Thursday, April 10, 2014

Swan Song

From John Windau, Wildlife Communications Specialist, District Two, Findlay, Ohio

There are two species of swans native to Ohio, the tundra swan and the trumpeter swan.  Trumpeter swans are the larger of the two, both of which are native species of the United States. Although tundra swans do migrate through Ohio in the spring and fall, the trumpeter is the only native species that nests in Ohio. The adult trumpeter has snow white plumage with a black bill and feet. The young birds, or cygnets, are a sooty gray color with a pinkish colored bill and feet. The bill of a trumpeter swan may also have a red border on the lower jaw that gives the bird the appearance of wearing lipstick. The name trumpeter comes from the bird’s song, described as a resonant, deep and loud, trumpet-like call. In contrast, tundra swans, also known as whistling swans, have a much higher pitched call than trumpeter swans.
trumpeter swans and cygnets
photo from the Trumpeter Swan Society
tundra swan
Photo from the Trumpeter Swan Society

By 1900, trumpeter swans were extirpated from most of their historic range, including Ohio. In 1996, the Division of Wildlife began working on a project, in partnership with the Mississippi Flyway Council, the Cleveland Metropark Zoo, The Wilds and Ducks Unlimited, to restore trumpeter swans to Ohio. The reintroduction plan called for the release of 150 trumpeter swans in selected Ohio wetlands with a goal of at least 15 breeding pairs by 2006. This unique reintroduction was initiated to restore diversity to Ohio’s fauna and to promote wildlife enjoyment opportunities on Division of Wildlife managed wetland areas.

Today, trumpeter swans are classified as “Threatened” in Ohio and can be found in only 13 of Ohio’s 88 counties with 28 breeding pairs calling Ohio home in 2013. The Division of Wildlife’s trumpeter swan management goal is to increase its range within Ohio from the current 13 counties to 15 counties and to increase the number of breeding pairs from 28 pairs to 40 pairs within the state by 2020.

However, the chorus is not all radiant for the trumpeter swans. Another swan, ironically named the mute swan, is attempting to silence trumpeter swans in Ohio and neighboring states.
mute swan
Photo from the Trumpeter Swan Society
Mute swans are native to Eurasia and were introduced into North America during the late 1800s as decorative waterfowl. They have now established feral populations throughout North America from escaped and released birds. Mute swans were first recorded in Ohio in 1911 at Silver Lake in Akron where they were wing-clipped annually until 1934 when the birds were allowed to fly away. Mute swans are now an exotic, invasive species that threaten to displace native wetland wildlife.

Mute swans are sedentary birds that typically only migrate short distances when dictated by severe weather. Because of this, mute swans typically establish nesting territories 3 weeks earlier than trumpeter swans. Mute swans will aggressively defend their nesting territories against other native wildlife, including trumpeter swans. With only about 100,000 acres of marsh existing in Ohio, competition for limited habitat has the potential to negatively impact the success of the trumpeter swan restoration program.

In addition, mute swans feed almost exclusively on aquatic vegetation (up to 8 pounds per day!) In high densities, mute swan populations can severely reduce food availability for native waterfowl, uproot wetland plants and even destroy an entire wetland ecosystem.

Mute swans can be identified by their orange bill with a black knob at the base. Mute swans also hold their necks in an S-curve when on the water, unlike trumpeter and tundra swans. Despite their name, these birds are not actually soundless. They can make a variety of hisses, bugles and other sounds.
Photo courtesy of the Trumpeter Swan Society

Regionally, the populations of mute swans have begun to grow exponentially. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources reports that, in the last 10 years the number of mute swans has nearly tripled. Without management of mute swan populations, long-term detrimental impacts may occur to Ohio’s wetland habitats and native species like trumpeter swans.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Do I need a permit for that?

By guest writer, Melissa Moser, Permit Coordinator, Ohio Division of Wildlife

Inspiring a child to enjoy and respect wildlife is an important endeavor. Wildlife education continues throughout our lives as we build upon our childhood experiences. Many of us have good intentions when we decide to use a wild animal, either alive or dead, to teach another person an important lesson. What you may not have considered, is how that animal is protected in the state of Ohio.
box turtle

The Ohio Division of Wildlife’s mission is to conserve and improve fish and wildlife resources and their habitats for sustainable use and appreciation by all. We are tasked with holding in trust the wild animals of the state for the benefit of all Ohioans. Wild animals, as defined by ORC 1531.01, include mollusks, crustaceans, aquatic insects, fish, reptiles, amphibians, wild birds, wild quadrupeds and all other wild mammals except domestic deer. This means that these animals may not be taken, collected, or possessed unless you have specific permission to do so. Further restrictions apply to certain species of reptiles and amphibians and to those species considered endangered. 

Because wildlife education is so important, the Division has developed a permit that allows qualified people to possess and use wild animals for educational purposes.  A qualified person must represent an educational institution, public agency (SWCD, Metro Parks, etc.), educational or conservation organization, or licensed rehabilitator. The permit is a mechanism to allow educators to possess Ohio native wild animals, conduct monitoring projects, and may be used for both live and dead specimens. Possession of migratory birds or their parts requires both an Ohio Division of Wildlife permit and a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Migratory Bird Permit.

Keep in mind, you may use animals that are legally acquired without an education permit. These include fish, minnows, crawfish, and hellgrammites obtained using legal methods (rod,
minnow traps or small seine) with a fishing license. Legally acquired hides, skulls and bones of game species and legally acquired feathers and parts of game birds may also be used without an additional permit. 

To obtain an Education Permit, you must fill out an application (DNR 8953) and submit a payment of $25/year. The permit cycle runs through March 15th annually. All Education Permit holders are required to submit an annual report of their activities. This includes an inventory of the animals they have in their possession as well as a summary of what activities they have used their permit for over the course of the past year. To get a copy of the application or if you have questions, feel free to contact the Permit Coordinator, Melissa Moser at or 1-800-WILDLIFE.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Winter Wildlife Adaptations

by John Windau, Wildlife Communications Specialist, District Two, Findlay, Ohio

Red fox with mouse
This year, winter in Ohio has been a bit extreme, at least when compared to the last couple of years. Talk of the record high snowfalls and record low temperatures have been at the forefront of many conversations for nearly one and a half months now. We at the Division of Wildlife are no exception, and we have been receiving quite a few calls from concerned people about the fate of their favorite wildlife species. So, what about our native wildlife that have been exposed to this weather? Surprisingly, for the most part, they are just fine. It is easy to personify, or bestow human traits, onto wildlife, particularly species we are fond of. However, it is important to remember that native species of wildlife are well adapted to deal with winter conditions.  And, although this year has been extreme when compared to the last several years, these adaptations have developed over thousands of years and thousands of winters, many more harsh than this year. These adaptations can be classified into two groups: structural or behavioral.

Structural adaptations are physical traits, handed down through genetics that help an animal better survive in its environment. In the case of winter conditions, an obvious example for most mammal species is the pelage, or their covering of hair or fur. In fall, most mammals in Ohio replace their thinner summer coats with a dense winter coat, which is why fur bearer trapping seasons are scheduled for late fall and into winter. These thick coats are comprised of two layers, an inner dense undercoat which traps air and provides warmth, and an outer layer of guard hairs to repel water, protect the undercoat, and provide camouflage.

Have you ever noticed that the northern members of a species seem to be a bit larger than their southern counterparts, even though they are the same species? It has to do with how their bodies deal with heat. In the south, where summers are very hot, bodies need to remove heat in order to protect vital organs. In the north, the opposite is required; heat needs to be retained during the cold months. So how does size help? Think of a cube. For every one additional increase of surface, the volume increases three fold. So the larger and stouter northern animals have more mass relative to surface area to protect internal organs. Likewise, the thinner and lanky southern versions have a larger surface area in relation to their volumes to help dissipate heat.

Striped Skunk
Behavioral adaptations are ways an animal acts and reacts to changes in its environment that help it better survive. Some of these behaviors are ingrained while others are learned. Hibernation is behavioral adaptation that is ingrained in some species. These species have no choice whether or not they hibernate. Hibernation is a state of inactivity with low body temperature, slow breath and heart rate, and very low metabolic rate. In Ohio, groundhogs are one of the few mammals that enter into a true state of hibernation. Other species, like skunks and raccoons enter a lesser form of hibernation called torpor. Animals in a state of torpor do not enter into as “deep” of a sleep, therefore their breath and heart rate, and metabolisms are reduced much less than in hibernation. Often, these animals will “sleep” during periods of severe weather and emerge once the weather breaks.

Other behavioral adaptations are learned. Humans, for example, have learned to build shelters which have enabled them to live in climates in which they would otherwise not be physically adapted to survive. Just like Eskimos, many species of wildlife, particularly game birds like ruffed grouse and pheasants, rely on snow for insulation and to protect them from the harsh winds. When woodlots and fence rows are removed, the wind driven snow moves on rather than forming snowdrifts along the fences, leaving these species susceptible to the elements.

Some species have adapted other ways to cope with unfavorable weather. Many species of birds choose to avoid the cold altogether and fly to areas where food is abundant. Migration is an adaptation to capitalize on the seasonally abundant food sources as they occur in different regions of the world.

Bobwhite quail
Still, there are some native species, which are not very tolerant of Ohio’s weather patterns. Often, these species are better adapted to other regions of the country and the edges of their home ranges spill into Ohio. These are called edge species.  The Northern bobwhite quail is one example of an edge species in Ohio. The numbers of Northern bobwhites in Ohio are subject to dramatic fluctuations due to winter weather conditions. Their populations often increase during mild winters, while prolonged snow cover and below normal temperatures may decimate quail populations in other years. On the other hand, Ohio is at the southern edge of the snowshoe hare’s range. Ohio’s relatively “mild” winters mean that the species was probably never abundant here and historically snowshoe hares were likely confined to the “Snow Belt” region in the extreme northeast corner of Ohio.

In the end, every species has adapted unique ways to help them survive in their environment. For Ohio’s wildlife, that includes winters just like the one we are experiencing this year. Although, to some these conditions may seem unbearable, most all of the native wildlife species are well adapted to these conditions. For more information about a particular species that interests you, visit the Species Guide Index at

Friday, January 17, 2014

Take Them Outside! In Winter?

by John Windau, Wildlife Communications Specialist, District Two

Tired of winter already? Short days and long nights combined with children who have been cooped up inside too long can tax even the most patient person. Looking for a way to reduce the stress? Send them outside!

OK, that should have read, “TAKE them outside.” Cold weather is no reason to put your outdoor experiences and education on hold. You cannot catch a cold simply by being outside. That is an old myth. Colds are brought on by viruses, not temperature.  

Going for an afternoon walk is very relaxing, not to mention healthy. Even a 15 minute walk can do wonders for the mind and body. When there is snow cover, spend some time solving a “snow mystery.” Look for wildlife tracks and spend a few moments following them, trying to figure who made them and what they were doing. You might be surprised at what you find. Many species of wildlife live secretly among us. Some are nocturnal while others operate covertly when we aren’t looking.

What about doing something for the birds? Here is how to make some snow art that will benefit birds too. How about making a snowman that wildlife will enjoy too? Use nuts, raisins, vegetables and fruit, in addition to bird seed, to decorate your snow friend.

Many nature centers hold programs throughout the winter months. Check out their websites for details. These are great ways to get out of the house and reconnect with nature.

Perhaps the most important element in creating an enjoyable winter outdoor experience is proper attire. Unless it is bitterly cold, most winter days can easily be enjoyed if you are properly dressed. Be sure everyone has warm boots, hats, gloves and scarves to protect faces, in addition to winter coats. By dressing in layers you will be better able to adjust your temperature. Also, remember to stay hydrated. Occasionally take breaks to warm up and there is no reason why you have to remain cooped up inside this winter.


Friday, November 15, 2013

Activities that fit into Ohio’s New Life Sciences Standards

This month we continue our look into how the Division of Wildlife can help educators transition into the new standards and Model Curriculum. Our last two articles focused on how WILD School Sites fit into the new standards and Project Based Learning (PBL), and gave educators a few ideas on how to incorporate some projects into their lessons. This month, we thought we would include a few activities from the Project WILD program to show teachers how it can help them with their new curriculum.
First, if you are not familiar with it, the article The Case for Wildlife Education in Ohio's New Science Standards, does an excellent job covering what the Division of Wildlife has to offer educators for the new standards and is well worth reading. As the article mentions, Project WILD/ Aquatic WILD are supplemental curriculums which are mentioned throughout the Model Curriculum as a great resource for developing project-based learning experiences in the new curriculum.
So how about a couple of examples?
The Aquatic WILD guide has an activity titled Fashion a Fish, which is perfect for anyone interested in teaching about adaptations and how, over time, changes to an animal’s habitat influence its ability to survive. These concepts are included in the Model Curriculum in grades 3-4. Not all fish look alike. As obvious as that statement is, have you ever asked yourself why some fish are long and skinny, while other fish are round? Why are some fish striped horizontally while others striped vertically? Fashion a Fish asks students to describe and interpret how features of different species of fish have helped them survive in their habitats over other species.
In today’s busy society, children’s lives are often crammed full of activities, so most have never taken the moment to ask why a particular animal lives where it does. The Model Curriculum for Grade 2 addresses this concept and so does the Water Safari activity. Water Safari walks the students through a field investigation. Field investigations bring scientific studies outside of the laboratory and into nature, teaching students how to conduct scientific inquiries in uncontrolled environments and giving them real world experiences. Water Safari asks students to observe, identify and describe potential sources of water for wildlife on a study area. This investigation can be done on a variety of sites, including the school grounds. After the data has been collected, students are asked to organize the data and draw conclusions about what kind of wildlife could survive in the area, and asking what type of relationship exists between the presence, or absence, of water and wildlife.
These are just a couple of the activities within the Project WILD and Aquatic WILD curriculum that can help you with the new Science Standards and Model Curriculum. If you are interested in obtaining both guides for FREE, you will need to attend a FREE workshop. Workshops can be found online at Did I mention they are FREE? We can also come to you if you have enough interest in your school district (minimum of 12 participants), give us a call at 1-800-WILDLIFE and we'll work with you to set a date for an in-service training.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

PBL- Butterfly Gardens and How They Fit Into the New Standards

As a teacher you will soon be faced with figuring out how to implement the new Ohio education standards into your curriculum. The new standards call for teachers to use Project Based Learning (PBL) in which students undertake projects from the beginning design stages, through construction and, finally, to completion. PBL also calls for multidisciplinary learning, where students integrate multiple subjects into the project. WILD School Sites and their associated projects can help you meet these new standards. WILD School Sites or outdoor classrooms are locations that can be used by students, teachers and the school community as places to learn about wildlife and the environment.

So, how can a simple butterfly garden help with PBL?

First, let’s look at PBL. One essential element of PBL encourages students to develop the 21st century skills of critical thinking, collaboration and presentation skills. It also encourages students to collect data, research a project and work together to design a project. Then PBL has students incorporate feedback and revisions into their work to create a high quality product, and concludes with a public presentation to share with their community.

WILD School Sites consist of projects, like butterfly gardens, in which students, teachers and the community work together toward designing, building and implementing an outdoor learning area (Collaboration). To be effective, there must be a plan. Also, the site needs to be evaluated and inventoried for flora and fauna (Collect Data). Then research is needed and a plan designed for the site, including a budget and a timeline (Research and Critical Thinking). Next the plan should be presented to the school community (Presentation). After the plan has been reviewed, and possibly adjusted (Feedback), it can be then be implemented.

Do butterfly gardens fit into other areas of the new standards?
Sure! Obviously, the model curriculum is too long to reference each standard here; however, Project WILD and WILD School Sites are directly referenced in the Model Curriculum for the Science Standards. Teachers from other disciplines can also utilize the area. WILD School Sites are perfect for math (measurements and data analysis), language arts (research, presentation development), social studies (spatial awareness, mapping, community impacts), art and music (presentation development) as well.

For butterfly gardens, an obvious connection is the Grade 3 Life Science (LS) content statement referencing plant and animal life cycles that are part of their adaptations for survival. The life cycle of butterflies is well-known, but less often observed in its entirety. In addition, butterflies are species specialists, meaning each species of butterfly requires a unique and specific host, both as an adult and as a caterpillar and without those types of plants, butterflies cannot survive (Grade 1 LS: Basic Needs of Living Things and Grade 2 LS: Interactions within Habitats.) As habitat improvements are made to a site, butterflies are better able to survive (Grade 4 LS: Changes to an organism’s environment can be beneficial.)

What about Field Investigations?

Of course WILD School Sites, and butterfly gardens, are also great locations to conduct field investigations. Where better to conduct animal observations, habitat inventories or other investigations, than at an outdoor lab? These sites are perfect for conducting comparative field investigations (i.e., How many insect species can be found inside the butterfly garden vs. in the school yard? or How many butterflies are found in the garden at different times of the year? or Are more butterflies found in the garden in the morning or at noon?) Even complex correlative questions can be investigated in the sites (What happens to the number of insect species at the site as more plant species are introduced? or What happens to the number of butterfly species as different native plants are introduced to the site?)

A Final Thought

WILD School Sites provide opportunities, in their design and construction, as well as in their use, for students to apply learned concepts and to demonstrate what they have learned. This is also the premise for Project Based Learning. In addition, field investigations require students to observe and collect data and organize the results for analysis. WILD School Sites provide a perfect setting to develop these real world problem-solving skills. For more information about these projects or other WILD School Site projects, contact your district’s Wildlife Communications Specialist, or visit