Kenwood Press

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Living with Wildlife: 07/01/2016

Tips for helping wildlife

Sasha the cat
Sasha Ponsford-Jones: a happy, healthy house cat.
Baby season has arrived and wildlife rescue and rehabilitation centers across the state are burgeoning with orphaned wildlife. Without their moms, these babies are doomed, unless they are fortunate enough to be rescued and taken to a permitted wildlife rescue center. We can't save them all, of course, but every year tens of thousands of animals are released back into the wild because of our help. It's good to know that so many people care enough about wildlife that they bring animals to us, call us about animals in need, and want to help in so many ways. Almost without exception, these animals have come to us because of some sort of conflict with humans, whether intentional or not. Here are some things we can do to help.

Drive Carefully. This time of year it's especially important to be aware of wildlife when you are driving. These little country roads of ours frequently have wildlife on or near them. Often there is more than one, so if you slow down for a deer, remember that there could be fawns or other adults behind them. Quail and turkeys are often in large groups.

Recently, as we were on our morning walk, we found a dead skunk on the road which had been killed by a car. As I pulled her body off the road, I noticed that she was a lactating mother. Although we looked around the area for a den site, we were not able to find one. It was heartbreaking knowing that her babies would die too. Many orphans come in to rescue because their mother has been killed by a car.

Tree Trimming. Nesting season for birds in Sonoma County generally runs from early March through early September. The same is true for other wildlife that nest in trees, such as raccoons, and opossums. Squirrels now seem to be nesting year round. This is also the time when a lot of people want to trim or prune. For obvious reasons, birds and mammals are experts at concealing their nests when they build them. It's best to get your pruning and trimming done before or after the nesting season, otherwise you may risk disturbing an active nest. If you absolutely must do trimming or pruning, observe the tree or shrub for nesting activity before doing anything. It is not unusual for animals, usually baby squirrels, to come into wildlife rescue centers with cuts from a chainsaw. Terrible.

All native birds, their eggs, chicks or nests are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, as well as California State Codes, making it unlawful to harm, harass, possess or kill a native bird, its eggs, chicks or active nests. Heavy fines and possible jail time should be enough to discourage you.

Don't use Rodenticides or Poisons. I am embarrassed to admit that for many years the man who set traps under our house to control rodents, used rodenticides. We always discussed that we didn't want to harm any wildlife, and he assured us that we would only be catching the rats that were chewing on our heating ducts, making our furnace less than efficient. He was wrong! For some years now, we have known that rodenticides have a secondary effect on wildlife. The mouse or rat that eats the rodenticide usually doesn't die right away. They go outdoors in search of water, are sluggish, and therefore easy prey to the many animals that eat them. Those animals then get not only the mouse, but the poison as well. This is a terrible situation. A few years ago, rodenticides were banned in California to the general public, but professionals still can use them. If you use a pest control service, ask them not to use rodenticides. There are safe alternatives to pesticides, such as snap traps. Never use glue traps - they are cruel and often catch non-targeted wildlife such as bats and birds.

Keep Your Cats Indoors. This is a tough one for many people. Even though it's long been shown that indoor cats lead healthier, longer lives, some people cannot be convinced that it's better to keep cats inside. They think it's cruel to keep them in, but don't consider how cruel it is to let them out. Cats were domesticated, yes, but they still have so much wildness in them. I recently read a convincing article arguing that cats have never been completely domesticated. They are perfect little killing machines, and don't kill because they need to for food - as wild cats would do. The majority of birds that come into rescue, come in as a result of encounters with cats. Cats kill billions of birds and small mammals (rabbits, squirrels, etc.) each year. Outdoor cats are a huge problem.

Having said all those negative things about cats, we love them and I could not imagine life without a cat or two. We started keeping our cats indoors some 35 years ago and have never regretted that decision. They live long and healthy lives, are safe and snuggly clean. “Catios” are now the rage and one only needs to look on the internet to see that there are all sorts of enclosures for cats available. Our cats go in and out all the time, but when they are out, they are in their own enclosure where they can bird watch to their heart's content, and not kill a thing. This works for us and the cats.

Sharon Ponsford is a a longtime volunteer with Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue and a former board member of the California Council of Wildlife Rehabilitators. She lives in Glen Ellen. If you have questions or would like to ask her about our local wildlife, please email her at

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