Feeding bread to ducks…why you shouldn’t

With the weather finally turning colder many people feel compelled to ‘help out’ waterfowl by bringing them left over bread, chips and other such ‘treats’.

In larger quantities bread can actually be very harmful to waterfowl. Bread (particularly white bread) is high in carbohydrates, but devoid of any other useful nutrient required by ducks and geese.

Ducks and geese naturally have a varied diet including food sources such as aquatic plants, seeds, grasses and insects, but if large quantities of bread are available they will soon succumb and become obese junk food-junkies.

They will also start to suffer from the effects of malnourishment. In both ducks and geese a condition called Angel Wings can be caused by too much bread consumption.  Angel Wings will usually render the sufferer flightless for the rest of its life and long-term malnourishment will cause death.

Often people will go to roughly the same area to feed bread to ducks and geese. This will attract large numbers of ducks and geese to these areas causing them to become over populated and in turn causing large deposit of feces both in the water and on land. These feces combined with left over bread (not consumed by the ducks) can cause excessive algae growth in the water as well as bad smell (particularly in the summer).  Poor water quality will have an impact on the overall health of the waterfowl as well as the availability of their natural food sources.

Habituation and altered natural behaviors have been observed in some wild waterfowl as a result of habitually being fed by humans. Habituation of wildlife to humans is never a good thing and should never be encouraged.

Ducks and geese rarely need our assistance by way of food. During lengthy extreme cold spells it might be helpful to supplement dabbling ducks such as mallards and also maybe geese or swans with some extra food in the form of cracked corn or duck pellets, but that is not a common occurrence or necessity.

As an alternative to duck feeding I would highly recommend taking your children to a variety of areas where you might sight waterfowl. Pack a bird identification book and binoculars and try to identify the waterfowl you see. This is a great way to enjoy time with your children while learning something.

We are so lucky to have such an abundance of amazing waterfowl migrating through this area and if you look a little closer you will be amazed too.

Bats and Hibernation

Bats

We have 8 species of bats in Ontario. Some are migratory and some are true hibernators. The hibernators slow down their metabolism and heart rate as they huddle together as a colony to survive the colder months.

Each winter we get many calls from people who have bats flying around their home during the colder months. This is of great concern to us.

There is a variety of issues that can cause a bat to awaken from hibernation to early. It could simply be a matter of a serious temperature change or often home renovations will disturb a colony, but rabies will also awaken a bat.

Most commonly we find Big Brown Bats in people’s homes and occasionally Little Brown Bats. The Little Brown Bat is listed as ‘endangered’ on the Species at Risk Ontario list. This means that it is protected both under the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act as well as the Endangered Species Act.

It also means that we need to try and protect and save as many as we can. Our general bat population is rapidly declining mostly due to habitat loss, a fungal disease called White Nose Bat Syndrome  and some man made challenges we have put in their way.

The problem with bats flying free in a house during hibernation time is that we don’t always know why they are awake and so rabies is always on our mind. Rabies is rare in Ontario, but it is still an option.

Rabies is most often transmitted through saliva and because of that we consider a bat bite a serious incident. Rabies is almost always lethal once contracted, but we do have both pre and post exposure shots available for humans. I and some people like me have been vaccinated for rabies and this reduces the risk of me contracting it.

You should also make sure that your pets are up to date on their vaccines. Rabies is a disease all cats and dogs should be vaccinated for.

A bat bite itself  is barely noticeable in a human. It is the equivalent of getting pricked with a needle. Something you will notice when you are awake, but you might not notice it when you are sleeping.

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This Big Brown Bat is eating a meal worm. Look at the diminutive size of it’s teeth compared to the meal worm

The rule of thumb is that all bats found flying in a room where people sleep should be send for rabies testing. To test for rabies the bats brain needs to be examined, so this can only be done after the bat has been euthanized.

If you feel you have been potentially exposed to a bat with rabies please contact your local health unit.

When there has been no humans sleeping in the room the bat is found and no human exposure to saliva (make sure to check your small children for potential bites) we ask that you contact us or a wildlife center near you.

Every winter at Hobbitstee as well as other rehab facilities throughout Ontario hundreds of bats get safely over wintered and released back to their colonies in the spring.

Bats are very small, but should never be handled without gloves. Better yet, don’t touch them at all. They can usually easily be captured by placing a tupperware type container over top of them and sliding the lid (with small air holes) underneath. If possible give them a piece of paper towel in the tupperware container for them to hide in.

If the bat is in flight and needs to be captured you can do this by way of holding a towel up and have the bat fly into it (make sure you are wearing gloves). You can than pop the towel in a container with air holes.

Bats can fit through tiny cracks, so keep that in  mind when you are trying to contain one.

If you capture a bat in your house during the winter months, please contact a wildlife center near you and don’t throw it outdoors where it will surely die from exposure and dehydration.

If you are in doubt about what to do feel free to contact us anytime.

If you want to help and are handy, we are always in need of more bat houses. All of our bats are released back where they where found with a bat house.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wildlife in captivity

During the fall and early winter of each year I receive countless call from people who ask me to ‘wild up’ wildlife.

Usually when I get this request it involves wildlife that was kept as a pet or pet-like conditions. Wildlife that might have been found orphaned or perceived orphaned in the spring and kept/raised by the finder for the summer, but as it get’s colder and the orphans grow bigger people often are at a loss about what to do next.

I understand people’s need to help and nurture, but there is a huge difference between keeping baby wildlife alive and raising them. Most species of baby wildlife require specie specific care and nutrition to grow up healthy and wild. This you cannot find on Google or learn from a YouTube video.

I just had a young raccoon brought out by animal services. This raccoon was found in a residential neighborhood, approaching people for attention/food. He was clearly hand raised and released. He has no idea how to fend for himself. Human hands have always provided him with food…Luckily in the case of raccoons they usually revert to being wild enough for release after some time in a controlled environment where they can learn to find their own food without having to rely on people etc.

However, many species of wildlife imprint or habituate to humans permanently and will be rendered un-releasable as a result.  It is very sad to see waterfowl who are afraid of water, or fawns who freak out when they see another fawn or deer to name a couple of examples.

Every year I get confronted with countless animals that need to be ‘re-programmed’ so that they can maybe someday be released back into the wild. We try to help when we can and educate the people involved to prevent future issues.

It is a violation under the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act to keep wildlife in your possession for more than 48 hours without a special permit and it is not in the best interest of the wildlife.

Do the right thing and contact your local wildlife custodian or local humane society as soon as possible when you find wildlife in need of help, and not after the novelty of having a wild animal has worn off.

Wildlife belongs in the wild and not in a cage …

Charlie’s story…

We where recently contacted by a Humane Society in Ontario inquiring if we where able to take a Mink. I consented and that is how Charlie the little mink arrived at Hobbitstee.

Charlie’s story is unusual and sad in a way. Charlie is a juvenile mink who was released from a mink farm by animal rights activist. Due to disease risks (because he had actually left the farm) the farmer would not take Charlie back, so I agreed to give Charlie a home. This was an unusual decision on my part as we do not deal with domestic animals, but mink are considered native wildlife and so I agreed to give it a try. I did however state that I would only keep Charlie if his new life did not cause him to much stress.

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Luckily Charlie is adapting fine and is showing stress free behavior. He is eating well and loves to play in his new enclosure. Plans are underway to build an enclosure with a build in swimming pool because mink are considered to be semi-aquatic. We will work with Charlie so that he will hopefully be able to serve as an Animal Ambassador for Hobbitstee and join us out and about when we do educational events. Charlie can help educate people about Mink and others in the weasel family and he will serve as a reminder as to why we as humans really need to think through our actions and the consequences of these actions.

Charlie was lucky, but many of the released mink will not be so lucky…

Mink are a native species of wildlife in Ontario, but are also kept in domestic settings for the production of fur coats. Setting personal feelings about the fur farming industry aside I will go out on a limb and speak out strongly against what these animal rights activists have done. These types of actions can potentially have devastating effects on our natural wildlife and cause harm to the animals directly involved.

By releasing hundreds of non-native mink amongst the native population of mink and other wildlife the natural balance gets upset. Mink are fierce little predators and there is only so much prey to go around. Habitat space can also become an issue. Never mind the chances of potential disease transfer or the introduction of non-native genetic strains into our wild population.

Aside from that the farmed mink have been bred in captivity for generation after generation. In doing so they have been domesticated. They have had their meals served in bowls their whole lives and for many generations. Many of the mink after having been ‘released’ simply returned to their cages when feeding time came around.

Not all of them did, some got run over on the road, some got eaten by predators and many will have starved to death by now because they do not know how to catch live prey like their wild counter parts.

I can not call this act by these animal rights activist anything other than cruelty to animals. The released mink who starved to death will certainly agree with me.

I have experience with handling wild mink and they are ferocious creatures who are very difficult to handle. Charlie is fond of having his belly rubbed and he will beg for every person who comes near him to do so.  Not exactly behavior I have ever seen in wild mink. This is further to prove my point that farmed mink are domesticated.

Non of this is taking into account the hardship this caused to the farmer and his family who suffered serious financial losses as a result of these actions.

I understand that people might not agree with fur-farming, but you can only make a fundamental changes by educating the public about the ‘plight’ of these fur-farmed animals.

When there is no demand for the product, production will seize.

Wildlife and our garbage

With the summer heat setting in we are all looking for a cool treat or drink. Iced coffee’s/caps, flurries, blizzard treats and such are favored by many, and all these have one thing in common…That little plastic lid with the big hole in it.

Those lids are turning out to be a huge challenge for our scavenging wildlife. Their heads will go in the cups, but when they pull out their heads they find these plastic lids stuck around their neck.

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Me holding a skunk with a lid stuck around his neck   

I am not exaggerating. It is a common occurrence and it can cause some serious issues. I have on many occasions been busy live trapping animals in such a predicament. The variety of wildlife that find themselves adorned with an ice cap necklace is surprising. It ranges from raccoons, skunks to opossums and even a squirrel who had one wrapped around his belly. Those lids are right up there with balloons, 6 pack plastic rings, fishing line and fishing lures for causing harm to wildlife.

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Fish line wrapped tightly around the leg of a goose
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another goose leg with fish line wrapped around it in this case so tight for so long the leg was lost.
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Someone missing a fishing lure? Hooked not ones but twice in this goose foot/leg.

As people we often do things such as release balloons to celebrate something. The balloons will return to the earth eventually and many cause harm to wildlife when they are ingested.

slightly of topic, but another issue I have is with the releasing of doves to celebrate weddings and such. I often get calls about sad looking white doves that are not doing well. That is what happens with those doves. They are domestic birds, raised in a domestic environment and they have no idea how to survive in the wild and they don’t belong in the wild. They are not a native species.

Those things are bad enough, but worse yet are the occurrences when someone does something seemingly innocuous like dumping some left over diesel/gasoline fuel down a catch basin. The dumped fuel proceeds to travel into a nearby creek and eventually ends up in one of our Great Lakes.

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Swan who was covered in diesel fuel.

At Hobbitstee we have an oil rescue team on standby at all times and we have seen first hand the devastation these types of easily prevented spills causes in waterfowl and semi-aquatic mammals. It is heartbreaking to watch majestic swans succumb to respiratory issues as a result from inhaling fuel fumes or struggle to clean oiled geese or ducks.

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geese covered in oil

I respectfully ask that as we enjoy the great outdoors this summer that we take care with our garbage. Garbage belongs in garbage cans. Garbage cans that need to be wildlife proof. Let’s dispose of dangerous goods the right way and not by polluting our creeks and lakes. And those balloons released at weddings or to send messages to loved ones in heaven can cause wildlife to suffer or die upon returning to the earth, so let’s come up with some better less polluting ways of conveying our joy or sadness.

I suggest and encourage the planting of native species of trees and/or plants to commemorate events and to remember loved ones who have passed.

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Foxes come and go

Mid April I received a call from a concerned man who had a fox den underneath his deck. He was concerned because he had seen the vixen move 4 kits and he had not seen her since, but he could still hear kits underneath the deck.

I asked him to make sure not to be the disturbing factor that would scare of the vixen, but to very carefully keep an eye out for her. I also told him that as long as the kits stay in the den they are okay, but if they start coming out of the den as young as they where at that time there is a problem.

We kept in touch over the phone over the next two days until he called me and told me they where starting to come out of the den. I drove down immediately to go and have a look.

I am passionate about not making orphans where there aren’t any and sometimes mother animals are simply not seen when they go and spent time with their babies.

In this case the kits proved to be true orphans because they where weak, lethargic and dehydrated when I arrived. I retrieved 5 fox kits and brought them back home to Hobbitstee.

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Fox Kit on weigh day

They where still pretty tiny and underweight. For the first while they received intensive care and stayed under neath their heat light. Handling with foxes is always at an absolute minimum because they are easily habituated to humans and that will get them killed as adults.

One did not recover from it’s dehydrated state and passed away, but the other 4 grew fast as they ate me out of house and home.

About a month after arriving we moved them to our outside enclosure. After this move the care was reduced to hands off only. That means that feeding was done while they slept (when possible) and all though I would catch the occasional glimpse of them playing and running around, they did not see much of me.

We needed to give them the opportunity to learn how to hunt their own meals and so we started introducing live mice into their enclosure. Mice are a staple in any wild fox diet.

Last Saturday it was finally time for these guys to return to an undisclosed location close to their point of origin.

The release went well and the location was perfect.

Amy releasing the first 2 kits
they took of like a bat out of hell to start their new life
Aaron releasing 2 more reluctant kits
They did not want to leave their crate
reluctantly the first one comes out
and decides to make a run for it
this one is not sure about all this
but stopped and posed for me
And walked past me to go and live it’s life as it should…in the wild
Showing of a little by jumping a puddle

Often people ask me why I do what I do…This is why. I love the moments where I can release these animals back into their habitat knowing they have all the skills they need to survive. To me it feels like a job well done. It balances out the often brutal nature of wildlife rehabilation and it softens the sadness, frustration and heart aches that come with the job.

We now set our sites on raising the money to expand the fox enclosure so that we can do an even better job next year. We welcome all donations…(see our website at: http://www.hobbitstee.com to contribute)

All of us at Hobbitstee wish our 4 fox kits a happy life!

A tail of turtle releases and humanity at it’s worst…

Last weekend I decided to combine business and pleasure. Two of the turtles at Hobbitstee where ready for release. One needed to be returned to Mildmay and the other to Tobemory.

We decided to combine business and pleasure and planned a weekend away so that we could enjoy the two gorgeous National Parks located near Tobemory. I rarely have time to do things like this, so I was very excited.

The first turtle release was amazing. That turtle had been at Hobbitstee since September of 2014 and he was in really bad shape when he arrived. He had returned to murky water after having been injured and he had a raging infection. I spent months battling this infection and it took everything and the kitchen sink to safe his life, but he made it and I released him back into the waters of his home.

Snapping Turtle released in Mildmay
Snapping Turtle released in Mildmay

The second turtle’s injuries where less serious, but it was still delightful to release her into a very nice wetland really close to the GSP coordinates given to me by the finder.

Midland Painted turtle release
Midland Painted turtle release

With both turtles released it was time for us to have some fun. Finding a campsite proved to be a bit of a challenge, but we managed. The next morning we started on the list of things we wanted to see and do. High on my list was Singing Sands because I had hopes of seeing a real life EMR. As the only venomous snake in Ontario they are really rare and an endangered species, but there is a somewhat healthy population on the Bruce Peninsula. My hopes where squashed rather quickly.

As soon as we arrived at Singing Sands I was horror struck. The tiny parking lot was milling with way to many people who all where trying to pile on a tiny stretch of beach and in the process they where actively trampling all the gorgeous orchids and other sensitive plant that grow there.

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We walked down the boardwalk conveniently put there so you can enjoy the wetlands opposite the beach. Although I enjoyed seeing the unique flora and fauna I was once again disgusted with peoples behavior. Children left unsupervised where running around through the wetland away from the pathways and boardwalk to chase/catch frogs and in the process obliterating the delicate little orchids that grow there. I bit my tongue for as long as I could, but eventually had to tell the kids to stop doing that.

The throng of humanity present there seemed utterly oblivious of their surroundings. The surroundings that make Bruce National Park so unique. It left me feeling sad. I don’t understand how or why people go there and try their best to destroy what made them come there in the first place. My heart goes out to the Canada Parks staff who have to witness this carnage day after day.

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orchid

It wasn’t long before I simply could not take it anymore and had to leave.  I had to battle utter stupidity to make my way out of the parking lot. We had to forgo the other amazing sights of Tobemory due to the insane # of people waiting for the boats and swarming the hiking trails which really takes the fun out of it for me.

I am sad to say I could not leave Tobemory fast enough…

I write this to remind people to open their eyes and look around. It is easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle, but please enjoy the beauty of nature and try not to be an invasive presence in it. Teach your children to respect their surroundings and observe common sense such as staying on designated pathways so that you are not ruining the experience for the next person to come along or even generations to come.