“Otters Just Wanna Have Fun!”

Blog2015Mar_American River Otter2Full of fun, grace and beauty one might describe North American River Otters who have, over the years, been restored throughout North Carolina to their former population glory. It’s a sheer pity that these gorgeous creatures nearly became extinct in the early 1900’s due to exploitation and greed surrounding the fur trade. Otters in swampy, marshes found in our coastal regions had a better chance at survival though, because food was plenty and the wetlands areas were inaccessible to hunters and trappers. Although secretive animals, sightings are reported by outdoor enthusiasts who say given the opportunity to observe otters in the wild they became awestruck and captivated by their behaviors. Most enjoyable to watch is the spirited otters’ expression of fun as they revel in sliding down mud hills into the river or skidding across snow like they are riding a skimmer board. And boy do they like to play and frolic! Reported as some of the most playful wild animals, young otters love to wrestle and chase each other, and both activities are good training for survival skills; agility, endurance and the raw power they need as an adult otter. At the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport, we have only experienced one admit of a river otter in many years. He was a youngster found alone and unable to fend for himself. It was important to maintain his wild side while being raised at the shelter, so important that a staff member posted a sign for everyone to see: “Do Not Speak to the Otter.” He was adorable but also wild and meant to stay wild; therefore, we were very careful in preventing our little otter from habituating with humans. He had many vocalizations, and we came to know when he was hungry and when he needed attention. Otters are very social animals, so the goal was to pack on some weight, ensure expert swimming accomplishments, teach him to hunt and ready him to colonize with other otters. The North American River Otter is a carnivore mammal that belongs to the Mustelidae family, along with weasels and minks. They look very similar to a weasel, only much, much larger, weighing up to 30 lbs and measuring nearly 4 feet in length. Otters have characteristic elongated and streamlined bodies with stout and sturdy legs. Their waterproof fur is a sleek, dense dark brown with a light tan underbelly, and their face is adorned with a cute oval and blunt snout. River Otters have a thick neck, a long furry and thick tail, extensive whiskers used for detecting vibrations indicating the proximity of prey, and their eyes and ears are found high on their head to aid in surface swimming. Blog2015Mar_River Otter3They can go deep in the water as well, a depth of 60 feet has been recorded, and they can stay under for up to eight minutes. Otters have that nictitating membrane that covers and protects their eyes while swimming under-water. Their feet have five toes with nonretractable claws and webbing between each toe which helps them maneuver in a variety of marine and fresh-water habitats ranging from slow moving coastal streams to rapidly running mountain streams. On land, frisky otters can leap and run almost as effectively as they swim and have been clocked as fast as 18 mph. Generally nocturnal, otters are semi-aquatic predators who feed on fish, crayfish, crabs, rodents, birds, eggs and amphibians such as frogs. Although they need to be near water, which provides most of their food source, they spend two-thirds of their time on land. They live in dens with many tunnel openings along the river bank or they may take up residence in a convenient log jam, thick cover vegetation or any natural cavity they find. Although the fun-loving otter is not known as a fighter, it will charge or scratch those who invade their feces marked territory. They communicate with each other by whistling, growling, chuckling or screaming. Their scent glands near the base of their tail also produce a form of communication by allowing them to mark scent a musky odor, fencing off their home range. Otters live in bands of 5 to 10 adults with spring breeding season pups. Otters become sexually mature within two years, although many males do not mate until they are 5 to 7 years of age, but when they do, they are promiscuous and will breed with a number of females during breeding season. Pups are born in the spring after “delayed implantation” which means the female may have been impregnated almost a year before. Three to six, fully furred pups are born weighing 4 to 6 ounces and will nurse from Mom for only three months but usually remain with her for almost a year. Blog2015Mar_River OtterThe male is not considered part of the family and does not help with pup rearing. It might be that “cheating” thing! All Otters must be wary of predators such as bobcats, coyotes or fox, domestic dogs, black bear, large raptors such as eagles, alligators and man (intentional or unintentional). Although, they mainly escape predation through their agility in the water, they aren’t quite as quick and maneuverable on land. North American River Otters are, themselves, important predators who help maintain a healthy, aquatic ecosystem by eating “trash” fish that compete with more economically desirable game fish, and the presence of otters generally does not affect humans in any adverse way. An otter’s life expectancy in the wild is 8 to 9 years, although in captivity, a record high of 21 years is reported. When our young otter of years ago was ready for the move from our rehabilitative intensive care in the shelter facility to the great outdoors, we moved him into the reinforced pelican enclosure (in the absence of pelicans at the time), which accommodated him with a grand pool and ground cover. His otter skills developed rapidly, and although his weight was up, he fished on his own and displayed Olympic swimmer moves, he seemed lonely and sad, so we urgently made arrangements to transport him to a rehabilitator’s home in Merrimon, NC along the river where otter presence was known. We set up his makeshift den close to the house where our volunteer, Heather, could keep an eye on his comings and goings and provide supplement food. Routinely, she watched him go to the river to eat and play, then return to his otter apartment daily, but within a few weeks, she started to see him less and less. Blog2015Mar_342174_640Our theory is; he eventually found others of his own kind down the water way, and because he was so darned cute, we’re almost certain our otter has had a positive impact in helping to repopulate the North American River Otters in our coastal region. You go boy, and hope you’re still having fun!

Linda Bergman-Althouse

Author of “Save Them All”

Happy Spring Everyone!!!!!!!

“Keeper of Dreams”

ACSMag_BlackBearEIn North Carolina we do not concern ourselves with the presence of free roaming lions and tigers but bears, OH MY!! A 300 pound black bear was recently seen running through a playground in Eastern North Carolina, and only a few days earlier, an adolescent black bear visited a Community College Campus. Since these bear sightings are so close to home, it’s best that we get it all out on the table to keep ourselves, as well as the bears, safe. We don’t get many calls at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport regarding Black Bears, which is the only bear species found in North Carolina, but when we do, it’s usually a “What do I do?” call about sightings in their yard or at a business. Our advice is always focused on safety such as don’t keep your garbage cans close to the house and do not leave pet food on the deck when you know bears are in the area. We also provide phone numbers for County Wildlife Control Officers who are authorized and have the means to tranquilize and relocate bears, if necessary. Black Bears once dipped to very low population levels in the 90’s, but the comeback of the American Black bear is one of wildlife management’s greatest achievements in our state. It’s thrilling for many of us to view bears from a distance (key word – distance), but you should never approach it, try to feed it or leave food out for the bear. When you feed a bear, you are training a bear to expect hand outs from humans, and a trained bear is not a tame bear. Black Bears are omnivores, but approximately 75 to 85% of their diet is vegetable matter. Common foods in our area include clover, dandelions, tubers, wild berries, persimmons, pecans, acorns, wild oats, honey and the larvae of ants, bees, hornets and other insects. Our coastal bears also rely on agricultural crops such as wheat, soybeans, peanuts and corn. Black Bears are not very effective predators but will occasionally snag a prey animal. When natural foods are scarce or if they have experienced human hand outs, they can be attracted to homes, campgrounds or garbage dumps. Once a bear has been lured by people into bad habits, it becomes a danger and will probably have to be killed, an enormous loss of an extraordinarily majestic animal and just as huge a loss for people who want to responsibly enjoy observing a bear. Yes, they are unique and intriguing, but they are still wild animals, large and capable wild animals, and this magnificent animal should be treated with healthy respect.  Black Bears in North Carolina are usually black with a brown muzzle and a white patch on its chest. They have five toes on each foot with curved claws at the end of each toe enabling them to feed on insects and grubs in rotting logs. Although their eyesight is poor, they are adept at climbing, swimming, digging and running in which they have been clocked at 35 miles per hour. Bears prefer large expanses of uninhabited woodland or swampland with dense cover. In the east, lowland hardwoods, swamps and marshes provide good bear habitat because these terrains offer necessary travel paths, escape cover and natural foods that bears need to grow strong. Male bears, called boars, grow significantly larger than females and can weigh 500-600 pounds. However, North Carolina history gives Craven County props for the largest and current world record Black Bear tipping the scales at a whopping 880 lbs! Females, called sows, generally average between 250–300 pounds and usually birth two to four, 8 to 10 ounce cubs in the January time frame, who grow quickly on mother’s milk. Their dens are usually built in tree and ground cavities or in hollowed out logs, which they line with leaves, sticks and grasses. The cubs emerge from their den in early March but stay close, as they will continue to be nursed by Mom and stay with her for almost eighteen months. ACSMag_BlackBearCubEBy the time they reach six months they weigh between 10 to 15 pounds, not much larger than an average house cat.  This time of year, cubs will be roaming with their Mom, and females guarding their young will aggressively protect her babies from any perceived threat, including you. You never want to get between a mother and her young. If you see a cub, pay attention, don’t go anywhere near it, and know that the mother is not far away. Bears are intelligent, have keen senses of smell and hearing but fairly poor vision. They can usually see movement but might not be able to determine what it is. A Black Bear may appear to be docile and uninterested in your presence, but all wildlife can be unpredictable. Park Rangers and wildlife biologists advise that if a black bear approaches you, get big by waving your arms and also get loud, but do not run or climb a tree! They are faster and more efficient at both those physical activities than humans. Make as much noise as you can; clap, yell, throw rocks or bang on something. If you are holding food, throw it as far from you as possible. Black bears are generally shy and when you stand your ground they will avoid the commotion in most cases. A human’s change in attitude or perception will help keep people and bears safe. Bears do not have to be perceived as dangerous animals, but they are also not cuddly pets! ACSMag_CubInTreeEWillfully approaching a bear within 50 yards is illegal and violation of this federal regulation can result in fines and arrest. In the grand scheme of things, humans and bears were not really made to interact. According to Cherokee Legend, a bear is a “Keeper of Dreams, so in that same spirit of romancing the wild, it would be best to maintain a dream’s distance to ensure your own safety and that of the bear’s.

Have a safe and happy SUMMER!!

Linda Bergman-Althouse

author of  “Save Them All

A Squirrel’s World

CSIMG_0483FBThey just keep coming in and surprisingly, without being tossed and blown by a hurricane or tropical storm this year. Infant squirrel admits are status quo after heavy rain and big wind activity, but the number of displaced and orphaned squirrels has been unusually high for the past few months and can only be chalked up to our wet summer, possibly weakening nest structures or causing trees to fall. At the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport, infant squirrels in every developmental stage, from pinky to fully furred, can be found in containers or chew proof enclosures in every room and also in the personal care and homes of staffers or volunteers. Squirrels are familiar to almost everyone and are the second-most fed and watched wild animals, after birds. Most of us enjoy their antics and find them entertaining and if I may go so far, lovable. There are more than 200 squirrel species living all over the world, except Australia. In Eastern North Carolina, we are blessed with Eastern Grays, Fox and Flying Squirrels. Most wildlife rehabilitators have great fondness for raising young squirrels to release, because, although messy and capable of fast and furious squirrely behaviors in adolescence, they are the easiest and usually, the hardiest of all babies to rear. You don’t have to coax a baby squirrel to drink its formula from a syringe. The problem is getting the syringe full and the nipple in front of their face fast enough! Sep2013Squirrel1EWhen we keep their tummies full and give them comfy, warm places to sleep, they are content and we’d like to think, happy, although their facial expressions never change much. Most of the squirrels coming in during this second breeding season of the year are Eastern Grays. They can start breeding at five and a half months, but usually breed for the first time at age one. The first litter of naked, toothless and blind babies is born in February to March, the second in June to July. Normally, two to six young are born in each litter. Aug2013EEThe gestation period is about 44 days; the young are weaned at seven weeks and leave the nest after 10 weeks. However, second breeding season youngsters will spend the winter with their mother. Eastern gray squirrels build a nest known as a “drey” in the forks of trees, consisting mainly of dry leaves and twigs. Males and females may share the same nest for short times during the breeding season and during cold winter spells squirrels may share a drey to keep warm. Unfortunately, they have been known to also nest in attics or exterior walls of a house, where they are deemed pests by home owners. In addition, squirrels may inhabit a permanent tree den hollowed out in the trunk or a large branch of a tree, which, of course, is more preferred by humans. Eastern Gray Squirrels are members of the Rodent family and spend most of their lives in trees. They grow 17 to 20 inches long and have grayish-brown fur, except for their bellies which appear white or very pale. The bushy tail, used for thermal regulation and to sign an alarm by vigorously tail flicking, often has silvery-tipped hairs at the end. The squirrel’s greatest tool may be its tail, which it also uses for balance, shade from the sun as an umbrella, a blanket and as a rudder when swimming. They have incredible balance and rarely fall from trees. FB_MG_7201XThey also run headfirst down a tree trunk, which happens rarely, if ever, with other animals. Communication among Eastern Gray Squirrels involves both posturing and vocalizations which include a squeak similar to that of a mouse, a low-pitched rumbling noise, a chatter and a raspy “mehr mehr” sound. The Eastern Gray sports four fingers on the front feet and five on the hind feet. Their bounding stride can measure two to three feet when at full speed. Their diet includes: acorns, hickory nuts, walnuts, beechnuts, maple (buds, bark, and samaras), Yellow Poplar blossoms, American Hornbeam seeds, apples, fungi, Black Cherry, Flowering Dogwood, grapes, sedges, grasses, American Holly, mushrooms, insects (adults and larvae), bird eggs, amphibians and if hungry enough, might snatch a baby bird or frog. Squirrels have four front teeth that never stop growing but stay short due to constant wear and daily grinding they receive by constant gnawing.They gnaw on bones, antlers and turtle shells, likely as a source of minerals sparse in their normal diet as well as the need to grind. Don’t forget all the bird feeders they raid that are not squirrel proof (and even the squirrel proof ones, usually aren’t). Squirrels are problem solvers and can figure those challenges out! The Eastern Gray Squirrel is a scatter-hoarder that hides or buries food in numerous small caches for later recovery. Each squirrel is estimated to make several thousand caches each season. The squirrels have accurate spatial memory for the locations of these caches, and use distant and nearby landmarks to retrieve them. Smell is used only when the squirrel is within a few inches of the cache. Eastern gray squirrels are more active during the early and late hours of the day and tend to avoid the heat in the middle of a summer day and do not hibernate as some folks think. Predators include humans, hawks, weasels, raccoons, domestic and feral cats, snakes, owls and dogs, so they have reason to employ defensive tactics such as freezing in place and zigzag running at warp speed! Eastern grays can live to be 20 years old in captivity, but in the wild may live up to 5 -12 years if they stay healthy, rely on their good senses of vision, smell and hearing and can outmaneuver the many predators trying to take them out! Although some people have a love-hate relationship with the squirrel, we can’t ignore their great value to our ecosystem. Squirrels help control plant populations by eating many seeds, fruits and insect populations. They are a good means of seed and nut dispersal, and therefore help reforest trees and other plants. They are highly intelligent and fascinating to watch. Of course, they can get into a little mischief, but because they are so cute and lively, most of us just deal with it and have fun trying to outsmart them, which is not easy!

Happy Holiday Season Everyone!!

Linda Bergman-Althouse

author of “Save Them All

Winter Bird Feeding

FebCS_Cardinal648EAlthough Eastern North Carolina historically does not experience much snow, if at all, during winter, the colder temperatures still cause outdoor food sources to become scarce, especially for some of our favorite back or front yard bird visitors. Lately, calls have piggy-backed at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport inquiring about the absence of birds. “I don’t understand why I have no birds in my backyard” or “in the winter at least the little gray birds with the white tummies show up, but they aren’t here either.” The sparrow size gray bird with the white tummy the caller was describing is a Junco, and they do winter in Eastern North Carolina. Winter can be a difficult time for birds, whether they experience freezing temperatures or snow cover along the coast or not. Birds are warm blooded and have to maintain their body temperature by eating rich energy foods such as seeds, nuts, insects and suet. Most insects are dead or dormant by the time we humans need to don jackets and scarves, so birds will start eating food sources they don’t generally choose during warmer weather. Winter is the best time to set up bird feeders because birds are trying to fatten up during this harsh season. You will also see them puffing up their feathers, creating air pockets, to keep warm. The more air pockets, the better the insulation. You might also see them alternating an exposed leg, keeping one held up in their breast feathers for warmth. The days are short and the nights are often cold and long. To survive the cold, birds will visit whatever food sources are available. Some birds you will likely see at your feeder are Black-capped Chickadees, Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, White-breasted Nuthatches, Red-breasted Nuthatches, Downy Woodpeckers, Northern Cardinals, and the Dark-eyed Juncos.  The best foods to offer birds in colder weather have a high fat or oil content that will provide more than enough energy for winter survival. Nutritious winter foods for birds include: Black oil sunflower seed, Hulled peanuts, Niger or thistle seed, Safflower, suet mixes with seeds or fruit, Peanut butter, cracked corn and White millet seed. FebCS_MG_8565CEWhen choosing birdseed and other foods for winter feeding, take into consideration which bird species are present in the winter and what foods they prefer to avoid wasted seed. Fruits, such as raisins soaked in warm water to soften are also well received. Something a little more expensive and definitely a luxury for your birds would be mealworms that can be purchased from most pet or bait stores. I don’t know too many birds that wouldn’t love a fat, juicy meal worm!  Feeders should be located out of the wind. The east or southeast side of a house or near a row of trees is ideal. It is best to have a perching spot such as a bush or tree for the birds to use to survey the feeding area and provide sufficient cover for safety from predators, as well as, shelter from the wind and weather. The feeders should be positioned near cover but in the open to allow birds to continually watch for danger. To minimize window collisions, place feeders more than five feet away from a wall or window and use window clings or other techniques to prevent collisions. For ground feeding, an area near cover with a clear view of the surroundings is best.  Placing seed in a ground feeder entices birds such as sparrows, Juncos, Mourning Doves, Quail, Pheasants, Towhees and Brown Thrashers. Even the Red-bellied Woodpecker, which is thought of as a tree dweller, does some foraging on the ground. Ground feeders are also seen eating the seeds that fall from hanging bird feeders. Platform and hopper feeders are especially good for attracting Cardinals, Wrens, Chickadees, Titmice, Jays, and Grosbeaks. Hanging feeders, because they blow in the wind, are generally used by those species able to hang on while feeding such as Chickadees, Titmice, Nuthatches and Finches.  Birdfeeders are most attractive to birds in winter, when natural food supplies are least available. Seed eaters such as finches, sparrows, titmice and chickadees may flock to feeders in higher numbers than natural food sources alone in the immediate area could support. Seeds that are merely a welcome supplement under normal winter conditions may suddenly become vital during a fierce ice or snow storm. Wild birds are resourceful, gleaning most of their food from the natural habitat; except in extreme or unusual circumstances, they manage to find enough to eat to survive. But birds that have become used to supplemental feeding may suffer when that food supply is suddenly missing, especially in winter. So, keep your feeders full when winter is toughest.  It’s also important to properly clean and sterilize your feeders routinely in efforts to minimize mold, mildew and other unhealthy conditions that could foster disease among backyard bird populations. When cleaning, discard soggy seed or seed encased in ice, and let the feeder dry before refilling.  FebCS_CardinalENesting boxes and year round bird houses help shield birds from inclement and freezing temperatures. And for the very serious birder, a heated bird bath or adding a heating element to your current bird bath would be quite ducky!   Keep your feathery little visitors healthy, comfy and safe during the harshness of winter!!

Best Always,

Linda Bergman-Althouse

Author of

“Save Them All”

“The Woods Ghost”

CSMagBobcatE_FBVery few and far between do we admit Bobcats to the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport because they are extremely elusive, secretive and avoid all human contact. Although it is a rarity to see a bobcat in Eastern North Carolina, they are here in the coastal plains, as well as throughout the state. They are the only wild cat found in North Carolina. Every time a Bobcat has been admitted to the shelter over the years (the instances can be counted on one hand), a run in with a vehicle during the dead of night has been the cause of injury. The last Bobcat admitted suffered a broken leg when struck by a pickup truck on a back road in a low land area of our coast. Fortunately, the compassionate driver, who had heavy work gloves in his cab, managed amid hissing, growling, biting, scratching and squirming, to put him in his truck bed under a secured tarp and transport the injured cat to our shelter. A Bobcat isn’t a relatively large animal, but it is a fierce fighter. His stay in intensive care was quite the challenge. Isolation in a huge metal enclosure was the only way to go for this beautiful, solitary animal to keep him and everybody else safe. Despite looking like your cat, Fluffy, who curls up on your lap while you watch television, this fur ball, who is twice as big as your chubbiest domestic house cat, is not okay with being handled by humans, so safety issues are paramount when treating a Bobcat.
The Bobcat gets its name from the short tail it sports which is usually less than 5 inches. Its light brown to reddish brown fur is extremely gorgeous, dense and soft. Their round face is topped with pointed, tufted ears, and the Bobcat’s hind legs are longer than its front legs, which gives them that “Cheetah” like bobbing run when chasing down prey. Their paws have four toes each with retractable, razor sharp claws. They have four large and very sharp canine teeth and behind the canines, more sharp cutting teeth. They have forward facing yellow eyes with black elongated pupils. Like all cats, they use their whiskers like fingertips and can feel prey in complete darkness. Bobcats are gifted runners, climbers and swimmers. They are excellent hunters with superior vision, hearing and a good sense of smell. Their night vision is exceptional. You might be thinking, with all that going on, how do they get hit by cars? It’s a timing thing.CSMagBobcatE2_FB
Nicknames abound for the Bobcat to include “ol’ spitfire,” “lightning,” “woods ghost” and “tiger cat” which all speak to their stealth abilities as focused and ferocious hunters. Bobcats are carnivores that favor rabbits, rodents, raccoons, opossums, birds and snakes for their dining pleasure, although they have been known, although rare, to take down an adult deer and occasionally farm animals, too. They can be active during the day but prefer to hunt at night. They will also roll in, chew on and ingest fresh vegetation. Although Bobcats are solitary, males will seek out a mate when they sexually mature, which is between one and two years of age. Mating takes place usually in late winter and two to four kittens will be born in the May timeframe. Kittens are furred but blind at birth. Their eyes open in 3 – 10 days. By 4 weeks they start exploring beyond the den and by 7-8 weeks of age, they are weaned. Life expectancy for males is 3-4 years and 4-5 years for females. Ten year longevity is the highest to be recorded for a Bobcat in the wild. In captivity, they may live more than 30 years.
Although the Bobcat prefers woodlands, it has adapted well to our coastal region. Due to habitat restoration occurring throughout our state, Bobcat populations have grown over the past 50 years. Bobcats are fascinating wildlife, and if you have the opportunity to see a Bobcat in the wild, consider it an honor and feel privileged to be among the few that ever has or ever will!

Linda Bergman-Althouse

Author of,   “Save Them All

“Hummin’ South”

Temperatures are cooling along the coast and that corresponds with the end of blooming season for food plants, so some of the tiniest among us have made a very big decision about whether to stay and tough out our modestly, mild winter or pack it in and head south. My hummingbird feeder has hung without visits since mid-September in Jacksonville. North Carolina’s Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds usually begin migrating south in late summer. Guess it’s time to take the feeder down, clean it up and put it away until next Spring now that all the northern hummers have passed through on their way to winter in Central America or on a Caribbean island. However, the feeder at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport, North Carolina still has to be replenished often because it remains visited and will be throughout the winter. Even though ruby-throats, the only hummingbirds that breed in the eastern United States during the summer, aren’t well adapted to cold temperatures especially below the mid-20’sF, some choose to stay. It’s amazing that a distance of only thirty-five miles from my house can make such a difference, but they, usually males, have been toughing it out at our shelter for years now. Why? They’re not talking, so we can only guess they don’t want to give up their territory. These little birds are definitely not wimps! Unlike mammals, that “fur up” for winter, these tiny, tropical birds do not grow extra feathering for warmth. However, hummingbirds are capable of entering a hibernation-like state known as torpor during cold spells to conserve energy.
Our shelter sees very few of these wee birds, but when they make it in for treatment, it’s usually something quite serious such as a broken wing or a displaced baby, orphaned by high winds or predator disruption of the nest in which the female is the only guardian because hummingbirds do not mate for life. Every once in a blue moon, we’ll receive a minor injury, such as a sprained wing or a “stunning” which occurs when a hummer has accidently smacked into a window or patio door. The latter injuries are what we hope for at OWLS when a hummingbird is admitted. Then, much needed quiet, recovery time and a healthy diet sprinkled with a wildlife rehabilitator’s TLC is all that’s required before they will soon be zooming their favorite backyard again.

Ruby-throats are quite inquisitive and easily attracted to feeders. Males, who sport the bright red ornamented throat, in particular are typically, territorially aggressive toward rival hummers who want to chow down at “their” feeder, as well as, other birds like the Common House Finch, and even insects such as bees, butterflies and moths. They often spend much of the day perched nearby, guarding their food source against perceived intruders and dutifully running off any encroachers. Hummers quickly become accustomed to people and will feed at flowers while you are gardening or swoop down to investigate red articles of clothing, possibly as potential food sources. Feeders hung at windows attract as many visitors as ones farther from structures. Hummingbird watchers, including those of us at the shelter, find “Hummer Wars” very entertaining, although the chases are obviously serious business to the hungry birds. For a short period immediately after fledging, a female hummingbird encourages and tolerates the presence of her own young at the feeder, but they are soon treated the same as any other adult bird; a rival in pursuit of food necessary to prepare for fall migration.
Everything about a hummingbird is fast. Wing beats are anywhere from forty to eighty beats per second depending upon what they are doing. Flight speed is normally thirty mph, but they shift to fifty mph to escape and have been clocked at 63 mph in a dive. Respiration is 250 breaths per minute. Their resting heart rate measures 250 also and accelerates to 1200 beats per minute while feeding. They are the race horses of birds, but extremely more agile. They fly forward, backward, downward, upward and even upside-down!
They will return to our area March through May, so keep an eye out and get those feeders ready. Their life span, if they make it past the first uncertain year, is five to ten years, so your returnees may have been part of your wildlife family for years! White granulated sugar is the best sweetener to use in hummingbird feeders with a ratio of one part sugar to four parts water. Hummingbirds like very sweet nectar, so anything less than twenty percent will probably be snubbed, and they will move in with your sweeter neighbor. Most feeders have some red decorative element on them somewhere, so there is no need to add red food coloring to the nectar you have prepared. Insects are also a big part of their diet. The presence of hummingbirds is a win-win situation. For just a little payment of sugar water, they will wreck havoc on your pesky, flying bug population, and that’s what the buzz is all about! Until next Spring, I Hope they’re having fun in the tropics.

Linda Bergman-Althouse
Wildlife Rehabilitator
Author of “Save Them All”

Turtles On The Move!

Turtles are more complicated than they look, and getting to know each species of turtle that calls North Carolina home is a challenge for staff and volunteers at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter (OWLS) in Newport, NC. Turtles come in different shapes (although they all resemble a circle), sizes, coloring, capabilities and live in a variety of habitats. They represent the oldest of all living reptiles, and have undergone little change since their beginnings early in the Triassic period of history. You’ll find turtles throughout North Carolina, from the Coastal Plain to our mountains in the west. Overall, twenty species of turtles, belonging to six different families inhabit North Carolina. Five of these species are sea turtles and one (the Eastern Box Turtle) is terrestrial which means lives primarily on land. The rest are semi-aquatic, inhabiting North Carolina’s ponds, wetlands, and other water bodies. We leave the rehabilitation efforts of sea turtles like Loggerheads and Kemp Ridley’s to the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle and Rehab Center crew at North Topsail. They care for the guys and girls who need to eventually get back to the ocean. Our focus is land and semi-aquatic turtles; Box, Yellowbelly Sliders, River Cooters, Bog, Painted, Mud, Spotted, Musk and the Common Snapping Turtle or often referred to as an Alligator Turtle.
Turtles are admitted to the shelter for a variety of reasons. We’ve seen them injured by fishing gear, litter, lawn mowers, by a dog that held it a little too tightly in his jaws, suffering from upper respiratory infections due to environmental pollutants such as pesticides and quite often, hit by a car. The greatest threat to turtles is habitat loss, particularly destruction and degradation of aquatic habitats. The destruction of terrestrial habitat surrounding wetlands and ponds which is required for nesting, and hibernation for some species, poses significant threats, forcing turtles on the move to find new habitat.
Sadly, thousands of turtles are crushed every year by cars on North Carolina’s roads and highways, which brings us to the question of the day regarding turtles and those who care about them. How do you move a turtle out of the road? The first thing you want to do is safely position your car on the side of the road, (with your hazard lights blinking) to ensure you do not put yourself or others at risk while you rescue the turtle. It would be great if you just happened to have a pair of work or rubber gloves in the car but most people don’t. (Just wash your hands after handling the turtle because they can carry salmonella like most other animals, including pet cats and dogs.) Gently pick up a turtle and move it out of harm’s way, in the direction he or she was heading. What you shouldn’t do is pick up a turtle and move it to what you, as a human, deem to be a safe spot. They always have a good turtle reason why they are heading in the direction they are going. This time of year is turtle crossing time because mates need to be found and eggs need to be laid. If it is a sizeable turtle, especially a snapping turtle, you can use a stick, shovel or broom to push it off the road. Never put your hands or feet near a snapping turtle. A snapper has a neck the length you wouldn’t believe and will be able to reach some part of you. Their vice-grip jaws can cause serious injury. Also, never pick up a turtle by the tail. That hold could easily damage their vertebrae. BUT above all, when moving a turtle from potential disaster in the road, please be CAREFUL and DO NOT put your life at risk. Turtle moving only applies when you are driving down a road where YOU CAN stop and move about safely.
You might be wondering why they cross the road in the first place. It doesn’t seem smart when you consider turtle speed versus vehicular speed. They can’t truly make a serious run for it when they finally do see an approaching automobile. Turtles genuinely need to cross the road because, quite simply, they were here before the road was and ancestral mapping is instinctual. So, a turtle trying to cross the road is not heading in the wrong direction. Her instincts are telling her where to go. They cross the road, moving from one body of water to another to find mates, expand territory, find nesting sites, and lay eggs, sometimes pausing to bask on the warm asphalt along the way. Most turtles day-tripping out into traffic are females heading for that predetermined nesting site. Turtles mature slowly, unable to lay eggs before age ten and can live fifty or more years.
Although 2011 is touted “Year of the Rabbit” by the Chinese, conservationists internationally designated 2011 as “Year of the Turtle” due to the fact that many turtle species are now under threat from a range of man-made problems. Turtles are disappearing from our planet faster than any other group of animal, so let’s do what we can to salvage our turtle heritage, wherever we are. Our careful stewardship can help preserve them.

Linda Bergman-Althouse
Author of “Save Them All”