Pumpkins for Wildlife!

Who doesn’t love pumpkins, especially this time of year? Humans hunt for their favorite ‘size and shape’ pumpkins to decorate or display for the holidays, carve into master pieces for Halloween and cook into scrumptious donuts, pies, muffins, sweetbreads, pancakes, and you name it. It’s pumpkin everything! Most people don’t think about wildlife loving this fruit or is it a vegetable (the debate rages on) as much as humans do, but it’s true! From bats and birds to bears, if a pumpkin is nearby, they are going to eat it. Pumpkins are tempting treats most wildlife can’t and won’t resist. Pumpkin flesh is full of water, so it’s as refreshing as it is tasty. Our wild animal patients and residents at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport will soon be munching pumpkin because some pumpkin loving people ‘over-pumpkin’ and need some place to take all those perishable, post-holiday pumpkins. After Halloween or Thanksgiving is officially over, many wildlife enthusiasts will dismantle their Jack-O-Lanterns or whole pumpkins by breaking them into pieces to put in their woods or yards for their own wildlife visitors and bring the rest to us! They know the wildlife in our care will benefit from the addition of this nutritious food source to their diets and through the enrichment of exploration. At the shelter, we’re known to hollow out pumpkins, save the seeds for the birds and squirrels, and fill them with foods for our vultures, opossums and fox. All the animals seem to enjoy maneuvering the big orange ball and taking it apart to get to the hearty and scrumptious morsels inside. They also do not pass up munching the tasty pumpkin! If you decide to put pumpkins out for wildlife, it’s best to cut them in half or better yet, break them into pieces to ensure squirrels or smaller animals won’t get stuck inside, especially if temperatures drop to freezing. That doesn’t happen often in eastern North Carolina, but it has, and pumpkin flesh freezes to fur! We also don’t want a deer’s head stuck in a pumpkin. That has happened, too. Please don’t feel too badly if critters start munching on your holiday decorations earlier than you’d like them to. They, especially squirrels, are known to do that, even if the pumpkins aren’t carved yet. These gnawing experts will start the carving process themselves! If you have squirrels in your area that get into the Halloween Spirit early and are notorious for carving their own pumpkins, just don’t put them out to early, and that will remedy that. Keep in mind that they don’t know that’s your pumpkin and that you’re trying to make a seasonal statement. You’re basically putting out food for wild animals. So let’s see, who is going to visit you if you put your pumpkins out; deer, rabbits, squirrels, bats, groundhogs, seed eating birds, opossums, raccoons, fox, snakes, porcupine, skunks, if you’re creek or river side or close to marsh lands – otters or beavers, and if you are in bear territory, BEARS (so, if that’s the case, best not put the pumpkins out or at least wait until brown and black bears are entering their winter dormancy, which is usually just after Halloween passes). Okay, let’s take bears out of the equation. If you don’t have bears and your pumpkins are still fresh and not moldy, recycle your pumpkins by making a ‘Snack-O-Lantern’ for your wildlife, because they will love all that pumpkinliciousness! When in season, Zoos around the world provide their resident animals pumpkins for enrichment and special treats, too. From tiny fish and weasels, large Chimpanzees and Red Pandas to huge Hippos and Rhinos, pumpkins provide great excitement for zoo and sanctuary residents. Research states that a whopping 39 million pounds of pumpkins are thrown away after Halloween! That’s about the weight of 1,500 double decker buses! So, instead of trashing your pumpkins, please use them to help wildlife. Humans, who anticipate the set up of seas of orange splendor, go crazy at pumpkin-patch time, but remember animals like them, too! So, what you can’t use at your house or in your neighborhood after the holiday, take them to a wildlife shelter near you, and the staff will present them to some adorable wild ones who will make good use of them. If a pumpkin unfortunately succumbs to mold before you can use it as food for wildlife, bury that one in your garden or yard or add to a compost pile. Pumpkins quickly break down in the soil and worms and insects will be all over the pumpkin yumminess. Then, all the birds and animals that eat worms and insects will be all over them. It’s the whole “Circle of Life” thing. Pumpkins are extremely popular with such a wide range of animals and insects that it would be a shame to let them go to waste. Enjoy the happy, orange season and hope to see you at the wildlife shelter soon, with pumpkins!

best always & Happy Halloween,

Linda Bergman-Althouse

author of “SAVE THEM ALL”


“Night Gliders”

a_blog_sfs_x“It’s a bird! No . . it’s a bat!” It could very well be that both guesses are wrong. The diminutive night flyer, gliding from tree to tree on folds of outstretched skin is the most common mammal never seen by humans in North Carolina, so it is easily misidentified. The Southern Flying Squirrel is a small rodent with big saucer like eyes that occupies habitat similar to his larger cousins, the gray squirrel and the fox squirrel, however this itty-bitty squirrel is nocturnal, becoming active and feeding only at night while foraging on the ground. It weighs no more than 2 to 3 oz. and measures from 8 1/2 in. to 9 7/8 in., including a 3 to 4-inch tail. The Southern Flying Squirrel is the smallest of North Carolina’s 5 tree squirrel species. Its fur is a ravishing reddish brown or gray, although its belly is colored a creamy white. The most distinctive feature it sports is the cape of loose skin that stretches from its wrists to its ankles and forms a membrane, called the patagium, with which it is capable of gliding. The membrane is bordered in black. When the squirrel stretches its legs to their fullest extent, the membrane opens and supports the animal on glides of considerable distance. Although it is called a “flying” squirrel, it actually jumps and parachutes rather than flies! It’s amazing to catch a visual of them in “flight.” a_blog_squirrelflyingeThe gliding membrane billows up, and by varying the tension on the patagium and using its tail as a rudder (like the tail on a kite), the SFS can direct its glide around branches and other obstacles with remarkable agility, although it cannot gain altitude during a glide. However, it can make a sudden 90-degree angle turn in the direction of its glide. That fluffy little “multi-purpose” tail is also used for communication and thermal regulation. Although the distance they glide is usually short, the longest flight on record was measured at around 200 feet. The flying squirrel lands hind feet first, head up and scampers to the side of the tree to avoid detection. The Southern Flying Squirrel is one of two flying squirrels found in North America— the other one is the Northern Flying Squirrel. While both are found in North Carolina, the Northern FS is rare and found only at higher elevations in the western part of our state. Although a fairly quiet animal, flying squirrels can produce birdlike chirping sounds, but some of their vocalizations are not audible to the human ear. Preferred habitats for Southern Flying Squirrels include hardwood and mixed pine-hardwood forests. They require older trees with cavities that provide 11/2 to 2 in. in diameter entrances for roosting and nesting, and in winter these adorable squirrels readily gather in surprisingly large numbers. Tree cavities have been found with as many as 50 roosting squirrels. Because of their need for tree cavity habitats, they are a natural competitor for woodpeckers’ homes, and even though they are quite cute, they’ve been known to bully an endangered Red-Cockaded Woodpecker from its nesting cavity and take over the residence. Bluebird boxes are also quite attractive to flying squirrels. Wildlife rehabilitators at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport get involved in the rescue and rehabilitation of this delightful, tiny squirrel when the little one chooses a cavity precariously close to a residence or possibly, even manages to enter a house. It’s not uncommon for Southern Flying Squirrels to find a cavity somewhere on a residential structure and make their way into an attic or a wall to find a perfect and safe dwelling to nest and raise babies, which some folks object to. Sometimes a tree is cut down before realizing it is home to nesting or roosting flyers. Tree cutters bring the homeless little gliders to the shelter to ensure they are cared for and raised properly for eventual release back into the wild, giving them that second chance we at the shelter are known for. When they are admitted, usually due to displacement rather than injury, we attempt to replicate their omnivorous natural diet as best we can. If very young, shelter staff will provide syringe formula until they are ready for solid foods such as meal worms, fruits, berries, flower blossoms, vegetables, seeds and nuts.a_blog_flying-squirrel-009e Nesting and breeding usually occurs twice a year; January-February and June-July. A typical nest will be lined with finely chewed bark, especially cedar bark in the east and grasses. Lichen, moss and even feathers will provide a soft bed. More than one nest is constructed as a necessary Plan B in the wild, because Mom will need to move her infants if the nest is disturbed by natural elements such as damaging weather or predator presence such as owls, hawks, snakes, bobcats, coyotes, raccoons, weasels, foxes and the common house or feral cat (which is the most prevalent and lethal danger posed to them). The average litter produces one to three young that weigh in at less than a quarter ounce each. The youngsters will open their eyes at four weeks and stay with Mom until she births her next litter. Although SFS are mammals and babies will nurse for about a month, they will be gliding and eating on their own by eight weeks. Unfortunately, Mom is on her own during this time, as males do not assist with the rearing of babies. It will take about a year for the youngin’s to mature before reproducing. Life expectancy for these cute little rodents is up to 13 years in captivity, but not more than 4 or 5 years in the wild.a_blog_sfs_ Flying squirrels are the oldest living line of “modern” squirrels, and fossil records date back over 30 million years. SFS are a nongame species and although not listed as endangered, we should still be mindful that their presence gives humans a better quality of life. Those cutie-patooties glide through the night feeding on a variety of insects and big ‘ole bugs that would surely be annoying to us during the day! So, if you find Southern Flying Squirrels have moved into your home or they are now homeless due to a tree ‘fell,’ please contact your nearest wildlife rehabilitation center or wildlife control officer for assistance, not just because they are cute, but because we need to protect and relocate our environmental partners!

best always,

Linda Bergman-Althouse

author of “Save Them All