Special Routes for Wildlife
We disturb an awful lot of plants and animals with our busy building projects. All sorts of wildlife, from bugs to bears, are killed while crossing roads. Sometimes we can help these animals dodge traffic by building special routes for them.
In Alberta's Banff National Park, huge underpasses allow deer and elk to cross the busy Trans-Canada Highway safely. In England, tunnels have been built under some roads to provide safe passage for toads.
A new roadside curb seemed like a towering cliff to thousands of rare Long-toed Salamanders in Waterton Lakes National Park, Alta. The amphibians were trying to cross the road on their way to a lake to lay their eggs. But when they couldn't scale the new obstacle, some were squashed by cars. Volunteers finally lifted about 1,200 of the stranded critters over the curb. Since then, cement ramps have been installed along the roadside to clear the way for the spring rush of salamander traffic.
Migratory Friends in Need
Is there a small migration happening near you? Some signs you might see of a migration in progress are unusual numbers of frogs hopping across a street in spring and fall or, sadly, an awful lot of squashed bodies on the pavement.
In Manitoba's Narcisse Wildlife Management Area, tunnels have been placed beneath a provincial highway to allow Red-sided Garter Snakes to travel safely to and from their winter dens.
Here's how you can help migratory species in your area:
- Be very watchful in spring and fall for signs of small migrants — turtles, snakes, frogs, toads, salamanders, and so on. Ask your local wildlife officials if they know of any local migrations.
- Turn a migration into a community event. Educate and involve the public if a species must cross a road or another dangerous area near you.
- It may be possible to temporarily close off the area to the public or reroute traffic until the migrants have safely passed.
- Consult with wildlife biologists for details on the species and for ideas on how to keep them out of harm's way.
Some creatures are considered "indicator species" by scientists. They serve as an early warning system for environmental trouble. If things go wrong with amphibians, for instance, we should pay careful attention. Since most amphibians spend part of their lives on land and part in water, their ill health may be a sign that the environment (land, air, water, or all three) is in serious trouble.
When any species changes its habits, there is reason to suspect that all is not well. The Common Loon, which is found throughout Canada, may not be endangered… yet. But shoreline developments continue to destroy nesting sites, and recreational activities can seriously disrupt both adults and chicks. Studies show that acid rain kills fish and other sources of food in lakes. So, in very acidic waters, loon clicks can starve.
A national survey on the Common Loon hopes to keep this situation from getting out of hand. The Canadian Lakes Loon Survey relies on volunteers across the country to monitor lakes for signs of this bird. It is just as important to keep tabs on lakes without any loons as well. Comparing both types will give biologists clues to the birds' survival needs. The CLLS also distributes signs that can be posted near nesting areas and provides plans for nesting platforms to help loons that have been displaced by human disturbances.
You can give loons a lift by participating in this survey. Volunteers need only monitor a lake three times (about an hour and a half per visit) each summer. Encourage others to join this national recovery "team" over the summer holidays. Put together a factsheet for family, friends, and neighbours. Include details about the Common Loon and what the survey aims to accomplish.
Leaping to the Rescue
Some frog species are disappearing, and worried scientists are taking action. They are keeping track of amphibian numbers through a huge survey network across Canada. Information collected so far shows that some amphibian populations are shrinking, most likely because their habitats are being changed or destroyed by humans. Frogs and toads are vulnerable to changes in the environment; for this reason they can be considered an “indicator species”. You can read more about this at Frogwatch!
Until scientists have gathered basic data, they can't tell what is normal or abnormal for an amphibian population. And since natural up-and-down flows in wildlife numbers take years, it's important that long-term surveys be done. Remember — patience is a virtue in wildlife recovery!
Hop on Board
The Metro Toronto Zoo's Adopt-a-Pond wetland program enlists the help of Ontario schools. Students send in details about amphibians they have sighted, usually at a nearby "adopted" pond. This information is useful to scientists studying reptiles and amphibians in Ontario. It also helps protect precious wetland habitat.
Each and every sighting is important — ever if just one or two lonely frogs make an appearance. All the sightings put together teach scientists a lot about these water-loving species. If you live in Ontario, your school can join the Metro Toronto Zoo's amphibian research group!
Piping Plover in a Pickle
A small, greyish-brown shore bird, the Piping Plover likes to nest on sandy beaches. Unfortunately, people like to use the beaches too, and that may be why this species is endangered. All-terrain vehicles, pets, humans, and cattle frighten the chicks and accidentally crush the well-camouflaged eggs. The birds breed from May to August across the southern Prairies and the Atlantic coast. Unfortunately, the species has been extirpated from the Great Lakes Region of Canada.
In the Atlantic Provinces, the Piping Plover relies on volunteers to protect nesting beaches during critical breeding periods. If you’d like to get involved or learn more about recovery efforts for this species, you can do so here.
Manitoba has a similar guardian program and has set aside several Piping Plover nesting beaches as special conservation areas. You can help this bird wherever it lives by learning all about it, including the tricky task of identifying the species. Be sure to contact your provincial wildlife department if you see a Piping Plover. Your sightings will help researchers keep track of the species.
Ferruginous Hawk Hangout
North America's largest hawk can no longer be found in many parts of the Prairies where it was once common. This grassland-loving bird once disappeared completely from Manitoba. But with help, the Ferruginous Hawk is slowly returning to the south-western corner of the province. Nowadays, its main population is found in Saskatchewan and Alberta. This ravenous raptor is a huge help to landowners. A breeding pair and their young can gulp down about 500 ground squirrels in a single nesting season. Now, that's a healthy appetite!
All three Prairie Provinces have programs to protect this handsome hawk. Artificial nesting structures have been successful, and Cottonwood trees planted in just the right isolated spots have attracted breeding Ferruginous and other hawk species. Landowners are being encouraged to put fences around likely hawk trees to prevent damage from cattle.
You can help the Ferruginous Hawk by planting Cottonwoods or putting up a nesting platform. Contact a provincial wildlife biologist for project supervision and a detailed platform design. Here are a few tips:
- Locate the platforms in secluded spots. (Hawks are easily disturbed.)
- Space them at least 1.2 kilometres apart to prevent disagreements between hawk neighbours.
- Locate platforms near a healthy population of ground squirrels for food.
- Check with power companies for possible donations of used poles to support the platforms.
- Use materials such as twigs, sage clumps, branches, and sun-dried cow-pats to make a bottom layer for the nest. Hawks will add new materials to the nest each year.
- Planting Cottonwoods will attract many species, so don't despair if a Ferruginous Hawk doesn't take up residence.
S.O.S. for the Burrowing Owl
The Burrowing Owl is in big trouble. It was once common on the Western Prairie grasslands. Today, in spite of recovery efforts, this little owl keeps getting scarcer. The reasons for its decline include habitat loss and fragmentation, lack of suitable prey, poison sprays, and more. One thing is for sure: the Burrowing Owl needs all the help it can get to survive in Canada. (The species is not doing well in the United States, either.)
Provincial biologists and landowners are co-operating to help out the species in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia. Just the same, fewer and fewer owls are nesting on the grasslands. For suggestions on how to help this truly unique bird on the Prairies, contact your provincial wildlife agency. You may be able to build a nest "burrow", organize a publicity campaign, help with a feeding program, or improve habitat for this little owl.
Be Friendly to Falcons
Since 1977, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, the Canadian Wildlife Service, and a number of volunteers have been reintroducing Peregrine Falcons to Ontario. This bird disappeared from the province and most of eastern North America in the 1950s. Pesticides, particularly DDT, caused the species many problems, such as eggshell thinning, making it impossible for falcon embryos to develop.
As part of the recovery plan, peregrines are raised in captivity in Alberta. When the chicks are about a month old, they are transported to one of four Ontario sites, where they are placed in nesting boxes on cliff faces. They are then fed regularly and monitored closely until they are ready to fly off on their own. Here's how you can contribute to the peregrine's recovery:
- Get to know all about this amazing species. (Did you know the Peregrine Falcon is one of the world's swiftest birds and can fly up to 290 kilometres an hour?)
- Tell your school, parents, friends, and neighbours about the fascinating recovery efforts.
- Think of ways you can help protect this endangered bird's special habitat.
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