Category Archives: mammals

Public action urgently needed to track White Nose Syndrome in bats

White nose syndrome on bat. Photo by Jeff Normandeau
White nose syndrome on bat. Photo by Jeff Normandeau

January and February are usually peak mortality months for bats suffering from White Nose Syndrome. But the The Canadian Cooperative Wildlife Health Centre (CCWHC), the organization that monitors health and disease in wildlife populations, is barely getting any reports. This could mean that bats aren’t dying or aren’t emerging early from hibernation into the non-stop polar vortex this year. But we all know that’s wishful thinking. The other, more likely option is that people don’t know who to call when they see a bat, and therefore we have no idea how far White Nose Syndrome has spread since last winter.

The CCWHC urgently needs your help. If you see a day-flying, sick or dead bat this winter please report it!

Ontario region: 1-866-673-4781
Other areas: click here

Describe the location as precisely as possible, along with the date that you saw or found the bat, and the bat’s behaviour. If you find a live, injured or unwell bat it can be sent to a local wildlife rehabilitation centre.

For more information on this conservation crisis and how you can help, please visit the Liber Ero blog.


by Don Scallen, Vice-President

Our landscape is networked by roads – ribbons of death where myriad animals from butterflies to deer meet their demise. And though morbid, an objective look at this mortality can provide insight into changing animal populations.

In the 1960’s and 70’s groundhogs, aka woodchucks, were among the most frequent victims of vehicular faunacide. Their bodies littered roadsides as raccoon carcasses do today.

Groundhogs are now rare road-kill victims. No, they haven’t evolved the ability to look both ways before crossing. Rather, the lack of road killed groundhogs suggests that their population has fallen off an  ecological cliff.

When I was young, groundhogs – when not playing Russian roulette with cars – stood sentinel in meadows. Boys with 22’s shot them, with the approval of landowners who reviled groundhogs as varmints – diggers of holes that could snap the leg bones of cattle and horses.

I didn’t wield a rifle as a child, but I would sit patiently beside groundhog burrows, waiting for the myopic mammals to poke their heads above ground and sniff the air for predators.

I enjoyed these close interactions with groundhogs and imagined that First Nation’s hunters may have used this technique – crouching like polar bears at the breathing holes of seals – to capture the plump rodents.

So what happened to the groundhogs? Well, certainly their population has been reduced by the aforementioned road – kill, but it is likely no coincidence that the fall corresponded with a rise in coyote numbers.

In southern Ontario and throughout much of North America, coyotes have flourished in recent decades, assuming the role of top predator, filling the void left by the disappearance of wolves.

If a 12 year old boy can approach a groundhog near enough to see its whiskers twitch, consider how easy this would be for a coyote – with predictably unpleasant consequences for the groundhog.

Read more by Don Scallen at his blog, Notes from the Wild

Disappearance of European Hare from the GTA

Ontario is home to five species of rabbits and hares. These include the Arctic Hare (Lepus arcticus), White-tailed Jack Rabbit (Lepus townsendii), Snowshoe Hare (Lepus americanus), Eastern Cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus), and the main subject of this report, the European Hare (Lepus europaeus). The first two species do not extend into our area at all. Arctic Hare barely get into the most northern parts of the province while the White-tailed Jack Rabbit is included on the basis of a few records from the Rainy River District. The Snowshoe Hare is our most widespread species in Ontario but we are situated at the southern edge of its range so we do not often encounter it unless we travel a short distance further north. In our area, the species that we are most likely to encounter is the Eastern Cottontail. Their populations go through a cycle of abundance and scarcity. It was seldom if ever encountered by European settlers until the mid-1800s and is regarded by some as a species that has expanded its range into Ontario. Skeletal remains found in a First Nations village in Oxford County prove that the species was here long before the supposed arrival in Ontario in 1868 [MacCrimmon, 1977]. There is little doubt though that after its recent arrival, their populations have dramatically increased as the species spread across all of southern Ontario [Dobbyn, 1994] (Map 1). As well as the five wild species noted above, from time to time, the Domestic Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus), escapes from captivity or is purposely released by owners that no longer wish to keep them as pets. These animals do not persist in the wild for any significant period after they are released.

Map 1. Distribution of European Hare in Southern Ontario (Dobbyn, 1994)
Map 1. Distribution of European Hare in Southern Ontario (Dobbyn, 1994)

The story of the European Hare is quite well documented [MacCrimmon, 1977]. They were introduced to Ontario just over one hundred years ago although some of that species was introduced some years earlier in the eastern United States. In 1912, Otto Herold, the manager of Bow Park Farm located near Brantford imported seven female and two male hares from Germany. Inevitably, they soon escaped. Their numbers increased and they soon spread in all directions from the Bow Park Farm. It expanded its range to cover most of the area south of the Canadian Shield [Dobbyn, 1994]. The peak populations in Ontario appear to have been reached by about 1950. Later attempts to introduce the species to Thunder Bay and Cochrane areas as a new game species were not successful as the hares could not tolerate the conditions in the north.

In 1921, Howitt [1925] reported quite successful hunting of Jack Rabbits in Beverly Township in Wentworth County about 15 km southeast of Cambridge which was then named Galt. This was only nine years after the Hares had been released.

While the hunting community was happy to have a new game animal, farmers trying to grow grain (e.g. winter wheat,) alfalfa, clover, or orchard crops had to contend with a new pest that damaged their crops, especially during the winter. Wild plants were also consumed by these relatively large animals.

As a youngster growing up on a farm on Mississauga Road, it was fairly commonplace to see these animals in the fields. We viewed these animals, usually referred to as Jack Rabbits, as a normal part of the local fauna and we were generally oblivious to the fact that they were not native. Species such as Groundhogs because of their burrowing and Starlings because they were ‘dirty birds’ were a much greater concern. As well, foxes that occasionally took a turkey from the field were a particular nuisance.

Map 2. Location of European Hare sightings in the GTA since 1987
Map 2. Location of European Hare sightings in the GTA since 1987

In 1985, we returned from the North to live in this area. A few years later, I began to include mammal sightings in my records and included observations of the European Hares. While the annual numbers of observations were never large, I had records of the species from 1987 to 1998. The records from the GTA are summarized below and the locations are shown in Map 2. Many of the records were made during travel from Acton to Toronto along the Go Train routes. Since 1998, I have not seen the species. The realization that it had been several years since the last observation prompted this report. While there may be other reasons for the disappearance, it would seem that decline in Hares coincided with the increased populations of Coyotes. A parallel decline in numbers of Groundhogs has also occurred in the same general time period. By contrast, Cottontail populations have continued to go through a cyclical pattern.

The local Conservation Authorities (C.V.C, and Conservation Halton) were consulted to determine what records they had in their databases for European Hares. Most of their records were actually ones that I had contributed. The only recent record for the species was a sighting of a Hare at the Frank Tract in Nassagaweya Township by Bob Curry on June 3, 2003. That makes it ten years since we have had a report of the species for our area.

Many thanks are extended to Jacqueline Kiers (C.V.C.) and Brenda van Ryswyk (Conservation Halton) for reviewing their agency records of European Hare.

References Cited
Dobbyn, J. 1994. Atlas of the Mammals of Ontario. Federation of Ontario Naturalists, Don Mills, Ontario. 118 pp.
Howitt, H. 1925. Another Invasion of Canada. Can. Field-Nat. 39: 158-160. MacCrimmon, H.R. 1977. Animals, Man and Change. Alien and Extinct Wildlife of Ontario. McClelland and Stewart Ltd. Toronto. 160 pp.

by W.D. McIlveen
Halton/North Peel Naturalist Club

Beavers – Natural Habitat Planners

Beaver (photo: Michael Patrikeev)
Beaver (photo: Michael Patrikeev)

Every day I try to get in a walk to a natural habitat in my area. Sometimes it is just a stroll in my own backyard forest, but often I head over to Halton Regional Forest, or the St Helena Road
area. The big draws of these two sites for me are the ponds, and the ponds would not be there were it not for the industrious activities of our local beavers.

Beaver Lodge photo by Fiona Reid
(photo: Fiona Reid)

About four years ago, I was very disappointed to find one of my favorite beaver ponds off Sixth Line was empty. The grass was starting to fill in. I worried about the frogs, the dragonflies, and all the other animals that rely on that body of water. The two water snakes that shelter in the rocks and come out to sunbathe were nowhere to be seen. A passerby told me that Conservation Halton had removed the beavers and their dams in order to get more water into Hilton Falls, as the waterfall had dried up. They had placed very solid metal grilles projecting out in front of the flowing water so the beavers could not dam the stream at this narrow point where it passed under the track.

Beaver Dam photo by Fiona Reid
(photo: Fiona Reid)

Returning to the same area a few months later, I was happy to see that a pond had reformed. It took me a while to figure out what had happened, but when I crawled under the bridge, I saw what the beavers had done. Our industrious engineers had gone around the back of the culvert and stuffed it full of branches, positioning each branch parallel to the water flow, not perpendicular, as is their custom. The effect was the same, the water flow had almost ceased and the pond had refilled!

Pretty soon, the beavers added to their habitat restoration work by constructing a second dam upstream from the culvert, and order was restored. The branches in the culvert were swept away by storms, but the beaver pond lives on, the water snakes bask, the frogs croak and all is good!

by Fiona Reid
President, Halton/North Peel Naturalist Club