The sight of sandhill cranes nesting in the prairie grass near the Waunakee Village Center often delights visitors, but when the bird’s wild instincts came out, the feathers started to fly.
Seeing its reflection in the center’s windows, the bird exhibited its territorial instincts to battle a non-existent opponent as a reflection.
“They were bashing and crashing into the back door trying to beat that guy in the window,” said Sue McDade, the center’s community service director.
To protect the cranes, center staff tried spinning lawn ornaments, window graphics, until finally finding that a plastic turkey propped on a foam finger stick, kept the birds away from the imaginary reflective foe.
The situation came to a happy end, McDade said, with humans and wildlife coexisting happily together.
But that’s not the case in every situation. The Dane County Humane Society’s Wildlife Center sees more than 3,000 injured, distressed and orphaned animals each year.
Brooke Lewis, the center’s wildlife rehabilitator supervisor, says a wide variety birds, squirrels, rabbits, foxes and other creatures are cared for at the center.
Starting in spring, when more baby animals are out and about, the center starts seeing an uptick in calls. Lewis says people have misperceptions about wildlife and often interfere when they think a baby animal has been abandoned by its mother or is too young to survive on its own.
Lewis said wildlife mothers have exceptional skills to take care of their young.
People mistakenly think young cottontail rabbits have been abandoned if they don’t see a mother near the nest. But Lewis said the mother doesn’t stay with her young all the time because she doesn’t want to attract predators to the nest.
Some animal babies also have the skills to survive on their own even at a very young age.
Another myth is if the baby is touched by a human the mother will not return. Lewis said that isn’t the case.
“In general, wildlife moms make excellent parents and take very good care of their babies,” Lewis said.
The center has a step-by-step chart on its website that people can use to determine if an animal needs help, has been abandoned, or if the animal should be left alone. If the animal is sick, injured, or bleeding, the website explains how the animal should be handled and how to contact a DCHS center wildlife rehabilitator.
Once the animal gets to the center, it gets a medical exam, so the veterinarian can determine if medication or surgery is needed.
“The goal is to help the animals recover and release them, and if that is not possible, and if recovery is not possible, we want to euthanize them as soon as possible to end their suffering,” Lewis said.
Less than 50 percent of the animals that come to the center are released back to the wild.
Even in urban areas, contact with wildlife is inevitable but Lewis says using common sense care can minimize harm to animals.
She suggests property owners trim trees and bushes in their yard as early as possible in spring so they don’t disturb nesting birds and squirrels.
For homeowners who have problems with animals in their attic, she suggests driving out the animal by making the space less welcoming- a bright shop light, noise makers, along with closing openings where the critters are getting in.
Lewis says to “scrap the trap” because while people think it’s a more humane option, it’s often a death sentence to the animal.
“Animals do not do well when they are moved, there may be no food source, shelter and they may be moving into another animal’s territory,” Lewis said.
Conflicts with coyotes (subhead)
As residential development increases, humans are bound to cross paths with wildlife.
For the most part, these contacts are harmless but in 2015, the Madison area saw an uptick of coyotes attacking and killing small dogs in the Buckeye Road and Cottage Grove Road area on Madison’s east side.
John Hausbeck, an environmental health supervisor at Public Health Madison and Dane County, says the first step is to not encourage coyotes. That includes eliminating food sources on your properties that attract mice or rats, that coyote like to prey on. Hausbeck says don’t leave cat or dog food outside, clean up fallen fruit and birdseed, and keep a composting container and garbage cans sealed.
If coyotes are in the area, Hausbeck urges people to protect small pets by not leaving them outside on their own and being prepared when out for dog walks by carrying a stick, squirt gun or noisemaker so scare away coyotes.
For the most part, coyotes will avoid contact with humans but county officials suggest hazing animals that have become used to humans.
In the PHMDC’s “How to haze a coyote” video, people are shown how to use noisemakers, shouting, throwing rocks and sticks near the animal, to encourage it to leave the area.
Dr. David Drake, a University of Wisconsin wildlife professor who heads up a project to study coyotes in the Madison area, said hazing shouldn’t be done if the coyote has pups near, or is guarding a den. If the coyote is sick or injured, people should not haze the animal but call the Public Health Madison & Dane County Animal Services Dispatch at (608) 255-2345.