Photo by Jeremy Hynes, Unsplash.

May 1, 2023

Spending Time Outdoors: A Different View of Wildlife Reproduction

How do you spend time outdoors during the spring and summer months? Hiking trails? Tackling long-overdue home improvement projects? Swimming? Gardening? Taking the dog for long walks?

Lots of our favorite warm weather activities can inadvertently put us into close contact with wildlife. Why? These are the months when wildlife reproduction is in full swing. Animals that normally would go out of their way to avoid contact with people suddenly become emboldened. Some even display behaviors that seem really strange or even aggressive. Sure, it can be fun to find a nest of tiny rabbits in your yard or watch red fox pups romping at the nearest state park. But for most people it is less fun to get followed by a coyote while out walking or to figure out how to safely get out of the house when a bird builds its nest near the front door and dive bombs your head every time you pass by.

Very young baby cottontail rabbits with brown fur with a white stripe on their foreheads nestle in a grassy nest.
Photo by Jhansonxi, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Which is why this is the time of year when biologists promote “if you care, leave it there” and direct people to sources like Wildlife Illinois for tips on dealing with seasonal wildlife behaviors. Learning about a species’ biology and ecology can be very helpful—it’s somehow easier to deal with a wildlife situation if you know it only lasts a short time. But there may also be some value, and a dash of fun, in imagining a different view of wildlife reproduction. To that end, even though it’s considered poor form to anthropomorphize animals, let’s take a metaphorical walk in others “paws” to glimpse how they are spending their time outdoors during the breeding season.

The young’uns and I had been out in the woods all day, and they needed their baths before we headed out to grab a bite for dinner. Suddenly, two large strangers came crashing into our home. I wasn’t scared necessarily; I know how to handle my business. Still, I’m a single mother, and although I keep myself in good shape, I am physically on the small size. So I hissed at them. What else would I do? I’m a bobcat.

Have a tree. Will climb. That’s pretty much our family motto. We are all very athletic. You might even call us acrobats with some of the flying leaps we take. But on occasion, one of the younger members of the family falls out of the tree. This usually happens when a storm damages the nest or when those pesky crows bother us. Typically, all’s well that ends well. I just climb down and retrieve Jr., and then this squirrel goes back to looking for more acorns.

Two speckled tan, brown, and black young bobcats look down from their hangout up in a tree. The pair are partially concealed by green leaves of the canopy.
Photo by Summer M. Tribble (daughter of David R. Tribble), CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

They say, “The early bird gets the worm”. And it’s true. My partner and I are up with the sun each day to provision our little birds. He’s a good mate, though he does have a bit of a reputation in the neighborhood. He’s very protective, and he can get vocal, and sometimes even physical, when someone comes too close to our nest. But that is just part of being an American robin.

Our crew lives near a busy intersection next to the Forest Preserve. It’s stressful raising three girls and boy, even if you have a devoted partner who shares the parenting responsibilities. We constantly have to pay attention to the traffic. And there’s a hiking trail not far from our place. One afternoon last spring a woman came jogging down the trail with her dog. I followed them to make sure they didn’t get too close to us. I had to waste time doing that instead of hunting to feed my growing family. And then they came back to the trail every day. I’m diligent about protecting my offspring, so I followed them each time. They’re in our space, but she calls me the stalker. At least she kept her dog on a leash and away from my coyote pups.

I’m raising twins. Sure, I leave them on their own for long periods of time. But they know what to do—settle down in one place and don’t make any noise that would bother the neighbors. (Some of them aren’t very friendly). And then we also have the do-gooders running around. They probably mean well, but my little ones are not orphans. They know I’ll be back when they get hungry, and then they fawn all over me. I don’t know what I’d doe without them.

Looking down into a chimney is a group of dark gray birds stretching their wings and preparing to fly out into the evening sky.
Photo by Greg Schechter from San Francisco, USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Is there anything more stressful than looking for a new home? We wanted to start our family right away. We were lucky and found a place with gorgeous brickwork. We moved in lickety-split and started raising our little brood. But the neighbors were pretty loud about how they can’t use their fireplace. If they didn’t want us moving in, maybe they should have installed a chimney cap. Anyhow, it doesn’t really bother us. Come the end of summer these Chimney swifts will be on our way back to South America.

I’m gone soon after dawn and don’t get back till around dusk. Lots of parents have that kind of schedule. And it worked for my last two litters. They grow up so fast! You know, we live in a nice neighborhood with lots of manicured landscaping. I simply love eating the tulips in Roger’s yard for breakfast. But I do worry about dog attacks or the grass getting too tall. I don’t want the lawn getting mowed before my little cottontails leave the nest.

Nothing beats living in the city. For a busy mom it’s just so easy to stop and grab some fast food. Maybe it isn’t all that healthy, but it’s so convenient. Especially when they leave the dumpster lids open like that. We can all just pile in. But then they call us names—garbage bandit, dumpster diver, trash panda. Nobody has manners anymore? Hello, the name is raccoon. Now go away, we’re eating here.

Laura Kammin is a Natural Resources Specialist with the National Great Rivers Research and Education Center. She formerly held positions at Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant, University of Illinois Extension, Prairie Rivers Network and the Illinois Natural History Survey. She received her master’s degree in wildlife ecology from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

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