If Maritimers have had enough of winter, you can bet wildlife probably feel the same after the snowmageddon that buried the East Coast this past winter.
In Nova Scotia, the concern has shifted from the weather to the stress placed on the deer population due to the snow cover. More deer are being hit by cars this winter and there are even anecdotal reports about deer aborting their unborn fawns because of their inability to find food.
Andrew Hebda, curator of zoology at the Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History, said he has not seen official reports on the dead deer, but he said people often call the museum about these incidents, which are recorded.
“We’re getting reports of different patterns of distribution of animals this winter. Through New Brunswick and Nova Scotia there was heavier snowfall and Western PEI got over five metres of snow. It has resulted in accumulation of fairly substantial snowpack.”
Below the snowpack many of the small animals and rodents were able to remain well hidden which has resulted in less food for carnivores, he said. Animals like deer, which feed on grasses and plants during the warmer months and twigs and buds and lichens hanging from trees in the winter, are also adversely affected.
“Things dependent on preying on those animals and goods are in a bit of a lurch,” Hebda tells Yahoo Canada News.
Not enough food to sustain life
One issue that has come up in Nova Scotia in localized reports – especially on the South Shore – is of deer aborting their fetus, possibly because of difficulty finding food in isolated areas with snowpack.
“What happens is as the snowpack increases the areas they travel and cover is much smaller and there is a lot more strain on them, lots of competition, and if you’re a pregnant doe, generally any kind of food becoming scarce supply means your own internal resources are utilized and if there isn’t sufficient [fuel] to maintain the fetus, you see abortion,” Hebda says.
Although reproduction is important, the animals may realize they need to “give up this year and try next year,” he adds.
During the winter, deer restrict their movements to save energy because of cold temperatures, difficult travel, and less abundant and nutritious food, according to Wildlife of Nova Scotia, by Julie Towers.
“By late winter, they are often in poor body condition, and population numbers can decline from starvation and predators such as dogs, coyotes, and bobcats,” says the book’s section on White-tailed Deer – or Odocoileus virginianus for those who prefer the official name.
Hebda says the harsh conditions have also forced larger animals like deer closer to roads, putting them in jeopardy of being hit by vehicles. Usually, deer are able to congregate and forage in “deer yards near river courses and where you have fairly reasonable exposure and possibility of finding foods.” Because of the snowpack, there have been more reports of deer along the side of the road.
Glenn Friel, a spokesman for Nova Scotia’s Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage told Yahoo Canada News “it appears the number of deer collisions will be higher this year, but collection period has not closed yet,” so actual numbers are not available from the Department of Natural Resources.
Maritime wildlife struggling after harsh winter
Hope Swinimer, whose efforts are widely seen on the television program Hope For Wildlife a wildlife rehab centre in Seaforth, N.S., which relies on donations, says the winter has been hard on a number of species.
“We have not personally heard about any deer delivering stillborn fawns this year,” she tells Yahoo Canada news in an email.
“We do have a reported incident in which a litter of newborn raccoons were found dead out in the open on a snowbank in the backyard of a caller that can be attributed to the harsh winter impeding wildlife in the search for food.”
Since 1997, Swinimer’s Hope for Wildlife Society has helped more than 20,000 injured and orphaned wild animals representing over 250 species. Animals admitted to the centre receive medical care, food, shelter, and whatever else is needed to ensure a successful return to the wild.
Swinimer has seen “a number of different wildlife species, including bobcats, owls, robins, and woodcocks brought to us for rehabilitation due to the harsh winter.”
“Many predator species including bobcats and owls had a difficult time finding mice and other small mammals they depend on for food because they were unable to get through the deep snow and thick ice under which these small mammals take refuge for the winter.
She says there have also been “an abnormally high number” of certain species of migratory birds in jeopardy, most notably robins and American woodcocks.
“These migratory birds are returning north from long journey’s in their southern wintering grounds expecting open ground to forage for worms and insects so that they can recover from their journey and prepare for breeding and nest building. Instead, they return to the same deep snow and thick ice that has been hindering the predators.”