Note: The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is changing the way we communicate with subscribers to “Crossing Paths.” We are replacing the quarterly electronic newsletter with more frequent news updates and information about urban/suburban wildlife and WDFW’s Backyard Wildlife Sanctuary Program. 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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|Studies show that only small pockets of bird populations occasionally benefit from supplemental feeding under extreme and persistent weather conditions.
When the weather outside is frightful, many of us find feeding birds and other wildlife quite delightful.
But does it help wildlife?
Studies show that only small pockets of bird populations occasionally benefit from supplemental feeding under extreme and persistent weather conditions.p
Most birds do not depend solely on feeders in their foraging, many obtaining only up to one-fifth of their nutrition at feeders. Feeding can’t replace natural habitat needed for winter cover and spring nesting and rearing. And poorly maintained feeding stations can actually harm birds by spreading disease.
Research also shows that the most readily-available feed – grains like whole corn and oats or seeds like sunflower and millet – are not easily digested by wild ungulates like deer or elk. It can take several weeks for deer to adjust to the change from natural browse plants to an artificial diet, and if they don't have enough fat reserves to carry them through the adjustment period, they can die of starvation even with a belly full of undigestible feed.
The best way to help any wild birds or mammals survive a severe winter is to maintain high-quality habitat plantings year-round. Wildlife that goes into the winter in good condition is most able to survive deep snow, ice and cold temperatures. Even in well-functioning natural ecosystems, however, some animals succumb during winter months. The winter season has always kept wildlife populations in balance with available habitat.
Another way to help wild animals in winter is to avoid disturbing them. Animals must conserve their energy to survive winter conditions, and human disturbance causes them to move about. Keep cats and dogs confined, and slow down when traveling in motor vehicles through deer and elk habitat.
The main benefit of wildlife feeding is that it provides a direct, intimate view of wild animals for more than 50 million Americans who provide backyard feeding stations of some kind.
Experts in Cornell University Lab of Ornithology’s Project FeederWatch, which collects winter bird feeder use data from volunteers across the country, say most bird feeding does neither significant good nor significant damage. It’s something
we do for ourselves, they say, and because it has a lot of educational value, the program continues in its 24th season with more than15,000 participants.
Up close and personal encounters with wildlife can and do trigger lifelong interest in and compassion for wildlife, desire to learn more, and ultimately the “bigger picture” understanding of the need to maintain and enhance year-round wildlife habitat.
Certainly some of the charter members of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) Backyard Wildlife Sanctuary program began with feeding alone and quickly expanded their efforts to landscaping for wildlife.
If you choose to feed birds, please keep the following in mind:
- Use tube feeders for birds to reduce accumulations of droppings that can spread disease; if you use platform feeders, provide only a day’s worth of seed at a time.
- Clean and disinfect feeders at least once a month with a solution of one part bleach to nine parts warm water; rinse and dry disinfected feeders thoroughly before re-filling.
- Pick up spilled food or waste from the ground at least once a week.
- Discard feed that is wet, looks or smells moldy, has fungus on it or has been contaminated by rodents.
- Locate feeders where there is no immediate cover for cats to wait in ambush, but close enough to cover to allow birds to escape natural predators like hawks.
If you think you want to feed deer or other wild ungulates, think first about the following:
- Feeding should start early in the winter season to allow animals’ digestive systems to adapt, and continue through March or April when natural browse is again abundant.
- The best artificial deer feed is a pelleted ration of about 50 percent alfalfa and 50 percent barley and corn; elk are able to transition fairly quickly to alfalfa hay.
- Once a diet shift has occurred, one white-tailed deer can consume three to four pounds of pelleted feed daily; in just four months, one deer could consume almost 500 pounds of feed.
- Concentrating deer and elk at a feeder can create problems by making the animals more vulnerable to disease, predation and poaching.
- If feeding areas draw animals across well-traveled roads, they are more likely to present a safety hazard and be hit by motor vehicles.
- Deer and elk drawn to artificial feed also can damage nearby agricultural areas, trees, or landscaping, especially if the artificial feed supply is not maintained through the winter.
- WDFW feeds some deer and elk on public lands only where needed to prevent agricultural damage to adjacent property (ie. Oak Creek) or where natural winter range has been destroyed by wildfires or other natural disasters (ie. Mount St. Helens).
|The birds you watch in your backyard this winter can be part of two scientific data bases that count on you counting them.
The birds you watch in your backyard this winter can be part of two scientific data bases that count on you counting them.
The 112th annual Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is the longest running “citizen science” survey in the world. Between December 14 and Jan. 5, 2012, tens of thousands of volunteers throughout North America will add a new layer to more than a century of data.
CBC volunteers follow specified routes through a designated 15-mile (24-km) diameter circle, counting every bird they see or hear all day. The data collected by observers allow biologists to study the long-term health and status of bird populations across the continent.
If you live within a CBC circle, you can arrange in advance to count the birds by species at your backyard habitat provisions or feeders and submit those data to your local compiler.
Counts are being coordinated in several communities across Washington, from Anacortes to Yakima. Some counts may charge small fees ($5 or less) to cover the cost of materials for compilers, the annual CBC summary, and maintenance of the CBC website and database. You can find counts by community and date, and learn who to contact for data compilation, at the Washington Ornithological Society website at http://www.wos.org/cbc.html .
Even easier for backyard birders is the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC), and the 15th annual will be conducted February 17-20, 2012.
GBBC participants count birds anywhere for as little or as long as they wish during the four-day period. They tally the highest number of birds of each species seen together at any one time. To report their counts, they fill out an online checklist at the GBBC website, http://www.birdsource.org/gbbc/.
As this count progresses, anyone with Internet access can explore what is being reported from their own towns or anywhere in the United States and Canada. They can also see how this year's numbers compare with those from previous years. Participants may also send in photographs of the birds they see for the GBBC’s on-line photo gallery.
“Both of these bird counts are good ways to learn more about the birds you see in your backyard or neighborhood or local wildlife area,” said Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) biologist Christopher Anderson of Mill Creek. “They’re also a great way to add to our collective knowledge about birds.”
Anderson noted that this year CBC participants may have a chance to add an uncommon species to their counts – snowy owls are in Washington earlier than usual and possibly in greater numbers than usual.
These big white owls, with round heads and big yellow eyes, breed on northern tundras and migrate just into the northern tier of the country when food becomes scarce. WDFW staff have reported individual owls in Stevens County, just south of Colville, in Lincoln County north of Davenport, in Skagit County near Puget Sound, and other places.
“We seem to be having bit of an irruption year for snowy owls,” Anderson said. “A sudden increase of migrating individuals of any given species is usually based on changes in food sources or weather conditions. The last one was the winter of 2005-2006 if I remember right.”
Anderson noted that current reports of snowy owls across the country are being mapped on-line by birders at http://bit.ly/vBWj73. Information about snowy owls is available at http://www.birdweb.org/birdweb/bird/snowy_owl and http://www.owlpages.com/owls.php?genus=Bubo&species=scandiacus .
“It’s a great time to see this cool diurnal arctic owl,” he said. “Whatever birds you see or help count this winter, just remember to watch carefully from a distance and avoid disturbing them.”
|Backyard bird feeders may provide great window-view entertainment during the cold fall and winter months, but they can mean trouble, from raiding bears to the spread of bird diseases.
Backyard bird feeders may provide great window-view entertainment during the cold fall and winter months, but they can mean trouble, from raiding bears to the spread of bird diseases.
Black bears have become notorious raiders of backyard bird feeding stations in Washington, especially where both people and bears are most dense. Black bears are abundant in forested habitat, so the suburban and even urban areas of the north Puget Sound and Olympic Peninsula regions of the state have the most chronic problems.
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) officials explain that hungry bears are looking for easy meals to fatten up before they go into winter dens. When a bear becomes conditioned to food near humans, whether from a bird feeder or a garbage can, it can be dangerous. WDFW enforcement officers attempt to capture and relocate bears, but too often there’s nowhere to safely release a conditioned, problem animal and they are sometimes euthanized.
Black bears usually go into winter dens by November, but that can vary depending on weather conditions. Availability of food can also be a trigger for winter denning, so it’s possible that feeders and unsecured garbage cans could change bears’ natural behavior.
“Backyard bird feeding can be recreational, even educational, for us,” said WDFW wildlife biologist Christopher Anderson, “but it isn’t critical for wintering birds. They can and do find natural sources of food throughout the winter, especially if you’ve landscaped your property with shrubs and trees that produce seeds, nuts or fruits. But if you really want to feed birds to be able to watch them more easily, and if bears are a potential problem in your area, hold off putting the feeders up until Thanksgiving or after.”
Backyard feeders can also concentrate birds so they attract both wild and domestic predators. Depending on feeder placement and available escape cover, birds can become more vulnerable to ambushes by hawks or cats.
But even more troublesome than bears or cats, however, can be the spread of bird diseases at backyard feeding stations that are not meticulously maintained.
The most common is salmonellosis, a usually fatal bird disease caused by the salmonella bacteria that is transmitted through bird droppings at feeders. The disease afflicts species such as finches, grosbeaks and pine siskins that flock together in large numbers at feeders.
The first indication of the disease 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.
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. People who handle birds, bird feeders or bird baths should wear gloves and wash their hands thoroughly afterwards.
In Washington, other bird diseases that may be seen at backyard feeding stations include avian pox -- a viral disease that causes wartlike growths on unfeathered parts of birds’ faces, legs, and feet; aspergillosis -- a disease caused by a fungal mold that grows on damp feed or soil in or around the feeder; and trichomoniasis -- a disease caused by small parasites that is mostly found in doves and pigeons and may often spread to local birds of prey when they eat infected birds.
When disease is noted or suspected in local birds, feeders should be taken down for two to three weeks or more to reduce concentration of sick birds at feeders and curb spread of the illness. Clean feeders with a ten percent bleach solution (one part bleach to nine parts warm water). Soak feeders and all parts for at least 10 minutes. Scrub, thoroughly rinse, and dry completely before re-using. This should be repeated every couple of weeks as regular feeder maintenance.
Avoid using wood feeders because they’re difficult to keep clean. Metal, glass or plastic tube feeders, that don’t have flat surfaces where droppings, fungus or other dirt can collect and spread disease, are better. Make sure any feeders used allow rain and melting snow to drain easily. Finally, keep areas under feeders clean of excess spilled seed to deter rats and other pests, and to minimize fungal growth.
For more information about winter backyard bird feeding, see http://wdfw.wa.gov/living/winter_feeding/index.html .
For more information about black bears, see http://wdfw.wa.gov/living/bears.html .
|Americans’ most popular pet is also one of the most harmful to backyard wildlife.
It was almost like a scene out of Halloween movie.
Backyard wildlife enthusiasts in western Washington reported finding six dead bats scattered on their porch and lawn.
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) biologist Chris Anderson, based in the North Puget Sound region office in Mill Creek, explored the possibilities with the concerned reporting party.
The neighborhood was full of birds, bats, raccoons, squirrels, and cats, Anderson learned. When he first suggested there might be a situation that allowed a house cat – a potentially very effective predator – to take advantage of the local bats, there wasn’t initially much belief.
But when the property owners set up a night watch to learn what was happening, the results were as educational as scary….
They keyed in on a locally-familiar, free-ranging, homeless cat hiding by their flowering yucca plant.
Yuccas flower both day and night and are great nectar sources for butterflies and moths. They hadn’t realized until that night how attractive yucca nectar is to night-flying moths, and they watched many coming in to feed.
And then nature’s food chain displayed itself.
The feeding moths attracted hungry bats, swooping in to grab a meal of moth. The feeding bats, in turn, were killed by the quietly waiting cat.
With two more dead bats left by the cat on their lawn, two things became clear: the cat wasn’t necessarily hunting out of hunger, and for the sake of the neighborhood’s wildlife, it needed to be removed from the area.
The situation was relayed to neighbors, some who may have been feeding the homeless but tame cat, and then it was taken to a shelter for care and adoption by a cat lover who will keep it indoors.
“These folks gave both the bats and the stray cat itself a break,” Anderson said. “It was really the best option. And the situation helped them realize that free-ranging domestic cats are deadly to wildlife.”
Americans’ most popular pet is also one of the most harmful to backyard wildlife.
Our 84 million or so pet cats, plus perhaps at least that many homeless feral cats, kill billions of birds, small mammals and other wildlife each year.
Anderson is a cat owner who believes we can have both in our lives.
“Research shows that spending time with pets and spending time watching wildlife both lower stress levels,” Anderson said. “So why not have both?”
Anderson walks his cat outdoors on a leash with a harness, but otherwise keeps it indoors. “He didn’t like the leash when we first adopted him,” he said, “but he adjusted to it and my two dogs. Now my cat enjoys the outdoors safely, both for him and for wildlife.”
The lives of free-roaming pet cats are often cut short by vehicle collisions, disease, poisoning, parasites, territorial fighting, and predation. According to the Humane Society, indoor cats and those confined or controlled when outdoors can average at least three times the lifespan of free-ranging cats.
Wildlife definitely benefits from keeping cats indoors and under control when outdoors.
Extensive studies of the feeding habits of free-roaming domestic cats have been conducted over the last 55 years throughout the world. These studies show the number and types of animals killed by cats varies greatly, depending on the individual cats, the time of year, and availability of prey. Roughly 60 to 70 percent of the wildlife cats kill are small mammals; 20 to 30 percent are birds; and up to 10 percent are amphibians, reptiles, and insects.
Some free-roaming domestic cats kill more than 100 animals each year. One well-fed cat that roamed a wildlife experiment station was recorded to have killed more than 1,600 animals (mostly small mammals) over 18 months. Rural cats take more prey than suburban or urban cats. Birds that nest or feed on the ground, such as California quail, are the most susceptible to cat predation, as are nestlings and fledglings of many other bird species.
Well-fed cats kill birds and other wildlife because the hunting instinct is independent of the urge to eat. In one study, six cats were presented with a live small rat while eating their preferred food. All six cats stopped eating the food, killed the rat, and then resumed eating the food.
Other studies have shown that bells on collars are not effective in preventing cats from killing birds or other wildlife. Birds do not necessarily associate the sound of a bell with danger, and cats with bells can learn to silently stalk their prey. Even if the bell on the collar rings, it may ring too late, and bells offer no protection for helpless nestlings and fledglings.
Wildlife rehabilitation centers report that most small animals injured by cats die. Cats carry many types of bacteria and viruses in their mouths, some of which can be transmitted to their victims. Even if treatment is administered immediately, only about 20 percent of these patients survive the ordeal. A victim that looks perfectly healthy may die from internal hemorrhaging or injury to vital organs.
Anderson noted that the idea of trapping, spaying/neutering, releasing, and leaving food out for feral cats is misguided.
Cats are solitary animals, but groups of feral cats often form around an artificial feeding source, such as garbage dumps or food put out for them. These populations can grow very quickly, even if most are spayed or neutered -- it only takes one intact cat to start multiplying!
These feral cat colonies can have significant impacts on wildlife populations and feeding doesn’t prevent them from following predatory instincts. Feral cat colonies can also cause significant health risks to other cats and humans.
“Cats are good pets but lousy outdoor companions,” Anderson said. “It’s a cat’s nature to stalk prey, even when they’re well fed. We cat owners need to take responsibility for them and keep our wildlife safe.”
For more information see American Bird Conservancy’s “Cats Indoors” campaign
at http://www.abcbirds.org/abcprograms/policy/cats/ .
|Oregon-grape, one of the many native plants that can provide wildlife habitat.
There’s no better time than early autumn to add habitat-providing trees and shrubs to your Backyard Wildlife Sanctuary landscape.
Planting in fall gives larger vegetation a head start on root development before the ground freezes and root systems go dormant for the winter. By next spring, these newcomers will be ready to take off, producing food and providing shelter for many species of wildlife.
Fall is also the time when many plant nurseries clear out stock, so you can often take advantage of big price discounts. Before taking in those fall sales, however, think about your available space and what you need or want to change or add.
Does your present landscape provide maximum food, cover, and safe travel corridors for wildlife? Are there unused lawn areas that could be planted with trees and shrubs? What areas have low diversity and need a better mix of wildlife-friendly plants? Are there solitary trees that could have shrubs and groundcover planted around them? Where would a screen of plantings, such as a tall hedge of deciduous and evergreen shrubs, improve outdoor privacy?
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) recommends using local native trees and shrubs in your landscape when possible. That’s because some of the best habitat for native wildlife includes plants that have evolved and occur naturally in your area. Native plants are more closely matched to local soils, climate and wildlife. They will be better, in the long run, at providing the right kinds of food, shelter and diversity needed by wildlife.
An added bonus of using native plants is that they typically need less maintenance and less water than non-natives.
While some native plants are readily available, others may be difficult to find. Check with your local plant nurseries, Washington State University Cooperative Extension (http://ext.wsu.edu/) which publishes a nursery guide including native plants sources, or Washington Native Plant Society (1-888-288-8022 or http://www.wnps.org.)
Serviceberry, oceanspray, ninebark, dogwood, currant, huckleberry, Oregon-grape, willow, vine maple, sumac, aspen, and juniper are among the many native species that can provide wildlife habitat of one kind or another in your landscape.
When it is not possible to use native plants, choose plants adapted to local site conditions that will provide seeds, berries, nectar (flowers), and good cover. Avoid sterile varieties (those that do not produce fruits of seeds).
Pay attention to sun, water, and soil needs of each tree and shrub species and place them in your yard where they will best flourish and not quickly outgrow the space. Most plants are fairly tolerant but prefer certain conditions. Consider height at maturity and other features such as fall color, showy flowers, aroma, or unique leaf shape.
Keep in mind how plants aid in energy conservation and comfort by letting in winter sun, protecting from prevailing winter winds, and shading the summer heat. Evergreens give winter protection for you and wildlife but will block the sun. Many deciduous trees have good food for wildlife and allow in winter warmth; they do not protect from winter winds.
Note any special problems some plants might have, such as weak wood, messy fruit, over patios, or invasive roots.
You will probably find more than one plant that fits the needs of a certain spot. Cost, availability, and personal preferences for unique features may influence your final selections.
WDFW’s book by North Puget Sound regional wildlife biologist Russell Link, “Landscaping for Wildlife in the Pacific Northwest,” (http://wdfw.wa.gov/living/book/index.html) is an excellent source of more detailed information about trees and shrubs in your backyard landscape.
|Standing dead and dying trees, called “snags” or “wildlife trees,” are important for wildlife in both natural and landscaped settings.
As strange as it seems, some trees can actually provide more habitat for wildlife when they’re dead than when they’re alive.
Standing dead and dying trees, called “snags” or “wildlife trees,” are important for wildlife in both natural and landscaped settings.
Birds, small mammals, and other wildlife use snags for nests, nurseries, storage areas, foraging, roosting, and perching. Live trees with snag-like features, such as hollow trunks, excavated cavities, and dead branches can provide similar wildlife value.
Snags occurring along streams eventually fall into the water, adding important woody debris habitat for fish and other aquatic life.
Snags can attract wildlife species to your property that you might not otherwise see.
More than 100 species of our birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians need snags for nesting, roosting, and denning. Hollow snags and large knot-holes are used by Douglas squirrels, northern flying squirrels, martens, porcupines, raccoons, and even black bears. Several species of owls and woodpeckers also use large cavities. Bluebirds, chickadees, swallows, wrens and other songbirds use smaller cavities. Brown creepers, nuthatches, bats, lizards, and mourning cloak butterflies will roost behind loose bark and bark slits for winter warmth and shelter.
Some 45 of our wildlife species forage for food in snags, which are often loaded with insects. Woodpeckers, sapsuckers, flickers, nuthatches, and a myriad of other insectivorous species regularly make snags their dining rooms. Mice, squirrels, jays, crows and other wildlife use snags more like kitchens, for food storage areas.
Some snags make ideal hunting perches for hawks, eagles, and owls. The more open resting perches that snags provide are preferred by swallows, band-tailed pigeons, mourning doves and other colonial birds. And of course the resonating surfaces of some snags are perfect for woodpeckers to announce their presence with their hammering bills during courtship season.
Snags of both deciduous and coniferous trees are used by wildlife. The most favored snag species east of the Cascades are ponderosa pine, western larch, quaking aspen, and paper birch; west of the Cascades, Douglas fir, western red cedar, big-leaf maple and cottonwood snags are highly used. Softwood trees such as fir tend to make better food foraging trees, while hardwood trees are sometimes better for nesting cavities.
Unfortunately, many of these dead or dying trees are cut down without much thought to their wildlife value and the management options that can safely prolong their existence.
Of course if not managed properly, snags can pose a risk to people and structures. If a dead or dying tree threatens something that can be moved, such as a swing set or patio furniture, consider moving those items before cutting the tree down. An alternative to eliminating the entire tree is to remove only the dangerous sections.
Consulting with a certified arborist experienced in wildlife snags is recommended. These professionals can determine what part of a tree is a hazard and provide management options to reduce or eliminate any risk. Remaining parts can be removed over time. Often, once the unsafe limbs or portions of the trunk have been removed, the tree is safe.
Retain live trees and tall shrubs near a snag to protect it from wind and provide a more complete environment for wildlife. In urban areas, tall snags are best located away from high activity areas, where they won’t pose a hazard if they fall. Trees that lean away or are downhill from structures and other areas of human activity present little or no risk.
When a tree must be cut down, maximize its habitat value by placing as much of the debris as possible near the area where the tree was removed. In hot, dry areas, move the material into the shade of nearby trees or large shrubs.
You can create a snag from trees that are hazardous or problematic, like ones with forked tops or disease or invasive roots threatening a drainage or septic system, or individual trees in a group that needs thinning. Like landscaping rocks and boulders, snags can add interesting, artistic angles to your property.
More information about snags, including details about how to safely create a snag, or enhance existing dead or dying trees, is available at http://wdfw.wa.gov/living/snags/.
Fourteen salamanders, 12 snakes, 10 frogs, 7 lizards, 3 toads, and 3 turtles – that’s how many different species of reptiles and amphibians, or herpetofauna (“herps”) occur in Washington.
Fortunately they’re not all in your backyard, but some of the most common and adaptable species might be, especially if you provide or live near the right habitat.
Herps are an essential part of the wildlife food chain, consuming lots of insects and sometimes being consumed by other animals. Amphibians (frogs, toads, salamanders) need wet habitats during at least part of their life cycle. Most herps are especially sensitive to pollution so they can be indicators of overall environmental degradation.
Relative to other groups of wildlife species, we’re still learning much about herps. That’s why the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), in cooperation with the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and US Forest Service (USFS), helps maintain the “Washington Herp Atlas” at http://www1.dnr.wa.gov/nhp/refdesk/herp/. There you can find information on life history, habitat, status, threats, management concerns and distribution of herps.
You can also help add to the information known about these animals by submitting observation records to WDFW biologist Lori Salzer at 360-902-2482 or firstname.lastname@example.org .
Many species tend to be nocturnal (more active at night), but many are also simply hidden from your view under rocks, logs or dense vegetation. Summer evenings may be when you spot an interesting herp in your backyard, or just simply hear them.
The sounds of our most widespread and common frog species are almost synonymous with summer evenings, although they’re actually audible almost year-round across most of the state. The male Pacific Treefrog (Pseudacris regilla) regularly sings a prolonged one note “kr-r-r-r-ek”, especially when it rains. During breeding season, which can start as early as mid-February in western Washington and run well into July in the mountains, their call is a two-syllable “rib-it, kreck-ek”, repeated rapidly and in such large concentrations that the loud chorusing can be heard far away, especially at night.
Pacific Treefrogs might better be referred to by their other common name, Pacific Chorus Frogs, since they tend to be found on the ground or in shrubs (not trees), calling in unison and in large groups. Although they’re mostly nocturnal, especially at low elevations, they are unmistakable when spotted during the day – they are our only frog with circular pads at the tips of their fingers and toes that adhere well to smooth surfaces. Adults are usually less than two inches in length, green or brown in color.
Pacific Treefrogs use a wide variety of habitats and persist even within urban and disturbed areas, except in the very driest parts of the Columbia Basin. They use almost any type of still or slow-flowing water for breeding, from the still water edges of rivers to children’s backyard wading pools.
The most widespread toad species in Washington is also frequently heard but you have to be within about 30 or 40 yards to appreciate its voice. The Western Toad’s mellow chirping or plinking sound is like the peeping of a chick, produced repeatedly day and night. Multiple males vocalizing at the same time can sound like a distant flock of Cackling Canada geese.
This is a medium-sized to large toad (two to five inches) with a blunt head and stout body, short legs, and “warty” brown or green skin. It occurs in a variety of habitats, from grasslands and prairies to forests, with breeding waters usually permanent wetlands, ponds, lakes and stillwater river channels. Although its range is wide, it has been declining. It is especially vulnerable to road traffic during adult movements to and from breeding sites in the spring, and dispersal of young toads away from breeding sites in the summer and fall.
A herp that has been introduced to the West is the American Bullfrog (Rana catesbeiana). Native to the eastern U.S., these large (six-inch) frogs were originally introduced over a century ago, primarily for harvest of their meaty legs but also because people liked hearing their booming “jug-o-rum” call. Until recently, Bullfrog tadpoles were sold in local nurseries for garden ponds. But when its negative impact on native herp species became known, (predation, competition and disease), the species was classified as an invasive exotic and regulations were enacted to prohibit transport.
Unfortunately, with natural dispersal Bullfrogs are virtually everywhere in Washington, active both day and night depending on temperature. They breed throughout the summer months and egg and tadpole development is very rapid. Because the tadpoles are unpalatable to fish, they are more visible than most of our native frog tadpoles. More information on bullfrogs and other non-native, prohibited herps is available on WDFW’s Aquatic Invasive Species webpage at http://wdfw.wa.gov/ais/.
Another common exotic herp is the Pond Slider or Red-Eared Slider, (Trachemys scripta), a three to 14-inch aquatic turtle with yellow streaks on a dark upper shell and a bright red blotch on each side of the head. Native to the eastern U.S., hatchling Pond Sliders were sold in pet stores nationwide until 1975 when it became illegal to sell any under four inches due to the ease of contracting salmonella from handling them. Those seen today are probably descended from released pets, although our climate may be poorly suited to large-scale Pond Slider reproduction.
The majority of Pond Sliders reported in Washington are escaped pets from urban areas in the Puget Sound and lower Columbia Gorge area where they compete with native turtles for food and basking sites. If you think you see a Pond Slider, confine it and look for an owner in your neighborhood.
The Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta) is native to Washington, common on the east side of the state, and likely introduced over 50 years ago to the urban residential areas of the Puget Sound region. This 2-1/2 to 10-inch aquatic turtle has a dark colored upper shell, bright red markings on the lower shell, and yellow lines on the head, legs and tail. Painted turtles only stray from water to lay eggs and disperse, preferring habitats that have muddy sediments and lots of aquatic vegetation. They’re active during the day, basking on rocks, logs and shorelines, and sheltering under water at night. In eastern Washington, Painted turtles are just now laying eggs, so hatchlings may be seen in late summer or early fall.
Another backyard herp is the Long-toed Salamander (Ambystoma macrodactylum), commonly found just about everywhere in the state, including urban areas, except right on the coast and in the driest shrub-steppe habitats of the Columbia Basin. These salamanders are about two to three inches long, (not counting the tail of near equal length), dark gray or black with an irregular yellow, olive or green dorsal stripe, and blue or white speckling on the sides. The common name refers to an unusually long hind toe. They spend much of their lives underground, using spaces between rocks or where roots, rotting wood, or the tunnels of other animals allow easy access. While surface active in the spring, they seek refuge under decaying logs, loose bark, rocks and other structures that retain moisture.
Western Fence Lizards (Sceloporus occidentalis) are common in Washington, from the Blue Mountains of the southeast to the Puget Sound area in the northwest. It’s a medium-sized (two to three inches, not counting tail) gray, brown or brownish-black lizard with keeled, spiny scales and two rows of light and dark markings down the back. They are excellent climbers and will escape up trees or scamper around rock faces when approached. At night and when conditions are cool or rainy, they shelter under rocks and logs. A small number of lizard populations associated with upper beach driftwood in the Puget Sound region could be lost to bulkheading and bank stabilization projects with shoreline home site development.
Although little appreciated, Washington’s three garter snake species -- Common Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis), Northwestern Garter Snake (Thamnophis ordinoides, andWestern Terrestrial Garter Snake (Thamnophis elegans) -- are beautiful snakes with many stunning color variations by region of the state. The most widespread is the Common Garter Snake, which in eastern Washington is black bodied with bright yellow dorsal and lateral stripes and distinct red blotches on the sides; in western Washington, red blotches may or may not be present and the stripe coloration may be yellow, green, turquoise or blue. These snakes are almost always found near water, especially in the summer, including wetlands, bogs, ponds, lakes, springs, creeks, and rivers. They are good swimmers and can hunt both on and below the water surface.
For more information on living with reptiles and amphibians in Washington, see http://wdfw.wa.gov/living/reptiles.html.
Is your swallow nest box being used by House sparrows?
Your purple martin house taken over by European starlings?
You may have design flaws in the housing you’ve provided that allows these aggressive, non-native birds to thrive and our native birds to decline.
Some ready-made bird houses may look cute but are not necessarily designed to keep the bullies of the bird world out.
Perches, for example, aren't needed by birds but attract house sparrows and starlings.
Design and construction of bird houses need to be species specific. The most important part is the entrance hole. If the hole is too small, the desired bird won’t be able to enter. If it’s too big (and this is more likely) undesirable wildlife – like non-native sparrows and starlings, and uninvited squirrels, can get in and harm, evict, or kill the desired bird.
As a rule, house sparrows can’t enter a nest box if the entrance hole is less than 1-1/8 inches in diameter. Starlings can’t enter if the hole is less than 1-1/2 inches in diameter.
Information in the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) “Woodworking Projects for Backyard Wildlife,” available at http://wdfw.wa.gov/living/projects/, specifies entrance hole sizes to exclude these birds wherever possible. Even if you don’t want to make your own nest boxes, it’s a good resource for making better decisions when you purchase bird houses.
Bird houses often have to be maintained on a yearly basis to stick to these specs. You’ll need to patch or restore the entrance holes after squirrels or woodpeckers have tried to enlarge them. There are many ways to do this, from attaching wooden extensions or “donuts” over the holes to fortifying them with metal washers.
If you still have problems with aggressive non-native species even when you follow the standards, there are also design alternatives.
A diamond-shaped entrance hole that is no more than 7/8-inch deep and up to 3-1/2 inches wide, will exclude house sparrows and starlings. To accommodate the slightly bigger violet-green swallow, file down the area inside of the entry hole by just a quarter inch. You can see these specs at http://wdfw.wa.gov/living/projects/basic_songbird.html.
Anacortes bird enthusiast Gene Derig came up with that diamond design but recently told us about an even simpler way to accommodate and protect not only violet-green swallows, but also chickadees, nuthatches, and other native species.
“Try using a ¾-inch high slot configuration,” Gene said. “The slot is made by drilling three consecutive horizontal holes with a ¾-inch drill bit, and then just shaving out what’s left. It’s especially good for urban areas where there are more house sparrows.”
The purple martin is a species that could really use help with suitable nest sites within its range in western Washington, since its numbers seem to be declining. In fact, it’s a candidate for state protective listing, in part because of competition from sparrows and starlings.
WDFW biologist Chris Anderson notes that purple martins are colony nesters, but those attractive “multiple apartment complex” bird houses designed for them can be a problem in urban areas where starlings and house sparrows are numerous.
“A cluster of gourds drilled with holes seems to be much less preferred by starlings and house sparrows and the martins love them,” Anderson said.
Another way to help is to be more strategic with placement of bird nest boxes.
Martins, like all swallows, feed on insects, mostly on the wing, often over water where insects concentrate. Hanging a gourd collection over water makes it that much more enticing to martins and less inviting to sparrows and starlings.
Sparrows and starlings usually won't nest within ten feet of the ground. Placing nest boxes four to five feet off the ground and in brushy areas will discourage these birds, and will readily be used by many native species, from bluebirds to wrens. Nest boxes at this height, however, are vulnerable to predators such as cats.
If you want to get rid of house sparrows or European starlings nesting in a bird house, it is legal to remove their nests and destroy the eggs. Unlike most birds, these non-native, introduced species are not protected by state or federal law. Nests may have to be removed five to six times before sparrows or starlings finally abandon the house.
Sometimes the best thing to do if your area is plagued by starlings or house sparrows, and you can’t actively manage them, is to simply not use bird nest boxes at all.
There are many other resources to help you address bird house issues in addition to WDFW’s “Living With Wildlife” webpages. Some of the best information is available on the Sialis website, developed for people interested in helping bluebirds (which are in the genus Sialia) and other native cavity-nesting birds. For starling problems, see http://www.sialis.org/starlingbio.htm and for House sparrow problems see http://www.sialis.org/hosp.htm. Another good site is http://www.treeswallowprojects.com/index.html .
It’s wildlife reproduction time, and depending on the species, that can mean too much of a good thing for even the most wildlife-friendly homeowner.
Skunks and raccoons are the most common “nuisances” reported to Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) offices every spring. As these animals find crawl spaces, outbuildings, and other nooks and crannies to set up housekeeping for their babies to come, homeowners fear potentially nasty encounters with pets or children.
Squirrels, rabbits, moles, marmots, bats, snakes, and starlings are among the other wildlife species preparing to raise families that are potential nuisances around human homes.
If some of these new families are not what you had in mind for your Backyard Wildlife Sanctuary, think about what’s attracting them and remove those attractants as soon as possible to avoid problems.
The number one attraction for females of many species at this time of year is a warm, dry, easily defended area that makes a good den or nest. Close up spaces, including basement window wells, areas under porches and decks, garage and shed entries of even the smallest dimensions, roofing gaps, uncapped chimneys and vents, and attic rafters.
A close second for lots of wildlife is an easy food source.
- Keep pet food and water and garbage inside.
- Fence gardens and secure compost piles.
- Clean up feed spilled on the ground from bird feeders, or discontinue feeding altogether for now.
- Pick up fruit that falls off trees
If it’s too late for these preventive steps and animals are already in place and causing problems, you may need to remove them. If you want to attempt it yourself, check out “Evicting Animals from Buildings” in WDFW’s “Living With Wildlife” series on the website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/living/nuisance/evicting.html.
If you’d rather hire someone to take care of the problem, any WDFW office can refer you to a Nuisance Wildlife Control Operator (NWCO). Although they must be licensed through WDFW, and conform to its regulations, they are not state employees. They operate as private enterprises and set their own fees.
Under the authority of their WDFW permit, NWCOs can trap, capture, and transport “classified” (protected) species like raccoons, opossums, skunks, and other wildlife year-round. (Both native deer mice and non-native house mice and Old World rats are “unclassified” or unprotected species that can be trapped by anyone at any time.) For more information, see http://wdfw.wa.gov/living/nuisance/damage_control.html.
April is the month to celebrate trees and the earth in general.
The second Wednesday, April 13 this year, is when Washington state celebrates Arbor Day. National Arbor Day is officially celebrated the last Friday of the month, April 29 this year.
April 22 is Earth Day internationally, this year with “A Billion Acts of Green” campaign, including the tree-planting “Canopy Project,” that is documenting efforts to reduce carbon emissions and support sustainability.
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (WDFW) Backyard Wildlife Sanctuary managers, and anyone else interested in Washington’s wildlife, are encouraged to celebrate both by planting a tree for wildlife.
Many of Washington’s native tree species provide nesting sites, roosting spaces, escape cover, and food for a diversity of native mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians, and invertebrates like butterflies and moths.
Big-leaf maple (Acer macrophyllum) is a fast-growing tree suited for large landscapes that provides homes for cavity-nesting birds and food for insectivorous birds like woodpeckers and nuthatches.
Douglas maple (Acer glabrum douglassii) is a small tree used for its seeds by grosbeaks, quail and grouse, for its twigs and bark by deer and beavers, and as a larval host for some moth species.
Vine maple (Acer circinatum) is best suited for westside landscapes where it grows naturally in groups as large understory shrubs or small trees. It’s a larvae plant for brown tissue and polyphemus moths, a good nectar source for bees, and seed-producer for a variety of birds.
Oregon white oak or “Garry oak” (Quercus garryana) is a thick-limbed, long-lived tree that is Washington’s only native oak. Like all oaks, it produces acorns loved by everything from Clark’s nutcrackers to tree squirrels, and at maturity they often provide cavities for nesting and roosting by both birds and mammals.
Pacific dogwood (Cornus nutallii) has large, creamy-white, showy flowers eaten by spring azure butterfly larvae. A diversity of birds, including bluebirds , sapsuckers, white-crowned and song sparrows, tree swallows, towhees, and vireos eat its fruit.
Cascara (Rhamnus purshiana) is a native small tree or tall shrub that grows well in disturbed sites. Its berries are eaten by grosbeaks, grouse, jays, robins and tanagers, as well as bears, foxes, coyotes and raccoons.
Native birches (Betula spp.) are hardy clump-growers to plant far from drain pipes or foundations, but they produce lots of wildlife habitat: seeds for juncos, siskins and other birds; insects for kinglets, warblers and other birds; bark for nesting material; leaves for mourning cloak and swallowtail butterfly larvae; twigs for elk, deer and small mammals; cavities for birds and other wildlife.
Native hawthorns (Crataegus spp.) are more shrub-like than tree, with densities that often provide good escape cover for songbirds. Berries are favored by robins, waxwings, wood ducks, turkeys, black bears, coyotes and foxes, to name a few.
Native pines (Pinus spp.), which can be fast-growing large trees best suited for larger properties, provide nesting sites for many songbirds and seeds for, among others, crossbills, mourning doves, jays, finches, siskins, and chipmunks.
Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) grows quickly with a dense screen of soft needles that are used by silver-spotted tiger moth larvae, among others; its seeds are eaten by grouse and many songbirds, its associated insects are eaten by brown creepers and woodpeckers, its twigs are browsed by deer and elk; at maturity its cavities harbor flying squirrels and other animals.
Western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla), Washington’s state tree, is favored by elk and deer for its delicate feathery foliage, and juncos, siskins, chickadees and squirrels for its seeds.
Lots more detail about these and many other trees for wildlife is available in the book by WDFW wildlife biologist Russell Link, “Landscaping for Wildlife in the Pacific Northwest” ( http://wdfw.wa.gov/living/book/index.html .)
Certified arborists are excellent professional resources on tree installation, care, and maintenance and can be found through the Pacific Northwest chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture (http://www.pnwisa.org/.)
For more information about Arbor Day, including details on how to properly plant a tree, see http://www.arborday.org.
For more information about this year’s Earth Day campaign, see http://www.earthday.org/earth-day-2011.
Gardeners have been daydreaming over seed catalogues since New Year’s, but with actual Spring finally within sight now, it’s time to place orders and make those dreams come true.
Those who also garden for wildlife will want to keep the birds, bees, butterflies, and other animals in mind when making those seed and plant selections.
Lots of varieties of annuals and perennials, plus garden vegetables, can provide food for wildlife with nectar-producing blooms and/or attract pollinating insects that become part of the food chain for others.
So how do you choose from all those enticing catalogue pictures and listings?
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) biologists recommend using local native plants when you can, or non-natives if they’re not invasive in your local area.
“Don’t choose hybrids with double flowers because the flower structure may prevent flying insects from gaining access to nectar or may even have nectar-production bred out,” said WDFW’s North Puget Sound regional wildlife program manager Russell Link.
WDFW’s Backyard Wildlife Sanctuary program information (available at http://wdfw.wa.gov/living/backyard/ ) includes some specifics about plant choice to benefit wildlife, like hummingbirds and butterflies. These include both local native and non-native plant species, but natives are usually best.
Links says plants that are native to local habitat in Washington are best suited for our soils and climate so they usually grow more easily. By nature of being native, they have the potential to be truly “sustainable”.
The appropriate native plant usually require less care, especially watering, once they are established. And most important to wildlife enthusiasts, many native plants are more readily used by the native wildlife with which they evolved.
Plant and seed catalogue companies from across the country may include species “adapted to the Northwest,” but remember that is not the same as “native to the Northwest.”
Thanks to increasing interest in “sustainability,” sources of native plants and seeds are increasing in Washington. The Washington Native Plant Society (WNPS) provides a list of nurseries by county that sell native plants and seeds (see http://www.wnps.org/landscaping/nurserylist.html.)
Whether you go native or use non-invasive exotics, keep those pollinators in mind.
“I buy a lot of “six packs” from a local nursery,” Link said, “and when shopping, I’ll give the flats of flowers a little shove to see what flies off. Some flowers, like Sweet allysum, will produce a flurry of of flying pollinators.”
Link also notes that most vegetables are pollinated by flying insects.
“I grow scarlet runner beans because they have attractive red flowers, are tasty, and attract bumblebees and hummingbirds,” he said.
Some plants pollinated by insects specifically attract night-flying moths that provide food for bats, including Sweet William, Fireweed, Honeysuckle, Bee balm, Mock-orange and Yucca. Bats Northwest has more information on moth-friendly plant species at http://www.batsnorthwest.org/attracting_insects.html .
Link’s book, “Landscaping for Wildlife in the Pacific Northwest,” is a good source of further information on plant choices for the wildlife garden. For more details on how to purchase this reference, see http://wdfw.wa.gov/living/book/index.html .
Backyard birdwatchers can help researchers create a real-time snapshot of how birds are surviving the winter by participating in the 14th annual Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) Feb. 18-21.
The GBBC is always conducted in February to see where birds are just before spring migrations begin in March. Anyone can participate, from beginning bird watchers to experts. It takes as little as 15 minutes on one day, or you can count for as long as you like each of the four days. It doesn't matter whether you report five species coming to your backyard feeder or 75 species you see during a day's outing to a wildlife refuge. Tally the highest number of each species seen together at any one time, then report them through an Internet online checklist at http://www.birdsource.org/gbbc/.
As the count progresses, you can explore what’s being reported from your own town or anywhere in the United States and Canada. You can also see how this year's numbers compare with those from previous years.
The GBBC is led by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, with Canadian partner Bird Studies Canada and sponsorship from Wild Birds Unlimited.
Many other on-the-ground, local wildlife events are coming up this spring that are worth marking on your calendar now.
- February 26 – 27 is the 6th annual Port Susan Snow Goose and Birding Festival, sponsored by the Pilchuck Audubon Society, Stanwood Chamber of Commerce, Island County, Camano Island Chamber of Commerce and many others. For details on all events, including talks by Vasiliy Baranyuk from Wrangel Island Nature Reserve and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) Waterfowl Manager Don Kraege, see http://www.snowgoosefest.org/Home.html .
- March (dates to be determined) is when volunteers are needed for the 13th annual Oregon spotted frog egg mass surveys at Conboy Lake National Wildlife Refuge in the Glenwood Valley of Klickitat County, just southeast of Mount Adams, about 1.5 hours east-northeast of Portland. WDFW coordinates this volunteer monitoring effort to learn more about this amphibian species at greatest risk of extirpation in the Pacific Northwest. For more information, contact Tiffany.Hicks@dfw.wa.gov .
- March 19 is the 9th annual “Wings Over Water” Northwest Birding Festival in Mount Vernon, sponsored by the Washington Brant Foundation, dedicated to conservation of and education about brant and other marine bird species in the Pacific Flyway. For more information, see http://www.wabrant.org/events.html.
- March 19 is also the Tundra Swan Festival at Calispell Lake in northeast Washington’s Pend Oreille County, sponsored by the Pend Oreille River Tourism Alliance with pre-and post-swan-viewing talks at the Camas Center for Community Wellness at Usk. For more information and registration see http://www.porta-us.com/pages/home/default.asp.
- March 25-27 is the 14th annual Othello Sandhill Crane Festival in Othello, sponsored by the Greater Othello Chamber of Commerce and the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service), and supported by the City of Othello, Othello School District and Othello Community Schools. Details of scheduled wildlife tours and events, including a traditional Saturday night banquet with keynote speaker, will be available soon at http://www.othellosandhillcranefestival.org/ .
- April 29 - May 1 is the Grays Harbor Shorebird Festival Grays, sponsored by Grays Harbor Audubon Society, Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge, and the City of Hoquiam. This annual event celebrates the hundreds of thousands of shorebirds that stop to rest and feed in Grays Harbor estuary on their migration northward, some coming from as far south as Argentina and heading for the Arctic for a round trip of over 15,000 miles! For more information, see http://www.shorebirdfestival.com/.
- May 14 is International Migratory Bird Day and there are several events around the state on or around the date:
- 11th annual Tukwila Backyard Wildlife Festival, sponsored by City of Tukwila, National Wildlife Federation, Puget Sound Energy, REI, King Conservation District, and Ed Hume Seeds. For details see http://www.backyardwildlifefair.org/.
- 9th annual Leavenworth Spring Bird Fest, May 12-15, sponsored by many local organizations and businesses. See details at http://www.leavenworthspringbirdfest.com/.
- Several U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service national wildlife refuges in Washington, like Nisqually near Olympia and Turnbull near Spokane, conduct International Migratory Bird Day events. Look for information at http://www.fws.gov/pacific/refuges/ .
- May 20-21 is a Point Defiance Park “BioBlitz” in Tacoma, sponsored by the Pierce County Biodiversity Alliance, Tacoma Metro Parks and Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. A “BioBlitz” is an intensive 24-hour biological survey using volunteer citizen scientists to list all living things (birds, mammals, fish, insects, plants, etc.) in a given area to create a management data base. Contact Craig Standridge for more information at email@example.com
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) Backyard Wildlife Sanctuary program celebrated its 25th anniversary year by more than making a “10,000 by 2010” campaign goal.
By the end of 2010, an official total of 11,454 properties across the state were enrolled as Backyard Wildlife Sanctuaries.
With the program’s emphasis on urban and suburban properties where habitat development and restoration is most needed, 89 percent of those properties (10,238) are in western Washington, where more of the state’s cities and towns lie in the Puget Sound area from Bellingham to Vancouver.
The other 11 percent (1,216) are in eastern Washington, mostly in the state’s second largest metropolitan area -- Spokane – with some in the Tri-Cities, Yakima and Wenatchee areas.
The “10,000 by 2010” campaign began in the summer of 2009, when the statewide total of properties enrolled was 8,507. The 10,000 mark was reached in April 2010 with enrollment of a property in Olympia.
The Backyard Wildlife Sanctuary program began in 1985 in WDFW’s North Puget Sound Region, based in Mill Creek, north of Seattle. It quickly expanded to the Spokane-based Eastern Region for statewide promotion of the program’s basic idea – wildlife stewardship begins at home, even and especially in urban settings.
With over 35,000 acres of wildlife habitat converted to housing and other development each year in Washington, the program is designed to help offset that loss by encouraging backyard landscaping to provide food and cover for wildlife.
Over the years the program has increased emphasis on development and maintenance of year-round habitat, preferably using low-maintenance, low-water-use native plants. Information on supplemental feeding of birds has increasingly focused on keeping feeders clean to avoid spreading disease among birds and locating feeders to minimize problems with predation by domestic cats and wild predators and birds flying into nearby windows.
The program not only enhances the urban environment for the benefit of wildlife, but it also helps increase opportunities for people to enjoy and learn about wildlife by providing information about best practices for attracting watchable wildlife to your home.
The latest (2006) U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service survey of wildlife associated recreation showed that 2.3 million Washington residents, or about 40 percent of the state’s population, actively watch wildlife. Most of those – 1.9 million or 83 percent – watch wildlife “around home” (defined as within a mile of home.) About 1.5 million feed wildlife and about 360,000 maintain natural areas or plantings for wildlife.
If you’re currently one of the many thousands of Washington Backyard Wildlife Sanctuary managers, thank you for all you do to help wildlife on your property. We encourage you to talk to your neighbors about similarly helping wildlife on their property because the bigger the contiguous blocks of habitat, the better for wildlife and wildlife watching.
If you’re not in the Backyard Wildlife Sanctuary program, apply on-line today at http://wdfw.wa.gov/wlm/backyard/application.pdf.
|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.