Spring and Wildlife Comeback

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The above photo was taken one block from my house. We have been seeing lots of wild turkeys in my neighborhood the last few years. I live in a mature subdivision that looks like a lot of other mature subdivisions in the United States. In fact, if you were blindfolded and dropped in there and had to identify where you were, I would wager that you would have a lot of difficulty. In other words, it is a pretty unremarkable place.

With the Spring thaw I have been seeing tons of wildlife scurrying about for chow. The deer are all over the place. I have seen the geese heading back north. A red fox ran across the road in front of my car the other day. I have lived in this area of the country all of my life, and in Madison itself for almost 14 years. Is it just me or is wildlife in general making a comeback? Are the different species adapting to development better? I never used to see things like foxes, hawks, turkeys, deer, and coyotes but now these are commonplace.

Of course all of my evidence is anecdotal. I would like some more observations from our readers that live in urban areas around the country (and the world for that matter). Do you see more animals in general? What types?

Cross posted at LITGM.

33 thoughts on “Spring and Wildlife Comeback”

  1. Agree. No turkeys, yet, but we had a beautiful pheasant on our back porch the other morning. The deer are so prevalent, they are now a pest.

  2. The WSJ had an article several years ago about the re-forestation and wildlife growth of the northeast. Probably happening in the midwest, too.

  3. This seems to be happening nationwide, particularly in the NE quadrant of the country.

    They are in their third round of reforestation in New England. The initial settlement cleared out a lot of the trees. Then the Yankee diaspora into the upper Midwest left much of what had been farmland to turn back into forest in the early 19th C. By the late 19th C. those areas had been cleared again to serve as vegetable farms and dairy farms for the growing cities. By 1900 much of NE had been cleared out again. By the 1930s you had trucks and refrigeration and the agricultural belts began going back to trees starting then and continuing to this day. I recall as a child in the 1970s looking at a panoramic photo taken from the top of Tower Hill in Brockton, which is the highest point in the area. It was all field-stone fences and dairy farms, and I think even some sheep pastures, with trees here and there in clumps. The same view from the 1970s was a carpet of treetops, with some suburban roofs, chimneys and TV antennas sticking out. Seventy years had re-transformed the landscape.

    On a similar note I have a friend who went to Cornell in the 1970s, who goes back frequently. The countryside around Rochester even in the last 30 years has gone back to woods, compared to what it was. There were moose on the south (USA) side of the St. Lawrence for the first time in many decades in the early 1990s. There was a very cold winter, and some moose came south over the river.

    This is happening all over the place.

    All to the good, so long as we don’t have speciesist guilt and let predators eat our pets and children.

  4. No, it is not limited to your area. Various hawks and falcons are COMMON now in my area. They were nearly impossible to spot when I was a kid. Turkey vultures are nearly thick as crows. We have several perennial osprey pairs and, within a few miles, even a bald eagle pair. We see foxes somewhat regularly. I saw a coyote a few weeks back. Deer are like squirrels anymore. Then there are the ubiquitous raccoons, opossum, woodchucks, squirrels, birds of every sort… (I’d hardly ever heard a woodpecker until about 5 or 6 years ago. Now we have at least two varieties pecking away like madmen.)

  5. Knucklehead – around where do you live?

    Lex Green – “All to the good, so long as we don’t have speciesist guilt and let predators eat our pets and children.” Exactly the sentiments of an email I received from a commenter today. He attached photos of a mountain lion outside of a house looking inside – this was around Colorado Springs. With all of this prey comes predators.

    A related note – we are having cougar sightings here in Southern Wisconsin, the first in almost one hundred years since they heavily logged the northwoods.

  6. I don’t think speciesist guilt will be an impediment to remedial action if wild predators become more than a rare problem.

    I see wild animals, particularly deer, in places where I never used to see them. Deer are cute but they eat young trees and gardens and are a road hazard. They have Malthusian population swings in the wild. I wonder if this feast-and-famine pattern also holds for deer populations that live near cities and suburbs. Perhaps we will find out.

    Where I live some of the notable wild animals, such as iguanas, peacocks, parrots, and of course the lovely Burmese Python, are not native but once upon a time escaped from zoos or were otherwise released into the environment. The iguanas are benign, the birds are noisy and the pythons, I think, we would be better off without. But we are stuck with all of them.

    The central problem with wildlife management in urban and suburban areas is that there are always lots of people who will feed and/or protect any wild animal species that happens to be cute. This behavior, if indulged, guarantees negative unintended consequences for both animals and people in the long run. As long as such animals live on public land and are not converted to private property (e.g., by fencing them in), there are good reasons why people not only shouldn’t feed them but should cull the herd from time to time.

  7. Of course, we have the famous wild parrots in Hyde Park near the University. They are not supposed to be able to survive Chicago winters, but they do. Gnarly beasts, but you have to respect their toughness.

    I note the cougar story is from Colorado. CO has a far-too-large population of ecological zealots who want to protect every non-human species. These folks take their environmentalism as a sort of ersatz religion. They seem to get a positive kick out of the idea of pets, livestock and children being eaten — it is sort of like the Viet Cong fighting the imperialist US Army in their minds. Yet another variant on Leftist anti-human psychosis.

    Jonathan, those pythons sound scary. Wikipedia says they can grow to a length of 7 meters. That is like something out of a Japanese monster movie. Move back to the Midwest where it is too cold for such things to survive, before it is too late!

  8. Lex, the parrots are beautiful but a flock of them makes a terrible, incessant screeching noise. Peacocks are even worse, screech for screech, but they travel in smaller groups (harems?) and screech relatively infrequently.

    Also, let’s have some perspective re the dangers posed by mountain lions etc. They are indeed dangerous, and some people are foolish not to recognize this fact. But if lions start attacking more people, particularly children, it won’t be long before people start killing or relocating the lions until the problem goes away.

    The pythons eat native species and have almost no predators, but they’re not a big threat to people because few people live in swamps. On balance, however, I think it would have been better if idiots hadn’t released their inconveniently large pet snakes in the Everglades.

    The animals are interesting even if on balance I think some of them shouldn’t be living so close to people. I am more scared of bad drivers.

  9. If the cougars become an issue here in Wisconsin, the farmers will simply shoot them and bury/burn them on their land. I would assume livestock will be the first targets for cougars and/or any other sort of wild cat.

    I am amazed at those peacocks roaming about in the wild. Weird. I wonder if a pair escaped from a zoo as you mentioned and just did their thing?

  10. The major cause of animal encroachment on urban areas is the evolution in farming technology. Farming is the single most ecologically destructive activity humans engage in mostly due to the eradication of the original ecology when we clear fields.

    In times past, a large number of families lived on relatively small farms close into many urban areas. The urban areas were the farms primary markets for products such as milk. These farms created a DMZ between the urban and the wild. Long continuos stretches of cleared fields and fencing kept wild animals out and farmers shot or trapped others.

    Today, we have a small number of families living on much larger farms. The sprawling farms work best far from major urban areas and the chopping up of land caused by roads and railways. The smaller farms close into the cities largely died out by the late 60’s and over the last 40 years most have reverted to a near or completely wild state. Now animals can travel across wild land right up to the suburbs slowed down only by roads.

    These effects are very clear even in rural areas. I drive past places today that I first saw as cleared grazing land when I was a child that are now reverting to oak and mesquite.

  11. Jon,
    French idiots beats Floridian where releasing non-native species is concerned.
    Look at these pictures, taken last Fall in a park 10km from Rambouillet, France (suburb of Paris): kangaru! emu! flamingo! Not counting deer and peacocks…

  12. Dan,

    Coastal NJ. Wildlife has made a huge “comeback” around here. I see things anymore I never imagined. Summer before last I saw two gray squirrels team up and attack a bluejay nest. Just tore it up while the jays fought and screamed. See birds after one another all the time. And those darned, ugly turkey vultures are everywhere.

  13. An utterly fascinating topic that I meant to comment on this morning, but work intervened.

    I began realizing what was happening when I first spent significant time in an environment like the one Shannon describes, in this case the Las Colinas “edge city” northwest of Dallas, circa 1989. Within, literally, a stone’s throw of a six-lane highway I saw great blue heron, beaver, coyote, and hawk. Smaller trees in the office park had to have heavy mesh guards to keep the beaver from chewing them all down.

    The situation in KC is now similar, perhaps exacerbated by the already-low population density, around 1/5 that of Chicago, and large unoccupied areas inside the city, especially along and near tributaries of the Missouri and Kaw. Various large birds and mammals find 1) abundant food 2) relatively mild climate 3) few predators 4) humans who aren’t legally allowed to shoot at them. Result: deer in my yard (and at least two hit by cars within a block of my house in the last three years), hawks perching from streetlights on busy highways, great blue heron on the creek a two-minute walk from my house, pestilential “Canada” geese who stay year-round (Sprint hired an Australian sheepdog named Shayla and her handler to keep them from blocking traffic at the corporate headquarters), coyote all over the place out in the country (they do, so far, stay out of the city), bobcats (also generally rural) …

    … and constant rumors of mountain lion. A few years back a car hit one up on, I think, I-29 not far north of downtown. Initial expectation was that it was somebody’s exotic pet, but examination of its paw pads found so much wear that the conclusion was that it had walked here from Colorado. Looking at a map establishes that it crossed the Missouri River. If they can do that, they can go anywhere on the continent. And eventually will, given the enormous deer population (divide your state’s human population by 4 for a starter estimate).

    Re Lex’s comments, I have read that the Ozarks was mostly grassland as late as the 1920s; by the time I was growing up in the 1960s it was nearly all forest, if somewhat open, savanna-like forest due to poor soil quality. Much of northern Missouri is now reverting to forest as well as marginally-efficient farms are taken out of production. I have also read that much of the land there is being bought up for use as hunting retreats.

    Question for hunters: during deer season, does your state require that you bring in a doe before taking a buck? I believe that is the law now in either or both Missouri and Kansas.

  14. I now live in the same town in Central Ohio that I grew up in. 50 years ago when I was a kid, I never saw a deer in town. Now they are all over the place, and a bloody nuisance they are. They eat my wife’s hosta lilies and it upsets her, so she yells at me.

    I call them rats on stilts. The real threat they pose is to drivers and cars. A number of motorists have died as a result of collisions with the things.

    I am hoping for the return of large animal predators like cougars and wolves. I think they would be much less dangerous to humans than the deer. It would also pump up Rummel’s business.

  15. Jay – interesting comments. Here in Wisconsin iirc for the hunters it used to be that you always had to “earn a buck” – in other words, shoot a doe first, then you could get your trophy. As of late the deer population has been soaring and in certain areas I believe that you can just go out and shoot whatever you run into first. In some counties, the DNR is giving away to you as many tags as you want. They really flail at this thing quite often but it seems like there is nothing they can do besides opening deer season more, or longer.

    We did have a long hard winter this year so hopefully that will bring down the population, but I am not counting on it from the numbers I have seen already this year.

    I am with Robert Schwartz – I hate these pests. They already wrecked one of my cars and the car/deer accidents are skyrocketing. But I am not necessarily down with Schwartz’s comment about the mountain lions/cougars eating the deer. I will have a somewhat scary follow up post on this in the next day or so.

  16. Couple more critters I forgot to mention that I’ve seen well inside the KC metro are red fox and wild turkey.

    I agree that deer can be destructive. My impression is that the formerly-Canadian* geese may be worse, though. They do block traffic — sometimes by walking across a major street, sometimes by just landing in the middle of one and not moving — and, being gregarious, leave veritable moraines of excrement where they congregate.

    The larger question here, and I really ought to break down and order The Beast in the Garden before yammering on too much about it, is whether all these varmints (who, as noted in other comments, were still quite shy of humans within most of our lifetimes) are in some sense making an economic decision to tolerate humans, automobiles, etc in return for a steady year-round food supply. Almost a self-domestication process like the one cats adopted five millenia back in the Nile Valley. Except that they’re not near as cuddly.

    * @#^&*%$ illegals! ;^)

  17. I know a guy who was severely injured riding his bike. He was on a bike path and thought the geese would move – instead of the geese moving, he hit them with his bike and wiped out. To add insult to injury the geese attacked him afterward. They do leave quite a mess behind.

  18. The recipes in the older cookbooks for game may start coming in handy again.

    Harvesting deer and Canadian geese (two pestiferous animals that could use culling) sounds good in theory. Do they generally have diseases that make them risky as sources of meat? Or are they OK to eat?

  19. Some deer and perhaps other wild ruminants have been found to be infected with prion-based diseases. IIRC there was also a case in the USA where someone was infected with such a disease from eating a squirrel.

  20. Jay: Geese don’t kill people and wreck cars at the rate rats-on-stilts do. Besides I understand that Coyotes have moved back into the area and have taken a liking to goose eggs, which has started to control their numbers.

    Dan: I know that lions are kind of scary. But if you leave their favorite food out in quantity they will show up. I think it is better to have lions eat the deer than have cars and people wrecked by the @#$% things. The only alternative is to declare r-o-s to be vermin and put a bounty on them. The upside of lions is that more people will start exercising their 2nd amendment rights, which will lead to a reduction in crime.

  21. I’m too lazy to try to dig up a list of diseases transmissible from game, but I believe that BSE or its equivalent is endemic in elk herds in the north-northwestern US, and IIRC there was a monkeypox outbreak in Iowa, among other places, from prairie dogs who had some kind of contact with humans a few years ago. In the southwest, rodents are vectors for hantavirus, bubonic plague, and (again IIRC) tularemia. Actual incidences of transmission are low, but the consequences are obviously quite severe.

    Would be nice to have ubiquitous home-kit testing for such things. There’s a whole herd of pâté de foie gras-on-the-hoof hanging out by a bike trail about a block from where I live, and if I carried, I’d never lack for venison, either. Though I suppose the duly constituted authorities might question the occasional gunshots, followed by the sight of me dragging a couple of hundred pounds of deer down the street.

    Robert: “a reduction in crime” — especially assault and battery by large felines! Also sounds like the coyote will concentrate the geese in the cities.

  22. “IIRC there was also a case in the USA where someone was infected with such a disease from eating a squirrel.”

    He deserved it.

  23. There was a lot – and I mean a LOT – of talk here in Wisconsin about CWD in deer. The DNR has “CWD zones” where there are extended hunts, as if they somehow put a magical fence around where these deer are and tell them they can’t roam and try then to shoot them to cull the herd in these special counties.

    CWD supposedly transmits some disease to humans if it could make the jump of the species barrier (through Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease). But nobody seems to have any proof that CWD can make the jump. They never forbade people to eat venison after the fall hunt and everybody does (up here at least). I myself love (and partake in) venison sausage every fall which is usually cut with pork fat. I haven’t heard much about CWD in the news for a couple of years, which tells me that nobody seems to care too much about it any more.

  24. Re: Canada Geese (at least the non-migrating variety), there are WAY too many of them everywhere. Filthy suckers. I once happened to be peering out the window of an office building when I saw an Asian looking fellow drive up, jump out of his car, grab one, wring it’s neck, toss it into his back seat, and drive away. Over the years the only thing that seems to have proved effective in keeping them away from specific areas is dogs, particularly border collies. The management folks for an office park I used to frequent tried everything including criss-crossing a little pond with fishing line. The idea, of course, was that the geese wouldn’t be able to land on or take off from the pond. But they quickly developed STOL capability.

    Re: white-tailed deer everywhere… In addition to being a major road hazard and destructive to gardens (they eat everyfreakinthing!) the ones in my area are not particularly afraid of humans. I take daily walks in a 200+ acre park that is crawling with deer. They do not run away at the sight or sound of humans as a matter of course. In fact, the alpha females in each little family group can be quite aggressive. If you get too close they’ll turn to face you, thump the ground, and make a hissing sort of noise to warn you off.

  25. “Deer bumpers could become a popular option on automobiles.”

    We had one case where the deer jumped, went through the trucks windshield, and killed the driver. You need to be driving something like an MRAP.

  26. One contributing factor, at least in the suburbs, is leash/fence laws for dogs. When I was growing up, everyone let their dogs run free to some extent; neighborhood dog fights were common events, and the large german shepherd a few doors down from us was famous for how many cats he had taken. This had to have some influence on deer and cougars–if not their actual presence, at least on how willing they were to be seen boldly strolling the streets.

  27. “This had to have some influence on deer and cougars–if not their actual presence, at least on how willing they were to be seen boldly strolling the streets.”

    Maybe the deer, I don’t think that cougars spend much time thinking about dogs, except maybe as appetizers.

  28. “Maybe the deer, I don’t think that cougars spend much time thinking about dogs, except maybe as appetizers.”

    This is largely true today, but it wasn’t always so. Up until the early 1900’s a dog was more-or-less absolute protection from a mountain lion; any size dog would scare off a lion. The reason for this was wolves. Wolves are the only natural predators of lions; they hunt them in packs, kill them and eat them. Fear of wolves evidently translated to fear of dogs. Once all the wolves were gone, lions (who learn how and what to hunt, what to fear, etc., from their mother), have, over time, lost their fear of dogs. Similarly, human hunted and killed lions for thousands of years, and were therefore feared. Now, not so much.

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