bathe even on the coldest days, and although they can use snow and melting ice, open water may be more attractive. Keeping water just above freezing between dawn and dusk, when birds are active, is key.
You can keep a birdbath free of ice by regularly pouring water into the bowl, but that quickly becomes tedious during extreme cold when water freezes rapidly. A stick of wood left in the water during cold snaps can help you pop out the ice so you can add fresh water. When the water freezes, the stick will also help prevent the birdbath from cracking. Providing water next to a reflecting window can also help keep it open.
Birdbaths equipped with submersible, thermostatically controlled heaters will save time and maybe the birdbath itself. Small heaters designed to operate at a depth of one to three inches, many with automatic shut-off features when water levels drop or evaporate, are available through garden and hardware stores that cater to bird-feeding enthusiasts, and catalogues or on-line businesses.
Be careful about the source of electricity needed to run a birdbath heater. Outdoor outlets should be on a circuit or outlet protected by a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI), which will cut off the flow of electricity in the event of a short. Most outlets in newer homes are GFCI-protected, but if you’re not sure about yours, have outlets checked by an electrician.
Providing water for birds and other wildlife comes with the responsibility to keep the water clean to prevent diseases from spreading. This is especially important during warm months, but periodic thaws during cool months can be deadly, too. Scrub the birdbath a few times each month or briskly hose it out to remove algae and bacteria. Change the water frequently; locating the birdbath near a hose bib is a good idea. Never add chemicals to clean or keep water from freezing because you may poison wildlife.
If providing open water consistently through winter is difficult for you, consider other ways you can help your backyard birds and other wildlife.
Drinking water is obtained by some animals through fleshy fruits, berries and other plants they eat in your landscape. Some birds bathe in dust, rather than water, sifting and shaking soft, dry soil through their feathers to clean them for thermal regulation. Wrens, sparrows, quail, grouse, pheasants and hawks will enjoy vigorous dust baths in a tilled garden space or specially-dug area with a mixture of loose sand, loamy soil, and wood ashes.
|Wild rose in autumn
As sure as leaves turn color and fall to the ground at this time of year, bird feeders are filled and placed in backyards across Washington.
Window-side, arm-chair birdwatchers enjoy drawing both migrant and resident birds into close-up view in this traditional way.
It’s a tradition to continue only if you keep those bird feeding stations immaculately clean; use high quality feed and feeder types that only birds can access; locate them to avoid problems with window collisions, predatory cats, and other wildlife like deer and bears; and recognize that feeding only provides temporary benefits to some birds.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) recommends simplifying and “naturalizing” the tradition of backyard bird feeding by landscaping with plants that provide berries, fruits, seeds, or nuts for your feathered friends.
Many of these natural bird feeding plants will add beautiful color to your fall homescape. And there’s no time like fall, when plant root systems slow down and go dormant, to add trees, shrubs and even some perennials.
Some of the best plants that provide soft fall and early winter fruit include Pacific crabapple, red-osier dogwood, elderberry, gooseberry, huckleberry, Western serviceberry, and madrone.
Plants that best provide fruit that will last through winter and into early spring, when food is in short supply, include barberry, currant, firethorn, Douglas hawthorn, Rocky Mountain and Western junipers, Sitka and Cascade mountain-ash, Oregon-grape, snowberry, sumac, and wild rose.
Three great seed and nut-producing trees for western Washington landscapes are hazelnut, vine maple, and birch. For larger areas, include oaks and conifers.
Wildlife-friendly seed and nut trees for other parts of the state include alder, Douglas fir, and other conifers.
More birds than not use seeds, and lots of shrubs and perennial flowering plants provide them. But the key to this naturalized bird feeding is to leave those “dead heads,” or spent flowers with all those seeds. Leave that kind of clean up for spring, and enjoy watching your bird visitors do some of the work this fall!
Among the best seed-producing shrubs are mock-orange, ninebark and oceanspray. There are dozens of garden perennials that are good seed-providers, including aster, black-eyed susan, blanketflower, calendula, goldenrod, columbine, coneflower, coreopsis, cosmos, fall sedum, lupine, nasturtium, sunflower, sweet pea, and yarrow.
Check with your local nurseries for other appropriate plants that will not be weedy or invasive in your part of the state.
For more information about naturalizing your backyard bird feeding, see WDFW’s Backyard Wildlife Sanctuary program at http://wdfw.wa.gov/living/backyard/index.html. A good source of detailed information about plant species is available in the “Landscaping for Wildlife in the Pacific Northwest” book by WDFW wildlife biologist Russell Link, available through WDFW’s North Puget Sound regional office in Mill Creek (see http://wdfw.wa.gov/living/book/index.html.)
|Keep that dead or dying tree right where it is (unless, of course, it’s truly a hazard to you), so we can feast on the insects in the rotting wood or make winter roosts or dens in its cavities
Your family may be making those fall outdoor chore lists, as daylight hours shrink, temperatures drop, and the urge grows to “batten down the hatches” in the yard and garden.
Here’s another “to do” list from your local wildlife “family” that you may find easier to check off:
- Leave some “dead heads” on your flowering plants to provide seeds for some of us birds and other animals
- If you must rake leaves off grass lawns, just pile them under some shrubs, bushes or other nooks and crannies to provide homes for those insects that we birds love to eat; leaves make great mulch to help your plants, anyway!
- Keep that dead or dying tree right where it is (unless, of course, it’s truly a hazard to you), so we can feast on the insects in the rotting wood or make winter roosts or dens in its cavities
- Give yourself and your mower a rest for at least a portion of your lawn so we’ve got a patch of taller grass to hide and forage in
- Save just a little of that dead bramble thicket for us – it makes great winter cover and we don’t need much! Fall is a good time to plant shrubs, so replace invasive, exotic Himalayan and cutleaf blackberries with native plants of higher wildlife value like blackcap (native black raspberry) or red raspberry; native currants or gooseberries found in your area; or native roses such as Nootka or baldhip.
- Pile up any brush or rocks you clear around your place to give us another option for nests and dens
- Take it easy on yourself and let go of the “perfect” garden image; we wild animals like less tidy, “fuzzy” places because there’s usually more food and shelter there
- Get yourself a comfortable chair, sit back, and congratulate yourself on having made a home for wildlife and a haven of relaxation for yourself!
|Well-fed cats, either feral or domestic, become “super-predators” of birds and other wildlife.
Wild birds and free-ranging cats are not a good mix.
As a backyard wildlife enthusiast, you control your own cat and talk to cat-owning neighbors about doing the same.
But feral cats – those untamed strays that now total up to an estimated 10 million throughout the United States – can, and have, seriously damaged wild bird and other wildlife populations.
While domestic cats are solitary animals, colonies of feral cats often form around food sources like bird feeding stations, garbage dumps, or places where people deliberately leave food for them. In fact, many colonies of feral cats are supported by well-meaning but misinformed advocates of what’s become known as “TNR” management: Trap, Neuter, Release.
The theory behind TNR programs is eventual reduction of feral cat colonies. But sadly, such claims are not substantiated and research shows continuing negative impacts to wildlife (as most recently documented by Darcee Guttilla and Paul Statt from California State University in the Journal of Mammalogy http://www.bioone.org/doi/abs/10.1644/09-MAMM-A-111.1 .)
Cat colonies often serve as dumping grounds for other unwanted cats. The food provided usually attracts more cats. Contrary to TNR proponent beliefs, colony cats do not keep other cats from joining the colony. As time goes on, some colony cats become too wary to be caught, so rarely are all spayed or neutered. With females capable of producing up to three litters of four to six kittens each every year, it doesn’t take long to grow a feral cat colony.
Well-fed cats, either feral or domestic, become “super-predators” of birds and other wildlife. The need to eat and the instinct to hunt can and do function separately. Any cat owner can attest to this fact with stories of “gift birds” laid at their feet by feline companions.
Almost one-fifth of all injured wildlife brought to Washington’s wildlife rehabilitators across the state was harmed by cats.
In addition to their threats to wildlife, feral cat colonies pose human health risks. Even TNR-managed colonies can spread disease such as ringworm, toxoplasmosis, cat scratch fever, and rabies, since every cat is not captured regularly for health care.
Free-roaming cats usually have short, miserable lives, due to collisions with motor vehicles, attacks by other domestic and wild animals, accidental poisoning or trapping, and parasites and diseases. The Humane Society of the United States reports that the expected life span of an indoor cat is at least triple that of cats that spend their lives outdoors.
TNR management of feral cats is clearly not in the best interests of anyone, and it often overwhelms the ability of well-meaning people who genuinely want to help animals. It also undermines efforts of responsible pet owners who keep their cats indoors.
For more information, see the American Bird Conservancy’s “Cats Indoors!” campaign at http://www.abcbirds.org/abcprograms/policy/cats/index.html.
If you want to keep your livin’ easy this summer in your Backyard Wildlife Sanctuary,
Xeriscaping (pronounced “zeer-i-scape-ing”), from the Greek word “xeros” for dry, is landscaping with drought-tolerant plants that, once established, require less water and less overall care.
Some call it sustainable landscaping or “stewardship gardening,” as in being stewards of natural resources, including water. Less water used on your lawn and garden ultimately means more water for other uses, including fish and wildlife needs.
By definition, native plants manage to thrive on local precipitation and are used by local wildlife for food and cover. So they’re a natural for a sustainable, wildlife-attracting landscape. Many other low-water use plants that are adaptable to local soil conditions and climate are also well-used by wildlife. Be sure to research the soil and site needs when planting natives as some prefer sun while others prefer shade.
Standard bluegrass lawns are water hogs, at least if you insist on keeping them bright green throughout the summer. Consider cutting back on the watering, even letting some of it go dormant as grasses are meant to do naturally.
Or consider converting some lawn space without foot traffic to bunch grasses or ground cover. Use native, drought-tolerant bunchgrasses like Idaho fescue, bluebunch wheatgrass or Great Basin wild rye, but keep in mind they grow in bunches, not sod-forming networks of roots or rhizomes like bluegrass, so they’re not for walking on. Use low-maintenance ground covers, like bunchberry, kinnikinnik, low Oregon grape or native strawberry.
Perennial flower beds can be just as colorful throughout the growing season as thirstier annuals with arrangements of native or drought-tolerant species like Bee balm, Columbine, Coral bells, Daylilies, Lavender, Purple coneflower, Penstemon, or Yarrow.
Small to large shrubs, both deciduous and evergreen, that add an important layer in the landscape for wildlife and are relatively low-maintenance once established, include Basin big sage, Chokecherry, Currant, Elderberry, Ninebark, Oceanspray, Red osier dogwood, Serviceberry, Snowberry, Sumac, and Wild rose.
Trees that tend to do well without a lot of attention include Douglas fir, native Mountain ash, Rocky Mountain juniper, Rocky Mountain maple, vine maple and Pine.
Although it may be too warm and dry now to plant new stock, it’s a great time to visit arboretums and nurseries to look at these and other plants and to find a supplier so you’re ready to plant this fall.
An increasing number of nurseries across the state are including native and drought-tolerant plant species in their sales stock, and the more gardeners ask for them, the more they’ll provide. Some nurseries specialize in these plants and can be found through the Washington Native Plant Society (http://www.wnps.org/index.html).
The summer outdoor recreation season includes lots of wildlife watching, whether it’s in your own backyard or afield in woodlands or on waterways.
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) biologists remind you to watch carefully so that wild animals are not disturbed during this reproductive season.
“It’s great to see our breeding birds and other wildlife back in Washington now,” said WDFW wildlife biologist Christopher Anderson, “but we all need to be careful about stressing them to the point where they decide to set up housekeeping somewhere else.”
Anderson says some “well-intentioned attention” can alter the success of breeders and nesters, either directly or by inadvertently drawing predators. For example, trampled vegetation that reduces cover and creates paths to a nest site affords opportunities for domestic cats or coyotes to hone in on baby birds. Highly intelligent corvids, like crows and ravens, are even known to observe human activity to find vulnerable prey.
Wildlife parents that have to be more vigilant to protect their young -- spending time and energy to ward off curious people and hungry predators – may not be as successful in providing food for those young.
WDFW biologists advocate these "low-impact" wildlife watching tips:
- Respect wildlife’s need for space and privacy by using binoculars, scopes and telephoto camera lenses instead of trying to get too close
- Fade into the surroundings by being quiet, wearing natural colors, trying not to throw a shadow, and hiding at a distance
- Spend time sitting still, moving slowly, and using more than your sense of sight to experience wildlife – listen and smell, too
“Let wild animals be themselves,” Anderson adds. “Don’t try to feed them or pick up what you think is an animal in need.”
For more information, see WDFW’s Living With Wildlife series at http://wdfw.wa.gov/living/ , including “Baby Birds Out of the Nest” at http://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/health/rehabilitation/baby_birds.html.
|Most wild babies brought to WDFW offices, or directly to one of the 50 some WDFW-licensed volunteer wildlife rehabilitators, are NOT helpless or abandoned.
It’s hard to resist “rescuing” a baby bird, deer fawn, or other young wildlife that ends up on your lawn or driveway at this time of year.
When a wild baby seems helpless or abandoned, you want to help.
But most wild babies brought to Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) offices, or directly to one of the 50 some WDFW-licensed volunteer wildlife rehabilitators, are NOT helpless or abandoned.
In fact, most “rescuers” unwittingly stole the young animal from its parents, some who may have even witnessed the well-intentioned abduction.
Young wild animals are often left alone for hours while their parents gather food. Young birds commonly leave the nest before they are fully-feathered and are fed on the ground by their parents for a day or two until they are able to fly. Doe deer leave their fawns alone to avoid drawing predators with their own body scent.
More often than not, just leaving a young animal alone affords it the best chance for survival.
Leaving wildlife alone means you need to confine cats, dogs and other pets that can cause lethal injury. One of the most common causes of injuries to wildlife, that always need a wildlife rehabilitator’s care, is attacks by cats.
One of the few situations in which almost anyone can help wild babies is when very young, completely un-feathered birds have fallen out of the nest and are on the ground.
If you can find the nest and safely reach it, simply pick up the nestling with a gloved hand and put it back in the nest. Contrary to popular belief, the parent birds will not reject their young because it’s been handled by humans.
If you can’t find the nest, place the bird in a tree or shrub or on a shaded portion of a roof, out of the way of cats, dogs, and children. You can even make a “nest” for it with a small box filled with leaves or soft cloth; place the nestling in the box and put it in a tree or shrub or otherwise protected from rain or sun. Always place the bird or “nest” back in the area where the young was found. Don’t handle it a lot or attempt to feed it.
If you watch from a distance, you’ll likely witness the parent birds tending to their lost-and-found young.
Wild animals of any age that show obvious signs of illness or injury such as bleeding, vomiting, panting, shivering, or ruffled feathers or fur, or that are just lethargic and make no effort to escape your approach, may indeed be in need of care.
Most Washington counties have wildlife rehabilitators, listed with phone numbers and addresses for 24-7 access on the WDFW website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/health/rehabilitation/index.html.
If you and your local rehabilitator decide it might be best to help the animal, find out from them how to safely contain and transport the animal. Always wear gloves when picking up a wild animal to place it in the container. Until the animal is transported to the rehabilitator, keep it in a quiet, dark place.
Another way to help wildlife, whether or not you find an injured animal in need of care, is to support your local volunteer wildlife rehabilitators. All of these volunteers must establish and maintain a good working relationship with a cooperating veterinarian, and many are veterinarians themselves; none can charge for their services to wildlife, but may accept donations.
Backyard Wildlife Sanctuary managers are as vulnerable as any gardeners to the lure of colorful new plants displayed in nurseries and home improvement stores now.
But if you’re adding plants to your landscape this Spring, consider doing more for the wildlife you want to attract by going native.
Native plants naturally provide just the right food and cover for birds, bees and other critters. They’re also easier on you and kind to the earth in general because their maintenance requirements are suited to our climate. That means less watering, less fertilizing, less pest control, less winter mulching -- less care and resources overall to sustain them year after year.
Anyone thinking that native plants can’t possibly be as attractive as those exotics now on display hasn’t taken a look at natives in our neck of the woods.
It’s hard to beat the beauty of columbine, bleeding heart, coral bells, penstemon and honeysuckle – all natives, all beloved by hummingbirds for their nectar.
Showy but native rhododendrons, lupines and phlox support butterflies.
And asters, blanketflower, daisy fleabane and wild sweet peas produce seeds used by a variety of songbirds.
There’s no better time to go native than this month as we celebrate not only Earth Day on April 22, but also Native Plant Appreciation Week, April 25 – May 1.
You can learn more about native plants in our area and resources for acquiring them from the Washington Native Plant Society at www.wnps.org.
The group’s northeast chapter is hosting a Native Plant Landscape “Open Garden” on Saturday, May 1, 12-noon - 4 p.m., at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) Eastern Region Office (2315 N. Discovery Place, Spokane Valley) where chapter members have been re-working the grounds with native plant landscaping. For more information on the event, call (509) 466-8886.
For more on landscaping for wildlife, see WDFW’s webpages, starting with http://wdfw.wa.gov/living/landscaping/ and including WDFW’s book “Landscaping for Wildlife” at http://wdfw.wa.gov/living/book/.
If you like to maintain backyard bird feeding stations through the spring or year-round, be careful to avoid spreading diseases among wild birds.
Influxes of spring migrants, warmer temperatures, and wetter conditions mean that you need to be diligent about keeping feeders clean and dry.
There are several diseases that birds can pick up at or around feeding stations.
Salmonellosis is probably the most common avian disease, afflicting species such as finches, grosbeaks and pine siskins that flock together in large numbers at feeders and transmit the bacteria through droppings. The first indication is often a seemingly tame bird on or near a feeder. The birds become very lethargic, fluff out their feathers, and are easy to approach, but there is very little that can be done to treat them.
Aspergillosis is caused by a fungal mold that grows on damp feed or soil in or around the feeder. Birds inhale the fungal spores and the disease spreads through their lungs and air sacs, causing bronchitis and pneumonia.
Avian Pox is a viral disease that causes wartlike growths on birds' faces, legs, wings and feet. The virus is spread by direct contact with infected birds, ingestion of food and water contaminated by sick birds, or contact with contaminated surfaces such as at feeders, birdbaths, and perches. Insects, especially mosquitoes, also carry the disease from one bird to another.
Trichomaniasis is caused by small parasites that can affect a wide variety of animals. The mourning dove and band-tailed pigeon seem to be particularly susceptible. The disease causes sores in their mouths and throats, and results in death from starvation or dehydration.
If evidence of any disease is seen, immediately remove feeders and/or clean them with a bactericide, like a ten percent chlorine or bleach solution (one part bleach to ten parts warm water). Soak feeders and all parts for at least 10 minutes. Scrub, thoroughly rinse, and dry completely before re-using.
Whether you see disease or not, it's good prevention to clean feeders this way every time you re-fill them. Avoid using wood feeders because they're difficult to keep clean. Make sure feeders allow rainwater to drain easily.
One of the best ways to avoid disease problems during the wet months is to remove or minimize use of feeders and maximize use of food-producing plants in your yard.
Other ways to minimize chances of a disease outbreak at feeders include:
- Use only tube feeders - Platform feeders that have more flat surfaces collect more droppings, fungus, and other dirt that may spread disease.
- Give birds space - Spread feeders over a greater space. Crowding is a key factor in spreading disease because birds have more direct contact, jostle each other, and are stressed and thus more vulnerable. Use smaller feeders that allow only a couple of birds to feed at a time.
- Clean up wastes - Regularly rake the area underneath feeders to remove droppings and old, moldy seed. Mount feeders over a surface that can be swept easily. Move feeders around periodically to keep droppings from collecting.
- Use good feed - If any feed smells or looks musty or moldy, don't use it. Disinfect storage containers and scoops used with spoiled feed before replacing with fresh, clean, dry feed.
- Avoid seed mixes - Most birds will scatter mixes, especially those with mostly milo or millet, for more preferred seed and the waste on the ground can become wet and moldy.
It's possible, although uncommon, for people to become sick from the salmonella bacteria through direct contact with infected birds, bird droppings, or through pet cats that catch sick birds.
When you handle bird feeders, bird baths, or sick or dead birds, wear gloves and wash your hands thoroughly afterwards.
Coyotes, which live throughout the state in both rural and urban areas, breed in late winter and by early spring are feeding pups. You may see coyotes almost anywhere in Washington, including in suburban and even urban areas.
Enjoy watching them, but don’t feed coyotes, either intentionally or by allowing them access to food such as garbage and pet food.
Earlier this year, WDFW officials had to euthanize a coyote that had become aggressive toward people in Seattle’s Discovery Park and the nearby Magnolia neighborhood. The animal’s bold behavior indicated it had learned to associate humans with food.
Normally, coyotes avoid people but they may become habituated to humans—and abnormally bold—if they are intentionally fed or find food near human residences. While most people don’t directly feed coyotes, many unwittingly leave food that draws these opportunistic omnivores.
Unsecured garbage or compost piles can be a food source for coyotes or for smaller animals that are prey for coyotes. Secure garbage and compost bins with tight fitting covers. Don’t let spilled seed pile up under bird feeders. Don’t leave pet food outside.
Protect cats and small dogs by keeping them indoors, especially from dusk to dawn. Coyote conflicts with off-leash dogs can increase in early spring when coyotes are more territorial, and may have their pups in tow.
Although coyote sightings and attacks on pets occur periodically throughout the state, attacks on humans are extremely rare. Only two such attacks have been documented in Washington–in 2006 a coyote bit two young children in Bellevue and was later euthanized.
More information on living with coyotes can be found on the WDFW website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/living/coyotes.html.