Wildlife Ecology & Management

    Wildlife Ecology & Management

    Frequently Asked Questions

    Dear Briget,
    Wow, what a great question! Do you want your yard to be wildlife friendly in general or do you have a favorite type of wildlife?
    First, some general information. Skip ahead if you already know this part (smile).
    All animals have the same basic needs : food, water, shelter (from the elements, from predators, and to raise young). Wildlife need these things to be in relatively close proximity to each other; how much space an animal uses to get these requirements is called its home range. For small wildlife species such as lizards and mice, your yard might encompass an animal's entire home range. For larger animals and birds, your yard might only be a small part of an animal's home range.
    If you have a specific type of animal or species of animal that you are interested in, we can work together to determine some specific requirements and home range information.
    Now for some ideas:
    To attract a wide variety of species, you should create or maintain diversity in your yard. For example, you could establish trees and shrubs of varying heights and species, preferably in clusters, in your yard to create a diversity of shelter choices. To provide habitat for lizards, you might create a rock garden with "sun bathing" rocks. Planting native berry-producing shrubs in your yard will attract migratory birds in the fall.
    In creating a "wildlife friendly" yard, please keep in mind that you might attract wildlife that you really didn't intend to. We want you to increase your positive experiences with wildlife without creating opportunities for negative experiences with wildlife. For example, Cedar City is black widow country. Black widows like rock gardens, where they live in the crevasses between the rocks. If your yard is a haven for small mammals, it might attract predators of those small mammals, such as grey fox, red fox, or coyotes. Additionally, you will want to be careful to plant trees and shrubs that are generally not preferred by mule deer. When you are ready, we can provide you with a list of plant species that might be best for your yard. None of the above species are "bad" species, but they could create some concerns that you will want to be aware of.
    Creating "wildlife friendly" yards can provide fabulous experiences for you and your family. But remember, please do not provide food intended for humans or pets to wildlife -- this includes not keeping your dog or cat food outside. Please remind your family to never try to tame wildlife -- to do so might have negative consequences to them or the wildlife. To maintain positive experiences with wildlife, and avoid negative experiences, we need to keep wildlife wild!
    For more information, you can stop by your Iron County Extension office to talk to our Horticulturalist or come and see me (SCA rm 202, SUU Campus); or you are welcome to continue to email me.
    Good luck!
    Posted on 10 May 2013

    Nicki Frey

    Dear Briget,
    Wow, what a great question! Do you want your yard to be wildlife friendly in general or do you have a favorite type of wildlife?
    First, some general information. Skip ahead if you already know this part (smile).
    All animals have the same basic needs : food, water, shelter (from the elements, from predators, and to raise young). Wildlife need these things to be in relatively close proximity to each other; how much space an animal uses to get these requirements is called its home range. For small wildlife species such as lizards and mice, your yard might encompass an animal's entire home range. For larger animals and birds, your yard might only be a small part of an animal's home range.
    If you have a specific type of animal or species of animal that you are interested in, we can work together to determine some specific requirements and home range information.
    Now for some ideas:
    To attract a wide variety of species, you should create or maintain diversity in your yard. For example, you could establish trees and shrubs of varying heights and species, preferably in clusters, in your yard to create a diversity of shelter choices. To provide habitat for lizards, you might create a rock garden with "sun bathing" rocks. Planting native berry-producing shrubs in your yard will attract migratory birds in the fall.
    In creating a "wildlife friendly" yard, please keep in mind that you might attract wildlife that you really didn't intend to. We want you to increase your positive experiences with wildlife without creating opportunities for negative experiences with wildlife. For example, Cedar City is black widow country. Black widows like rock gardens, where they live in the crevasses between the rocks. If your yard is a haven for small mammals, it might attract predators of those small mammals, such as grey fox, red fox, or coyotes. Additionally, you will want to be careful to plant trees and shrubs that are generally not preferred by mule deer. When you are ready, we can provide you with a list of plant species that might be best for your yard. None of the above species are "bad" species, but they could create some concerns that you will want to be aware of.
    Creating "wildlife friendly" yards can provide fabulous experiences for you and your family. But remember, please do not provide food intended for humans or pets to wildlife -- this includes not keeping your dog or cat food outside. Please remind your family to never try to tame wildlife -- to do so might have negative consequences to them or the wildlife. To maintain positive experiences with wildlife, and avoid negative experiences, we need to keep wildlife wild!
    For more information, you can stop by your Iron County Extension office to talk to our Horticulturalist or come and see me (SCA rm 202, SUU Campus); or you are welcome to continue to email me.
    Good luck!
    Posted on 10 May 2013

    Nicki Frey

    Hi Lynsay,
    I apologize for the delayed response! We were having trouble getting my responses to post!
    Damage from rabbits has been a plague for gardeners since we started agriculture, I think. So, there is a lot of information out there -- some information better than others. Given that you are from Iron County, I'm going to assume that you are having problems with cottontails, not jackrabbits, although the possible solutions would be similar.
    Control of rabbits can come in several forms: Habitat Modification, Exclusion, Repellants, and Frightening.
    First, you should try to remove anything that can create a shelter for rabbits. This would include debris and brush piles in the back of the yard, low level decks that can have a small area between the deck and the ground, a storage shed that is seldom entered by you, a fallow field with high grass; basically anything that could make a suitable place for a small rabbit to hide. By removing "rabbit friendly" habitat, you will reduce the ability of a rabbit to spend time in your yard.
    Second, you will need to (try) to exclude rabbits from your garden. How you do this will depend mostly on the size of your garden and whether or not you have garden boxes or simply till the land. The best method for excluding rabbits is to build a woven wire (1-in mesh) fence about 2 ft. high. Unlike European rabbits, cottontails do not dig extensively. However, the can still dig; so if you have a smaller garden, I would suggest burying the wire mesh a couple inches into the ground. Otherwise, just make sure to have the fence very snug against the ground. If you already have a wire fence around your garden, simply attach the smaller mesh fence along the bottom, making sure it is snug to the ground and about 2 feet high.
    If exclusion isn't working you may also try repellants. Repellants require more frequent attention than fences, but if used correctly they may work. The downside to many commercial repellants is that they are often not something you would like to spray on your food. However, they may be a consideration prior to your vegetables producing edible products. Some people have reported that sprinkling mothballs around the garden will repel rabbits. However, if you have a larger garden, or small children in the area, this may not be a good option.
    There is a commercial market for frightening devices for most animals. To be useful, they need to be unpredictable yet constantly applied. For example, a playback of a cottontail in trouble that is attached to a motion sensor might work for you. There are also a few new devices that squirt water when activated by motion. However, it is important to remember that a hungry rabbit will conquer his/her fears in order to get food.

    Please let me know how these options worked for you!

    Good luck,
    Nicki

     Hi Sandy,

     

    There could be several culprits that might be at work here, depending on how many birds are dying.  If there are several birds dying over the course of several days, I hate to say it, but that might be the result of poisoning or shooting.  If it were just one bird, I might say a cat got it, or it hit your house and terminally injured itself or something random happened.  Several deaths indicate a pattern.  So, unless you have cats that like to hang out under your bird feeder as well, then...

    Shooting: 

    If you think it is a shooting event, your best option is to call your local Utah Division of Wildlife Resources office, and ask to speak to a biologist that works with "non-game birds" to have somebody come and inspect the birds.  You can also inspect the birds yourself, if you feel comfortable doing so, but the Division Biologist knows how to do so safely.  If you feel comfortable, wearing gloves, you can carefully inspect the birds' bodies for any wounds that would indicate a bullet or pellet injured them.  

    Shooting birds within residential areas is illegal, and more importantly, is not safe for neighbors.  If the birds are being shot, you need to know, and so does the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. 

    Poisoning:  This is probably not the result of the grass killer.  MOST herbicides certified for residential uses are safe for wildlife species.  So, this is probably not the result of the herbicide being passed up the food chain.  If somebody is intentionally poisoning the doves, using a wildlife poison,  a wildlife biologist will be able to notice the signs via blood in the mouth and nostrils, etc.  Again, this is illegal, and this behavior is not safe for neighbors or their pets. 

    Disease: Although we have not seen much activity with West Nile Virus in recent years, this could be a potential cause of death.  Again, this is something that the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources should be aware of. I am not trying to cause alarm, because this is probably the least likely cause of death, but to be safe, I wanted to mention it.  West Nile Virus is first detected in birds, but then may be transmitted to humans via mosquito bite.  So, a group of doves dying for no other visible reason would be cause for concern. 

    Thank you for bringing it to my attention.  I strongly suggest that you contact your local Division wildlife biologist, in the interest of public safety, at the very least. I hope that there is a simple solution to the problem.

    All the best, 

    Nicki Frey

     

    Utah Division of Wildlife Resources

    Salt Lake City office

    1594 W North Temple, Suite 2110, Box 146301, Salt Lake City, UT 84114-6301
    Phone: 801-538-4700

    Fax: 801-538-4745

     Utah Prairie Dogs are endemic to southern Utah; they can only be found in 7 counties in Utah and nowhere else.  Utah prairie dogs’ preferred habitat has wide, open spaces, predominantly grassy with few shrubs.  Like other prairie dogs, they need to live in areas where the soil is light and easy to dig, so that they can build their underground burrows.  Unfortunately, as many residents of southern Utah have discovered, a lot of our soil has a high % of clay, which is hard to dig in.  As a result, there is competition between Utah prairie dogs and humans for diggable soil to make a living with.  Biologists and wildlife managers would rather see Utah prairie dogs living outside of town, where they can live out their lives without causing conflict with human activities.  But, that doesn’t always happen and we often see Utah prairie dog colonies in vacant lots, back fields, and areas where the soil is suitable for digging and human activity is not high – including agricultural fields.

     
    Most of the time, Utah prairie dog colonies that “crop up” in town are fairly small, with less than 10 animals living in the colony.  However, each adult female gives birth to an average of 4 offspring each year.  This can result in many juvenile Utah prairie dogs emerging from their burrows each summer.  And as you know, while grown-ups usually behave, the younger generation doesn’t always.  The young animals will begin to explore the area around their colony as they begin to grow-up.  Additionally, the presence of new juvenile animals increases the competition for food, and animals will begin to move further outside of their colony in order to find food.  To complicate matters, the juvenile male Utah prairie dogs will start to move away from the colony where they were born in order to find their own way in the world.  All of this increased movement is what causes the “general public” to notice Utah prairie dogs, as juveniles run around and play with each other, dart out into roads, and show up in people’s yards. 
     
    Each summer, we see a sharp increase in the number of Utah prairie dogs killed on road.  Sometimes, they dart out from the brush and run out into the road, it is almost impossible to avoid them.  Certainly, one way that you can help to reduce road kill is to drive or bike more slowly through areas where you see Utah prairie dog activity or where you know Utah prairie dogs  live. Also, in these areas, stay alert: put down the phone and keep your eyes on the road.  But that is good advice for driving (and biking!) in general.
     
    Be conscious of them, but don’t be too friendly.  Please remember that they are wild animals.  While the juveniles can be fun to watch, they are not tame – they see you as a predator and will defend themselves if trapped or cornered. 

     

    Posted on 4 Sep 2014

    Nicki Frey

    Yes of course it is!!  This time of year is my absolute favorite for hiking.  The crisp air and beautiful Fall colors are so invigorating.   Living around so much public land affords us terrific opportunities to get out there an experience nature in the Fall, whether we are hiking or hunting.  But there are few things hikers – and hunters – must remember to ensure that we can all use the land safely. 

    Hikers, you should always be aware of when the hunting seasons begin and end, and where the most popular hunting locations are.  Once you are out there, make sure you stay on the trails.  Hunters know where the trails are, and are cautious around them.  If you are bush whacking across the landscape, a hunter who hears you might be expecting you to be a deer or elk.  Of course, if you are nervous about hiking during the hunting season, perhaps now is a wonderful time for you to explore Utah’s national parks! There is no hunting allowed inside their boundaries. 

    Did you know neon colors are “in” this Fall? So, for once you’ll be on trend when you bust out your neon orange t-shirt, vest, or hat when hiking on public lands this Fall.  In all seriousness, consider that neon orange is a safety color for a reason.  For one, no game species has patches of neon orange on it.  However, turkeys have pale blue, white, and red.  White, tan and light brown are colors associated with deer and elk. You want to avoid wearing these colors to hike during the hunting season, lest a hunter mistake you for its target.   When you wear “earth tones” you just blend in when you want to STAND OUT.  And this includes your dog.  Most pet stores carry brightly colored collars, bandanas, and vests. 

    Finally, make yourself known, especially if you hear gunfire.  A polite shout of  “Hikers on the trail!” will let hunters know you are on your way.  If you are hiking through a densely vegetated area, whistle, sing a song, or start talking loudly to your hiking buddy or dog until you get into an open area. 

    Hunters, you can do your part to create a safe environment for hikers and hunters alike.  You should always know where the trails are, and do not aim your weapon across a trail.  If hikers come within your range, please politely let them know you are there – quietly coughing, clearing your throat, quietly whistling, standing up, etc. are subtle ways to let yourself be known without ruining your hunting position.

    Firearms related fatalities have decreased by 48% in the last 20 years (National Safety Council), in part because of hunter education courses and hikers taking safety precautions.  More information about these and other safety tips during the hunting season can be found at www.recreation.gov

     Good luck and have fun!

    Nicki

    Here are the pictures that you sent me with instances of damage on pumpkins.  

    Puncture damage on pumpkin
    closeup of puncture damage
    more puncture damage on pumpkin

    You mentioned that you were unable to find any tracks or sign associated with the culprit.  

    Given what I know of your location, I would say that this is bird damage.  The shallow damage is very commonly seen in bird damage in many types of fruit.  The puncture holes may be caused by crows.  In asking my colleagues across the country many have seen such damage caused by crows and woodpeckers. Both species have a very strong bill, which can puncture food items.  Because of your location, I do not think that this is a woodpecker, though, and it is more than likely caused by a crow.  You mentioned the puncture wounds were about 1/4" wide and 1" deep, which fits the idea of crow damage.

    If you are still curious, you might consider setting up a trail camera in the pumpkin patch.  Not only is it fairly cheap, but it is definitive.  

     

    Posted on 4 Sep 2014

    Nicki Frey

    Photos of Common Tracks  

    Winter is a great time to get to know the little critters that share your world  -- deer mice, kangaroo rats, and other tiny four-legged neighbors.  When it snows their tracks will give their presence away.  Hiking along a trail in the winter tracking wildlife is a terrific family activity. Additionally, if you suspect that one of these little neighbors has found a way into your home or shed, winter tracking is a great opportunity to determine what is visiting you, and where it is finding entry.  Here are a few animals that you might find in the winter, along with a picture of their track.  

    Red Squirrel: You probably won’t see red squirrels around your home, unless you live in a mountain cabin.  They are most often found where there are fir, spruce and pine cones, which they shuck for their seeds.  If you go hiking, skiing, or snowshoeing in the winter, you will often see these tracks, and can follow them to a pile of shucked cones!

    Weasel: If you see these tracks near your home, be happy because these little mammals eat mice.  While they are active both day and night, we rarely see them. However, long-tailed weasels are another common track you will find while recreating on the forest. Weasel tracks are very distinguishable - they are paired tracks separated by 12 -20 inches, created as the weasel bounds through the snow. 

    White-footed mice:  While we most often see deer mice (Peromyscus maniculatus), there are several other species of Peromyscus in our area.  These mice are brown on top, with a white belly.  They leave telltale 4-footprint clusters that are about 1 ½” wide. If your track is clear enough, you will notice 5 toes on the back feet, and 4 toes on the front feet.

    Kangaroo rat, kangaroo mice: Kangaroo rats and mice get their name from their very large back feet, and their tendency to hop rather than run.  Like mice, their tracks are in 4-print clusters.  But you can tell them from mice because of these large back feet.  Additionally, when kangaroo rats and mice move slowly, their tail leaves an impression in the snow.  You may find these 2 species in open fields or in your backyard.  This is one of the easiest tracks to identify!

    Skunks:  Striped skunks are the most common skunks in our area; striped skunks are usually in hibernation during the winter.  However, sometimes their hibernation location is your shed or other structure in your yard.  When the weather gets warm, they may wake up and search for food before returning for some more sleep.  These tracks are easy to identify, given the 5 toes on each food and the presence of claws, and less than 6 inches between clusters of tracks.  These tracks are quite distinctive from any other animal.

    Cottontail Rabbits and Jackrabbits:  Cottontails and jackrabbits have similar tracks, with jackrabbit tracks being much larger.  Cottontails are more often found in the outskirts of town or town trails; jackrabbits are more often found out of town in the brush. The way that these animal hop/walk leaves a track that resembles a Y or a V.

    All of these tracks are fun to try and find along trails around town after it snows.  Next time it snows, wait a day, then go and see how many you can find.  If you love it and you want to identify more tracks, there are many great beginner Animal Track books available.

    Not as much fun, is when you find these tracks leading under your shed or other structure, or leading to a hole along the foundation of your house.  If you happen to suspect there is an unwanted small mammal guest on your property, it may not be safe to try to remove it yourself.  Especially if it is a skunk! Please call your local Extension Wildlife Specialist (435-586-1924) or your local Utah Department of Wildlife Resources for help in identifying small mammals or ideas on how to keep your wildlife neighbors out of your house. 

     

     

    Posted on 14 Jan 2014

    Nicki Frey

    Pocket Gopher sign in my yard

     

    Finding random piles of dirt in your lawn can seem weird indeed.  Sorry you are having critter troubles.  Based on our conversation and your photos, the only animal I know that would do that is a pocket gopher.  However, they usually make dirt pile trails above ground during the winter that you see when the snow melts.  Because you don't have those, your pocket gopher is probably new to your yard.  Other than the dirt, they won't really do TOO much damage to a yard in low densities.  They eat the roots and shoots, and sometimes above ground vegetation.  Farmers don't like them because they can eat enough of the alfalfa roots to damage the plant, and pushing the soil damages new shoots.  And you probably don't care for the piles of dirt in your beautiful grass. 

     

    If you would like to control them, the best option for a residential area is a lethal control trap.  Recently, my research has determined that using a Macabee trap is the easiest lethal trap to deploy.  You can find these traps at any farmers’ supply shop or home improvement store. 

     

    Here is how to find a pocket gopher tunnel https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aKYh8cenobM

    I have some ducklings trapped in my swimming pool. I built a ramp for them to walk up, but they won't walk up it. The mother duck is standing by but not helping the ducklings out of the pool. Should I scoop them out?
    Yes, please scoop them out with a handled net. There are several dangers, to you and the ducklings, to having them stay in the pool. First, they need to eat frequently and there is no food in your pool! Unlike songbirds, mother ducks do not feed their young, they need to find food themselves. Second, ducks have natural oils to increase their buoyancy, as their feathers get wet they will start to use more energy to stay afloat. Eventually, they will get exhausted and may drown. Ducklings have very few feathers, and therefore they can quickly drown if they get too tired. Finally, ducks in your pool are a health risk to humans that may use the pool. Yes, you put chemicals in your pool to kill bacteria; however, it doesn't eliminate the risk of contamination from duck droppings in your swimming water. You should remove the ducklings and consider covering your pool for a few days until the duck and ducklings move out of the area.
    raccoon scat

    Hello,

    Thanks for your inquiry. This most likely raccoon scat. The form of the scat does change with the diet, so sometimes it can appear to be scat of a different species. With such a wet diet of apples, the longer "segments" aren't really present because there is nothing to hold it together and form a segment.

    Other animals that eat lots of berries and apples are foxes, coyotes and black bear. Foxes and coyotes would have hair present in the feces and a more tapered appearance at the end of each segment. They rarely have a diet that is so entirely vegetarian. Black bear feces are usually about 1.5 inches in diameter. I can't really tell from pictures 2 and 3 what the diameter is, but I think it is about an inch.

    Thanks for your curiosity, and I hope you have a lovely Autumn

    How to Persuade Vultures to Leave your Yard

    Turkey vultures are native to the western United States, playing a vital role in our ecosystem as scavengers - cleaning up dead animals. Turkey vultures are protected from lethal control in the US, and for good reason. In India, where vultures are not protected from pesticides and poisoning, vulture populations have crashed, and the government is having a serious issue trying to remove carcasses that would otherwise be taken care of by vultures.

    Vultures are so much easier to admire when they are not roosting in your yard in a large flock. But there is good news! Usually vultures only flock in the spring and the fall when they are migrating. And they prefer to nest in areas not often visited by humans. If you can’t wait for them to leave there are 2 things you can do.

    1. Hang an effigy in your tree. Many species of birds such as ravens, crows, and vultures are very keen to recognize a dangerous situation. Research has shown that hanging a dead bird by the feet from a pole or tree branch will cause the other birds to abandon the area. It may not be a 100% removal, but it mostly likely will significantly reduce the number of vultures roosting in your tree. You could probably use a dead raven or crow that you’ve found (don’t kill one – they are protected too!). Or there are effigies or even plush animals that you can purchase online.

    2. Use a laser gun to disturb them. I honestly am not sure why, but shining a red laser gun into the flock, and also at individual birds, at night will disrupt the flock. This has been tested on waterbirds and birds that have mistakenly tried to roost on airports. A simple search online of “red laser gun” will provide you with links to several laser guns for you to choose from.

    Publications

    Attracting Hummingbirds to your Yard

    Striped Skunks

    Voles

    Rock Squirrels in Southern Utah

    The Uninvited Guest - Small Mammals in Bryce Canyon National Park

    Factors influencing a motorist's ability to detect deer at night

    Effects of waterfowl hunting on raccoon movements

    Factors Influencing Pheasant Hunter Harvest and Satisfaction

    Presentations

    Movie of researchers applying a solar-powered satellite transmitter to a Greater sage-grouse

    Identifying and managing deer damage to trees

    Management and Natural History of Ringtails in Zion National Park

    Thanks for your interest in Wildlife Ecology and Management.