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”

 

Whistling Ducks!

   “What have we here?” That was the first question asked by our intake personnel when the most unfamiliar ducklings were admitted to the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport recently. We’re knowledgeable of all the colorations and patterns for ducklings known to “these parts” of coastal Carolina, but these little quackers presented an identity crisis. The tiny orphaned ducks of splotchy yellow and black with short black bills were a mystery and didn’t seem to be from around here. It took a while to research the ID book, but we found them! Black-Bellied Whistling Ducks are “normally” found in the southernmost United States, such as Florida, Texas and Louisiana, as well as, on the continent of South America. We know that animals are on the move, but this is a first for us with Black Bellied Whistlers. The gentleman who brought them in initially thought they were Wood Ducks and said he found them while walking his tobacco field in Beaufort before harvest. A large colorful duck flew up from the ground as he passed the nesting area and noticed the little fluff balls under the leaves. He decided to wait and check later to see if their Mom would return, but after a few hours and no sight of Momma Duck, he changed course and figured the best thing to do was transport them to the wildlife shelter, especially since they would be in extreme danger when harvesting commenced. Nesting in a field is unusual for Black-Bellied Whistling Ducks, who are also called Black-Bellied Tree Ducks, because they like to perch or rest on low limbs above water. They may also perch high in dead trees if they are nesting in tree cavities or hollows. So, this nesting in a tobacco field is quite rare. The Black-Bellied Whistler babies look totally different than the adult plumage of their parents. With one look at Whistling Duck parents and their brood, you see a totally mix and match family where you’d swear adoption took place, but that’s not the case. The adult black-bellied whistling duck is a colorful mid-sized waterfowl species. It ranges in length from 19 to 22 inches with a brown wingspan of 30 to 37 inches and weighs 1.5 to 2.2 pounds. It is adorned with a brilliant pink-orange bill, long pale gray neck and legs and accented with a solid black belly and tail. The extensive white under their wings is exposed in flight and matches its distinct eye-ring. Adult male and female BB Whistlers, who remain monogamous like the behavior of geese and swans rather than ducks, look similar, but the hatchlings look nothing like Mom and Dad, at least for quite a while! They are called “whistlers” because these social ducks are boisterous and noisy waterfowl with a very clear whistling waa-chooo call. They have also been referred to as “Squealers” due to their high-pitched vocalizations. The Black Bellied Whistling Duck eats mainly during the night and enjoys huge amounts of plant material and seeds, which sheds some light on the decision of our BB ducklings’ parents to nest in the tobacco field. And because they are seed eaters, noisy flocks of these gaudy ducks are known to drop into fields to forage on seeds and waste grain left behind after harvest. They will also consume arthropods and invertebrates such as insects and snails when available, but those choices only make up 10% of their diet. During breeding season, the bonded parents search for tree cavities or the confines of a hollow tree, but as a last resort will nest on the ground. They occasionally find chimneys, abandoned buildings or nest boxes appealing as nest sites too, but always choose a site close to a water source. Cavity nests usually remain bare, but ground nests are woven of grasses and weeds. Females may lay 12 to 16 whitish eggs in their nest or lay their eggs in a large community nest with eggs from other females. The community nests are called “dump nests” and may contain 50 to 60 eggs. Incubation is provided by both sexes in a single nest for 25-30 days, but numerous contributions for incubation by the flock occurs in a “dump nest.” The young are tended to by both parents or all the parents. The splotchy, black and yellow ducklings in cavity nests can climb the walls of a hollow and leap from those high nest cavities to the ground within two days after hatching, be able to feed themselves immediately and will stay with the parents for up to eight weeks until they fledge. The longevity of a BB Whistling Duck is around eight years, but the oldest on record is a male, Louisiana BB Whistler who clocked out at 10 years and 7 months. The word is that these ducks are expanding northward, and we have first-hand evidence of that! So, if you live in a wetlands area and want to welcome their arrival, and since Black-Bellied Whistling-Ducks take readily to nest boxes, you might want to construct a nest box out of half-inch marine plywood. It should be about 24 inches high at the front and 20 inches at the back, with a hole about 5 to 6 inches in diameter. Situate the nest box on a pole or in the trees adjacent to marshlands, and they will feel right at home. Also, when you’re out for a walk on trails in Coastal Carolina’s marsh or wetlands in a month or two and you hear someone whistling at you, please don’t get offended. It may very well be one of our recently released Black Bellied Whistling Ducks just making their presence known or communicating with BB Whistler friends and family. No offense . . . really!

best always,

Linda Bergman-Althouse

Author of “Save Them All

“Heat Waves Affect Wildlife”

  With the onset of scorching heat waves, summertime can become a deadly season for all living things. We are very aware of the negative impact extreme heat has on vulnerable human beings in our communities, but we might be in the dark when it comes to knowing what harm may be going on with wildlife that is experiencing near-lethal temperatures that lead to drought and loss of food. June and July topped out with record high temperatures, and we never know when they will hit again! The Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport has admitted a few distressed wildlife due to dehydration which symptomized with staggering, loss of balance and confusion. Good Samaritans were able to recognize that something was wrong and that those cottontails, squirrels and birds needed help. Heat Waves have become the new normal and will impact not only our human communities, but all animals and our entire ecosystem. The same things that can happen to humans in sweltering heat happens to wildlife as well; dehydration, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Hot weather may cause natural water sources to dry up, meaning birds and other wildlife will be left without anything to drink, but we can help them by providing safe, alternative water sources. Turning your outside spaces into temporary homes for nature is doable with actions like freshening and topping off your birdbath daily or creating a make-shift pond from a washtub or putting down a saucer filled with water. These three simple acts could offer a vital lifeline to some of our favorite backyard critters that will be fighting against decline. Some people hang a “drip jug” over their bird bath, which is a basic plastic milk jug filled with water with a tiny hole in the bottom. The birds hear the dripping, and the sound attracts them for a cool bath and a drink. Leave shallow dishes, which are safer for smaller animals who could drown in deeper containers, in areas where animals are protected from predators. That means keeping your pets away from this area so the animals can drink undisturbed. A few more tips on providing life-saving water are: always clean the receptacles daily to prevent the spread of disease, don’t place the water to close to bushes or trees to minimize predation but do utilize a shaded area to keep the temperature of the water down and keep the water source away from any feeding areas to prevent the water from getting mucky. Along with the clean drinking water you are providing, birds will also be able to bathe which is vital to keeping their feathers in good condition for flight. Regularly watering your plants and gardens will be a lifeline for butterflies and bees. If your plants die, so will the butterflies and their buzzin’ buddies. If your ground area is drying and rules in your community limit grass watering, birds like Robins, Blackbirds and your turtles and frogs will not be able to access earthworms that will tunnel deeper into the ground for safety. A great substitute for earthworms is canned dog or cat food provided on a flat plate in your yard. Or if you agree with the birds that worms are best, meal worms from the pet store or bait shop can carry them through the hot times. We usually see birds and squirrels coming to our feeders and water sources during the day, but in the evening and during the night other wildlife such as opossums, raccoons or fox will visit our makeshift habitat for water and whatever they can find to stay alive during a searing heat wave. Keep in mind that summer is Baby Season, so wildlife Moms and Dads will be doing what they need to do and wherever they need to do it to stay alive so they can continue to care for their offspring. They might even bring their youngsters into your safe haven for food and drink. For those of you with pools in your backyard, you might consider covering the pool or providing an island or incline for animals to crawl out if need be. Hot animals trying to beat the heat or quench their thirst can drown in pools so taking away that access or providing an exit can save lives. Please keep an eye out for heat stressed wildlife. If you spot any critters who look like they’re struggling, call the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport or your own local wildlife organization for help. Be particularly mindful at dusk and at night as many nocturnal animals will be more active during this time. Prepare an emergency kit to keep in your car including water, a blanket/towel and a box. Put a few local wildlife rescue contacts in your phone so you can call for advice if you need it. If you do come across a wild animal who is visibly distressed, wrap them loosely and place them in a cardboard box and place the box in a dark, quiet and cool place. If your distressed wildlife is categorized as a rabies vector species (raccoon, fox or bat), do not touch or pick it up and call a wildlife rehabilitation shelter immediately. This is for the animal’s safety, as well as your own. Also, DO NOT wrap heat stressed animals in wet towels or submerge in water — this can kill them. Just like us, many wild creatures can live for extended periods of time without food but… just like us, they need water. Remember, when you sit back and relax with a tall, ice-cold drink, often to enjoy the sunny weather, our backyard birds and other wildlife might not be having such a good time. Heat waves produce a very negative impact on animals, even mortality. Most humans have a variety of ways to cope with a heat wave, but animals don’t have those luxuries of running water, air-conditioning or places to escape the sweltering environment. So, let’s help our feathered, furred, scaled or shelled friends in any way we can, including offering them a cold one! Water, of course! Cheers!

best always,

Linda Bergman-Althouse

author of “Save Them All

“Goslings In The Road!”

Wildlife babies are everywhere! Some are where they should be, in the wild, some are being raised by wildlife rehabilitators until their release into the wild, such is the case at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport right now because it is infamous “Baby Season” and some, unfortunately, are in the most dangerous, precarious and inappropriate places they can be, such as ‘IN THE ROAD,’ especially Canada Geese! Yes, Canada Geese are here and very familiar to us because they are the most widely distributed geese in North America. They are easy to spot by their size and their grayish-brown plumage except for their stately black head, long black neck and whitish chest which extends to their underbelly. They sport characteristic white patches on the cheeks that run under its chin like a strap, which is commonly referred to in fact as a “chin strap.” Their large webbed feet and wide, flat bill are also, black. The bill has lamellae which are miniature ridges inside the bills of water-feeding birds or “teeth” around the outside edges of the bill that are used as a cutting tool. These big boys and girls have a wingspan up to 70 inches and weigh between 7 to 14 pounds with the female being about 10% lighter. Geese are grazers, and they walk as they graze. Of course, they are capable of flight, but walking uses far less energy and conserving energy is what wild animals do whenever possible. When geese fly short distances, it’s like a human sprinting. Yes, they can move fast but tire quickly. Saving flight for longer distances is more energy efficient. Also consider that geese practically need a runway to take off. If they have recently given birth to a clutch of goslings, flying is out of the question. Goslings can’t fly yet and their parents, who are extremely protective, would never leave them behind. Hatchlings are covered with yellowish down, their eyes are open, and they will be walking and swimming within 2 days of birth. They will follow their parents, usually in a straight line, wherever they go. Canada Geese, our goose friends from the north, come to North Carolina to have their babies and have become accustomed to road traffic. They are intelligent, although we question that when we see them in the road, but they know it’s just silly to go further away from the road to get a running start to fly over a road. The length of their run for take-off is longer than the width of a road. Geese have keen hearing and acute vision. They are big, strong, can be aggressive and are less susceptible to predation than most other waterfowl. Hawks and Owls are airborne dangers for goslings, but you won’t see those predators coming down into traffic. Juveniles are also at great risk of predation by other birds such as crows and gulls, fox, raccoons, coyotes, minks, bears, dogs and snapping turtles, but we don’t usually see them in traffic either. Geese have come to know that, and geese can easily avoid traffic, if the traffic is accommodating. However, it’s the drivers on the road who become a problem for the geese when they don’t stop or make way for them, as well as creating a major problem for every compassionate human who cares about the safety and security of the parents and their brood. Spring has sprung when we see so many geese and goslings along our roadways, in the medians and crossing the road. It’s freaky to be sure to see them there, close to or in the road, but let’s be real; there are some good grasses and insects off the shoulders of roads, near retention ponds and in the very grassy and food-plenty medians the cities maintain. Although many animals can’t digest grass, a goose’s digestive system is made for exactly that food item! Canada Geese are highly social creatures and outside the breeding season are usually seen in groups, and because they are flocking animals, they demonstrate their strong compulsion to remain bunched together as a defensive strategy. During breeding season, it’s usually Mom and Dad with their gaggle of young ones, but there might be quite a few parent couples with their children in one area. That’s what we see along the roadways on the coast of North Carolina. While grazing, goose parents take on a lookout’s role to scout for predators and keep danger at bay, but they can’t stop a moving car. So, we the drivers, must be careful, considerate and diligent enough to drive slowly in their presence just in case we need to come to a complete stop if the family decides the grass is greener on the other side of the road. There are, of course, stories of uncaring and reckless drivers plowing through an entire geese family and wiping them out. No one wants to hear that. No one wants to see that, and no compassionate human being and especially a wildlife rehabilitator wants those incidents to happen. Sad to say, but we have orphan goslings at the shelter now who have traumatically experienced such horror. Please watch out for them and allow them to be. Once the goslings become flighted, the whole family will graze elsewhere. The young will stay with their parents, who mate for life, for at least a year and although they reach reproductive maturity around age two, most will not breed until they are four years old. Since geese have become so accustomed to cars and traffic, we humans who drive, should also become accustomed to the presence of geese families, especially during this time of year. Let’s all, including our geese, have a great Coastal Summer!

best always,

Linda Bergman-Althouse

author of “Save Them All

“Don’t Kidnap Fawns!”

It’s fawn season and if you look about during your travels, you may see wobbly-legged baby deer right now standing in tree lines or curled up in the tall grasses or possibly in your own back yard close to the shed. Some wildlife rehabilitators call this time of the year, Kidnapping Season, which of course does not have a positive ring to it not matter how you say it. Most people are quick to want to help animals in distress or orphaned wildlife, but sometimes those benevolent intentions are not warranted and could have far-reaching negative impacts on the health of a perfectly fine baby and the distressed Mother who’s youngster has just been snatched from her. Such is the case with spotted fawns who have been strategically placed by Mom for their own protection during the day while she is foraging for food. A doe knows her baby is at predatory risk when they travel together, so she will leave her baby in a secluded, or what she perceives to be a safe place, for as long as 12 hours while she moves about on her own. This behavior distracts predators away from her youngster, who remains quiet while she is gone. The fawn’s camouflage and ability to remain still, generally keeps the little one safe. However, if a fawn is spotted and approached by a human predator or otherwise, the baby’s instinctual response is to lay very low and freeze in place. People often mistake this defensive behavior for injury, weakness or illness and feel they need to rescue the helpless little thing, but keep in mind; a still, quiet fawn is a healthy fawn. Wildlife rehabilitators have created a help list called the “Five C’s” to tell if a fawn indeed needs your help and eventual rescue. So, if a baby deer demonstrates any of these five symptoms, you may very well need to intervene to save a life. Is he or she CRYING? Fawns know to be quiet and still, so vocalizing may be a sign they are in trouble. Is he COMING toward you? This would not be deemed normal behavior if they are okay. Is the fawn COVERED with blood or insects? This is absolutely a fawn who needs assistance before it’s too late! Has he or she been CAUGHT by a cat or a dog? There are times when a human in the vicinity actually sees an attack occurring. The fawn may very well be injured or in shock. If possible, this is a time to intervene and transport the fawn to a wildlife rehabilitator. Is the fawn COLD? By touch or by noticing visible shivering, a drop in body temperature may be an indication that something has happened to the Mother, and the fawn has been left for way too long. This is definitely an emergency situation and the fawn does need to be rescued. In the case of fawns, observing any one of the Five C’s indicates the baby does need help. You should be concerned if you see a fawn acting contrary to the normal defense mechanisms of staying completely still, quiet and nestled into whatever spot his or her Mom placed him. If a fawn is up, walking around by itself, and crying, that’s a red flag, and of course, if a fawn is obviously ill, lying on its side, kicking or crying – pick it up and place it in a quiet location. A light cloth placed over the fawn’s head will sometimes calm it. Keep it away from pets and all human activity. Petting the fawn, talking to it or holding it provides no comfort. This cute little creature is a wild animal; therefore, human voices, odor and touch will only add to the stress of the situation and cause additional harm, compounding the pre-existing illness or injury. When a fawn seems calm it may very well be in shock. If the weather is cold, a blanket may be placed over its body to keep it from becoming chilled. In hot weather keep the fawn in a cool location but out of drafts. Please don’t feed the fawn anything other than water. Baby formula, cow’s milk, feed store mixes, pet store domestic animal formulas and soy products will cause diarrhea, dehydration and death. Call the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport or a wildlife shelter in your area at once for help. If a fawn is seen lying upright, eyes wide open, but flattened to the ground, do not touch it. If you do pick up the fawn just to check and make sure it is ok, the fawn will hold its legs tightly against its body with its head forward. Sometimes, although its legs aren’t broken, the fawn will also allow its body to become limp and dangle in your hands. Put the baby down, walk away and leave it alone. This fawn is too small to follow the doe for the long distance she must travel to find enough food to make milk for her baby. Her milk is very rich and will sustain the fawn for the many hours it spends alone. The doe will return only when there are no humans nearby. You may be curious, but please refrain from sitting and waiting for her to return. If you have removed the fawn from its resting spot take it back at once and walk away. The doe will be searching for her fawn, and when she finds it, she will accept it and provide better care than any human can. Humans cannot teach the fawn the skills it needs to survive in the wild. Also, humans, other than wildlife rehabilitators, do not have the correct diet to properly nourish this wild animal. Please leave it alone and allow it to retain its wildness and natural fear of humans. This is the greatest gift we can give it. If an uninjured fawn is seen on the road or beside the road, do not put it in your car. If no evidence exists that Mom has died by being hit by a vehicle or any other means, place it off the road about 20 feet or more and leave the area. The fawn would not be there if the doe was not nearby. You will not see her, but she’s there, somewhere, watching. She will return for the fawn and accept her baby, even if it has been touched by human hands, as soon as the human disturbance is gone. So, don’t linger in the area. Every Spring fawns are “kidnapped” by well-meaning people who find them alone and assume they need help. In fact, very few fawns brought to the shelter are injured or unhealthy, and healthy babies are promptly returned to their mothers. Fawns are fragile and their situations misunderstood at times, but for the truly injured or distressed fawns, the appropriate care and treatment provided by wildlife rehabilitators will allow them to grow into the majestic and beautiful adults they are meant to become, but they are a WHOLE LOT OF WORK!! Fawn rehabilitators are specially trained to rehabilitate injured or orphaned white-tailed deer fawns and licensed by the state with a Primary North Carolina Fawn Rehabilitation Permit. They are also authorized to temporarily confine deer for release back into the wild. Anyone found holding and raising deer without credentials is subject to heavy fines, and tragically, the innocent deer in their possession is euthanized, and no one wants that to happen. So, please don’t kidnap fawns, but also don’t hesitate to call on a wildlife rehabilitator if you come across a fawn in distress. Happy Spring to everyone, even Fawns and their Mommas!

best always,
Linda Bergman-Althouse

author of “Save Them All

“Water Weasels!”

Cute as a furry button, but feisty and aggressive as a hungry or perturbed bobcat, diminutive Minks, although seldom seen are quite prevalent in North Carolina. Every county has a mink presence, but they are so secretive, solitary and territorial that hardly anyone knows they’re there. They run everybody off, even other minks. So, there’s never a huge population in any one place. Minks need to be near waterways and wetlands, so Eastern North Carolina is perfect habitat for these commonly called “Water Weasels,” but they can be found in the mountains and Piedmont regions of our state, too. Our coastal minks run smaller than those in the western part of the state. It’s a very rare occasion, but an infant Mink was brought to the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport after being found alone and in a Pamlico County resident’s driveway. After a full examination, a puncture wound was found that looked ‘talon-esque.’ One theory suggests he was grabbed by a nocturnal raptor, possibly a Great-Horned Owl, and miraculously, he wriggled free and fell to the ground. Initially, the tiny furry find in the gravel was thought to be an otter, probably because we expect to see otters in our area and often do. Our tiny Mink, who is known to be semi-aquatic, feeds on minnow-sized fish, turtles, snakes, small birds, crayfish, reptiles, crustaceans, insects, rabbits, mice and other small mammals. So, you may have guessed by now; the mink is a carnivore. Minks are often thought of as dainty looking but extremely vicious because of their capability to kill prey much larger than itself, and even though that may be way too much to eat all at one time, they are not wasteful. They take the leftovers to their den for munching later. The mink is a small mammal with a long, thin body and short, sturdy legs, a flattened head, small eyes and ears, and a pointed nose. Each foot has five toes with claws and slight webbing between each toe. The mink’s lustrous waterproof fur is generally chocolate brown to black, extremely attractive and often sports a white patch on the chin or chest. Long, furred tails are brown at the base tapering to black at the tip. The American male weighs about 2.2 pounds, and the American female weighs about 1.32 lb. Minks have excellent senses of vision, smell and hearing. They are mostly nocturnal but can be occasionally seen during the day. They are as fast if not faster than any Olympic swimmer and can also climb trees. Minks are very vocal, especially when threatened, and will growl, hiss, screech or sometimes purr when perceived as happy or content. Another method of communication is to discharge a strong, musky, foul scent from their anal glands. If they are taking a skunk’s lead, something tells this author that they are not happy when they do that! Prime locations in wetlands for mink include areas with irregular shorelines, dense emergent vegetation, availability of den sites and a variety of suitable food. Although mink will den just about anywhere, they prefer burrows made by other animals, usually muskrats or beavers. They may also choose dens in brush piles, log jams or cavities in the roots of trees. Mink move frequently and adopt temporary dens except when they are rearing young. Most minks are loners and typically come together only to breed. The breeding season occurs from late January through February. Females raise their first litter at one year of age. Minks fall into the category of over 100 mammal species in which the fertilized egg is not implanted in the womb for some time. In mink, this period of delayed implantation lasts 10-40 days and is followed by an active pregnancy of 28-30 days. One litter of 4-5 blind and hairless kits is produced each year. Kits are weaned at 6 to 10 weeks, though how long they stay with their mother depends on the species; American or European. American mink youngsters stay with their Moms longer, 6–10 months, while European kits, only 4 months. The offspring are sexually mature when one year old, and females produce litters after their first breeding season. Though they are not endangered and are common throughout their widespread range across the United States (except for Arizona and Hawaii where they are nonexistent), a mink’s lifestyle is so inaccessible, they have not been intensely studied. But we do know that minks live three to four years, with a maximum record of 10 years. Aside from humans, mink have few natural enemies, although they experience danger and some mortality from domestic dogs, bobcats, foxes, coyotes and owls. Minks need wetlands to survive, so wetlands availability is the primary influence on mink populations. Some biologists believe that mink numbers have declined though, largely because of the steady destruction of prime mink habitat in wetlands. As a predator, minks are near the top of the aquatic food chain, making them susceptible to contamination in the food chain. Elevated mercury concentrations have been found in mink kidneys. It has been suggested that mercury can cause sublethal effects on many physiological functions, such as reproduction, growth and behavior. These studies are stated as inconclusive however, so further studies are recommended to investigate if there is a strong link between presence of environmental contaminants in mink and mink populations. Biologists acknowledge that other factors affect mink populations more gravely, such as habitat loss due to increasing development along eastern shorelines which alters both mink activity and prey abundance. Most important to the future of the mink in North Carolina is the conservation of wetlands, for their future is only as promising as that of the wetlands. Swim on, Little Water Weasel! We were happy to be of service to you!

Best Always,

Linda Bergman-Althouse

author of “Save Them All

“Hummingbirds Trust Us!

Here they come again, our jewels of the sky! Tiny hummingbirds, the smallest of all birds, who migrate from their winter stay in Central America or the Caribbean are easily attracted to backyard feeders and gardens. Most bird enthusiasts agree they are a joy to watch, and these little buzzers become easy to love! They are called hummingbirds because they generate a humming sound when they beat their wings up to 80 flaps per second. They are also extremely fast flyers that shoot through the sky like a dart. They have been clocked at 34 mph while flying and 49 mph while diving. Ruby-Throated and Rufous hummingbirds, which are the types of HBs that frequent North Carolina, generally return to territories where they were born and raised and where food is not difficult to find. Most hummers are 3 to 5 inches in length and weigh less than .07 of an ounce. Flying in the rain is a big deal and can be dangerous when you consider the weight of rain drops relative to a light weight hummingbird. Collectively, rain drops may weigh 38% of the bird’s total body weight causing them to shift their bodies and tails horizontally, beat their wings even faster than normal and reduce their wings’ angle of motion when flying in heavy rain. Scientists have videoed hummingbirds shaking their heads like a dog to shed rain water while flying. Hummingbirds have the greatest mass-specific metabolic rate of any homeothermic animal. To conserve energy when food is scarce and during the night when they are not foraging, they can go into torpor a physical state similar to hibernation. Torpor slows their metabolic rate to 1/15th of its normal rate. This will prevent them from starving to death. If we humans choose, and many of us do, to take on the responsibility of providing supplemental nutrition and fuel for hummingbirds, we must be diligent about keeping their feeder clean and scrubbed free of bacteria or mold and ensure the nectar or sugar solution is replaced routinely, especially in warm weather because the solution has the tendency to spoil. When hummingbirds are enticed by feeders we provide, they trust us and will return time and time again to the opportunity of supplemental fuel you have provided. BUT dirty feeders and rancid nectar will kill hummingbirds. So, you see, there is a significant commitment of time, energy and attention to detail we must make to ensure “we are not loving them to death.” Hummingbirds will succumb to a fatal fungal infection when exposed to dirty feeders. If you have hummingbirds feeding on your deck, there’s a good chance the females have babies in a tiny cup of a nest somewhere close by. They can easily carry bacteria and fungus to their hatchlings if picked up from your feeder. Always inspect your feeder carefully for black mold or fungus and take them completely apart to check every nook and cranny where mold can hide. Wash the feeder parts thoroughly with bleach or a vinegar and water solution. Then rinse with clear, hot tap water. It is best not to use soap because soap leaves a residue. Lots of folks hang hummingbird feeders in the Spring, so it would be a good idea to pass the word to your neighbors to ensure they are paying attention to the cleanliness of their feeder as well. If you are providing artificial nectar, white granulated sugar and water is best in a solution of one-part sugar to four parts water. There is no need to add food coloring. It’s best to boil the mixture, then let it cool to room temperature before filling your feeder. Boiling the water helps prevent fermentation of the solution. Do not use organic or raw sugars which contain harmful iron. Brown sugar, agave syrup, molasses, artificial sweeteners and honey are also on the Do-Not-Use list as they are breeding grounds for microorganisms that cause rapid spoilage. A hummingbird has a very long, forked tongue equipped with tubes that engage in a pump action when nectar is reached. Nectar is a mixture of glucose, fructose and sucrose and is not the best source of nutrients required to live a healthy hummingbird life, so hummingbirds also eat many insects, including mosquitoes, fruit flies, gnats, aphids and spiders to meet their nutritional needs. Their flexible beak can bend 25 degrees, enabling them to catch insects with ease. On occasion, hummingbirds will hover within insect swarms to facilitate feeding. This method is called “hover-hawking.” Flowers provide a sweet liquid nectar too, but hummingbirds are very particular and will reject flowers that produce nectar that is less than 10 percent sugar and prefer those with a higher sugar content. They love their sweets! However, we do not want to exceed the one to four parts solution we provide them, because two much sugar can cause their internal organs to shut down. It appears that only the female is involved in building a nest and raising baby hummers. A tiny hummingbird nest is constructed in a crook of a tree with materials such as spider silk and lichen. This combination allows the nest to expand as the youngsters grow. Usually, only two white eggs are laid. Incubation occurs for 14 to 23 days and after hatching, momma hummingbird will conscientiously attend to the feeding needs and warmth required of the little ones. Two hatchlings is a low count for a bird, but the theory is because the female is on her own to care for her brood, two is all she can manage to feed and keep warm at one time. Lives are on the line out there, so we must do what we can to ensure Mom and those babies stay well and healthy. Hummingbirds trust that the nectar we provide them is good stuff! These little summer sparklers thank us daily for our gifts of fuel and care with their beauty, charm, remarkable aerial displays and quirky antics. Let’s not let them down! Keep those hummingbird feeders clean!

Best Always,

Linda Bergman-Althouse

author of “Save Them ALL”