With a little help from my friends

Post and video by Oak Bay resident and UWSS supporter, Adam Leamy

Six months ago, we noticed that one of the deer that frequents our area had suffered a serious injury to its right rear hoof. Our worry was that the injury or the distress caused by it would put the animal in peril.

We took photos and videos and shared them with UWSS. They were quick to apply their medical and species knowledge and just as quick in letting us know that while seeing the injury is unsettling, deer are quite resilient in adapting. They asked if we would let them know of further sightings or any obvious changes in the deer’s health, i.e., weight loss, etc.

And thus began our effort to keep an eye on this particular deer, and make sure that in our back yard, it always had a place to rest.

 

What we noticed six months ago and is still the case today is that this deer, which only has the use of three legs, is rarely alone. Number 97 is almost always by her side, literally, or catching up to graze or rest with her as she naps in the yard, often placing herself between the injured deer and the gate and the world beyond. Number 51 also seems close to the injured deer, and often it’s the three of them resting in the yard, legs tucked under, or sometimes fully stretched out.

We have a cat, Heathrow who, curiously, is quite happy to limit his outside world to the back yard. He remains curious about the visitors, but never ventures beyond the open gates, and is quite happy to rest under a fern or a bush, watching the deer, who watch him. Everyone seems to have found their safe space.  It’s no bother.

Michelle and I are struck by how the deer have stayed close all these months. The injured deer is never alone for long.

The last few days, though, the injured deer has not strayed far from the yard. We were concerned that this might be a signal of a decline in health, so increased our observation. She fed regularly, either in the yard or nearby, and her coat looked fine, and she was not fixated on her injury, just grooming herself like the others do. We suspected that with the heat, and her difficulty getting about on three legs, she might just have been tired, or conserving energy.

Two nights ago, she and her friend were resting, and then the next time we looked out, they were standing and grooming themselves. I took a short video and cannot tell you how powerful the video was for its elegant gentleness. They seemed at ease, these two, secure in their location. Michelle and I remarked how nice it was to have a yard in which such peaceful, quiet, vulnerable creatures feel safe — and how much you can appreciate something by taking a few moments to stop and observe how they make their way.

Soon after I took the video, the injured deer went out the gate, and her friend followed. When they make it back this way, they’ll find the gates still open for them.

How lucky are we?!

How lucky are we?!

Alina Fisher, BSc MA (Comms) PMP, Ph.D. Candidate, University of Victoria, was the most recent recipient of the Dr. Ian and Joyce McTaggart Cowan Scholarship in Environmental Studies at the University of Victoria. Alina has an extensive background in wildlife biology, ecology, and science communication, coupled with an incredible sense of compassion and empathy for wildlife, urban and otherwise.

Alina left Romania in her early childhood, and in an interview with The Nature Trust of British Columbia, she movingly describes her connection to nature and wildlife as the “constant” among much upheaval and uncertainty.

The UWSS is so fortunate to have Alina working with us.  She has guided our public education and communications with a compassionate, measured, and even hand; always listening to and respecting multiple perspectives.  We are excited for Alina as she pursues her Ph.D., and are grateful for her expertise. She has been instrumental in helping communities have a better understanding of the role, and need, for urban wildlife.

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.