Mystery Monday: Spring Critter Smarts

Cute coyote puppies -- but don't touch! They're still wild animals.

At this time of year the desert is teeming with new life. (Unless, of course, you live in Chino Valley, Arizona. Then, Spring is a myth since it is still cold and windy! Yuck!)

But, if you live in other areas, it’s time to get spring critter smart. Many of those new lives may be cute and cuddly, let’s face it: They’re not welcome in our campsites, homes, and gardens. (The tarantula below scooted through my campsite and paused for a photo!)

These guys drove my dog, Lily, nuts. I finally had to put her in the truck!

“This is certainly the time for baby wildlife to hit the ground,” said Rory Aikens, spokesman for the Arizona Game and Fish Department. “From baby birds to javelina, foxes, coyotes, pretty much anything you can name. In the desert, the springtime is the time to be born because there are more things to eat.”

Animals adapt to the conditions around them, so an abundance of plant life means more insects and small mammals. That leads to more predators. Predators can be more than a nuisance; they can be dangerous to small pets, both when you’re out camping and at home.

Speaking of home, don’t think that URBAN makes you safe. Chino Valley is still rather rural, but those cute baby coyotes in the photo above were raised in a culvert under the road in my parent’s neighborhood. Don’t believe me? This photo is taken across the street as the mother is heading away from the “den” for the day.

Coyote mom checking out ESP Boss as he took photos of her babies.

Anybody living in the desert needs to be aware of snakes. That’s just about anywhere in Arizona or New Mexico. The deserts of Southern California have snakes too! When rattlesnakes are shedding their skins they don’t rattle. Spring isn’t the only time snakes shed their skins, but they’re more likely to be active as the weather warms. Other reptiles and insects become more active.

The rattle is to warn other animals away. But don’t be fooled by Hollywood- rattlesnakes will bite even without a warning rattle! Be sure to carry a snakebite kit if you’re heading to their homes!

He won't always rattle to warn you.

Don’t Touch The Babies!

My friend Carter saw some baby javelina and thought they had been orphaned. He actually made the mistake of trying to pick one up. It bit him. Hard enough to send him to the emergency room!

Leave the handling of wild animals to the professionals. Keep reading to find out who you need to call and how you can determine if help is needed.

When You Find An Abandoned Baby Animal

So, you think that you’ve found an orphaned animal. Before you rush it home to bottle feed, you need to make sure it really is in trouble. The best way to do that is to wait and check it periodically. Rabbits feed their young only at dusk and dawn, so you’re not likely to see the mother. If the babies are plump and warm and squirmy, they are being taken care of. If you are unsure, place some sticks across the nest. If the sticks are later disturbed, the mother has returned to feed her young.

Many people are concerned baby birds, particularly if a young bird is on the ground. Frequently, however, the bird is learning how to fly. Baby birds spend quite a bit of time on the ground before they perfect their flying skills; the mother is close by, protecting and feeding the baby. It is a myth that a baby bird’s mother will not accept the bird if it has been touched by a human; it is perfectly fine to place a baby bird back in its nest if the location of the nest is known.

If you determine that a wild animal needs assistance, a wildlife rehabilitator is the best person to call. A rehabilitator can explain what to do to keep the animal safe, quiet, warm, and protected until you can get the appropriate help. It is important to keep cats, dogs, and children away from the animal while determining if the animal needs help or remains in the area. Never attempt to rehabilitate a wild animal yourself -it’s illegal and doesn’t do the animal any favors.

Call your veterinarian to ask how to contact your local Department of Natural Resources or how to contact wildlife rehabilitators in your area.

He trotted right in front of my truck as if he owned the road!

Readers Weigh In:

What critters come out in spring in YOUR area? What do you do to avoid them?

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