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Moderate winter both good and bad for animals

Deer are one of the species that benefit from mild winters, with low snow levels making it easier for them to travel and find food - sometimes to the dismay of urban home owners.
Deer are one of the species that benefit from mild winters, with low snow levels making it easier for them to travel and find food - sometimes to the dismay of urban home owners. - Lynn Curwin

TRURO, N.S. – The lack of snow, along with some milder than average days this winter, are both good and bad when it comes to wildlife.

 The mild February weather has resulted in some animals being more active early in the year.

“Someone saw squirrels mating about three weeks ago, and that’s early,” said Dr. Helene Van Doninck, who runs the Cobequid Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre. “I think a lot of babies will be early this year.

“I hope migratory birds will come back at their regular time. Some birds might nest early, and as long as the weather stays good they should be OK. If it turns cold again and there’s not enough food, some of the young won’t survive.”

She said several porcupines and raccoons have already been hit by cars along Highway 102 this year. These animals spend much of the winter sleeping in their dens, in a state called torpor, and when they first come out of it they’re not as alert as they are later in the year. Hibernation lasts for a longer period of time than torpor.

“Normally, we have an influx of owls every winter, and have had 14 at one time,” said Van Doninck. “When snow is deep, or there’s a crust on it, they can’t get mice and voles. This year we’ve only had four.”

While this makes winter easier for birds of prey, it can mean a reduced food supply later in the year, as fewer rodents are left to breed.

“Some species, like mice, like the insulation of snow, and an open winter is hard on them,” said Ross Hall, a retired wildlife biologist.

He noted that it’s been an easy winter on deer, unlike 2015, when snow was heavy.

“That year was also tough on many birds,” he said. “Canada geese arrived and there were no fields bare so they were feeding on top of the dykes.”

He said the mating calls of some birds have already been heard this year, so nesting could begin soon.

While bears may come out of their dens early, in response to warm temperatures, they usually don’t stay out long if their food sources aren’t easily available.

Milder temperatures can also mean more trouble with fleas and ticks, but local veterinarians have found the parasites on pets throughout the winter and urge people to check animals closely.

lynn.curwin@trurodaily.com

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