Thursday, April 5, 2018

Helping Wildlife in Spring

by Lauren Adams
Lead Wildlife Keeper

Spring is a magical time in Vermont.  From endless piles of snow and bleak, gray skies, we are starting to see signs of life.  Bluebirds are gathering nesting materials, pairs of Canada geese are returning to freshly thawed ponds, and bears have emerged from their winter slumbers.  Springtime is a big deal for wildlife.  As warmer weather and longer days fuel the budding and blossoming of native flowers and trees, insects begin to arrive, busy at their task of pollinating the world. Before we know it, Vermont will be green and lush again.

Wildlife takes full advantage of this awakening of life.  This is the perfect time to nest and mate, with nature’s all-you-can-eat buffet to feed newly hatched or born young.  Baby animals will spend the summer getting their fill of nourishment and learning the ropes of the wilderness so that, by the time next fall’s cold air begins to blow in, they are strong and healthy and ready to confront their most difficult missions: surviving the harsh winter or embarking on a long journey of migration.

What a great time to shake off our cabin fever and venture outside to experience Vermont’s wilderness.  There are so many opportunities to view wildlife during the spring.  This is also a very vulnerable time for the brand new life that walks, crawls, slithers, swims or flutters around.  Before they have mastered the behaviors and skills they will need to survive in the wild, young animals are susceptible to injury, defenseless against predators and other dangers, and at risk of becoming orphaned before they are ready to be independent.  

Many factors, both natural and human-caused, can subject inexperienced young to these unfortunate perils.  

Thousands of baby wild animals, kindly rescued by caring individuals, are cared for and raised at wildlife rehabilitation centers every spring and summer around the world. 

As we enter this special season, it is important to know how to co-exist peacefully with wildlife and how to avoid interfering with the intricate process of nesting, mating, breeding and fledging that animals are working so hard at.  Also, what to look out for: when and if an animal needs rescuing, how to rescue it, and when to leave the situation alone, and just observe from a distance.  Many baby animals in the wild may appear orphaned, or even injured, but are in fact healthy and being cared for by unseen parents.  

First, even before you start to see young emerge, there are things to keep in mind so that you don’t disturb nests.  BEFORE you trim trees or clean out gutters, check thoroughly for nests.  It is actually illegal, thanks to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, to disturb, destroy or relocate an active wild bird nest.  If you see eggs or nestlings, you have to wait until after the breeding season to trim.  BEFORE mowing your lawn, check carefully for rabbit nests.  These can look like little tufts of grass, sometimes barely visible, but already containing infant rabbits who would really not appreciate a visit from a lawnmower.  

The most important thing to remember when assessing a baby wild animal is that animals are good parents.  The best chance at survival for a baby is to remain with its own mother and father.  The first choice is always to reunite an animal with its parents, or to leave it where its parents will return to find it.  Sometimes this involves waiting and watching for a while.  

Please follow these instructions to help our wildlife thrive.

If you find a baby deer:

If you find a baby bird:

If you find a baby mammal:

If you find a baby turtle:

Baby turtles actually don’t spend any time with their mother after they hatch, so usually they are fine if left alone.  Most likely, you will see a new hatchling making its way from its nest site on land to the closest wetland.  IF the baby is in a dangerous location, such as the middle of the road, you can help it out by carrying it across.  Try to assess which direction the turtle was going, and carry it that same direction, otherwise it may turn around and cross the road again.  If there is a wetland nearby, you can carry the turtle all the way to the edge of the water and set it down.  

For more information, check out the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association, NWRA:

Of course, if you are ever in doubt, please call VINS or your local wildlife rehabilitation center.  If you aren’t sure, contact your region’s Fish and Wildlife Agency, and they should be able to refer you to the right place.

We all want to protect and enjoy our beautiful wildlife.  Help us keep this world safe for them, so we can continue to celebrate the miracle of nature in springtime.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

The Beauty of Native Wildflowers

By Anna Autilio
Lead Environmental Educator

In 2018, we mark the centennial of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the most powerful and important bird-protection law ever passed. In honor of this milestone, nature lovers around the world are joining forces to celebrate 2018 as the “Year of the Bird.” March’s call to action is to cultivate gardens full of native and wildlife-friendly plants...

Here in Vermont, it might be hard to imagine gardening when there are still a few inches of snow on the ground. But it’s never too early to plan! This year, participants in the Year of the Bird’s 12 months of action for wildlife are making an effort to plant native flowers—and you can too!

Planting native plants is a simple and highly effective way to make a positive impact on the environment--just as important as recycling, turning off lights, and using less water. The Audubon Society has even made it incredibly easy to find which plants are native to your area, and which nurseries sell them. Type in your zip code to their Native Plants Database, and discover hundreds of trees, flowers, shrubs, and vines that are native to your neighborhood.

Think native flowers aren’t as colorful and pretty as exotics? Think again. Here are just 5 (and it was hard to choose!) of the most beautiful native Vermont flowers to grace your garden with this spring:

This gorgeous perennial bluebell attracts hummingbirds with its sweet nectar, and without the constant refilling your plastic feeder requires. Known also as the "harebell" in the British Isles, this plant grows native across the northern hemisphere. Durable and opportunistic, Bluebell-of-Scotland will grow well in sun or shade, in cooler climates like New England, and actually flourishes in dry, nutrient-poor soil. You may already know of some patches growing out of cracks in stone walls.

Aster blooms are a sign of the arrival of fall in New England, and those beautiful, multi-colored flowers will stay out through October to greet the changing leaves. They love a moist, acidic soil in part shade. Providing nectar for monarch butterflies, the aster also is a source of food for seed-eating birds, including sparrows and finches.

Though smaller than our modern image of a "sunflower", this forest-dwelling perennial blooms bright and confident even in dry, sandy soils. In sun or shade, just like any sunflower the bloom deflects toward the source of light, tracking the sun throughout the day. Woodland Sunflowers will bring countless birds to your yard, among them cardinals, waxwings, warblers, orioles, wrens, and thrushes, as well as caterpillars and butterflies.

Named for the cluster of white or lavender-tinged two-lipped flowers that are thought to resemble turtle’s heads, this perennial is also a late summer bloomer that grows best in wet, acidic soils. It is the host plant of the Baltimore Checkerspot butterfly, and attracts a variety of nectar-loving birds, including vireos, hummingbirds, and thrushes.


Lobelia is a showy, bright blue flowering plant that blooms in late summer. Its counterpart, also native, the Cardinal Flower, is brilliant red and sports the same tube-shaped flowers. Though toxic to humans, this plant attracts a wide variety of birds, including hummingbirds, orioles, cardinals, thrushes, wrens, and vireos, as well as caterpillars and butterflies. One important requirement is wet soil—this plant will not tolerate droughts.

What is your favorite native plant in your area? Share your pictures!