Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Bats and White Nose Syndrome

By: Brittany Friedel, Wildlife Education Intern

     Bats are possibly one of the most misunderstood creatures of all time.  Legends and myths occur in many cultures, often painting bats in an unfortunate light.  Writers like William Shakespeare and Robert Louis Stevenson have also contributed to negative stereotypes through their fictional works.  This frightening imagery has led to many cases of chiroptophobia – or fear of bats.  Many people need not fear bats, however.  They are extremely helpful creatures, and prefer to leave humans alone, contrary to popular fiction.  Included below is a table of the most common bat myths versus the truth.

     The 13 bat species in Ohio are especially beneficial to the landscape.  They are excellent insect eaters; just one Big brown bat can eat up to 1,200 insects an hour.  This dramatically reduces the pests that farmers and even families have to deal with.  The USGS estimates that bats save the agricultural industry anywhere from $3 billion to $53 billion a year.  Not only do bats inadvertently help our local economy by reducing our pest load, they are important components of Ohio’s ecosystem.  Bats produce nutrient-rich guano (feces).  Scientific analysis of guano has revealed hundreds of species of beneficial bacteria.  Their guano acts as a powerful fertilizer, and can often sustain cave, terrestrial, and aquatic ecosystems.        

     Unfortunately, bats are under many threats and are experiencing drastic declines in population.  The most distressing is a fungal disease called White Nose Syndrome (WNS). First observed in a cave system in upstate New York in 2006, WNS has spread without check into all neighboring states and provinces.   The first case of WNS in Ohio was reported in March 2011 in Lawrence County.   Currently, 25 states and five provinces have confirmed cases.

     WNS is a devastating disease because it affects bats while they are in hibernation.  The cold-loving fungus, P. destructans, produces white fuzz on the noses, forearms, and ears of bats during the later stages of infection.  The most afflicting feature of WNS causes bats to use up their reservoir of energy while in winter hibernation.  Bats must carefully manage their energy and fat levels throughout their entire hibernation, failure to do so causes normal body processes to collapse.  Infected bats exhibit strange behavior, including flying outside during the day and clustering at the entrances of caves.  As a result of WNS, millions of bats have died.  Some areas have seen 90-100% mortality rates.

     In order to stop the spread of WNS, humans must take action:

  • Stay out of caves where bats are known or suspected to hibernate. 
  • Avoid disturbing bats in the winter.  
  • Disinfect all gear that has been used around cave systems.     
Other ways to help bats include, educating others about the benefits of bats and the devastating effects of WNS, constructing a bat house, volunteering on bat surveys, excluding or removing bats from your home safely, and reducing disturbances to natural bat habitats around your home.  For more information about WNS, go to https://www.whitenosesyndrome.org/ 

Match the Myth with the like-numbered Truth to learn more about bats...    


  1. Bats carry rabies.
  2. Bats attack humans.  
  3. Bats drink blood.
  4. Bats are blind. 
  5. Bats are useless.


  1. Bats are no more prone to rabies than any other mammal.  They don’t “carry” it, they die from it, like other animals.  Only .5% of bats contract rabies.
  2. Like any animal, a cornered and scared bat will defend itself, but bats do not swoop down to attack humans.  They are likely chasing after a tasty insect meal in these highly unlikely scenarios.
  3. No bat in Ohio drinks blood.  In fact, just three species out of the 1,100+ known bat species in the world drink blood.  Those bats lap blood from a quick cut, not suck it from the animal.   In fact, anticoagulants from bat saliva have helped scientists develop heart medication. 
  4. Bats are not blind.  In fact, some see as well as most humans.  Their eyesight is adapted to low-light conditions, and they use echolocation to locate to prey.
  5. Nothing could be further from the truth!  Bats are extremely useful, consuming as many as 600-1,200 flying insects an hour. Their extraordinary eating abilities endear them to farmers and homeowners alike, who appreciate the vast reduction in pests like mosquitoes and flies.  Some bats even pollinate flowers or distribute seeds, ensuring that bananas, avocados, agave, mangoes, peaches, and many other fruits can make it to our kitchen tables.  

Thursday, April 30, 2015

What Do You Do When You Find A "Baby" Wild Animal?

The ODNR Division of Wildlife and wildlife rehabilitators around the state have received calls from people who have found, what they believe to be, an “orphaned” wildlife animal. In most cases these animals are not orphans. Most people don’t realize that wild animals often leave their young unattended to draw predators away from the young animals, and only return to feed them. By removing these young from the wild, people are actually taking them away from the parents.

You can learn more about it by watching this video:

Orphaned and Injured Wildlife from WildOhio on Vimeo.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Wild Ohio Educator Enewsletter is changing....

Hello Everyone!

If you're a current subscriber to the Ohio Division of Wildlife's Educator Edition of the Wild Ohio Enewsletter, we're changing how we send you timely, accurate, and useful information about wildlife and conservation education around Ohio. News travels fast, and we want to provide you the best, and most accurate, information available.

You can now choose how you want to receive the information. To continue to receive conservation education updates, you can continue to follow this blog, you can like us on Facebook at Your Wild Ohio Educator (the former Ohio Project WILD Facebook page), and you can also follow us on Twitter @OhioWILDEd  

If you are also a current subscriber to the hunting, fishing and wildlife watcher sections of the eNewsletters, you can choose to follow the NEW Your Wild Ohio Hunter, Your Wild Ohio Angler, or Your Wild Ohio Explorer Facebook pages. Each page contains details about the specific part you play in conserving Ohio’s wildlife and habitats. Follow one, or follow them all. Not into social media? You won't be left out! The news and articles posted to social media will also be posted on our website. In addition, you can choose to receive all of this information in one convenient news feed by subscribing to our RSS Feed using your favorite RSS Feed Reader or app, or you can choose to receive updates via email.

Unfortunately, the Wild Ohio eNewsletter is being discontinued as of June 2015. This difficult decision was made based on high monetary costs of email software, low open rates of emails, and a decreasing interest in wildlife stories in their current format.

We apologize for the inconvenience and disappointment caused by discontinuing the eNewsletters and fishing reports, but we hope you enjoy the similar, and more timely information that is being provided via the communication channels above.

Thank you for continuing to support Ohio's wildlife!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Babies, Babies, Babies!

by Brittany Friedel, Outdoor Education Intern

Spring has finally, if begrudgingly, sprung in Ohio!  This means warmth, flowers, and babies!  This annual rite of passage is always met with anticipation from wildlife and nature enthusiasts.  Who doesn't audibly sigh at the sight of a cute fuzzy duckling or a wobbly fox kit?  Who can resist smiling at a newly-hatched tiny turtle, or a timid curled up fawn?  
Watching the cycle of birth to adulthood is a time honored tradition that can inspire anyone to reveal their inner naturalist.

Many Ohio mammals, birds, amphibians, and reptiles are already in the process of finding mates, nesting, nursing, or incubating their eggs. There is much to see if you know where and when to look.  With Easter right around the corner, now may be the perfect time to brush up on your baby and egg identification.  

As mentioned in an earlier post, now is the perfect time to get out and see salamanders, frogs, and toads migrating to vernal pools.  For frogs and toads, the females will lay their jelly-like eggs in the water and the males will fertilize them. 

Salamanders reproduce similarly, but some species differ in that the females will take male sperm packets into their bodies to internally fertilize, before laying their jelly eggs.   Although they walk on land, these animals are tied to their evolutionary aquatic roots for reproduction.  In the coming weeks, tadpoles and juvenile salamanders will grow, develop and continue the cycle in years to come.  

Many resident birds are engaging in the frenzy of preparing their nests and laying their eggs.  Summer breeding birds are migrating back from their winter roosts and working on establishing nesting territory with their partners.  Great blue herons have been seen carrying and placing sticks in their rookeries, while peregrine falcons have already finished courting and moved on to laying and brooding their eggs.  Our year-round cardinal residents are beginning to breed and nest as well. 

Barred owls are currently sitting on two to three eggs, which will hatch in early to mid-April.  Great horned owls begin nesting earlier than any other bird in Ohio, typically laying eggs at the end of January.  Eggs hatch late February, early March, so right now, great horned owlets are clambering around their nest site, practicing their balancing and maneuvering techniques.  Remember to look up when you’re walking in the woods and you may just see a couple of bright baby owl eyes watching you!           

This time of year is prime time for red fox kits to be born, but don’t be surprised when you don’t see any.  Vixens, or female foxes, dig dens about four feet underground, and nurse them until the young are able to accompany the parents on hunting trips in the summer.  Reynards, or male foxes, will bring food to the female during this time.   

Gray foxes, on the other hand are just ending their mating cycle, and won’t have young until late April or early May.  Red foxes live in prairie, grassland habitats, whereas gray foxes prefer wooded areas.  

Striped skunks are also in their mating phase and will give birth to litters of three to ten young in about two months. You can read about skunks' romantic exchanges in this previous blog post.  

Beavers are just starting to give birth, after mating in January or February.  Beaver young are precocial, which means they are born fully-furred, eyes open, and are able to swim just 24 hours after being born!  Squirrels are born in leaf nests anytime in late February, early March.  Unlike the beavers, squirrels are slow to develop, making them altricial; they're born hairless and their eyes do not open until about 36 days after being born!  In about a month the young will start eating solid foods, and a couple weeks after that, they will clamber outside of the nest to explore.  Those leaf clusters at the tops of trees may hold more than meets the eye; see if you can spot a mother going in and out to nurse her babies.  

Whitetail deer are currently with fawn, and do not give birth until mid-May, early June.  

Right now is peak breeding time for Eastern garter snakes.  These snakes are unique in that young emerge alive from the mother (viviparous), unlike most snake species that lay eggs to hatch (oviparous).  An average of 20 young are born anytime in July through October and are self-sufficient immediately, requiring no care from the mother.    

Northern map turtle, Eastern musk turtle, midland smooth softshell turtle, and the red-eared slider are all examples of turtles that breed in the early spring. Gestation times vary, but generally last a couple months.  One fascinating fact of turtle gender is that it is dependent on the temperature of the eggs while developing.  Female turtles will bury their eggs in the ground and the surrounding soil temperature affects the growing embryos.  With the exception of the softshell species, all Ohio turtle species exhibit this fascinating trait.   

There is much to see as you venture out into Ohio this spring.  Wetlands, prairies, and forests are all awakening after their winter slumber, as are the animals that inhabit these areas.  

A reminder to all educators who would like to bring the outdoors into their classroom this spring, no person can take or possess native wildlife without a license or permit.  This includes wild animal parts, nests, eggs, mounts, skins, and live wild animals. If you would like to qualify for an Ohio education permit, which allows educators to possess some of the above for educational programming or display, contact the ODNR Division of Wildlife Headquarters, permit coordinator at 1-800-WILDLIFE (945-3543).  

Monday, March 16, 2015

Searching for Sallies!

My daughter and I and our neighbor friends went out this past Saturday morning on a Salamander and Vernal Pool hike at a metropark here in Central Ohio.  Someone asked me how I found out about the program, to which I said "Please! Any park district worth its salt is doing vernal pool programs right now!"  So if you're looking to find one, check out your nearest park district or nature center.

What is a vernal pool hike? Well, let me first answer by telling you what a vernal pool is.  Vernal pools are low, wet areas in the woods that hold water each spring (hence the term vernal) long enough for a variety of amphibians and aquatic insects to reproduce in them.  These pools provide CRITICAL breeding grounds for these creatures.  And they are in significant danger all over the country due to lack of knowledge about these seasonal wetlands.  So a vernal pool hike is when you get to explore these amazing little areas of romance and reproductive action.  Plan to get wet and muddy because you have to get down and dirty to see all the cool things that are in the water.  This is yours truly helping my daughter and her friend explore a restored vernal pool at the park.

Me, Katie and Cassidy looking for sallies.
 Every naturalist does their hikes a little differently, but most include an opportunity to walk out into the pools.  You might be asking "doesn't that damage the habitat?" Obviously, some damage does occur, but as long as you're not bringing large groups in every day for the week or so that the action is taking place, these areas can easily withstand a group or two without any major detriment.

Shortly after this picture was taken, I had to "rescue" my daughter
from the mud as she went in over her boots.  It happens!

Almost all the programs offer a chance for participants to handle the salamanders, or sallies as my daughter calls them.  With hands clean and wet, giving kids and adults alike an opportunity to hold these unique and, let's face it, adorable little creatures is key to gaining their interest and appreciation. A friend once told me that his "threshold experience" was exploring a creek and turning rocks and finding salamanders when he was a kid.  These kinds of experiences are what bring out that passion for nature in children, and adults!  Just look at the expressions on their faces!

Trying their best to take turns, and learning how to
hold the sallies properly.
She told me later that this was her favorite part. :-)

I love her multi-painted nails. She certainly didn't mind getting them dirty. :-)
No fear of these slimy little creatures!

And it's also fun to find all the other creatures that live, breed, and hunt these vernal pools.  We had a veritable gold mine of finds on our Saturday morning hike, including predaceaous diving beetles, isopod larvae, spring peepers,

Spring peeper belly

and even a dandy of a garter snake.  The group got distracted for a good 15 minutes by this beauty!

Beautiful garter snake

So, if you're looking for something to do in the next few weeks, get yourself and your kids out and explore a vernal pool near you.  Be sure to work with a knowledgeable person, have permission from the property owner, and handle those critters gently and with clean, wet hands.  Hopefully, it will be the threshold for a love of all things nature for both you and your kids for years to come.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Insect Exploration

By John Windau, Wildlife Communications Specialist, District Two

The Ohio Division of Wildlife has quite a few educational loaner kits which are made available free of charge. These kits can be borrowed for two weeks at a time from your district office. They are a great resource to bring wildlife education into your classroom using hands on learning activities. There are a wide variety of trunks available, and each district may be slightly different. Contact your District Communications Specialist if you are interested in borrowing any of these trunks.

Red-spotted Purple

As the days begin to warm, scores of those little crawly creatures we call insects will begin to appear. Their abundance and variety, both during the day and at night, makes this a perfect time to start thinking about borrowing the Insects Backpack. The backpack is great for picnics, camp outs, and other outdoor activities with smaller groups of kids. Included in the backpack is an insect net, as well as bug jars to hold the kid’s specimens. The bug jars have built in magnifiers, so kids can easily examine the unique features of their discoveries. Also included are several books and field guides to help educators and parents answer questions and guide kids in their learning. Posters and field guides are included and are an excellent way to highlight different types of insects for kids. There is also an activity book, “Insectigations,” with 40 hands on learning activities centered on insects, perfect for budding entomologists.
12-spotted Skimmer

If you are interested in this trunk or any of the other loaner trunks, please contact your district Communications Specialist for more information and to check for availability. To find your district’s contact information,  visit the Division’s webpage at www.wildohio.gov

Imperial Moth

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Important Cardinal - Cardinalis cardinalis

By Brittany Friedel, Outdoor Education Intern

Few birds are as distinctive as the bright red cardinal. Even if you can’t tell a titmouse from a nuthatch, you can identify a cardinal.  Cardinals are medium sized birds, with prominent crests, and red bills.  Males are all red, with a black area surrounding their bills.  Females are olive to buffy brown colored, with red wings and tail.

The males’ red plumage is particularly striking in winter time, when they can often be seen sitting on a branch against a stark backdrop of white.  

Interestingly, the cardinal got its name from associations between the red robes of the cardinals in the Roman Catholic Church and their bright plumage.  Cardinal originally meant important, and to at least seven states, the cardinal is very important.  Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia all have the cardinal as their state bird.

Cardinals are often seen in edge habitats, areas that have both trees, shrubs, and open grasses.  They nest in thickets, vines, or shrubs and breed from March through August.  They will pick a home range and heartily defend their territory against other cardinals during the breeding season.  For this reason, you may see more cardinals at your feeder in the winter versus spring and summer.

Cardinals are monogamous and will sing beautiful duets with their mates, strengthening their bond.  Cardinals are one of a few species in which the females sing as well as the males. It's not unusual to hear them singing “cheer, cheer, cheer; purty-purty-purty-purty or sweet-sweet-sweet-sweet” together in the early spring mornings.

Winter is the perfect time to coax cardinals to your backyard with some strategically placed feeders.  Sunflower seeds are the top choice of cardinals.  They use their strong beaks to crack the case open after manipulating it sideways with their tongue.   They then spit the shell and swallow the seed.  cardinals prefer seed on trays, platforms, or even spread out on the ground.  Consider distance from your house or walkways, food type, weather protection, and possible predation when setting up a bird feeding station.  You might have to experiment with feeders and locations to determine the best combination for your particular situation.

It is also important to regularly check and clean your feeders.  Poorly maintained feeders and water stations can spread disease among the very birds you are trying to help and enjoy.

Get Out , Go Wild and enjoy some of Ohio’s native wildlife!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Do Critters Get Cold Too?

By John Windau, Wildlife Communications Specialist, District Two, Findlay

Whenever the bottom falls out of the thermometer and temperatures hover close to zero, or below, we at the Ohio Division of Wildlife start to receive 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? It may be surprising, but for the most part, they are just fine. It is easy to personify, or bestow human traits upon 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.  Although the past few years have been extreme, these adaptations have developed over thousands of years and thousands of  winters. 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.  This is why furbearer trapping seasons are scheduled for late fall and 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 moisture, 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?  For example, a rabbit in Arizona is going to be much smaller than a rabbit in Ohio.  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, while 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 northerly animals have more mass relative to surface area to protect internal organs. Likewise, the thinner and lanky southerly versions often have larger surface areas, such as larger ears, in relation to their volumes to help dissipate heat.

Behavioral adaptations are ways an animal reacts to changes in its environment that help it better survive. Hibernation is a behavioral adaptation that is ingrained in some species. These species have no choice whether or not they hibernate. Hibernation is a prolonged state of inactivity with lower body temperature, slower breath and heart rate, and sometimes very low metabolic rate. In Ohio, groundhogs and bears are some of the few mammals that enter hibernation. Other species, like skunks and raccoons enter a lesser form of hibernation called torpor. Animals in a state of torpor are similar to those in hibernation, but for only a short amount of time, such a few hours or a few days. Often, these animals will “sleep” during periods of severe weather and emerge once the weather breaks. These two adaptations help an animal conserve energy.  Low metabolism and slowed bodily functions expend much less energy that they can save for when the weather clears up and can get out to look for food.

Some species learn adaptations from their parents.  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. They will bury themselves in a snowdrift to shelter from the wind and cold.  But, when woodlots and fence rows are removed, the wind driven snow continues on rather than forming snowdrifts along the fences, leaving these species susceptible to the elements.  Similarly, some animals, like chipmunks and squirrels, learn to cache or store food for winter.  They will hide their supplies

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.

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 species are called edge species, since they are not fully adapted to survive in the area. 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. 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 wildohio.gov.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Wild DIY Projects – Sweet Homemade Suet

By: Brittany Friedel, Outdoor Education Intern

    Now that the snow has started to fly, it may be a good time to offer the birds in your neighborhood a nutritious suet feeder to help them through the coldest of days.  Suet feeders are a great resource for wintering birds that primarily rely on insects because of the high fat content.  The solid white fat found in the kidney area of cattle is called suet, but solid fat trimmings from any domestic livestock, as well as deer can also be included in this term.

   Suet feeders are made with varying ingredients, and it’s up to you to decide what works best for your budget and your neighborhood feathered friends. It can be fun to mix up the recipe and offer new varieties, discovering what is favored and what is not.  Optional additives can include: bird seed, peanut butter, dried fruits, oatmeal, cracked corn, chili powder (to deter squirrels), egg shells, honey, nuts, and even some kitchen scraps.  It might be helpful to make a large plain batch and then separate it into several smaller containers to make specialized assortments.  There are many varieties to consider, so experiment to determine what recipes disappear from your feeder the fastest.
     The creation process can also serve as a valuable educational moment for children.  Rather than buying a pre-made suet cake in a store and placing it outside for everyone to watch, children can make varying connections between wildlife and their food sources.  Why can’t birds just go to the store and buy food?  What ingredients are good for birds?  Are they the same for people?  Do all birds eat the same things?  Do some birds eat different foods in winter than in summer?  Why might this be?

     Making suet feeders with children is a great way to attract wildlife to your school or backyard and your feathered visitors will thank you for the necessary energy and nutrition that your feeder provides.

    This recipe will melt in warm temperatures (about 70°) and turn rancid, so it is recommended that this be used during the colder seasons.

Approximate time this project takes: 2 hours

Materials Needed:
Slow cooker with liner (or old saucepan – clean up may be messier!)
Large mixing bowl
Large mixing spoon for stirring
Muffin pan, old plastic containers, other small pans for forming the finished molds
Muffin liners (if using muffin pan)
Suet holder – cage, onion bag, etc
String for hanging

1lb of lard, suet, rendered fat, or vegetable shortening
Bird seed mixture
Peanut butter
Chopped apples
Plain yogurt

Step 1
Cut suet (or substitute) into small chunks and place in slow cooker (or old saucepan) and heat to 350° to melt.  Stir occasionally, but continually monitor.

Step 2
While suet is melting, chop up any ingredients (fruits, nuts, shells, etc.) that you may be using and mix in a large bowl.

Step 3
Once suet has reached liquid form, add peanut butter and melt.  Let cool for 5 minutes and carefully stir in other ingredients.  This ensures everything does not settle on the bottom.

Step 4
Place suet cake mixture into your selected molds and harden in the fridge for an hour

Step 5
Remove suet cake from molds and place into your suet holder.

Step 6
Enjoy watching the various birds that visit your feeder and take note of which recipes perform better!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Whet Your Palette with the Idea of Watering Down Your School Site

While it might be covered in snow, your school site can still be a source of inspiration for future planning.  If you can't get outside to you use your site, you can still daydream and plan from inside.  Here is an entry from Jamey Emmert about using water features on your school site.  Enjoy, and stay warm!  Jen

“Water is the driving force in nature.”  Leonardo Da Vinci sure knew what he was talking about when he made this statement. While many of us recognize Da Vinci as a remarkable artist, he was also a skilled and knowledgeable pioneer of hydrology science. I can certainly see his attraction to water.

Fresh, clean, healthy water is something that we humans simply can’t live very long without. Period. It’s been said humans can live up to three uncomfortable weeks without the nourishment of food. Do you know how long we can survive our thirst? Maybe slightly more than a week if you’re superhuman.

Wildlife, generally speaking, is very much the same. If the local fox squirrels have plenty of acorns tucked safely away in their secret little hiding places during the dead of winter, that’s good news. If all the watering holes around those secret spots are frozen solid for over for a week or more, that’s not good news. We wildlife enthusiasts might forget such an important factor and consequently take water for granted sometimes. This is why you should whet your palette with the idea of watering down your school site!

I’m a big proponent of focusing activities and projects in outdoor learning labs on creating, nurturing, and maintaining water sources. It sounds simple and, the beauty of it is that it can be. Many if not most of the projects and activities conducted on such a site can be as simplified or as complex as you choose to make them. There are countless options from which to choose when offering water to your local wild creatures.

Here are a few to whet your palette:

  • Bird bath: since smaller birds are reluctant to enter deep water for drinking and bathing, a shallow collection of fresh and clean water kept in a garbage can lid, drip tray for potted plants, or a scooped out log will all work well. Obviously, you can obtain something specially designed for birds, but be prepared to pay a hefty price for concrete or pottery. Location, location, location is key too!  Place your bird bath in a safe area where birds feel less vulnerable to predators; a more open space away from cover will reduce options where predators can hide.
bird bath
  • Pondless Water Feature: a very popular way to go; simply a re-circulating waterfall and/or stream of any shape and size. 
pondless stream
  • Pond/pool: an artificial pond or garden pool can be designed out of an old bath tub, child’s wading pool, a salvaged watering trough, or other similar container. Definitely plan to do some homework before you break ground; nobody likes broken pipes!
  • Shallow wetland: just like it sounds; a wetland of any shape and size which holds, ideally, just a few inches of water. This feature is completed with specialized plants and soils which like to keep their feet wet. Use a rubber, plastic, or concrete liner to help ensure water stays put and doesn’t seep out of the area. Again, do your homework before you dig! 
small wetland

Whatever road you choose to travel when it comes to your water feature just make sure you keep these things in mind:

  • Maintenance/accessibility - bear in mind that nearby water supply will make life much easier when cleaning and refreshing your water source, especially small bird baths which will need frequent attention. Hopefully occasional rain showers help you out during warmer months, but know that you might have to put the students to work to carry buckets or a hose from time to time. 
  • Electricity - to keep water fresh throughout the school year and thawed in the wintertime (when water can be as much needed as during a summer drought), you have a few options. Water pumps, filtration, and aeration can all be important when shooting for the most successful wildlife water sources. Consider solar power as an alternative or a supplement to old-fashioned electricity. As a side note, birds can hardly resist the sound of moving water; aeration not only help keep mosquito larva at bay but reduces concerns with algae too! Please resist the urge to use chemicals to keep a handle on the bugs and algae!  

If you’re thinking “well, I am already fortunate enough to have access to natural, existing, on-site water, so I have no need to create such a feature,” then you’re still in luck! There are many resources through Division of Wildlife as well as our partner agencies to learn more about using and perhaps improving these types of important components of a WILD School Site as well.

Please visit wildohio.gov  to build on these ideas and to read more about grant opportunities. Visit our Contact Us page to get connected with your regional Division of Wildlife representative who can help you further.

You'll be amazed at what water can do for wildlife and for your WILD School Site! Best wishes with your endeavors and thank you for your interest in Ohio’s wild creatures!

by Jamey Emmert, Wildlife Communication Specialist, Wildlife District Three, Akron, OH