The tell-tale signs of the changing season have started and will soon be all around us.
It’s a perfect time to slow down and take notice of everything our amazing backyards have to offer at this time of year. Shorter days, longer nights, brighter skies, reds and yellows painted across the landscape.
Wildlife behaviour is changing too. Many species are preparing for migration or hibernation, some are in the process of or getting ready to mate, and most are taking every opportunity to feast on fall’s bounty as they prepare for the winter months ahead.
As the landscape changes, so does animal behaviour at this time of year. This is something we need to be mindful about, doing what we can to avoid negative interactions with our wild neighbours and keep our families and pets safe.
Living amongst wildlife, it is important to remember that B.C. has laws in place to keep in mind.
The purpose of the B.C. Wildlife Act is to “ensure the wise management of our wildlife resources and minimize the negative impacts of human activities”.
Taken from B.C. Laws, Clause 33.1 in the Wildlife Act states that:
(1) A person must not (a) intentionally feed or attempt to feed dangerous wildlife or, (b) provide, leave or place an attractant in, on or about any land or premises with the intent of attracting dangerous wildlife.
(2) A person must not leave or place an attractant in, on or about any land or premises where there are or where there are likely to be people, in a manner in which the attractant could (a) attract dangerous wildlife to the land or premises, and (b) be accessible to dangerous wildlife”.
If the attractant is not removed and remains in place for more than one day, the person will be fined separately on each day until the action is taken place.
Another important reminder: dogs chasing or harassing wildlife is against the law, resulting in fines or worse (Wildlife Act, Section 80).
It’s likely that you’ve observed black bears foraging on your property. During the fall and prior to hibernation, bears enter a physiological phase called ‘hyperphagia’, which essentially means that they gorge on whatever food they can find for up to twenty hours a day. During this time, black bears will eat 20,000 calories in a day and can increase their weight up to 35 percent!
While bears prefer to feast on native foods like berries, a variety of plants and roots, and insects, easy-to-access attractant like garbage, BBQs, bird seed, and pet and livestock feed, are very tempting. It’s important to continue to be diligent and ensure all attractants are property and safely secured to avoid the potential for a negative encounter and habituation of bears around your property. Not doing so can have a potentially tragic outcome for people, pets and the bears.
Read more about bears.
The fall is dispersal season for coyotes, which is when the pups born in the spring leave their packs to strike out on their own. As the pups mature, their behaviour becomes more assertive resulting in squabbles in the family. Some pups may be allowed to stay with the parents as ‘betas’; the parents are the ‘alphas’. That said, most pups are encouraged or forced to leave.
Because of this behaviour, coyote sightings increase in the late summer and fall – it becomes more common to see single or small groups of young coyotes. They will be curious and might even appear lost or desperate. Some may readily find a mate and form their own pack, while others will roam alone looking for food while trying to avoid the territories of formed packs, including that of their parents.
Don’t be surprised if it seems like you’re being followed. You’re probably not – this behaviour is called ‘escorting’. Coyotes, especially young ones recently pushed out by mom and dad, are naturally curious. If they’ve established a territory, they will follow you (especially if you’re with a dog) until you leave the area.
Coyotes are active all winter, and sightings may be common as they seek out food like mice and voles, rabbits and hares, and birds like grouse.
Regardless of the time of year, remember to always keep pets secure and dogs under control. Dogs, on leash or off, are considered another predator to coyotes and they will respond defensively.
Read more about coyotes.
Young mule deer and white-tailed deer born this past spring will be nearing maturity and you may notice small herds of females and their young roaming the forest and open meadows.
Given that the nutritional value of plants decreases in the late summer, deer must travel over larger areas to find sufficient food as part of preparations for scarcity. In the late summer and fall, deer modify their summer diet of fresh grass, herbs and shrubs to carbohydrate-rich berries, fruits, nuts and grains to help them grow their winter coat and store fat. As they search for food, its likely they will frequent our backyards feeding on ornamental shrubs, grasses and flowers.
Rutting season is the annual mating time for deer (and elk and moose), occurring from mid-late October through December. During the rut, male deer will show increased interest in female deer and increased aggression towards other male deer. This can cause the animals to move or change direction quickly without paying attention to their surroundings. This behaviour can pose a risk when driving, or when you’re out walking or hiking.
When out and about, be aware of your surroundings and keep dogs under control. A spooked or threatened deer could seriously injure or even kill a dog.
Read more about deer.
You may be surprised that late summer/early fall is an active time of year for snakes. The cooler temperatures mean that many snake species are more active during daylight hours as they try to find a warm place to sun themselves. Be mindful that they may be chilling on sunny rocks in your yard or laying on pavement. Please don’t harm them. Snakes are an important part of a healthy ecosystem and help control the local rodent population and feed predators like hawks, badgers and bears.
Unlike warm-blooded animals like bears, snakes don’t actually hibernate during the winter months. Instead, they enter a state called ‘brumation’ where they become less active, and their metabolism decreases substantively. Brumation is similar to hibernation in that snakes will sleep for long periods of time, sometimes waking to seek out food when daytime temperatures rise for an extended period. Brumation typically occurs when the temperature drops below 10oC and the primary food sources for different species of snakes start to become scarce (usually from mid-September through March/early April).
Because snakes can’t regulate their body temperatures, they must find shelter from the cold – hibernacula – in a spot that stays above freezing and is close to the water table water which helps maintain a consistent temperature. Holes, caves, and deep rock crevasses, under logs or rocks, inside tree stumps, or structures like barns, garages, or garden sheds are common locations for snakes to overwinter. Some species hibernate alone or in small groups, while others (like garter snakes) congregate in large numbers.
Read more about snakes.