Babes in the Woods

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When driving on a back road, I met this fawn standing in the road. It attempted to run away, but could not climb the steep bank next to the road so it lay down in the shadows to hide. I took a quick photo and drove past. When I was a ways away, mom came of of the brush and lead the fawn to safety.

As I was driving home last week, two Canadian geese with a bunch of goslings attempted to cross the road twixt my car and an on-coming pick up truck. Both drivers saw the geese scramble out of the ditch and head across the road, so we stopped and gave the geese plenty of room. That didn’t stop the adults from excitedly honking and flapping their wings while herding the goslings across the road. One gosling slipped on the edge of the black top and flipped head over webbed feet. The fuzzy yellow bird which was nearly the size of a crow ended up on its back. Both the goslings’ webbed feet and undersized wings were flailing madly in the air as it righted itself and then proceeded in a hurried waddle across the road.
This comical incident is a reminder that many species have recently given birth. Creatures from deer to rabbits to possums to birds to bears have young ones that need to be protected, raised and taught the ways of survival. Each species has a repertoire of tricks to ensure the survival of enough newborns to ensure the survival of the species.
Camouflage is one method adult animals protect their young. I tend to despise yard work and lawn mowing in particular so I delay mowing as long a possible in the spring. Hence the grass gets a bit long sometimes. One spring day, I noticed our dog Izzy running back and forth from her dog house to a single spot in the long grass. I investigated and discovered that Izzy had found a nest of baby bunnies and that she was carrying them in her mouth, unharmed, to her dog house. The nest was within five feet of where we park the car and was invisible until one had knelt down and parted the grass. We distracted Izzy long enough to put her back on her chain and then place the bunnies back in their nest. By the next morning, the mother had moved the bunnies to a safer location.
Many newly born animals are scent free, which makes it easier for them to hide from predators. Fawns are one of the critters that are scent free for at least a few days. Fawns rely on being scent free and on hiding to survive. The spots on a fawn serve as camouflage and the fawn instinctively knows from birth to remain motionless for long periods of time. The fawns remain in one location for several weeks while the doe wanders off to eat and ruminate. The doe only approaches the fawn when it is feeding time for the fawn. If the doe has multiple fawns, she will hide each fawn in a different location. This strategy increases the odds that a least one of the fawns will survive – even if the others become dinner for a hungry bobcat or coyote. As deer have become more prevalent in urban and suburban areas, hiding fawns are found more frequently by well intentioned but biologically misinformed people. They see the “cute little Bambi” all by itself and assume the deer has been abandoned by its parent. Then they scoop up the deer and head to the DNR office or to a wildlife rehabilitator. Since the fawn and parent are pursuing a time proven survival strategy, the best course of action is to take a picture or two, from a long distance, and leave the fawn in its spot.
Producing prodigious numbers of offspring is another survival strategy. Rabbits, squirrels and many birds have adopted this strategy. The idea is simple: produce more offspring than will die before they reproduce. Robins are the masters of producing multiple broods of young in a year. Robins pull off at least two broods every summer and maybe another one in the winter. I can observe the prolific nature of robins every spring because a robin always builds a nest on the front porch light. So many nests have been built there over the years the siding on the house is permanently stained. Yet, it is highly doubtful that the same robin builds the nest from year after year since robins have an 80 percent mortality rate. That the robin population remains so large while 8 out of 10 robins die annually makes it apparent just how many robins must be born each year. Distraction is how birds like killdeer and waterfowl protect their young. When I lived in Southeastern Ohio, I walked home everyday across a park. A killdeer had a nest in the corner of the park and like clockwork, the killdeer presented me with the “broken wing” pose at the same spot every day. The killdeer would trill loudly and flap its ‘broken wing” all the while leading me away from the nest. After leading me for about 50 yards the bird would fly away. Most hen ducks will also exhibit this behavior on the water. Many times I have surprised a hen and her ducklings while canoeing; the ducklings will beat a hasty retreat to the nearest cover, while the mother begins to quack loudly and beat her wings against the water while swimming away. The duck will lead the canoe around two or three bends in the river before taking flight back to her offspring.
Aggressive behavior towards threats is another means of ensuring the survival of young. The old adage of never getting between a mother bear and her cubs has been proven statically true. Most bear attacks on humans do involve a mother with cubs. Other animals with young can also become aggressive. One spring, I was hiking and camping in the Jones Spring wilderness area in the Nicolet National Forest. Suddenly an animal burst out of the weeds along side the trail and headlined towards me. I had a brief thought of a bear attacking as I stumbled back. Then I realized the whir of motion and sound of furry was actually a mother grouse. I also saw her poults scampering off in the opposite direction. My brother and I once attempted to fish a small remote lake in Northern Minnesota, but found it impossible because a pair of loons were using the lake to raise their little loonie (not sure what you call a baby loon). The two adult loons repeatedly dive bombed the canoe. Sometimes they swooped as low as our heads when they passed over the canoe. We decided there were other lakes in the area that had better fishing and left.
Critters with young become less mobile during the rearing season. Thus animals like bears, foxes and coyotes, which normally roam a large territory, hunker down near the den or limit travel to a small area until the offspring can travel large distances. The dilemma the animals face is eating while remaining in one place. Hence any good food source will be utilized repeatedly. This causes issues in populated areas as bears and other large critters raid feeders, garbage cans, fledgling gardens, and any other food source. The best method of dealing with feeding animals in the spring is to remove easy food sources like feeders. If an animal like a fox is suddenly present repeatedly in a yard or area, be aware that there is most likely a den nearby. Give the den as much space as possible and use the opportunity for some wildlife photography.
Wild critters, both feathered and furred, have many means of ensuring the survival of their young and the species. We humans can best help the animals pursue raising their offspring by doing no more than observing the process.

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