Wildlife in Motion
- Store garbage in bear-proof containers, or store garbage in your garage until pick-up.
- Keep food indoors or in airtight and odor-free containers.
- Put away picnic leftovers; clean BBQ grills.
- Keep pet food inside, and bird feeders away.
- Pick up fallen tree fruit as soon as possible, or protect fruit trees with electric fencing.
- Remove cosmetic fragrances and other attractants, including bird feeders and compost piles.
- Install or request bear-proof trash containers.
Bear Country Precautions
- Keep a close watch on children, and teach them what to do if they encounter a bear.
- While hiking, make noise to avoid a surprise encounter with a bear.
- Never keep food in your tent.
- Store food and toiletries in bear-proof containers or in an airtight container in the trunk of your vehicle.
- Keep a clean camp by cleaning up and storing food and garbage immediately after meals.
- Use bear-proof garbage cans whenever possible or store your garbage in a secure location with your food.
- Never approach a bear or pick up a bear cub.
- If you encounter a bear, do not run; instead, face the animal, make noise and try to appear as large as possible.
- If attacked, fight back.
- If a bear attacks a person, immediately call 911.
When wild animals are allowed to feed on human food and garbage, they lose their natural ways – often resulting in death for the animal.
Bobcats are elusive and nocturnal, so they are rarely spotted by humans. Although they are seldom seen, they roam throughout much of North America and adapt well to such diverse habitats as forests, swamps, deserts, and even suburban areas.
Bobcats, sometimes called wildcats, are roughly twice as big as the average housecat. They have long legs, large paws, and tufted ears similar to those of their larger relative, the Canada lynx. Most bobcats are brown or brownish red with a white underbelly and short, black-tipped tail. The cat is named for its tail, which appears to be cut or “bobbed.”
Fierce hunters, bobcats can kill prey much bigger than themselves, but usually eat rabbits, birds, mice, squirrels, and other smaller game. The bobcat hunts by stealth, but delivers a deathblow with a leaping pounce that can cover 10 feet (3 meters)
Bobcats are solitary animals. Females choose a secluded den to raise a litter of one to six young kittens, which will remain with their mother for 9 to 12 months. During this time they will learn to hunt before setting out on their own.
In some areas, bobcats are still trapped for their soft, spotted fur. North American populations are believed to be quite large, with perhaps as many as one million cats in the United States alone.
The Bobcat is solitary and nocturnal animal that is most active in the darkness of night, tending to hunt most during dawn and dusk. During the day, Bobcats sleep and rest in dens in the form of a rock crevice or hollow tree with one individual having a number of dens within it’s home range. Bobcats are highly territorial and mark their ranges with scents from their urine and faeces and distinctive claw marks on trees to alert others of their presence. Males patrol a large home range which often overlaps a number of smaller female territories but the two will not interact until the breeding season which begins in the winter. At other times of the year though, Bobcats tend to avoid one another to reduce the chances of them being injured in a fight.
Coyotes play an important role in the ecosystem, helping to keep rodent populations under control. They are by nature fearful of humans.
If coyotes are given access to human food and garbage, their behavior changes. They lose caution and fear. They may cause property damage. They might threaten human safety. They might be killed.
Relocating a problem coyote is not an option because it only moves the problem to someone else’s neighborhood.
Help prevent deadly conflicts for these beautiful wild animals.
“Coyote country” precautions
- Never feed or attempt to tame coyotes. The result may be deadly conflicts with pets or livestock, or serious injuries to small children.
- Do not leave small children or pets outside unattended.
- Install motion-sensitive lighting around the house.
- Trim ground-level shrubbery to reduce hiding places.
- Be aware that coyotes are more active in the spring, when feeding and protecting their young.
- If followed by a coyote, make loud noises. If this fails, throw rocks in the animal’s direction.
- If a coyote attacks a person, immediately contact the nearest Department of Fish and Game or law enforcement office.
Stash Your Food and Trash
Allowing coyotes access to human food and garbage is reckless and deadly.
Coyotes primarily hunt rodents and rabbits for food, but will take advantage of whatever is available, including garbage, pet food, and domestic animals.
- Put garbage in tightly closed containers that cannot be tipped over.
- Remove sources of water, especially in dry climates.
- Bring pets in at night, and do not leave pet food outside.
- Put away bird feeders at night to avoid attracting rodents and other coyote prey.
- Provide secure enclosures for rabbits, poultry, etc.
- Pick up fallen fruit and cover compost piles.
- Ask your neighbors to follow these tips
Allowing deer access to your garden and landscaping, or intentionally feeding deer, can be deadly. Wild animals naturally fear people, keep a distance, and will not bother you, so long as they remain truly wild. But if they become accustomed to humans, their natural ways are ruined. Their normal wildlife and fear of humans is lost. That’s when conflict occur.
- Never intentionally feed deer.
- Landscape with deer-resistant plants.
- Enclose gardens with eight-foot fencing or use deer-proof fencing.
- Pick up fallen tree fruit.
- Install motion-sensitive lighting around the house and garden.
- Consider using commercially prepared deer repellents (available at garden supply stores.
The San Joaquin (SJ) kit fox was once a thriving species in the 1930s, making their home in native grasslands of the Central Valley. In 1967 the federal government listed them as an endangered species and in 1971 California also listed them as threatened. SJ kit foxes play an important role in the ecosystem, but because they are adapting to changes in the landscape that are caused by urban development, sometimes humans find themselves in conflict with this typically shy and fearful animal. The cities of Bakersfield, Taft and Coalinga are unique because kit foxes have become established in those urban settings.
SJ kit foxes are hunters of insects, rodents and rabbits, but will take advantage of whatever is available including garbage and pet food. When kit foxes have easy access to trash and pet food, their natural behavior changes. They often lose caution and fear of people and urban environments exposing them to dangers from sports nets, poisons and vehicles.
Because of federal and state endangered species laws, it is unlawful for public to handle or trap a SJ kit fox that is causing conflict in an urban environment. Well-intentioned attempts to do so may result in injury or even death to the fox. Help prevent deadly conflicts for these beautiful and rare wild animals:
- Never feed a kit fox or other wildlife; keep pet food indoors.
- Remove sources of water.
- Seal trash containers to prevent access.
- Put away bird feeders at night to avoid attracting rodents and other prey.
- Pick up fallen fruit and cover compost piles.
- Don’t trap stray cats in areas used by kit foxes. Trapped foxes could get injured and their pups are vulnerable when unattended.
- Never fill or destroy a burrow that may be used by kit foxes. State and federal laws protect their burrows.
- Take down sports nets at schools, parks and other recreational facilities when not in use. Store furled and out of reach, especially at night.
- Avoid the use of rodent poisons in kit fox habitat.
Mountain lions prefer deer but, if allowed, they also eat pets and livestock. In extremely rare cases, even people have fallen prey to mountain lions.
Mountain lions that threaten people are immediately killed. Those that prey on pets or livestock can be killed by a property owner after the required depredation permit is secured. Moving problem mountain lions is not an option. It causes deadly conflicts with other mountain lions already there. Or the relocated mountain lion returns.
Help prevent deadly conflicts with these beautiful wild animals.
Living in Mountain Lion Country
- Don’t feed deer; it is illegal in California and it will attract mountain lions.
- Deer-proof your landscaping by avoiding plants that deer like to eat. For tips, request A Gardener’s Guide to Preventing Deer Damage from DFG offices.
- Trim brush to reduce hiding places for mountain lions.
- Don’t leave small children or pets outside unattended.
- Install motion-sensitive lighting around the house.
- Provide sturdy, covered shelters for sheep, goats, and other vulnerable animals.
- Don’t allow pets outside when mountain lions are most active—dawn, dusk, and at night.
- Bring pet food inside to avoid attracting raccoons, opossums and other potential mountain lion prey.
Opossums are not picky eaters and will consume almost anything, including table scraps and carrion. They do seem to have a particular fondness for cat food, however, especially the tinned varieties. Their normal diet consists of carrion, rodents, insects, frogs, and plants including fruits and grains.
Most are about the size of a large house cat, from 15 to 20 inches long. They generally weigh 10 to 13 pounds. This can vary, however, just as height and weight vary among humans. Some well-fed opossums can seem gargantuan, especially when they startle you on an evening walk.
Opossums will sometimes try to eat small critters such as mice, reptiles, amphibians, and even young kittens if other food is scarce. They will leave most larger animals alone and, in fact, are more likely to be harmed by a dog or full-grown cat than they are to inflict injury on them. They will rarely fight, despite putting up a fearsome display if threatened, and most likely will simply attempt to flee or play dead. The only animals that should avoid exposure to opossums are birds, horses, and sea otters. Strange as that may sound, if these animals ingest opossum feces they are at high risk of contracting a deadly disease known as sarcocystosis. (If you suspect an opossum may have entered a stable of horses, look for signs of their feces. You can find a photograph of opossum droppings by clicking here.)
They cannot jump, but they are superb climbers. One should never hope to keep an opossum out of a yard with a mere fence. With their opposable thumbs and prehensile tail, they can scale practically any obstacle.
Opossums are generally nocturnal, foraging throughout the night. But it is not at all unusual to see an opossum out during the daytime, especially during cold weather. They also can be seen in the day when food is scarce or when they have been disturbed from their sleeping quarters. The winter months will see many opossums change their foraging habits from night to day in order to try to take advantage of the warmer weather during sunlight hours.
Unlike most wild animals, opossums are highly resistant to rabies. It is extremely rare to encounter a rabid opossum, though if bitten or scratched by one, it is nevertheless advisable to see a physician immediately. Any opossum that would behave in such an uncharacteristic fashion must be assumed to be rabid.
Opossums are very quiet creatures. You are far more likely to see one long before hearing any noises from it. When threatened they often will hiss, much like a cat, and can make a low growling sound. Some have reported hearing opossums softly purring to their young, though I have never been so privileged. One person wrote me to say they’d once heard a young opossum mewing like a kitten, but it is the only such report I’ve received.
Opossums do not hibernate. Their greatest challenge during winter, especially in colder climates, is simply to survive. Very often opossums will alter their foraging habits during winter, coming out during the day when it is warmer rather than at night. It is not uncommon for opossums in northern regions to suffer frostbite during extremely cold periods. Their tails are particularly susceptible to frostbite as they have no fur covering to protect them. Sometimes opossums can be found relocating to basements or garages in order to escape the cold. The only way to prevent this is to make sure all openings are fully covered.
Scientists, in 2010, documented Yosemite’s great gray owl (Strix nebulosa Yosemitensis) as genetically distinct from the great gray owl in western North America (Strix nebulosa nebulosa). In addition to genetic differences, behavioral differences appear to exist in the Yosemite subspecies. These include differences in migration patterns, prey preference, and nest site selection. Each of these genetic and behavioral characteristics indicates the Sierra Nevada population of great gray owls has been isolated from other populations for an extensive period of time.
Yosemite, today, is the southernmost range and last sanctuary of almost all of California’s great gray owls, listed as California State Endangered Species. Researchers estimate there are only about 200 to 300 individuals in California, and about 65% of the state’s population resides in Yosemite. Great gray owls nest in the middle elevations of the park where forests and meadows meet.They can be active at any time of the day or night, preferring to hunt in open meadows and clearings within the forest.Then, in winter, they move downslope to snow-free areas where they can more easily access their rodent prey.
This rare and endangered owl is the largest North American owl but also can be found in Asia and Europe. It stands as tall as 2 feet with a 5-foot wingspan and has distinctive piercing yellow eyes accented by large facial disks.
To gain a greater understanding of Yosemite’s great gray owl and its genetic make-up, Yosemite joined with the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Southwest Research Station and geneticists from University of California-Davis to assess genetics, ecological-limiting factors, and immediate management needs of the Sierra-wide population. Great gray owls, restricted to montane meadows, are threatened from mounting resource use in the broader Sierra Nevada. Threats outside the park include timber harvest, grazing, and development pressures.
Skunks are legendary for their powerful predator-deterrent—a hard-to-remove, horrible-smelling spray. A skunk’s spray is an oily liquid produced by glands under its large tail. To employ this scent bomb, a skunk turns around and blasts its foe with a foul mist that can travel as far as ten feet (three meters).
Skunk spray causes no real damage to its victims, but it sure makes them uncomfortable. It can linger for many days and defy attempts to remove it. As a defensive technique, the spray is very effective. Predators typically give skunks a wide berth unless little other food is available.
There are many different kinds of skunks. They vary in size (most are house cat-sized) and appear in a variety of striped, spotted, and swirled patterns—but all are a vivid black-and-white that makes them easily identifiable and may alert predators to their pungent potential.
Skunks usually nest in burrows constructed by other animals, but they also live in hollow logs or even abandoned buildings. In colder climates, some skunks may sleep in these nests for several weeks of the chilliest season. Each female gives birth to between two and ten young each year.
Skunks are opportunistic eaters with a varied diet. They are nocturnal foragers who eat fruit and plants, insects, larvae, worms, eggs, reptiles, small mammals, and even fish. Nearly all skunks live in the Americas, except for the Asian stink badgers that have recently been added to the skunk family.
As springtime calls people and snakes alike to the outdoors, encounters with snakes become inevitable. California has a variety of snakes, most of which are benign. The exception is California’s only native venomous snake – the rattlesnake.
California rattlesnake species include the northern Pacific rattlesnake (in northern California), and the Western Diamondback, Sidewinder, Speckled rattlesnake, Red Diamond rattlesnake, Southern Pacific, Great Basin rattlesnake and the Mojave rattlesnake (all found in Southern California). Though rattlesnakes are dangerous if provoked, they also provide humans with a tremendous service they eat rodents, other reptiles, and insects, and are in turn eaten by other predators. In California where rattlesnakes are found from sea level to the inland prairies and desert areas and to the mountains at elevations of more than 10,000 feet, enjoying the outdoors means learning how to avoid contact with rattlesnakes.
Generally not aggressive, rattlesnakes strike when threatened or deliberately provoked, but given room they will retreat. Most snake bites occur when a rattlesnake is handled or accidentally touched by someone walking or climbing. The majority of snakebites occur on the hands, feet and ankles.
Rattlesnakes can cause serious injury to humans on rare occasions. The California Poison Control Center notes that rattlesnakes account for more than 800 bites each year with one to two deaths. Most bites occur between the months of April and October when snakes and humans are most active outdoors. About 25 percent of the bites are “dry,” meaning no venom was injected, but the bites still require medical treatment.
The potential of running into a rattlesnake should not deter anyone from venturing outdoors, but there are several precautions that can be taken to lessen the chance of being bitten when out in snake country – which is just about anywhere in California.