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Tag Archive | "Ducks"

Coyotes, Ducks, and People


 

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

 

One would expect coyotes to prey on ducks and their eggs. They do, but foxes are better duck hunters than coyotes. When coyotes are present, they keep fox numbers down. Studies by National Biological Survey research scientists found predator control programs that reduce coyote populations increase fox populations. The increase in foxes causes a greater reduction in duck production.

Many people support coyote control programs because they think it will reduce duck predation. Instead the increased fox population preys more heavily on ducks. At the same time, people support draining wetlands. Many wetland areas are drained or filled for farming or human habitation development. Wetlands are also filled to eliminate species we do not like such as mosquitoes. That reduces duck reproduction. Ducks Unlimited and other organizations work to establish conservation easements that restore drained wetlands and support programs that pay farmers to keep natural wetlands on their land. The Wetland east of Cedar Springs on 17 Mile Road is restored wetland that was drained for farming and has restored to the liking of waterfowl.

Loss of wetlands reduces spawning beds for fish like the northern pike. When pike decline, society spends money on hatcheries for restocking of pike. Poor land use decisions cost society more to maintain clean water, reduce flooding and to restore wildlife. The current proposed elimination of the Clean Water Rule by President Trump will have negative impacts on wildlife as well as community water of human use.

In Michigan’s past, predator control programs supported killing wolves. In locations where wolves and coyotes live in the same area, wolves kept coyote numbers low. Historically, coyotes were rare in Michigan.

Nature niches are finely tuned systems that function quite well until people decide to reshape them. When large predators live close to humans, there are occasions when they take the opportunity to kill domestic animals.  It is more effective to control a specific wolf or coyote problem than to try to eliminate a population.

When coyotes are removed through predator control, ecologic/economic studies have found coyote’s social structure is damaged and rapid reproduction occurs. Rapidly increasing populations spread into new areas. Additional money is then needed for more extensive predator control. A cost/benefit analysis shows it is generally poor and ineffective to try to control coyote populations instead of handling a specific problem.

It does not seem to make common sense that coyotes help duck populations increase but they do by controlling fox population predation. It does not seem to make common sense that wolves strengthen deer herd health but they do by keeping the deer population from over browsing habitats and causing long-term habitat damage. Human population expansion also reduces duck populations by destroying critical habitat. Many attributed reduced duck populations to predators, when it is often caused by human population increase. Human altered habitats and draining wetlands is more harmful to the ducks than predators. We do notice a growing human population reduces other life on Earth.

Coyotes live in our area but usually are not excessively abundant. Foxes live in our area but are not abundant. Life is very hard for all wildlife. Most coyote pups never live a year.

Predator nature niches are complex systems. It is necessary to control particular individuals that interfere with our livelihoods but large scale predator programs are usually unproductive, wasteful of life and money.

As a society, we have not recognized the positive role of predatory mammals like coyotes and wolves. Public understanding has gradually increased its understanding for how nature niches function. Public policy has not kept pace to reflect healthy land management but positive changes are gradually being implemented. Emotions usually trump research-based evidence and practices.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

 

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Feathered visitor nesting in your yard this spring?


Goslings: Goslings are a common sight in Michigan in the spring.

Goslings: Goslings are a common sight in Michigan in the spring.

Michigan residents may get a surprise this spring in their garden, flower box or even in the landscaping by their office building. Bird nests can be found in some unusual locations.

Ducks’ nests, particularly mallard nests, seem to appear just about everywhere in the spring. Female mallards commonly will build nests in landscaping, gardens or other locations that humans may consider inappropriate, but the duck may think otherwise.

While finding a duck’s nest in an unexpected location may be a surprise, there is no need for concern.

“She will be a very quiet neighbor and with her cryptic coloration, she may go largely unnoticed,” said Holly Vaughn Joswick, Department of Natural Resources wildlife outreach technician. “Leave the duck alone and try to keep dogs, cats and children away from the nest.”

Mallard brood: A mother duck will lead her ducklings to water shortly after they hatch.

Mallard brood: A mother duck will lead her ducklings to water shortly after they hatch.

If she is successful and her eggs hatch, the mother will lead her ducklings to the nearest body of water, often the day they hatch.

“Don’t worry if you do not live near water – the mother duck knows where to take her ducklings to find it,” added Vaughn Joswick.

You can expect the female mallard to sit on the nest for about a month prior to the eggs hatching. If the nest fails on its own – something that happens regularly – Joswick advises to just wish her luck on her next attempt.

Canada geese sometimes build nests near houses or in parks, often near water. Similar to mallards, Canada geese will lead their young to water soon after they hatch. Adult geese can be quite protective of their nests and their goslings and may chase people or pets away by hissing and running or flying toward the intruder. If possible, try to avoid the area.  If this is not possible, carry an umbrella and gently scare the bird away.

Those who have been fortunate enough to have a bird’s nest built in their yard, in a tree or on the ground, may have noticed that the baby birds are starting to outgrow their nests. Baby birds learn to fly through trial and error. They may feel they are ready to fly, but their flight feathers might not have fully grown in yet. It is common to find baby birds on the ground after an attempt to fly. If this is the case, please do not touch them. Their parents will continue to take care of them, even when they are on the ground.

Touching a baby bird will not cause the adults to abandon it; however, if you move a baby bird the parents may be unable to find and care for it. It is better to leave the baby bird alone to be raised by its parents.

In the event that you find a chick on the ground that is sparsely feathered, it may have accidentally fallen from the nest before it is ready to fledge (learn to fly). If you know where the nest is, you can put the chick back in the nest ONLY if you can do so safely.

Birds, their nests and their eggs are protected by law and must be left alone. Unless you have a license, taking a baby bird or eggs from the wild is breaking the law. The Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act protects migratory birds and their nests and eggs.

This year marks the centennial of the Convention between the United States and Great Britain (for Canada) for the Protection of Migratory Birds – known as the Migratory Bird Treaty – signed Aug. 16, 1916. Three other treaties were signed shortly thereafter with Japan, Russia and Mexico. The Migratory Bird Treaty, the three additional treaties and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act are the cornerstones of efforts to conserve birds that migrate across international borders. To learn more about the Migratory Bird Treaty centennial, visit www.fws.gov/birds/MBTreaty100.

Only licensed wildlife rehabilitators may possess abandoned or injured wildlife. Unless a person is licensed, it is illegal to possess a live wild animal, including birds, in Michigan.

The only time a baby animal may be removed from the wild is when it is obvious the parent is dead or the animal is injured. A licensed rehabilitator must be contacted before removing an animal from the wild. Rehabilitators must adhere to the law, must have gone through training on proper handling of injured or abandoned wild animals, and will work to return the animal to the wild, where it will have the best chance for survival.

A list of licensed rehabilitators can be found by visiting www.michigandnr.com/dlr/.

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