CRITTER CHATTER: Follow up on deer with three legs

One antler and three-legged deer.

by Jayne Winters

As a follow-up to last month’s article about the whitetail buck with three legs and only one horn, I’d be remiss not to write about the other permanent resident buck at the Wildlife Center. Rather than simply missing an antler, this deer has two, but they’re both deformed and remain in velvet. He’s the oldest deer at Duck Pond Care Center, at about ten years old (the average age in the wild is four to six years).

Don couldn’t recall the specifics of where this buck had come from or under what circumstances, except that he had been living in captivity since he was a fawn. Most of his life had been spent under the care of a well-meaning individual who could no longer provide the upkeep and attention required, so he came to Duck Pond. Don always contacts local zoos or game farms in an attempt to place older animals, but these facilities typically want young critters. Because this adolescent buck had been around humans all his life, releasing him would likely have resulted in an untimely death sentence, so he has remained with Don as part of the small, non-releasable herd.

As noted in last month’s column, missing antlers or deformities are not that uncommon. In fact, research demonstrates that more than half of wild bucks have a genetic potential for abnormalities. There are a variety of reasons: 1) skull trauma (often due to fighting), 2) antler or nerve damage during growth, 3) healed leg fracture/injury, 4) insufficient testosterone, 5) disease or infection, 6) systemic problems, 7) age, and 8) genetics. The abnormality usually recurs throughout the deer’s life, unless it’s due to a skeletal injury, in which case it may gradually disappear with each annual antler cycle.

Antlers are comprised of fast-growing tissue, capable of growing up to an inch or more per day during peak development in spring/summer. The increased daylight hours of spring and over the summer prompt the pituitary gland to produce hormones which in turn release an “insulin-like growth factor” that stimulates antler growth. “Velvet” is the thin layer of hairy skin that covers growing antlers in early spring. Normally, in preparation for fall breeding season, blood supply to the velvet stops, causing it to dry and fall away from the calcified cartilage of the hardened antler. Damage to an antler during the velvet stage can result in antlers growing in weird shapes or strange directions, but more often they’re the result of reduced hormones.

As I wrapped up my note-taking from talking with Don, I left him to safely trap a chipmunk that had slipped past him as he moved the little guy from the incubator to a small cage. There’s never a dull moment at Duck Pond Care Center!

Although admissions usually slow down at this time of year, Don will get calls from folks worried about young animals now on their own, adjusting to life in the wild without their mothers’ care. Some are simply learning how to be independent, but others may indeed be orphaned or injured, struggling to survive. While Don continues to take them in, he does transfer rescues to other rehabbers who are generously providing assistance to help keep critter care at Duck Pond manageable.

Please check the following web sites to see if there is a rehabber near you: https://www.mainevetmed.org/wildlife-rehabilitation or https://www.maine.gov/ifw/fish-wildlife/wildlife/living-with-wildlife/orphaned-injured-wildlife/index.html – Donald Cote operates Duck Pond Wildlife Care Center on Rte. 3 in Vassalboro. It is a non-profit state permitted rehab facility supported by his own resources & outside donations. Mailing address: 1787 North Belfast Ave., Vassalboro ME 04989 TEL: (207) 445-4326. PLEASE NOTE THE PRIOR wildlifecarecenter EMAIL ADDRESS IS NOT BEING MONITORED AT THIS TIME.

CRITTER CHATTER: Oh, deer! What’s up with that? – Part 1

One antler and three-legged deer.

by Jayne Winters

While visiting Don at the Wildlife Center the other day, awaiting the arrival of a family of six baby opossums whose mother had likely been the victim of a car accident, we got to talking about one of the whitetail bucks that is a permanent resident at Duck Pond. I’d only seen him from a distance and was curious about his antler. Yes, you read that correctly. One. Antler.

About four years ago, Don got a call from a farmer who had found a fawn that had been injured by a hay mower, resulting in a badly damaged rear leg. He had been caring for the fawn in his barn and as the lower leg was literally hanging on by only its skin, had amputated it at the hock. Of course, Don took the fawn and assumed its care, knowing full well it likely wouldn’t be able to be released into the wild.

Although animals can adapt to getting around with only three legs, this little guy required additional attention and while not tame, has grown up in captivity. Its chance of survival in the wild, especially during the winter, would be slim to none. He would undoubtedly fall prey to a predator and certainly wouldn’t be able to “hold his own” against any other buck trying to establish its territory or compete for does.

I always learn something from Don and this week was no different. He told me that when a deer loses a leg, the antler on the opposite side doesn’t grow normally (if at all), which explains why this buck doesn’t have an antler on its left side: his right rear leg was the one amputated. Of course, I had to research this later and was disappointed to find the cause is unknown; several articles mentioned it may be related to nerve damage and changes in hormones, but there doesn’t seem to be any confirmed evidence of either.

Apparently, it’s very common for a serious injury to a back leg to impact subsequent antler development on the opposite side. It can be abnormal and/or stunted and will persist even after the leg heals. Odd antler growth on the opposite side is called “contralateral asymmetry” and if the velvet never sheds, the condition is called a “cactus buck.” The buck at Duck Pond has only the one antler and I noticed it’s still in velvet, even at this time of year.

During my research, I also learned that if antler growth tissue is surgically removed and grafted to another part of the deer’s body, an antler will grow there! So, it’s possible to surgically produce a unicorn deer or even a deer with 10 antlers growing out of its skull or any other part of the body. Mother Nature is absolutely amazing!

Although admissions tend to decrease at this time of year, Don continues to limit long-term residents by transferring many rescued critters to other rehabbers who have graciously provided assistance in their care. Please check these websites to see if there is a rehabber closer to you to help keep critter care at Duck Pond more manageable: https://www.mainevetmed.org/wildlife-rehabilitation or https://www.maine.gov/ifw/fish-wildlife/wildlife/living-with-wildlife/orphaned-injured-wildlife/index.html – Donald Cote operates Duck Pond Wildlife Care Center on Rte. 3 in Vassalboro. It is a non-profit state permitted rehab facility supported by his own resources & outside donations. Mailing address: 1787 North Belfast Ave., Vassalboro ME 04989 TEL: (207) 445-4326. PLEASE NOTE THE PRIOR wildlifecarecenter EMAIL ADDRESS IS NOT BEING MONITORED AT THIS TIME.

CRITTER CHATTER: Fall preparations at the Duck Pond Rehab center

Raccoon release at The Center. (photo from Duck Pond Archives)

by Jayne Winters

I stopped in to see Don at the Duck Pond Wildlife Rehab Center recently and was surprised to find only one critter in the house: a young gray squirrel which likely had been injured by a cat. It was able to move and use its front paws for eating from the food dish, so Don doesn’t think there’s been a spinal injury, but he’ll keep it for a day or two for observation and assessment before transfer to a rehabber in Bowdoin, who has more volunteers to help with wildlife care.

All releasable critters are gone from Duck Pond, with only nine foxes (one gray, eight red), four raccoons, ten deer, the gray squirrel mentioned above, and Don’s own geese and ducks on site for over-wintering. He usually gets opossums in the fall, which will be kept in the house or basement until warm weather returns next spring. There will likely be a few injured animals admitted during the upcoming months, but most will be transferred as Don is trying to cut back on winter patient maintenance. Although he has two part-time volunteers to help with feeding critters and cleaning cages, Don recently celebrated his 84th birthday and admits he’s slowing down a bit!

Now the preparations for fall begin, a little earlier this year while the nice weather holds. Don usually gets 50 bales of second crop cutting, i.e., green grass with clover, for feeding the deer that can’t be released until spring. He told me deer don’t typically eat hay, they eat what they like from the bales, then use the rest for bedding. He will use grain and corn as a winter supplement, which is kept in the “doe house.” Before the snow flies, the deer will be moved to their winter pen. This requires extra hands to set up barriers and walk them from one area to another, carefully and calmly, to avoid spooking them which could result in their jumping over the barrier.

The pens that previously housed the three bobcat kittens need to be cleared of tall grass so the remaining foxes can be relocated from their smaller cages. In addition, any torn tarps on the coon cages must be replaced and secured, fencing repaired if necessary, and any other type of winterization completed. All the dishes, cages, empty pens and dog houses that have been used to shelter animals need to be cleaned or power washed, repaired, and painted for winter storage. The mobile pens are moved to one central area where they will be securely covered with tarps to protect them from snow and ice.

Not only the grounds need to be readied for cold weather. A couple of tires on the small trailer used for hauling brush and cases of food were recently replaced. The snow plow will need to be attached to the truck. Shovels and ice chippers will come out of storage and sand for icy paths purchased. Think about all you do to get your family’s home ready for a Maine winter and multiply it to meet the needs of various species of wildlife spending the next seven or eight months with you! I’m tired just thinking about it…

Don continues to limit admissions and long-term residents by transferring many rescued critters to other rehabbers who have graciously provided assistance in their care. Please check these websites to see if there is a rehabber closer to you to help keep critter care at Duck Pond more manageable: https://www.mainevetmed.org/wildlife-rehabilitation or https://www.maine.gov/ifw/fish-wildlife/wildlife/living-with-wildlife/orphaned-injured-wildlife/index.html – Donald Cote operates Duck Pond Wildlife Care Center on Rte. 3 in Vassalboro. It is a non-profit state permitted rehab facility supported by his own resources & outside donations. Mailing address: 1787 North Belfast Ave., Vassalboro ME 04989 TEL: (207) 445-4326. PLEASE NOTE THE PRIOR wildlifecarecenter EMAIL ADDRESS IS NOT BEING MONITORED AT THIS TIME.

CRITTER CHATTER: Chipmunks continue to be charming

Photo by Jayne Winters

by Jayne Winters

As I sat on our back deck the other day, watching one of “my” chippies fill his cheeks with peanuts, it dawned on me that I had only seen one or two chipmunks at Duck Pond Wildlife Center since I started writing this column about three years ago. Don confirmed they’ve had a few over the years, but more often deal with squirrels that have been injured by predators or cars or dislodged from their nests, usually needing bottle feeding until they transition to a diet of sunflower seeds, nuts, and fruit.

I went through some of Carleen Cote’s earlier Critter Chatter columns and found one from August 2009 entitled, The Charming Chipmunk, in which she wrote they had cared for very few chipmunks over their then 45 years of rehab. She noted that “because they are born underground, they are rarely found at an age when they are dependent on humans for care.”

The name “chipmunk” comes from an Abenaki word meaning “one who descends trees headlong.” First described in a 1743 book, it was later classified as Sciurus striatus, or “striped squirrel” in Latin. A small member of the squirrel family, it has reddish brown fur with a single stripe down the middle of its back and a white stripe between two black stripes down each side of its body. They are 8-10 inches long, including the tail, and weigh 2 – 5 ounces.

Interestingly, the Eastern has two fewer teeth than other chipmunks and four toes each on the front legs, five on the hind legs. It typically lives in mature woodland areas in the eastern U.S. and southern Canada, preferring rocky areas, brush or log piles, and shrubs to provide cover; they are also found around suburban and rural homes. While they do climb trees, most of their time is spent foraging on the ground, being most active during the early morning and late afternoon.

Chipmunks build underground nests with extensive tunnel systems, often with several entrances. They line their burrows with leaves, rocks, sticks, and other material, making the burrows hard to see. They live a solitary life, except during mating season and the six to eight weeks the young spend with their mother. Females usually produce one or two litters of three to five babies; breeding seasons are February to April and again in June to August. During the winter, chipmunks may enter long periods of hibernation, but wake up to eat stored food; sometimes they can be seen out of their burrow during mild winter weather. Their diet consists primarily of nuts, berries, seeds, and mushrooms; I was surprised to learn they occasionally eat insects, salamanders, young birds, and bird eggs. They hoard food for the winter by carrying it in special cheek pouches.

Chipmunks are considered valuable forest inhabitants as they move seeds around resulting in tree and plant regeneration and are an important food source for birds and other mammals. Predators include hawks, owls, foxes, coyotes, raccoons, snakes, weasels, bobcats, lynx, and domestic cats and dogs. They usually live three or more years in the wild, but in captivity may live as long as eight years. Although they don’t cause serious agricultural damage, they can be a nuisance where they eat flower bulbs, fruits, seeds, and seedlings. They may cause structural damage by digging under patios, stairs, walls, or foundations.

In my research, I found it interesting that Eastern chipmunks are known to be a host for the parasitic larvae of botflies. A couple summers ago, my husband and I had a fairly tame chipmunk at camp that had a furless, open sore on its cheek which likely was the result of a botfly rather than a tussle injury.

On a happier note (pun intended), I also learned chipmunks have about five vocal sounds: chips, chucks, trills, whistles or squeals, and chatter. Its trill has been measured at a rate of 130 vibrations per minute!

Don continues to limit admissions and long-term residents by transferring many rescued critters to other rehabbers who have graciously provided assistance in their care. Please check these websites to see if there is a rehabber closer to you to help keep critter care at Duck Pond more manageable: https://www.mainevetmed.org/wildlife-rehabilitation or https://www.maine.gov/ifw/fish-wildlife/wildlife/living-with-wildlife/orphaned-injured-wildlife/index.html

Donald Cote operates Duck Pond Wildlife Care Center on Rte. 3 in Vassalboro. It is a nonprofit state permitted rehab facility supported by his own resources & outside donations. Mailing address: 1787 North Belfast Ave., Vassalboro ME 04989 TEL: (207) 445-4326. PLEASE NOTE THE PRIOR wildlifecarecenter EMAIL ADDRESS IS NOT BEING MONITORED AT THIS TIME.

CRITTER CHATTER: Area farmers help with much needed milk supply

by Jayne Winters

I wasn’t sure what this month’s article would be about, but after just a few minutes of talking with Don, we agreed a thank-you was in order to some local farmers who recently helped during a shortage of fresh milk for this year’s fawns.

When I visited Duck Pond Wildlife Rehab in June, I was immediately drawn to one of the newest admissions: a days’ old fawn whose mother had been hit by a car. She was one of about 16 Don has cared for so far this summer and after a little urging from Don, quickly drained her noontime bottle. Although one of Don’s “favorite” critters (the other being foxes), fawns require 24/7 care due to their feeding schedules. Don usually orders powdered milk from a company in Arizona in anticipation of many injured or orphaned coons and fawns arriving in April/May.

The company makes milk that is protein/fat specific for wild animals in zoos and those in the care of rehabbers. The obvious advantage of the dry form is you make only what you need so nothing is wasted or spoils; the liquid is warmed in the microwave, but is only good for 24 hours. The cost is $200/pail, plus shipping, and Don typically uses eight pails a year. For the very young fawns, he prefers to feed with fresh goat milk that he’s been able to obtain locally, averaging 165 gallons/year. Luckily, fresh milk can be frozen until needed. The first morning feeding is 6 – 7 a.m., with subsequent bottles provided every six hours around the clock. Even though they’re hungry, some fawns – especially the youngest – are reluctant to take a bottle. Changing the nipples on the bottle often does the trick, but by then the milk may need to be warmed again. Fawns will drink milk until Labor Day and then gradually switch over to grass, leafy greens (clover, dandelions, etc.) and finally, grain.

Last month found Don in dire need of goat milk as the order from Arizona had been delayed. I contacted Jamie and Heidi Bray, friends of mine who have a small farm in Somerville. I had recently visited their newborn goat kids and knew mom Kiwi was providing a good supply of milk. They were happy to drop some off at Duck Pond and put Don in contact with good friends Anil and Kelly Roopchand, who own Pumpkin Vine Family Farm, a pasture-based goat dairy also located in Somerville. Don made a drive out to the farm and was duly impressed with the tour and milking operation by Anil’s and Kelly’s son, Keiran. He was especially appreciative of the milk donations: neither the Brays nor the Roopchands would accept payment. In addition, Don has been in contact with Tom and Lynn Ryan, of Little Valley Farm, in China, who have supplied him with fresh goat milk for years. With another possible Winslow source, it looks like he and the fawns are all set for the summer!

Once the fawns are large enough to fend on their own, they’re released in the group they were brought up with rather than individually as there’s more security in numbers. And Don is adamant about not releasing after October, right before hunting season.

As I got ready to leave, Don had a call from an IF&W biologist about four gray squirrels whose nest had been accidentally displaced by CMP workers repairing a line. After assessing them, they’ll likely be transferred to another rehabber in Boothbay for more care. I also got a few photos of a gray fox kit that was too small for an outside pen and was being housed in a dog carrier in the house. You never know what you’ll find at Duck Pond!

Don continues to keep admissions and long-term residents at a limited number by transferring many rescued critters to other rehabbers who have generously offered to assist in their care. Please check these websites to see if there is a rehabber closer to you to help keep critter care at Duck Pond more manageable: https://www.mainevetmed.org/wildlife-rehabilitation or https://www.maine.gov/ifw/fish-wildlife/wildlife/living-with-wildlife/orphaned-injured-wildlife/index.html

Donald Cote operates Duck Pond Wildlife Care Center on Rte. 3, in Vassalboro. It is a nonprofit state permitted rehab facility supported by his own resources & outside donations. Mailing address: 1787 North Belfast Ave., Vassalboro ME 04989 TEL: (207) 445-4326. PLEASE NOTE THE PRIOR wildlifecarecenter EMAIL ADDRESS IS NOT BEING MONITORED AT THIS TIME.

CRITTER CHATTER: Update on center releases

A fawn at the Duck Pond Wildlife Center. (photo by Jayne Winters)

by Jayne Winters

Although spring always brings admissions of injured, sick and newly-orphaned wildlife to the Wildlife Care Center, May and June are also the months that find Don and his volunteers releasing rehabbed critters back to the fields and woods where they belong. The animals have depended upon human assistance to regain their health or simply mature to an age where they can face the world on their own. Release sites are selected in advance and must meet Don’s criteria: a good distance from houses and highways and readily available water sources.

Seven of nine deer have been successfully released, all together in one area. Assistants with a couple of blankets – and nets on hand if necessary – helped Don herd them toward the transport trailer and seven happened to run in as a group. Don returned home to get the remaining buck who readily entered the trailer, but was unwilling to leave it at the release site. Not wanting to stress it any further, Don left the trailer door open and upon returning a couple hours later, found the deer had come out but was lying on the ground, apparently unable to get up. Sadly, the buck had to be euthanized, likely due to an unknown injury. One more deer remains to be captured and released.

The three bobcat kittens, now a little over a year old, will be released next week individually and at different locations. Despite eating well and thriving last summer, they were too small to survive on their own in the fall, so were kept over the winter and are now ready to venture out into their natural habitat. Although somewhat accustomed to human interaction, the kittens have maintained their defensive characteristics and continue to be cautious. It shouldn’t take them long to adapt to life away from the Care Center. The female weighs about 20 pounds while her two brothers are a little heavier at probably 25 Pounds. They’re lean, mean fighting machines!

Two opossums and two flying squirrels have also been released, all in one area. This was an unusual year for flying squirrels as there were only two admissions, not the usual 40-50. Of course, there are many months ahead of us! The three remaining foxes will be released within the next couple of weeks. All raccoons have been transferred to another rehabber, so the focus will be on the expected summer and fall admissions.

The day I was visiting with Don, he asked if I had my camera – he had a young weasel in the incubator, so of course, I had to get some photos! It’s being fed formula several times a day and is probably only a couple of weeks old as its eyes aren’t open yet. When I returned later in the afternoon, four 1-2 days-old mice or rats (so small it’s hard to be sure) had been admitted. Never a dull moment at the Wildlife Care Center.

Don continues to keep admissions and long-term residents at a limited number by transferring many rescued critters to other rehabbers who have generously offered to assist in their care. Please check these websites to see if there is a rehabber closer to you to help keep critter care at Duck Pond more manageable: https://www.mainevetmed.org/wildlife-rehabilitation or https://www.maine.gov/ifw/fish-wildlife/wildlife/living-with-wildlife/orphaned-injured-wildlife/index.html.

– Donald Cote operates Duck Pond Wildlife Care Center on Rte. 3 in Vassalboro. It is a non-profit state permitted rehab facility supported by his own resources & outside donations. Mailing address: 1787 North Belfast Ave., Vassalboro ME 04989 TEL: (207) 445-4326. PLEASE NOTE THE PRIOR wildlifecarecenter EMAIL ADDRESS IS NOT BEING MONITORED AT THIS TIME.

CRITTER CHATTER: Vicious vermin or rodent regulator?

The different coats of the winter and summer ermine.

by Jayne Winters

You never know what you’ll find in Don Cote’s living room at the Duck Pond Wildlife Rehab Center, in Vassalboro. When I visited him a few weeks ago to decide on a topic for this month’s article, as soon as I walked in, I knew what it would be: weasels. I’ve never seen one in the wild and feel fortunate to have arrived at Duck Pond the same day Don had one that had been captured locally.

My first question to Don was if “weasel” and “ermine” were the same critter, and he confirmed they are. I think many of us associate “ermine” with the fashion industry and I suppose that does sound more appealing than a “weasel coat.” The body fur changes (molts) from tan with white belly in the summer to white in the winter to provide camouflage during the change of seasons; it sports a black-tipped tail year ‘round. The molts are controlled by hormones that respond to the hours of daylight.

Weasels are not only found in North America, but also Europe, Asia, South America and even parts of Africa and the Arctic. They are part of the Mustelidae family, which includes skunks, mink, otters, ferrets, badgers, fishers, martens, and wolverines. Their common feature is the presence of anal scent glands which produce an easily recognized and smelly liquid used for marking their territory and for self-defense when the animals feel threatened.

The two most common types of weasels in Maine are the long-tailed, which can grow to 11-22 inches long with a tail of 3-7 inches, and the short-tailed, which is typically 7-14 inches long with a tail of 2-4 inches. The jury is still out on whether we also have a population of the least weasel, which, as the name suggests, is the smallest, 7-9 inches, including tail which does not have the black tip.

Weasels are slender animals, with stubby legs and short, round ears, only weighing three to eight ounces as adults. They are relatively shy and mostly nocturnal, although they will forage during the day. Their diet mainly consists of mice, voles, shrews, rats, frogs, and insects, but they are also known to kill squirrels, small rabbits, worms, snakes, birds and eggs. A weasel will eat up to two-thirds of its body weight every day due to its a high metabolism (heart rates can exceed 400 beats a minute) and minimal body fat.

They live in underground burrows, often around stone walls, brush piles and old foundations for denning. Weasels are solitary except during mating season and when raising young; they are not monogamous and females care for the pups alone. The female weasel, called a “jill”, will have a litter of four to ten pups in April or May after a nine-month gestation period. After nursing for a few weeks, the pups are fully independent by autumn. Their life span is only four to five years; despite their ability to reach speeds up to eight miles an hour, jump to heights of six feet, and put up a good fight with their sharp teeth, they fall prey to raptors, fox and larger mammals, as well as domestic dogs and cats. In addition, weasels are subject to Maine’s two-month trapping season.

And the weasel at Duck Pond? Don stated he usually gets only one or two a year to rehab and this one had been caught accidentally by a homeowner who was trying to trap squirrels. Upon examination, Don noticed one of its eyes looked infected, so after three days of treatment (always a two-person job!), it was released back into the wild.

Don continues to keep admissions and long-term residents at a limited number by transferring many rescued critters to other rehabbers who have generously offered to assist in their care. Please check these websites to see if there is a rehabber closer to you to help keep critter care at Duck Pond more manageable: https://www.mainevetmed.org/wildlife-rehabilitation or https://www.maine.gov/ifw/fish-wildlife/wildlife/living-with-wildlife/orphaned-injured-wildlife/index.html.

Donald Cote operates Duck Pond Wildlife Care Center on Rte. 3 in Vassalboro. It is a non-profit state permitted rehab facility supported by his own resources & outside donations. Mailing address: 1787 North Belfast Ave., Vassalboro ME 04989 TEL: (207) 445-4326. PLEASE NOTE THE PRIOR wildlifecarecenter EMAIL ADDRESS IS NOT BEING MONITORED AT THIS TIME.

CRITTER CHATTER: An April reminder from the wildlife center

A fawn at the Duck Pond Wildlife Center. (photo by Jayne Winters)

by Jayne Winters

When visiting at the Duck Pond Wildlife Rehab Center a couple of weeks ago, I asked Don Cote if he had any thoughts about what we should submit for the April column. Without missing a beat, he said spring is the time we need to alert people that not all young animals that appear lost or orphaned actually need to be rescued. So, as in the past, I’m going to use Carleen Cote’s words of wisdom from many years ago:

With the return of warmer days, our feathered friends are returning from their southern hiatus and native wildlife are becoming more active. This is an appropriate time for a reminder about whether or not young wildlife that appear to need rescuing really need human intervention.

White-tail fawns are often rescued when they should be left where they were found. A very young fawn will not move until given a signal from its mother. It has no odor, so if it is found by a dog, coyote or other potential predator, it’s by accident, not from a scent. The doe does not remain with her fawn(s) at all times; she leaves to feed herself and may not return for several hours.

If you’re walking in the fields and woods and spot a fawn, don’t immediately assume that it needs to be rescued. Mark the spot where it was seen and leave; return after a few hours or the next day. If the fawn is in the exact same spot, it’s probably safe to assume something has happened to the doe. Contact a game warden or rehabber and follow the advice given.

If you find a young bird on the ground and no nest is found, make a substitute from a berry box or basket; be sure there are holes for drainage and hang it in a tree close to the spot where the bird was found. The adults will respond to the feeding calls of their youngsters. If cats are prowling or stalking birds, especially when there may be young birds in a nest that can’t survive without being fed, the cat should be confined rather than removing the birds. Fledg­lings – young birds that are feathered and out of the nest – need time to master the art of flying. Though they may spend time on the ground, this is not necessarily an indication they need human intervention. Observe whether there are adult birds flying around as they could be the parents, bringing food to the young or coaxing them to take their first flight.

Of course, there are times when rescue is necessary such as when an adult female has died, but her young survive, or when young animals have been observed for some time with no adult arriving to care for them and lead them to safety. If you do rescue wildlife, as cute as they may be, bring them to someone who has the necessary permits and knowledge to give them a greater chance of survival. If you’re in doubt about the need to rescue any bird or animal, or have questions about the critters we enjoy and for which we are concerned, please call a local rehabber or warden.

Don continues to keep admissions and long-term residents at a more practical number by transferring many rescued critters to other rehabbers who have generously offered to assist in their care. Please check these websites to see if there is a rehabber closer to you to help make critter care at Duck Pond more manageable: https://www.mainevetmed.org/wildlife-rehabilitation or https://www.maine.gov/ifw/fish-wildlife/wildlife/living-with-wildlife/orphaned-injured-wildlife/index.html

Donald Cote operates Duck Pond Wildlife Care Center on Rte. 3 in Vassalboro. It is a non-profit state permitted rehab facility supported by his own resources & outside donations. Mailing address: 1787 North Belfast Ave., Vassalboro ME 04989 TEL: (207) 445-4326. PLEASE NOTE THE PRIOR wildlifecarecenter EMAIL ADDRESS IS NOT BEING MONITORED AT THIS TIME.

CRITTER CHATTER: Preparing for the arrival of spring

The late Carleen Cote with a baby fox. (Duck Pond file photo)

by Jayne Winters

While the recent signs of an early spring encourage most of us to anxiously look forward to warmer days and more outside activities, this time of year is one of mixed emotions for Don Cote and the volunteers at Duck Pond Wildlife Care Center.

These last weeks of winter still require shoveling, plowing, and sanding; freeing water tubs from ice; replacing soiled and sometimes frozen bedding; cleaning pens; doing multiple loads of daily laundry; washing and disinfecting food dishes; preparing meals; and tending to injured and sick animals. Wildlife rehabbers are not ‘fair weather’ friends: whether it rains or snows or the wind howls, the critters must be cared for several times a day.

Don also takes care of a variety of his own ducks and geese year ‘round, requiring nesting materials, fresh water and different feed. So, while the folks at Duck Pond won’t miss doing chores in frigid temperatures, they’re also thinking about the busyness of the coming spring and how to begin preparing for it.

As Carleen [Cote] wrote in 2004, March is when they begin looking at catalogues and deciding what supplies will be needed. Orders for milk, milk replacements, supplements, electrolytes, vitamins, and foodstuffs for so many animals are mind boggling. Typical spring admissions include squirrels, chipmunks, woodchucks, skunks, raccoons, porcupines, foxes, opossums, fawns, and the occasional mice, rabbits, birds, coyotes, and bobcats. It’s hard to plan for so many different needs.

In addition, Don has to be sure there are special bottles, nipples and syringes for feeding the very young babies, as well as enough medications, bandages and other first aid items for emergency treatment of wounds and broken bones on injured, abandoned or orphaned animals that will soon arrive.

With warmer weather come more admissions from vehicular accidents, especially youngsters who haven’t yet learned the dangers and survival skills of living in the wild. There are also admissions from well-meaning citizens who think little ones have been abandoned by their mothers, when in actuality they may be seeking food or a better den area to raise their brood.

On a happier and more rewarding note, this is the time of year to think about when and where to release the animals that have overwintered at Duck Pond because they were too young or not well enough for fall release. This May will see the three bobcat kittens, several deer, foxes and raccoons return to the fields and forests that await them. Although I’m sure some of the young residents at the Care Center hold a special place in Don’s and the volunteers’ hearts, I’m also sure they feel a sense of gratitude to know their months of nurturing care truly made a difference.

Don plans to continue to gradually keep admissions and long-term residents to a more manageable level by transferring many rescued critters to other rehabbers who have so generously offered to assist in their care. Please check these websites to see if there is a rehabber closer to you to help make critter care at Duck Pond more practicable: https://www.mainevetmed.org/wildlife-rehabilitation or https://www.maine.gov/ifw/fish-wildlife/wildlife/living-with-wildlife/orphaned-injured-wildlife/rehabilitation.html. Donald Cote operates Duck Pond Wildlife Care Center on Rte. 3 in Vassalboro. It is a non-profit state permitted rehab facility supported by his own resources & outside donations. Mailing address: 1787 North Belfast Ave., Vassalboro ME 04989 TEL: (207) 445-4326.

CRITTER CHATTER: Just who is Punxsutawney Phil?

 

Woodchuck adult

by Jayne Winters

After reading Roland Hallee’s recent column (The Town Line, Scores and Outdoors, February 3, 2022) about his groundhog buddy, Woodrow Charles, and his prediction of six more weeks of winter, I wondered if the Cotes have had many groundhog visitors over the years. I found an article Carleen wrote in 1997, so I thought I’d share some of it:

“As their name implies, woodchucks were originally forest dwellers. With the clearing of the land, woodchucks left the forest to take advantage of the abundant food found in fields and meadows.

“The woodchuck, a member of the squirrel family, appears not to be territorial and, at times, may choose to live in close proximity to other ‘chucks. They are expert diggers and may dig a five-foot tunnel in a day. Requirements for their burrows (there may be several, not all connected), which they continually alter and rework, are that they be on slopes of at least 30 degrees, have good drainage and be close to food and water. From one to eleven entrances (three on average) open into a burrow.

“Woodchucks are true hibernators. In July, they start building a layer of fat which can become a half inch thick. By mid-October, they’ve gone into their winter burrow, which is in a more protected area than their summer burrow. They curl up in a ball, their body temperature drops to between 38-57 degrees F, and breathing occurs about once every six minutes. They start coming out of this state between January and March.

“Mating occurs sometime in March, after they emerge from their burrows. Occasionally a male will remain with his mate, but they usually have no role in rearing the young. A litter may consist of 2-9 young; the female brings them greens, as well as nurses them. At about four weeks of age, they may appear at the burrow entrance. At 6 – 7 weeks, they start straying, but remain near the entrance, scurrying inside at any hint of danger. The female finally evicts them from the premises sometime in July.

“Woodchucks are usually active in early morning and late afternoon. They often lie on top of their burrow or near its entrance to sun themselves. Most literature states woodchucks are strict vegetarians; from our experience at the Duck Pond Rehab Center, we’ve found this to be true, although they have dined on canned dog food and even baby birds.

Woodchuck

“We have cared for several ‘chucks. Everyone has a different personality. Some would allow us to handle them; others were totally hostile, snapping and chattering their teeth to signal their displeasure at being approached. In 1995, we cared for a ‘chuck we named “Charlie” who was very friendly and really enjoyed her association with humans! She was so well behaved she was allowed to roam inside the house. One day, however, when I left for a period of time, she was left alone in the house. BIG mistake! She went totally bonkers. When I arrived home, I discovered just how panicked she had become, knocking over and breaking any object she could reach, including china cups. She was subsequently released in the duck pen where she would come to the fence every day to get her treat. Eventually she stopped coming and we assumed she had “jumped” the fence.

“The next spring, on one of Donald’s walks around the pond, he suddenly heard a grunting sound behind him. There was Charlie! She had spent the winter in a burrow in the duck pen. She began her daily trips to the fence, remembering that seeing a human meant receiving a treat. Some days she would appear several times, begging for the treat. One day, she did not appear and we assumed a mate had taken on more of a priority than a treat.”

I searched online to confirm that groundhogs and woodchucks are the same critter; they’re also called whistle pigs (because of the alert whistle they make when alarmed), earth pigs, and grass rats! The name “woodchuck” was apparently created by English settlers from “wuchak” – a Native American word for them. In addition to squirrels, they’re also related to prairie dogs and are sometimes mistaken for beavers or muskrats. Groundhogs, however, make their homes in burrows in the ground instead of near water. They are 20-27 inches long, weigh between 5 and 15 pounds, have brown fur and small, fluffy tails. They eat about a third of their weight in food daily, mostly plants, flowers, nuts, fruits and sometimes insects and grubs. Their lifespan in the wild is typically three to six years, but in captivity is usually triple that!

Those tunnels Carleen wrote about? They can extend up to 60 feet, with multiple levels. I found it interesting that the lowering of their body temperature during hibernation fluctuates. After an all-time low for a week or so, their temperature will rise for a few days before dropping again. Groundhogs are apparently known for their cleanliness and resistance to germs and diseases that infect and kill other wild animals. Cheers to a healthy life!

The continued assistance from other rehabbers is greatly appreciated as Don has cut back on admissions and long-term residents. Please check these websites to see if there is a rehabber closer to you to help make critter care at Duck Pond more manageable: https://www.mainevetmed.org/wildlife-rehabilitation or https://www.maine.gov/ifw/fish-wildlife/wildlife/living-with-wildlife/orphaned-injured-wildlife/rehabilitation.html.

Donald Cote operates Duck Pond Wildlife Care Center on Rte. 3 in Vassalboro. It is a non-profit state permitted rehab facility supported by his own resources & outside donations. Mailing address: 1787 North Belfast Ave., Vassalboro ME 04989 TEL: (207) 445-4326. PLEASE NOTE THE PRIOR wildlifecarecenter EMAIL ADDRESS IS NOT BEING MONITORED AT THIS TIME.