Winter Preparations Can Help Wildlife

rabbit in snow

Winter is coming, and wildlife animals are preparing. Each species handles the weather getting colder and the days getting shorter differently; some animals hibernate, some animals migrate, and some animals adapt to the climate around them.

Human intervention may not be necessary but it will certainly help our wildlife when winter draws near. Taking these steps will prevent injury and increase their chances of survival.

Migration is an important journey for many species of not only birds but mammals as well. Birds generally migrate in the fall to places where the weather is warmer or they can find food. Species we see migrating through Illinois include the Canada goose, sandhill cranes, broad-winged hawks, warblers, hummingbirds, and several species of ducks. Other animals that migrate include snakes, insects such as butterflies, and in other parts of the world you may see elk migrating.

  • During this time, birds are susceptible to injury. Many are injured by flying into windows, a common presentation in the Wildlife Medical Clinic. You can help wildlife avoid these injuries by adjusting their windows to be less reflective. This can be achieved by placing decal stickers on the window or arranging tape in an irregular pattern. There are also non-reflective screens or transparent films that may be purchased to protect these birds.

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Northern River Otter Case Report

In the middle of April, an adult male North American river otter (Lontra canadensis) presented to the Wildlife Medical Clinic after being found unresponsive on the side of the road. A Good Samaritan brought the otter to a nearby veterinarian who completed a full work-up. Unfortunately, no abnormalities showed up on bloodwork or radiographs, so the veterinary clinic transferred the patient to the WMC.

river otter exam

On initial physical examination, the only abnormal findings were slight dehydration and poor, inappropriate mentation. The otter was given subcutaneous fluids to help combat the dehydration and students administered a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory to help alleviate any inflammation that could have been causing the neurologic signs. The volunteers’ top differentials for his condition were infectious disease, toxin exposure, and trauma. After only 24 hours in the clinic, the otter’s mentation greatly improved; he ate all the food offered to him in his cage and he swam in a pool. A few days after intake, the otter was put under general anesthesia to have radiographs performed. Fortunately for the otter, there were no abnormal findings on his radiographs either.

After only 10 days in our care, he made a full recovery: he swam and moved around appropriately, he acted like a typical otter should act, and he “hunted” for live prey placed in his swimming pool. He was released by student volunteers at Kickapoo State Park and seemed to enjoy his new environment shortly after release. Although the volunteers at the WMC are still not completely sure what was causing this patient to be so down and out, everyone was more than relieved to see that he was feeling better and back to acting like a normal otter should!

—Ainsley Boyle, WMC student manager, 3rd-year veterinary student

river otter in clinic pool