How Northwoods homeowners can make their property safe for wildlife
Watching native wildlife is a favorite Northwoods pastime, but while enjoying animal visitors in the neighborhood, there are some precautions that can prevent tragic loss of life. It takes just a little thought and a few moments for homeowners to make sure their property is safe for wildlife.
Mark Naniot of Wild Instincts Wildlife Rehabilitation in Rhinelander has seen countless instances of human-caused wildlife injury over the years. “We have a board covered with photos of animals in trouble,” he says. “Fencing and netting, fishing tackle and line, and plastic food containers are some of the most dangerous things.”
Lakeshore property owners are in a unique position to make sure that detritus from anglers is cleaned up. Casting toward the shore from a boat often results in line and tackle being caught up in branches and logs, and it’s not always possible to clear such a mess from the boat.
“You should look up, too,” says Naniot. “There may be line hanging from high branches that can end up wrapped around birds. Once fishing line tightens around a bird’s leg or wing, it’s only a matter of time until it cuts off blood circulation.”
The big windows that provide humans with a wonderful view of the water are often deadly to local birds. Window strikes can be decreased or even prevented with simple stickers that help birds identify the reflective surface as something solid.
The Department of Natural Resources office building on Sutliff Avenue in Rhinelander was a common place for bird strikes until a couple of years ago when such deflector decals were installed. Staff members report a dramatic improvement and hand out flyers with information on how to obtain the product from the American Bird Conservancy at abcbirdtape.org.
While lead shot for duck hunting was banned in the 1980s, lead is still present in some fishing tackle. “Jig heads that are swallowed by loons and other birds sit in the stomach and leach poison into their bodies,” Naniot says. “Also, lead bullets used by deer hunters are consumed by eagles. If we can get to them in time, it can be treated.”
Litter such as the plastic ring that holds a six-pack of beverage cans is notorious for trapping and killing animals of all sorts. “It’s easy to just snip the rings before disposal,” Naniot explains. “We find animals with yogurt containers stuck on their heads. Simply rinsing trash before you dispose of it can prevent these tragedies.”
Gardeners know that a patch of vegetables or a treasured tree or bush can disappear in a hurry if not protected. Netting, however, is one of the worst culprits for injuring wildlife. “Birds, chipmunks, even snakes can become trapped in netting,” he says. “We’ve had deer caught in fencing and even in hammocks and soccer nets. There was one young deer that was trapped in an electric fence, being shocked over and over before we could release it.”
Naniot urges anyone who finds any animal in trouble to call Wild Instincts at 715-362-WILD (9452). “We don’t want anyone to be bitten or scratched,” he explains, adding that it’s usually best to leave the area so that the trapped animal isn’t alarmed even more.
“While the animal is struggling, the fear and stress causes a build-up of acid in their muscles,” Naniot says.
“Even if it is successfully released, it will usually run off and die when that acid is absorbed into the body later. We can come and tranquilize the animal, preventing that ‘white muscle’ disease.”
Naniot expects the coming winter to be similar to the last one, cold and snowy. “People will want to feed animals, but there are several things to consider,” he says.
“One of the worst things is to feed hay to deer during the winter. They can’t digest it, and it will leave them bloated and starving. If you give them corn all along, that’s OK, and good alfalfa is all right, as long as you don’t start feeding it all of a sudden in the middle of winter.”
There are many regulations pertaining to the feeding of deer and other animals, including a ban anywhere near a busy road with a speed limit over 35 mph. “Car hits are one of the worst hazards for animals,” says Naniot. “If you have a lot of road kills in your area, it’s probably best not to feed animals and encourage them to come around.”
Certain birdfeeders should be avoided, he warns. “You see the ones with a metallic ring around the opening to the food,” he explains. “Only, it’s not a complete circle, it has a gap at the bottom. Squirrels can get their necks trapped in there.”
Providing a bird bath in the winter is also problematic. “Birds can get their feet wet, then fly off and land on a metal railing and freeze their feet to it. If this happens, pour some water over the feet; don’t try to pull the bird off.”
Another thing to consider when feeding wildlife is that it will attract not just the cute ones, according to Naniot. “Whenever you encourage animals to gather, you’ll encourage predators as well. That can be hard for some people to accept, but that’s nature.”
Look around the property
With animals’ best interests in mind, it’s also a good idea for homeowners to take a hard look at their yard and stewardship practices.
“Habitat destruction is probably the number one danger to wildlife,” says Naniot. “When you clear natural vegetation for a lawn right down to the lake shore, when you use pesticides and herbicides and fertilizers that run into the water, you are destroying wildlife.”
Leaving plenty of buffer zones along the water and around the yard will help animals. Putting off fall clean-up to provide leaf-mulch cover for insects and small animals during the winter and spring will also help.
“Consider not removing the leaves when they fall,” says Naniot. “It’s really the best fertilizer there is.”
Outbuildings, attics and porches offer inviting winter homes for wild animals, but almost always spell trouble, he explains. “Before summer residents arrive, a raccoon or otter mother will think: this is a nice, quiet place to raise my young.
“Then when the humans arrive, somebody’s got to go. Give the animals time to leave on their own and don’t trap or kill the adults or you’ll have a litter of helpless babies on your hands. The best thing to do is close up holes and entry points to the buildings before next year.”
Don’t assume buildings are secure. Clean up spills and store things like oil, gasoline and chemicals in sealed containers. “We rescued a bear cub from someone’s garage and couldn’t understand what was wrong with it until the property owner admitted he had a bucket of anti-freeze in there. The cub drank it and died.”
Sharing the Northwoods with wildlife means that human/animal encounters will continue. With a bit of common sense and compassion, fewer animals will end up on the losing side.
Sue Schneider is a freelance writer who lives in Rhinelander. Her articles also appear in Northwoods Commerce and Northwoods ‘boomers and Beyond magazines.