By Ron Toel
Milwaukee and Madison are part of a large Metro Area, but the rest of Wisconsin is still a more rural burb than city. If one attends any gathering of people……at a coffee shop, or just leaning on a pickup with friends….the weather is almost positive to be discussed, which will lead to talk of gardening or whatever the local crop is and whatever wildlife may be making meals of those crops.
Everyone has special opinions about wildlife……to many of them eating my garden…Haven’t seen that around here before….or it surely was a big one… but almost every incident has the following words in it, “I saw it and it was just standing there looking at me.” YES, you are being watched.
The brilliant flash of a bluebird, or the buzz from the speed of the wings of a humming bird as it checks out the red lettering on your shirt, or the calls of other birds in the morning as the try to attract mates, or the migration of many species that usually begins or ends a season……all of these things enrich our lives no matter where we live or who we are from the oldest to our wee ones chasing a frog in the back yard.
Like with people, our feelings toward our wildlife neighbors tend to vary. Neighbors as the skunk, and rat and mouse, and birds as the house sparrow and starling are on the undesired list. However, deer, turkey, coyotes, raccoons and possum, and Canadian geese readily adapt to a city lifestyle but are also a pleasure to watch and are accepted even though they can too be pest.
We also have a list of beneficial wildlife neighbors that are not really sought after but just appear. Because of childhood stories, these also make the undesired list and are some times killed. These include snakes and bats that eat insect pests and rodents. Sight of these can be startling, however, if left alone they will not harm anyone and will be a great benefit to the areas natural balance.
In North America, there are more than 800 species of birds, and 450 species of reptiles and amphibians, and 375 species of mammals. Most are species specific as to the habitat in which they live…..whether it be the prairie, the mountains, the coast or rivers, or any combination of these…..but a few can live just about anyplace they set their mind to it. In doing so, they become year around residents, even though they are only seen more prevalently just a few months of the year. Most of our city neighbors have a small home range and may live their whole life …..whether it is just a couple of years, as is true with the rabbit, or a hundred years as is true of the tortoise….. in our backyard.
Birds create another story, because birds are very good travelers migrating from as far as one pole to the other and raise two families a year when they are not traveling. Most of our local birds that migrate, span between North America and South America, however there are many that winter in south Florida and summer in the Midwest or Canada. Many of these birds return to the same nest cavity or the same fence post every year of their life, even though they will have watched many “neighbors” in their migration travels. Quantity of food is about the only thing that would change them not returning to our neighborhood, and thus, we have a reason to incorporate feeders into our individual landscapes.
How well we see our wildlife neighbors depends upon how hard we look, and what type of habitat we provide for them. Their behavior also plays a big role in being seen as does their coloration and markings, and size. Colorful singing birds as the cardinal, are readily seen because they are active during the day, while many of our wildlife neighbors are reclusive and nocturnal and because they exhibit stealth and caution are seldom seen.
Blending in with their surroundings or camouflage is necessary for most animals to survive. Several species have perfected this trait, as is true of the snow shoe hare which is brown by summer and white by winter. Look at the young fawns all covered with white spots in the summer (mimicry of the beads of sun on the forest floor) and red rich red auburn coat (blood filled hollow hairs) in the fall and brown ( the hollow hairs have lost their blood supply and now act as insulation) in the winter. Look, too, at the anole that can be a green color on a green leaf but turns brown when it sits on the trunk of the tree.
While one sits and watches the bird feeder, one sees the dominance of male over
female, and the pecking order of one species over others, as they fight for territory for their placement of a nest in which to raise young. One can also see the difference in coloration of the sexes of many species of birds in which the male is highly colorful but the female is dull and blends into her surroundings so when one gazes at her while on the nest, she may not be seen, which is what keeps her from becoming prey to many species of predator. Cryptic coloration is very important to animal survival.
Females not only have a more bland coloration pattern but also, especially true in larger species and mammals, tend to maintain less pheromones so their scent cannot be detected by larger predators. In the mammals, the female creates an estrus cycle, in which their scent is high, but other times of the year it is mostly undetectable.
However, other species can detect scents via chemoreception. Take a snake, as an
example, can come across a pheromone trail in the woods. It does so by picking the pheromones on the tongue and deposit’s them in a receptor in their mouth. It is so highly developed that the snake can determine which direction the prey is going, so as not to waste energy looking in the wrong place for it.
The dependency of a long life also relies on the senses of the species. This means their sight has to be sharp……Their hearing has to be highly developed…….Their sense of taste has to be able to detect certain foods as poisons…….Their sense of smell has to be able to distinguish pheromones of a mate verses pheromones of a predator……and their least developed sense is touch which helps them maintain with their environmental factors. Eyes created to see in low light and to be able to focus at great distances. Ears that can move independently and detect small and distant sounds. Noses that can pick up scents so as to be able to locate and follow prey. And even such specialized features as echolocation in bats, maintain their well being by not only finding food in complete darkness but also in prevention of bumping into things in the dark. These are highly unique and highly specialized senses compared to their human counter parts to say the least.
Day or night, every day of the year, our wildlife neighbors are closer to us than one thinks. Keep an eye out for them. Create feeding and watering stations for them. Create safe habitats for them. Give them food, water, and safety and they will survive and reproduce in your area. It is then they can be enjoyed because they will know they are being watched just as they are watching you.