By Robyn Gillam
We may not call it that, but we know it when we see it. Bats, squirrels, wild turkeys, groundhogs, skunks, racoons, foxes, coyotes and rabbits are the usual suspects as well as birds, reptiles, insects and other invertebrates, mice, rats and feral versions of common domestic pets. Wild animals supposedly confined to parks and nature reserves are also impinging on our landscape.
Urban wildlife is most highly visible in the spring. Birds are nesting everywhere, not just in trees but anywhere protected and convenient, (like the security lights over my back door). Groundhogs and rabbits are busy in the garden readying their burrows, while raccoons and skunks scout convenient locations in houses and sheds to start a family. Mice, rats and birds, drawn to the grain terminal at Pier 10, have decided to stick around. The urban landscape provides everything these animals need, as their former habitats are redeveloped for agricultural, industrial and residential purposes.
Before European settlement, the region’s old growth forests were home to the likes of elk, moose, wolves, wolverines, black and brown bears, martens, bobcats and weasels. Clearance deprived these large animals of their habitat but encouraged others. The growth of human habitation and agriculture has diminished and fragmented the natural landscape, selecting particular animals to survive, if not flourish in the urban landscape. For example, the disappearance of wolves helped their prey, coyotes, to adapt.
Mature urban landscapes like the North End provide structures filled with nooks in crannies in which animals can hide and live. Established gardens are an important source of food. Many North Enders are frustrated by groundhogs and rabbits eating their vegetables and other plants. Raccoons forced me to replace my roof and skunks almost demolished my garden shed in their quest for shelter. Rabbits and foxes run through my front garden. A volunteer delivering the Breezes was attacked by wild turkeys on Picton and coyotes have been sighted at Mary and Macaulay. Nowhere is safe from these interlopers, or so it appears. What’s to be done?
According to the Naturalists’ Society, Hamilton is still one of the most biodiverse places in Canada, surrounded by habitat that is home to thousands of species. This reflects its proximity to the Niagara Escarpment, designated a UNESCO Bio Reserve since 1990. The Society is encouraging Hamiltonians to participate in public consultation for the draft Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) to help protect and enhance biodiversity.
The Hamilton Naturalists’ Society and Animal Management and Environment Hamilton encourage people to be more proactive interacting with urban wildlife. We can introduce indigenous plants to support native animals into our gardens. We should take steps to remove or pack up garbage and to seal structures from animal infiltration where possible. They remind us that these are wild animals that should be treated with respect, but kept at a distance. They should not be fed, as this encourages dependency and can make them aggressive. Interactions with household pets are to be avoided. City of Hamilton By-law 12-130 prohibits the feeding of wild animals, except for feral cats that are part of a trap, spay, neuter and release programme. Birds may be fed on one’s own property, provided they do not make a mess or cause problems for others. Opinions vary about bird feeders, but they are generally recommended for the winter months. Use of seed that attracts native songbirds is encouraged and care should be taken not to attract vermin and keep the feeders clean. Last Winter, the government of Nova Scotia, as well as York region in Ontario, warned that birds congregating at feeders could spread Avian influenza. Such advice emphasized the importance of clean feeders.
To conclude, we should count ourselves fortunate to be able to enjoy such a variety of plant and animal life in our own backyards, provided we do so carefully, taking care to create a sustainable habitat where all can thrive.
Niagara Escarpment Bio Reserve <https://en.unesco.org/biosphere/eu-na/niagara-escarpment>
Naturalists Club of Hamilton https://hamiltonnature.org/
Environment Hamilton https://www.environmenthamilton.org/
City Animal Management and Regulations <https://www.hamilton.ca/home-neighbourhood/animals-pets/wildlife/feeding-wildlife>