Thursday, February 28, 2013

So You Spot A Coyote. What Should You Do?

Ohio wildlife biologists are frequently contacted by concerned residents who spot coyotes. Yes, frequently, but this is not cause for alarm. Coyotes are highly adaptable animals that are regularly viewed by humans throughout the state. Here are a few steps to keep in mind when you encounter a coyote in the Buckeye State.
  1. Understand that coyotes are common throughout Ohio’s 88 counties and are even regularly seen within city limits. Read more about coyotes at
  2. There are no wolves living in the wild in Ohio.
  3. If you spot a coyote on your property, make sure to remove all “attractants” to deter the coyote from returning. This includes removing garbage and pet food before nightfall and cleaning up around the grill.
  4. Coyotes prey primarily on small mammals such as rabbits and mice. However, interactions with domestic pets do occur sometimes.  Keep small dogs and cats inside or leash them when outside.
  5. Occasionally, an inquisitive coyote will stay put and watch you curiously. Clap your hands and shout; the coyote will likely move on at this point. 
  6. If the coyote visiting your yard does not respond to harassment techniques such as loud noises or is presenting a conflict even after removing attractants from your yard, contact a nuisance trapper. You can locate a trapper on our website at  For a fee, these nuisance trappers use highly regulated techniques to reduce urban wildlife conflicts. Coyote populations in rural areas can be managed through legal hunting and trapping methods. Consult the yearly Ohio Hunting andTrapping Regulations digest for more information.

Thank you to Jamey Emmert for this post. Jamey is the Wildlife Communications Specialist in our District Three office.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

For the Love of Skunks!

Skunk love is in the air on this Valentine's Day. Literally! Have you noticed an increase in these odiferous creatures this time of year? That's because it's breeding season for skunks in Ohio in late February.

The common Striped Skunk
The striped skunk is the only native skunk found in Ohio. Found throughout most of North America, it is one of four species of skunks on this continent. They include the more southern spotted skunk, and the southwestern hooded and hog-nosed skunks.  All are members of the Mephitidae family, which is Latin for "stench."  All skunks have a gland around their anus that is capable of projecting a foul-smelling secretion up to 15 feet.  This defense mechanism, while rarely used, is what makes the skunk an unlikely prey for most predators.  Animals remember the bold black and white stripes and learn from experience to stay away.  The exception is the great horned owl.  Since owls have little to no sense of smell, they could care less about getting sprayed.  Just ask the unfortunate grad student who has to conduct nest surveys on great horned owls.

Skunks are not true hibernators.  They do, however, take a lot of really long naps.  They will store up body fat for the winter and, when the weather is bad, will take to their dens for weeks to a month at a time.  By the time February rolls around, they are ready to roam about looking for love.  Skunks are omnivores and will eat just about anything they come across.  However, they have pretty poor eyesight.  You might notice an increase in road kill skunks this time of year as they are out wandering around looking for food and a mate. And, like our friend Pepe Le Pew, the males are promiscuous, mating with several females during the season.  Gestation is approximately two months and the females give birth to litters of 2-10 young.  They are born hairless and with eyes closed and remain in the den for about 6 weeks.  They are weaned at 6 weeks and begin to join their mother on her nightly ramblings.

This famous "Looney Tunes" skunk was always looking for love in the wrong places.
This famous "Looney Tunes" skunk was always looking for love in all the wrong places.
Striped skunks are very adaptable and can become habituated to humans and their trash, pet food, and other sources of food.  In particular, they love our nicely manicured lawns, which tend to be full of grubs in the spring.  If you notice some morning that your lawn looks like someone went over it with a spade, you've probably had a visit from a family of skunks in the night.  They use their long claws and heavily padded feet to tear up your sod and eat the grubs of Japanese beetles and other yard bugs.  While you can probably appreciate the reduction of the grubs, it doesn't look pretty.  There's not much we can do about it except to let them pass on by.  After all, would you want to try to persuade a skunk to leave?

For more information about Ohio's striped skunk, and other Ohio mammals, check out our A to Z Species Guide.  And Happy Valentine's Day!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

WILD School Sites, Part Two

This is Part Two of John Windau's series on the development of a WILD School Site.

 Bird Houses and Feeders, Not Just for the Birds

Last month we introduced a series on WILD School Sites, or outdoor classrooms. WILD School Sites are locations that can be used by students, teachers, and the school community as places to learn about wildlife and the environment. The first thing to do when developing a site is to formulate a plan. You can contact your district WildlifeCommunication Specialist, who can walk you through the process to help ensure success.

But what type of project should you do?

No two sites are the same. So each site will consist of different projects. Available resources, such as time, money, space, and labor, will certainly play a role in what projects are chosen. Perhaps the easiest project, and one that can be done anywhere, is to install bird feeders and bird houses. Bird feeders and houses are relatively cheep, err I mean cheap, can be put up in a few minutes, and can be installed any time of the year. Bird feeders are also one of the quickest ways to attract wildlife to your facility. Because of this, they are a great first step while the rest of the site is still in the planning or developmental stages.

How do you use bird feeders and houses for education?

The number of lessons that can be done with bird feeders and bird houses is staggering. Lesson plans can easily be developed from early childhood all the way up through high school. Some examples include keeping track of the number of birds or species that visit the bird feeder, or tracking the number of birds or species through different seasons. Install multiple feeders, and fill them with different types of food. Determine what types of birds use the different feeders and analyze the different beak adaptations for the different food types.

To buy, or not to buy? That is the question.

Obviously, the quickest way to install both bird houses and feeders is to purchase them. There are numerous styles and sizes available to fit into almost any budget. There are a few key areas to pay attention to. First, what species of birds are you interested in attracting? Birds use different types of houses, eat different types of food, and prefer different types of feeders. Generally you will have better success trying to attract birds that already frequent your area. For an interactive guide about birds in Ohio and their habitats, visit the Division of Wildlife’s webpage at The Division also has a great guide available on how to attract birds in Ohio.

Next is size. For bird feeders, there are several bird feeders on the market that are quite small and dainty. In order to keep your birds’ interest, it is important to keep the feeder filled. Although kids enjoy filling bird feeders, one that is too small may need filled too frequently to be practical. In contrast, when a feeder is too large, food can become wet and may begin to spoil.

Purchasing bird houses and feeders is not the only option, though. Many educators prefer to have their feeders and houses constructed, either by the students themselves, or in cooperation with local 4H clubs or scout troops. In fact, one great way to involve the whole school community is to have the shop class build the boxes and feeders. Plans for bird houses and feeders can be found throughout the internet, or on the Division of Wildlife’s webpage. Younger students can also construct feeders and houses for birds. There are several “kid friendly” designs available. Better yet, have students utilize recycled materials to construct bird houses or feeders for use at school or home. Houses and feeders can be constructed from margarine tubs, milk cartons, coffee cans, and even soda bottles. Plans are available from a variety of sources on the web.

A bird in hand…

Although most WILD School Sites contain multiple projects that can take years to develop from start to finish, birds feeders and houses offer an opportunity to start educating youth about Ohio’s wildlife right now. They are relatively inexpensive, easily obtained or constructed, and can be placed in virtually any location. The Division of Wildlife’s guide Attracting Birds in Ohio contains additional information on placement, maintenance, and care of your feeders and houses. For more information about this project or other WILD School Site projects, contact your district’s WildlifeCommunications Specialist.

Photos taken from the Ohio Division of Wildlife's online Photo Gallery at