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Practical Tips from On The Edge


Inviting wildlife into your yard can be a wonderful thing.  But there are some important facts to keep in mind when you consider making your yard friendly to wild animals.

First and foremost, we can most effectively help wildlife by making it possible  -  through protection of their natural habitat  -  for them to sustain themselves.


When people alter the food chain, changes occur through many layers of life in your neighborhood.  The causes and effects may not be obvious.  It is our responsibility to consider all of the possible results of our actions. 


It doesn't make sense to directly feed any animal that is able to feed itself in the natural environment: the food we can offer is not nearly as healthy.  We may change patterns of animal behavior in ways we do not understand, or even make animals unnecessarily dependent upon us.


It does make sense to landscape with native plants that provide natural sources of food and shelter for wildlife, or to provide food or water sources directly to species like songbirds, when scientists tell us that the species' numbers are declining because they are challenged to find natural sources.


But how do we get to know all that?  Well, if you choose to restore your property so it is truly friendly to wildlife, you are taking on a responsibility that requires a long term commitment.  You will need to learn about the many kinds of animals that inhabit your neighborhood, and the local availability of the sources of food, water and shelter on which they depend.  You will need to know something about animal behavior.  You will need to learn when, and what methods are appropriate, to provide for wildlife in your area. 

Finally, you will want to take a good look at yourself.  Only you know the degree to which you are willing to live with  -  to welcome or to tolerate  -  wildlife in your backyard.


Some people may draw the line at butterflies.  Others might welcome hummingbirds, and plant native flowers to attract them, or make a commitment to clean and refill a hummingbird feeder every other day.


Some people might decide not to set out a bird feeder, because they do not want to deal with the inevitable, mischievous, and sometimes destructive, squirrels.  Or because they, or their neighbors, have cats that roam outdoors, that would threaten the birds.  Or because they do not have the time, money, or interest to keep a birdfeeder clean and full of seed.


Some people might fence and secure only a small portion of their yard, restoring the rest to the wild, and enjoy the whole pageant of wildlife that passes by.


These are choices; and they are more about us than they are about the animals.


There are a couple of caveats too:  it is never appropriate, and it is illegal and very dangerous, to feed a predator like bobcat, fox, coyote, bear, or mountain lion.  It is never appropriate to feed animals like raccoons, opossums, or deer, all prey animals that may attract a predator into your neighborhood.  While you may be willing to tolerate the presence of large predators at your home, your neighbors probably are not, and their call to a government agency may result in the death of the coyote, lion, or bear.


Conflicts with wildlife are primarily caused by inappropriate human behavior.


So, think your actions all the way through.  When you act on behalf of wildlife, be sure to create the effect you intend. 


So what do we do when we find a wild animal that appears to be injured or abandoned?


The first rule of animal rescue:  Most times the best thing to do, is to do nothing.  The baby bird you "rescue" may simply be learning how to fly.


The lone youngsters we find in the wild are seldom truly orphans.  It is normal for mother animals and birds to leave their babies unattended while they forage or hunt.  A mother deer may leave her fawn unattended for a full day and night!  If the baby is not injured or sick, then leave the area, because the mother will not return if people or pets are present.


If you find an uninjured baby bird that has no feathers, only soft down or quills, it has probably fallen from its nest.  If you can reach the nest, wear gloves and return the baby to it right away.  It's a common misconception that handling a baby long enough to move it will cause the mother to reject it.  This isn't true.


Fledging birds that have feathers and a short tail spend a few days on the ground learning to fly while their parents continue to feed them.  If a young bird is uninjured and can stand or hop, it should be left alone.  Do keep your cats and dogs inside, and remove other nearby dangers, until the baby can truly take wing.


Keep in mind that a large percentage of baby animals die in the wild during their first year.  Adult animals become injured and are susceptible to disease, they age, and they die.  All this is part of the natural order of things, and assures that the survivors are healthy, strong and able.  That animal may provide the food that will keep another animal alive.


If you find a bird or animal that you believe may be injured, sick or orphaned, call the nearest wildlife center.  They can walk you through the process of determining whether and how to help it.


If the bird or animal is in immediate danger from people, pets, or cars, it is better to remove the danger than to move the animal.  Keep people quiet and at a distance.  Shut down any machinery.  Bring your pets and children indoors.  Only if the animal is on a busy street, sidewalk, or construction area should you consider moving it.  If you do so, move it only so far that it is out of immediate danger.  Never touch an animal with bare hands.  Never get within biting or scratching distance.


Bats, bobcats, bears, mountain lions, coyotes, foxes, badgers, deer, raccoons, skunks, sea mammals, and large birds of prey should never be moved, except by people specifically trained to do so.


When it is absolutely necessary, you may choose to move a wild bird or animal, wear protective clothing, and wash your hands before and after handling.  Do not feed it or give it water.  Place the animal in an escape proof, ventilated box or animal carrier lined with a towel or soft cloth.  Cover the container with a light cloth and place it in a warm, dark, quiet place, away from pets and people, especially children.  If the animal is chilled, wrap a bottle filled with hot water in a towel, and place it next to the animal.  Then call the nearest wildlife center or veterinarian for further instructions.

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