Spring is upon us! Days are getting longer, the sun is shining, and we’re all slightly coming out of your winter’s torpor with a boost of energy. And so are the animals and plants around you. Blossoming trees surround you and awake your senses with their vibrant colours and smells; birds are getting out and about, busy accumulating nesting material and fighting for suitable habitat like tree hollows ahead of the breeding season; possums can be seen at night moving from tree to tree with little backriders, and macropods’ joeys might be seen waving hello from the comfort of their pouches. As you get outdoors more, you will most likely start noticing these critters, and some of you will witness their struggles to get by in environments such as busy cities.
As good as it feels leaving cold and rainy days behind, spring puts an increased pressure on wildlife emergency response services as they try their best to address emergencies linked with this sudden buzzing of life. The good news is there are things you can do to help during this challenging time, in the areas you frequent every day. With spring comes an increased responsibility to help native wildlife get by, as Rowan Mott elegantly reminded us with his article “On death road”. If we are to keep the animals that surround us thriving, this is a crucial time to get involved. As an emergency response operator for Victoria’s largest wildlife rescue organisation, there are pieces of advice I provide every day in spring to animal lovers that can’t stand to watch animals end up in dangerous and sometimes unexpected situations.
If you are a wildlife lover, you might have been excited about getting birds nesting in your yard, or in the parks you frequently enjoy. Little chicks can be blown out of nests in cases of bad weather, and left vulnerable at the bottom of trees. Unless they are injured, the best thing to do if accessible is to grab a container and poke a few holes at the bottom for drainage, put some leaves and twigs in it and secure the makeshift nest on the side of the nearest tree before putting the little ones back in there. That way, they will be off the ground and safe from predators but they will still be within sight and hearing distance of their parents, which will keep on caring for them as soon as they feel that it is safe to do so. This is the best chance of survival for these birds who still need their parents to feed them and teach them the necessary skills to survive in the wild, which cannot be replicated in care very well. Don’t worry about touching the nestlings, as the idea that the parents will abandon them if you do is actually a myth - birds have a terrible sense of smell and won’t be able to tell!
A bit later in the season, you might come across “fluffy”, cheeky birds on the ground. They sometimes show inquisitive behaviours and approach humans as if “asking for help”, or keep on flapping their wings as if “distressed”. This behaviour is the equivalent of your morning work-out: they are building strength in their wing and chest muscle so they can get traction and take off. These are called fledglings and they need to be on the ground for periods of time, the lengths of which depend on the species and the availability of food. This is all part of their normal learning process as they learn to fly from the ground up. You may have noticed this behaviour in magpies, for example, as well as in miners and rainbow lorikeets, which are birds commonly found in urban and suburban areas.
The best thing to do, if the bird you come across is uninjured, is to let it be. Whether you notice or not, the parents are usually around keeping an eye on their little ones, teaching them how to navigate busy roads and avoid predators. Once again, their chance of survival is increased by being kept with their parents in their natural environments, as opposed to taking them to vets or carers. So now you know: no bird-knapping!
You might have feared for duck families travelling from their nesting sites to the nearest body of water on busy roads and wished you could grab them all and relocate them to safety. As scary as it sounds, wildlife rescuers tend not to intervene unless they are injured, because they usually make the matter worse. Ducks can become stressed easily, and mother ducks can indeed run into traffic and get killed or altogether decide to abandon their fluffy ducklings because of the stress associated with an anticipated capture. Besides, the ducklings need to make the journey with their parents in order to learn which direction to go in and how to behave on the way.
Birds are not the only ones that get in trouble during spring. Although joeys can be found in marsupials’ pouches at any time of the year, spring coincides with a peak of births and so it becomes even more crucial to check pouches of animals found dead on the side of the road. If you feel comfortable doing so, it is always a good idea to check that no fur baby is left behind, or to call a wildlife rescue group to do so. If dead animals have spray paint on their bodies, it means that the job has already been done.
Little possums are frequently found on the ground and, if the mum is nowhere to be found, should be picked up and kept warm so they don’t suffer from hypothermia. It is always a good idea in these cases to take the little ones to the nearest vet clinic or local shelter free of charge so they can be fed and kept alive. This way, they have a chance to be rehabilitated. At this stage, they are harmless and can easily be put in a box or wrapped up in a blanket.
Lizards and echidnas are other animals that start becoming more active in spring and for which we start receiving more calls. They are usually basking in the sun or looking for food and if uninjured, should be left alone. It is encouraged to keep the disturbance associated with children and pets to a minimum so the animal feels safe enough that it can move around and find its way back to where it came from. Most calls we get about these animals are from people surprised to see them in suburban areas, but unless they are injured, we cannot legally move them, as we risk getting them lost. This is especially true for species such as echidnas, which could then be prevented from finding their way back to their burrow to take care of their babies.
The other reason why we get calls about these animals is pet attacks. At this time of year, responsible pet ownership is even more crucial than usual, as many harmless critters are out and about and are still learning who to trust and who to avoid. I would encourage you to keep pets inside, especially at night, or put a bell on their collar to avoid the deadly encounters we hear about too often.
So as you can see, it’s time for you to spring into action and help wildlife! You can educate yourself and the people that surround you. If still in doubt, feel free to call a wildlife rescue group. Let’s work together to keep wildlife happy during this demanding time of the year.
For more information on assisting native wildlife, please visit Wildlife Victoria's website or call them on (03) 8400 7300 to report a wildlife emergency.
Elodie came to Australia where she recently completed a PhD in seabird ecology at Deakin University, after studying marine biology in Europe. She is passionate about the natural world and its protection. She is also a dive instructor and Emergency Response Operator at Wildlife Victoria.
You can find her on Twitter at @ECamprasse.
Banner image courtesy of Elodie Camprasse.