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Social Issues

Mild winter means early births

By Eric Clement
eclemen6@uwo.ca

London animal control experts did not need to wait for Wiarton Willie to predict an early spring this year. But they are not surprised he is awake.

Because of the unusually mild weather and a lack of snow in the Forest City this winter, animals have been abnormally active – even to the point of putting off hibernation altogether.

Winter, which is normally a relatively quiet period for home animal removals, is up as much as 25 per cent this year, said Bill Dowd, president of Humane Wildlife Control.

“We’ve had a lot of phone calls with people describing mating noises, which means we’re anticipating an early spring with raccoons and squirrels,” said Dowd.

Because raccoons and squirrels have a gestation period of 63 and 45 days respectively, birthing season could come as early as the end of the month, months before the usual time.

“It’s like turning on a switch – once we get baby animals we just start going crazy,” said Dowd. “Baby animals are in people’s attics, they’re crying, they’re whimpering, they’re keeping people up all night long. They’re very destructive in that attic space.”

Raccoons in an attic
Courtesy of Humane Wildlife Control
Raccoons often give birth above bedrooms because of their relative quietness during the day.

Animals that usually go unnoticed in people’s homes over the winter are also making more noise as they come and go in search of food.

“In a typical winter, if there are hypothetically 25 raccoons in a square kilometre and maybe five of them are active, now we’re seeing all 25 would be out there wandering around looking for food,” said Dowd.

And because of the animal density in urban areas, this means the opportunistic critters are making their presence known.

“A lot of the time they’re sleeping through the winter because with their biology, there isn’t a food source for them,” said Dowd. “When there’s snow, without the insect population they’re obviously not active but with the warmer weather there’s more food out there or it’s easier for them to get out of their dens and into people’s garbage.”

And it is not just people’s homes being invaded. In addition to the foragers roaming the streets, there has also been an increase in predators wandering into urban areas.

London has had more than its usual number of calls reporting coyote and hawk sightings, said City of London ecologist, Bonnie Bergsma
“It could be that some of the sightings are related to the fact that the prey is available and that it’s easy pickings for these animals,” she said. “If your winter has not been harsh, your wildlife is going to be a little more active and able to acquire their food more easily. That can result in a bit of a boost in population.”

Critters find their way into homes
Courtesy of Humane Wildlife Control
Animals gain access to homes through any of 50 entry points.

That same boost can affect rises in predator populations as they have more prey to feed on. As predator populations rise, they are able to keep forager populations in check. This means that a higher concentration of critters one year does not mean an equally large concentration the next.

“There tend to be cycles of predator-prey relationships that happen,” said Bergsma. “Weather can be a factor for sure but it isn’t the only factor.”

For now though, Dowd said animals are not to blame. With as many as 50 points of entry into people’s homes, homeowners need to take precautions to avoid invasions. “You don’t try to get rid of the raccoons because there are just so many. You’re never going to do that. You need to animal proof the home to protect it.”

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About Western Journalism

We're members of the University of Western Ontario's master of arts in journalism program. Our blog represents a common theme in stories through our third term.

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