Time for a boost!

Time for a boost!

We’ve been busy giving immuno-contraception (IC) to the does in Oak Bay. Each doe gets an initial dose, and then a booster a few weeks later. That means that we need to give boosers to the does treated with IC this year (which is about 60 “new” does) and to last year’s IC-treated deer. And good news, we’ve gotten nearly half of the boosters done already! But since the IC vaccination needs to be completed prior to the start of the rut, we need your help finding the does that still need their booster.

The list of does needing boosters can be found here. That list includes the tag number, tag colour and collar colour (if she has a collar), and the general location where she was originally found.

If you spot one of the does listed in the spreadsheet, above, between 7am and 2pm, please call our wildlife veterinarian, Adam, at (250) 880-7263.

Compassionate conservation — yes even for rats and raccoons

Compassionate conservation — yes even for rats and raccoons

by Anne Drummond

In mid-June, the Saanich municipality voted to discontinue the use of anticoagulant rodenticides in all of their facilities. The motivation for discontinuing the use of these highly toxic rodenticides was evidence that owls, raccoons, and other wildlife were also being killed by ingesting poisoned rodents. Mayor Haynes is hoping that Saanich will be setting an example to inspire other municipalities to follow suit.

While the Saanich Council is to be applauded for this humane decision, nonetheless the alternatives to rat poison still remain lethal and in the long term do nothing to change the rat/human conflict.

Rats, and mice, are intelligent, devoted parents and loyal spouses, do they really deserve the death penalty for simply trying to get on in a challenging world? It seems that it is easier to use lethal methods to control animals than for humans to change their behaviour;  because in the end, all human-animal conflict is about habitat destruction—we humans are taking way more than our fair share of available resources.

A United Nations report released in 2019 reveals that at least a million plant and animal species will be extinct within decades, this, the Earth’s sixth mass extinction event can be squarely laid in the hands of mankind. The major factors responsible for the decline of species are habitat destruction and climate change.

Traditional conservation focusses on selected species and populations without considering the well being of individual animals or the ethics involved. The North American model of conservation in particular has a rather egregious track record of the mass killing of one species to preserve another species which is considered to be of greater value to humans. For example, the BC wolf cull, the killing of seals and birds accused of diminishing fish stocks, and the controversial goose cull in Denver CO, to name but a few. These strategies have not only ignored the wider effects on communities and ecosystems but paid no attention to the suffering of individuals involved in the cull. As we move deeper into the Anthropocene and an increasing rate of extinction we need another way to manage human-wildlife conflict.

Compassionate conservation recognizes that all animals are sentient beings and aims to protect Earth’s biodiversity while treating individual animals with respect and concern for their welfare. Following the guiding principles of: do no harm, individuals matter, inclusivity, and peaceful coexistence. No matter whether a species is rare or not, of value to humans or not, native or not,  all animals have intrinsic value. Compassionate conservation offers a different approach to how we deal with animals in the light of what we know and continue to learn about the cognitive and emotional capacities of other animals.  Furthermore, it is increasingly acknowledged that the health and welfare of humans are closely connected to the welfare of animals and the environment we all need in order to survive.

The daily activities of humans—in our homes, agriculture, parks, and cities—cause considerable harm to wildlife. Less well known is the harm to wildlife in the name of conservation via culling, trapping, relocation, or captivity. Culling/killing wildlife is not a scientifically proven way to manage wildlife populations. In many instances and in particular among urban wildlife, as you kill individuals others will move into the vacated opportunity—this is what keeps pest control companies in business!

 Killing animals causes suffering and pain and young pups/nestlings/fawns may die when their parents do not return to feed them. Furthermore killing individuals destabilizes groups and communities. This is an important point because a stable family group or community is more amenable to behaviour modification thus making coexistence more feasible.

Yes, that rat/raccoon in your garden may be a nuisance, but before you consider lethal control ask yourself the following questions. Is it:

  1. Justified: in other words are you sure there is a problem (the simple presence of an animal does not equate with it being a problem), is it the right thing to do or might there be other less harmful solutions, is it really reasonable to kill an animal simply for being in your garden?
  2. Humane: can you kill this animal without causing excessive pain and suffering, or could you find a non-lethal solution, do you feel sympathy for the animal, can you generate kindness and attempt peaceful coexistence?
  3. Effective: will killing this animal have the desired effect?

So after considering those questions perhaps now you’re not ready to kill the rat in your garden, having decided that it is innocent until proven guilty—but nonetheless you are wary about this idea of peaceful coexistence.

Yes rodents and raccoons can cause structural damage, yes they are capable of carrying bacteria and viruses but the simple presence of these animals does not necessarily mean harm and disease are guaranteed. In principle, any animal can carry a disease that humans could catch but in reality, 99.999% of pathogens carried by animals will not infect people. By comparison, 60% of all human pathogens can infect animals. If your interactions with animals involve little more than feeding the dog, putting seeds out for birds, and shooing away the squirrels you are unlikely to contract a zoonotic infection—walking into a hospital or a doctor’s office is far riskier.

Peaceful coexistence involves tolerance and understanding and both parties’ needs being met. Accepting that we play a role in human-wildlife conflicts is a big start, so keep your home secure—check for gaps where animals may enter your roof/walls, and keep branches off your roof to limit access to attics,  windows, and vents. Look for greasy, smudgy rub marks which indicate routes used by rodents—disrupt these routes by cleaning with bleach, but also use them as indicators to the ways they may be getting into your house or shed. Rats and raccoons respond to hazing, so bang pots to make loud noises, squirt them with water, be a crazy banshee. Don’t leave piles of junk around as these are prime real estate for rats and raccoons, and don’t leave dog food or cat food outside—that is literally a gilt-edged dinner invitation. Basically, if you limit the food and shelter opportunities in your garden rodents are less likely to make a home there. That said, rodents are everywhere and if you can accept their presence at a distance, then just leave them be.

These are difficult times and animal populations are as stressed as we are; COVID-19, climate change, the state of the economy, political upheaval-  it takes its toll on all the Earth’s inhabitants. We as individuals here in Victoria may not be able to bring about global change but we can start with our own hearts and practice more compassion and respect for all the sentient beings that we share the planet with.

Tweens of all species

Tweens of all species

Humans aren’t the only species whose “tweens” that are itching for more independence but perhaps lack a bit of experience. Tween fawns aren’t much different.

While young fawns tend to stay close to mom, as they get a little older they start to become a little more independent.

“We really encourage drivers and cyclists to be mindful all the time, but now especially to be a little more cautious – when you see a doe walk out, a fawn or two will often follow behind, it just may take a little longer to see them now,” explains Kristy Kilpatrick, President of the Urban Wildlife Stewardship Society.

UWSS is working with the Township of Esquimalt on deer management, in addition to undertaking a research and deer contraception program in Oak Bay.

“There really can be quite a distance between the doe and fawn, so cars that have slowed down for the doe think the coast is clear; as they begin to accelerate, the fawn jumps out to follow its mother.”

Be especially vigilant around dawn and dusk, when deer tend to be more active and when it’s more difficult to see them. Headlights can also confuse deer, causing them to freeze or act unpredictably. To reduce your chance of colliding with a deer, slow down and scan ahead, particularly in areas deer are known to frequent.

Residents can help spread awareness that deer are in the neighbourhood by picking up a free lawn sign from the Township of Esquimalt or by contacting the UWSS, Kilpatrick says.

And because deer see dogs as a threat—no matter how well behaved or small your dog—keep Fido leashed and walking close to you to prevent unwanted interactions. Dogs can also startle deer, prompting them (both the deer and the dog) to dart out into traffic.

While most fawns are born in late spring and early summer, some later births are still possible. Because does shelter fawns from predators, leaving for long periods to forage, wildlife centres like the BC SPCA’s WildARC typically advise residents to leave “orphaned fawns” alone – the mother is likely nearby and will return once you leave.

If the fawn appears cold, weak, thin, injured, is bleating repetitively, or if the mother has not returned to a seemingly healthy fawn for more than eight hours, call WildArc. DO NOT remove the fawn on your own—if you have inadvertently handled the animal, rub an old towel on the grass, then gently wipe the fawn down to remove human scent.

As UWSS continues to monitor Oak Bay’s immuno-contraception program and track how many fawns are born this year to both the control group and the IC-vaccinated does, it underscores the importance of research in any deer management plan, Kilpatrick says. “While the Oak Bay project will help inform future decisions about immuno-contraception and deer management, research unique to each community is essential for an effective plan.”

Humming to the tune of Hummingbirds

Humming to the tune of Hummingbirds

by Anne Drummond

It is 6 A.M. and only a tiny sliver of light on the eastern horizon to presage the dawn. There is 2 feet of snow on the ground and the temperature dropped to -8 C for the third night in a row. You are taking the freshly filled hummingbird feeders out to hang under the porch. As you move across the patio you hear the click-click and the soft whir of wings as the hummingbirds come out of the shrubs and alight on the feeder before you even hang it.

Tiny scraps of feather and bone and a heart capable of beating 1,250 times per minute, and the ability to go into a state of torpor where their hearts beat only 50 times per minute. Given their prodigious feats of endurance and survival, it is no wonder that these birds have been associated with powerful beliefs.

Hummingbirds have fascinated and inspired humans for many centuries and this is reflected in the mythologies and folklore of many societies. The Aztecs believed that hummingbirds were the reincarnation of warriors who had died in battle. Amongst many indigenous people of the Americas, the hummingbird is regarded as a messenger of hope and jubilation. A dream involving hummingbirds suggests your apparently insignificant ideas may possess much power and potential, so just perhaps your flights of fancy may have merit and deserve to be explored.

Hummingbirds are a New World species with the 338 different species found only in North and South America. In Victoria, we see the Rufous and Anna’s hummingbirds. Most Anna’s do not migrate, 15 years ago it was unusual to see one in the winter now they are regulars at winter feeders. Winter feeding does not discourage migration, Anna’s overwinter here because the winters in Victoria have become warmer over the last ten years, no doubt the presence of winter feeders helps the birds, however, Anna’s can be seen in forests far from the presence of feeders.

The Rufous hummingbird does migrate and has the longest migration of all birds relative to its size. They overwinter in Mexico and the Gulf states and breed from Washington state north into Alaska. Both males and females migrate but separately, though both show great consistency in the route they use from year to year.

In all hummingbird species both males and females set up and maintain territories, the males’ territory focusses on a stable food supply, while the females’ territory is centered around the availability of good nest sites. The males and females do not form a pair bond—so no joyful reunions after the long journey back from Mexico! Rather the males will mate with any female that comes into their territory, the females are then responsible for nest building, feeding, and rearing of the hatchlings.

The Rufous arrive in Victoria in late March or early April and breed until late May and usually have only one or two clutches per year. In contrast, the Anna’s, which overwintered here, start breeding at the end of January and on through till the end of May and will lay two or three clutches consecutively. All species lay just two eggs which take two weeks to hatch and another two weeks before they fledge. The nests are very well hidden, small cup-shaped, and disguised with fragments of lichen on the outside. The wall of the nest is lined with spider silk and can thus stretch as the young birds grow.

Hummingbirds were once considered to be exclusively nectarivorous, however, we now know that invertebrates are an important part of their diet providing many nutrients not found in nectar. Hummingbirds will eat almost any invertebrate that is small enough to swallow, for example, fruit flies, gnats, mosquitoes, aphids, spiders, maggots, caterpillars, ants, and insect eggs. Hummers are very resourceful foragers and employ a number of methods to hunt invertebrates including hawking (catching them in flight) and gleaning (searching the new leaves of trees and shrubs or the bark of trees where insects and eggs are picked from tiny crevices). Hummers also practice leaf rolling where they hover above leaves on the forest floor, wafts of air from their wings turn the leaves over and the birds pick off insects and eggs. Hummers will also poach insects from spiders webs and the insects attracted to sapsucker wells. Females also require calcium for eggs and the nestlings bone development so birds will be seen collecting beaks full of ash from fire pits and burn piles.

Hummingbirds consume nectar from a wide range of flowering plants and a single bird may visit between 1,000-2,000 different flowers in a day to supply their energy requirements. They have long tongues that extend well beyond their beaks and with the rapid flicking of their tongues can lap up nectar. There is no sucking involved rather, nectar moves up the grooved tongue by means of capillary action—the physical force that causes fluids to move through small diameter tubes.

Hummingbirds are major pollinators across their entire range as migrating birds follow the flowering of plants northwards in the spring and southwards in the fall. Many flower species have evolved floral shapes and colours that attract the hummingbirds. As endothermic (warm-blooded) pollinators they can be active in the cold spring of the west coast and play an important ecological role by guaranteeing fruit set for early flowering plants, like the Salmonberry, which in turn sustains bears and even wolves until more food becomes available.

 Setting up hummingbird feeders is a wonderful way to observe these delightful birds however it should only be done with the birds’ safety and well being in mind.

The optimal position for a feeder is somewhere out of reach of cats, protected from rain and wind, and not too many hours of full sun. It is preferable that the feeder is at least 8 feet away from a window to prevent death by window strike. Nearby trees and shrubs provide shelter for birds to rest or wait a turn at the feeders. Male hummingbirds will defend a feeder as part of their territory during the breeding season, so if you have multiple feeders it is best to set them up some distance apart and preferably out of sight of each other, this gives more birds a chance to feed and reduces the male scuffles around the feeders.

Nectar from flowers contains between 12% and 25% sucrose so the solution in the feeder should be 1 cup white sugar and 4 cups water, using rapidly boiling water to kill any fungi/yeast cells that may be in the sugar. Cool before filling the feeder. If you do not have time to cool the solution, use one cup of boiling water to kill the yeast then top up with 3 cups cold water. Do not be tempted to put more sugar in the solution as it is both difficult for them to lap up and will cause hardening of the birds’ kidneys.

Feeders should be cleaned frequently depending on how many birds visit them, but at least once a week in the winter and every 2 to 3 days in the summer. Just use regular dish soap and water and rinse well. Never let the solution become cloudy as that indicates the presence of bacteria that will harm or kill the birds.

Never use anything else other than white sugar;  do not use red dye or the commercial nectar preparations as they contain carcinogenic substances—a red feeder is sufficient to attract the birds. Also do not use honey as it ferments rapidly and can kill birds. Brown sugar contains iron which will poison the hummers, icing sugar contains cornstarch which ferments, and artificial sweetener has no calories.

If you don’t feel you can commit to maintaining feeders through the winter you should remove your feeders in September to give the birds a chance to find another food source for the winter. If you do maintain the feeders over the winter you will not only earn the gratitude of the birds but gain an insight into their remarkable tenacity and capacity to survive. Feeders will often freeze and people have developed many enterprising solutions to prevent this, from wrapping feeders with Christmas lights or insulated wrappings, or commercial heating elements. Have a spare feeder or two inside so if the feeder freezes during the day you can quickly exchange it for a warm feeder and let the other warm up inside. During the winter it is ideal to bring the feeders indoors at night, but only if you can take them back outside at dawn as the birds will be in dire need of the food after a long cold night. Sometimes the birds go into cold shock and will sit on the feeders stiff and unmoving and not feeding, or they may be on the ground. Pick them up gently and either warm them in your hand indoors or put them a large box (a 12 bottle wine box is the ideal size) with a hot water bottle in it for 10 minutes to warm up, then release them outdoors near the feeders.

And finally, a word of warning, be prepared to become very attached to ‘your’ hummingbirds.

On the Nature of Stewardship

On the Nature of Stewardship

by Anne Drummond

We are living in strange and uncertain times; forest fires, floods, and other manifestations of climate change along with the social, economic, and ecological problems associated with an ever-increasing human population. Then the current COVID-19 pandemic which has touched most humans on the planet, and probably left animals wondering what is going on with us.

As our knowledge of the science of this pandemic grows, so too do the questions. Every country, every community, and every family are asking what now, what will change, and more importantly what needs to change? The more specific questions will reach into every facet of human life and have the potential to bring positive change to our societies and by extension to the planet. Because, although we are focused on our own safety and well-being we should also remember that our fortunes are intertwined with those of all living organisms on earth.

For biologists and naturalists the world over, a bright light shining through the gloom has been the anecdotes and photographic evidence of nature taking to the streets and other spaces vacated by humans—no more living in the shadows, animals are claiming space. In addition, at home and with time to spare, more and more people are noticing the urban wildlife around them. Can we as the UWSS, individuals, households, urban and rural communities take this increasing awareness of wildlife along with the urgency to address climate change and turn it into more effective stewardship of our beautiful planet?

Stewardship is a word we hear frequently but what exactly do we mean? In essence, stewardship refers to the responsible use and protection of natural environments and incorporates conservation and sustainable practices. However, that said, stewardship has many faces and not all of them are pretty.

While there is no discounting that commitment, passion, and work by many people has resulted in the preservation and conservation of land, wildlife, and ecosystems, stewardship has for a greater part had an economic basis and has been human-centred. The environment provides resources which have monetary value and we want to exploit these, so we take care of the resource we wish to exploit but have little care for the remainder of the system or for the consequences of our exploitation. This has led to the rise of industrial-scale farming, destructive mining practices, deforestation, exploitation of the rivers and oceans.

Aldo Leopold, regarded by many as the father of wildlife ecology and the USA wilderness system, wrote the Sand Country Almanac in response to the economic and libertarian-based land ethics, where only aspects of the environment useful to humans were preserved. In this book of essays, he proposed a land ethic (a framework guiding how people regard the land) that called for a more caring and morally responsible relationship between people and nature. His ecologically-based land ethic stems from the principle that the land, air, and water as well as all living organisms have intrinsic value, not just value to people.

In Leopold’s land ethic he maintains that “when we see land (nature) as a community to which we belong – we may begin to use it with love and respect”. His vision thus changes the human role from one of dominance to being but one of the many citizens of the community of nature.

While this may seem like a vague and perhaps even whimsical philosophy to some, delving deeper into how we view nature—the language we use, the actions and behaviours we engage in, the fears and expectations that we have—it is not difficult to see that we often neglect to consider the needs of the wild creatures and the land itself. There is little doubt that a more caring relationship between people and nature would bring great benefits to both parties. While as individuals we may not be able to bring about change on a large scale, we can, through our actions, all foster a more caring relationship with the urban wildlife around us.

Perhaps the most crucial thing we can do for wildlife is to preserve or create habitat wherever we can, thus making it possible for wild creatures to coexist with us.

This can take many forms including:

  • Creating brush piles and encourage wild areas for shelter in your garden,
  • Don’t rake up leaves, leave them in the beds as winter mulch and the insects and invertebrates the leaves attract provide protein-rich food for birds in the spring,
  • Plant bird and insect-friendly plants
  • Don’t remove trees unless they are a safety hazard as every mature tree, particularly evergreens, are home to many birds, invertebrates and small mammals,
  • Let your lawn become wild, or plant wildflower lawns or dig it up and plant trees, shrubs, and flowering plants
  • Only prune hedges, trees, and shrubs well before or well after birds have nested
  • Avoid pesticides, herbicides or poisons
  • Maintain hummingbird feeders and even seed feeders during the winter
  • Provide clean water for birds and animals

And of course, keeping cats indoors and teaching dogs and children not to harass wildlife creates a safer environment for them.

Key to the development of a more respectful and caring relationship with nature is understanding the needs of wild creatures. which in turn has its root in observation. So this is an invitation to set up the deck chair on the lawn or take up a comfy spot on the lakeshore, bring your tea and simply observe, follow ants as they wend their way through the grass, watch the ducks protecting their young while still trying to feed, notice the sentry bird on the edge of bird feeding parties, learn the alarm call of a Towhee, notice all the different pollinators in action on flowering plants. Ask questions, find answers, and seek to understand and then protect.

Pretty in pink: our control group

Pretty in pink: our control group

Now that fawning season has begun, have you seen a doe with fawns in your neighbourhood?

This past fall, we undertook the second phase of the Oak Bay Urban Deer study supported by the District of Oak Bay and the Province of BC. Before the rut in 2019, the research team treated approximately 60 female deer with immuno-contraception (IC). This vaccination temporarily sterilizes the animal to prevent pregnancy during the rut. IC is estimated to be between 70 – 95% effective, and so the large majority of the does given IC should not produce fawns this spring.

All IC-treated does were marked with a coloured, numbered ear tag in each ear. For the population analysis, the deer need to be identified to the individual level when captured on the 39 motion-sensitive remote cameras set up around Oak Bay, so 40 out of the 60 does also have a coloured collar

Since 2018 our “control group” originally sported a GPS collar + collar tags, but they had to be replaced this spring. The ~20 does that are in the “control group” (i.e. untreated) group allow for direct comparison to the IC treatment group. These animals are now marked with coloured collars, as well as large, pink collar tags marked with red reflective tape.

Any deer with a collar featuring large pink collar with tags (such as the one shown to the right), is a control group individual that has not been treated with IC. We expect the large majority of these individuals to have fawns with them this season. But those deer with either a collar (without pink tags) and/or numbered ear tags in each ear have been treated with IC, and should not have any newborn fawns with them this spring. 

The UWSS research team will be focusing on measuring IC success this spring and need your help! If you snap a photo of a marked deer with fawns, please email it to info@uwss.ca to help us analyze the effectiveness of the IC. If IC is as effective as anticipated, it could be approved as an effective management technique for greater Victoria, and even across the Province of BC.

Though the number of fawns is expected to be much less than in previous years, you should still remember to be on the lookout for does and their fawns. For tips and for more info, please visit https://uwss.ca/2020/04/28/fawn-season-2020/

Doe with three fawns this May in Oak Bay. This doe is part of the “control group” that were not given immunocontraception in fall of 2019. Photo Alexis Moores, shared with permission.