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Top wildlife myths: How well do you know your wild neighbors?

By Gary Bogue
Wednesday, August 13th, 2008 at 6:23 am in The HSUS, Wildlife, Wildlife Myths.

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According to Laura Simon, field director of urban wildlife for The Humane Society of the United States, “These popular myths have been around forever, passed on from generation to generation. We are hoping that educating the next generation will ultimately result in a better coexistence between humans and wildlife.”

I’ve added my own information to a recent mailing from The HSUS on wildlife myths. Here are the results:

Myth #1: Feeding bread to geese and ducks is OK.
Fact: Bread is bad for all birds because it offers little nutritional value. Severe health problems, including a debilitating condition called “Angel Wing” can be caused by bread diets. Feeding can also lead to dependency in ducklings and goslings who fail to learn how to find native foods on their own. Some birds can even become aggressive about being fed — leading to a tragic outcome if humans decide to remove them.

Myth #2: If you find a fawn alone, it has been orphaned.
Fact: It is actually very common to see fawns alone because the mother will “park” her babies somewhere and only visit them two to three times a day. This helps avoid attracting predators. Until the fawn is 4-weeks old, you will rarely see it with its mother. Instead, the fawn relies on camouflage and lying still for protection during this vulnerable period. Newborn fawns also have very little odor to attract predators.

Myth #3: If you touch a baby bird, the parents will abandon him.
Fact: Birds have a limited sense of smell, but are strongly bonded to their chicks. Parents will not abandon chicks handled by humans. The best thing humans can do if a baby bird falls from its nest, and is not well feathered and clearly learning how to fly, is to put it back in its nest. Watch carefully: The parents will soon return to feed their chick.

Myth #4: If you see a raccoon during the day, it must be rabid.
Fact: Raccoons are opportunistic and will appear whenever food is around. Although normally nocturnal, it is not uncommon to see them during the day when pet food is outside, especially in spring and summer when mom raccoons need more energy to nurse their young. However, if the animal is acting disoriented or sick, such as circling, staggering or screeching — in addition to being seen by day — contact a local animal control officer.

Myth #5: If you get close to a skunk, you’ll get sprayed.
Fact: It is actually pretty difficult for a person to get sprayed by a skunk. These animals only spray to defend themselves, such as when a dog runs up and grabs them or barks loudly and frightens them. But because they cannot “reload” very fast, skunks do not waste their odiferous weapon. Instead, they will stamp their front feet as a warning to get you to back off.

Myth #6: Bats get tangled up in your hair if they fly near you.
Fact: The last place a bat wants to be is in your hair. Bats navigate using a complex sonar-like system called echolocation which allows them to “see” their world with precision. The misconception about bats flying in hair is based on a bat’s swooping flight patterns when trapped in a confined space, like a house. The reason they swoop is not to fly into your hair, but to stay airborne.

Myth #7: Cats belong outdoors and it is not fair to keep them inside the house.
Fact: Letting cats roam outside subjects them to perils of the outdoor world (being hit by cars, disease, attacked by dogs and other cats, etc.). Indoor cats live a healthier and longer life. Outdoor cats, no matter how well-fed, will hunt and kill wildlife like baby rabbits and baby birds who have not yet learned to fly. Wildlife and cats are both at risk when people let their cats out.

Myth #8: Opossums are vicious and rabid.
Fact: Opossums are highly resistant to rabies, most likely due to their low body temperature. Opossums are also relatively benign creatures who defend themselves by hissing, teeth-baring and drooling. These are not a sign of rabies but rather a bluff to scare off potential predators. When their act doesn’t work, they faint in fear or play dead.

Myth #9: Canada geese stick around because they forgot how to migrate.
Fact: Geese who live in one place year-round do so through no fault of their own. Our “resident” birds are descendants of captive-bred geese introduced by wildlife agencies over several decades to restore huntable populations. Geese were also released by people who thought they would simply look nice on their ponds. As a result, transplanted geese never learned to migrate from their parents, but still thrive in our suburban landscapes.

Do you know of any other myths about wildlife that have been passed down through your family over the years? Let’s hear them! I’ll be glad to check them out. /Gary

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One Response to “Top wildlife myths: How well do you know your wild neighbors?”

  1. Fay Downing Says:

    I grew up in Wyoming and have always heard that if you get stung by a bee that has ate on rattlesnake head, you will still get the venom???
    Also, how long does it take for the poison to go away if you bury a rattlesnake? Thanks Fay

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