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MassWildlife Monthly May 2019

News from the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife

Table of Contents

What to do when you find young wildlife

The arrival of spring means the arrival of newborn and just-hatched wildlife. Every year, the lives of many young creatures are disturbed by people who take young wildlife from the wild in a well-intentioned attempt to “save” them. These well-meant acts of kindness tend to have the opposite effect. Please remember, finding a young animal alone does not mean it’s abandoned; the best thing you can do for young wildlife is to leave them alone.

Young wildlife removed from the wild are denied important natural learning experiences which help them survive on their own. Most people quickly find that they can’t care for young wildlife, and many animals soon die in the hands of well-meaning people. Young wildlife that survive human “assistance” miss experiences that teach them to fend for themselves. If these animals are released back into the wild, their chances of survival are reduced. Often, the care given to young wildlife results in some attachment to humans and the animals may return to places where people live, only to be attacked by domestic animals, or hit by cars. Some animals become nuisances and people have been injured by once-tamed wildlife.

Generally, young mammals are visited by their mother only a few times a day to avoid attracting predators to the young. For example, a nest of bunnies will only be visited by the adult female twice per day to nurse the young. The young are generally safe when left alone because their color patterns and lack of scent help them remain undetected. The same is true for fawns (young deer). Fawns are safest when left alone because their camouflaging color helps them remain undetected until the doe returns. If sympathetic people repeatedly visit a fawn, it can prolong the separation from the doe and delay needed feeding. Unlike deer, newborn moose calves remain in close proximity to their mothers who, in contrast to a white-tailed doe, will actively defend calves against danger. An adult cow moose weighing over 600 pounds will chase, kick or stomp potential predators, people included.

Only when young wildlife are found injured or with their dead mother may the young be assisted, but must then be delivered immediately to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. Due to the difficulty in properly caring for them, there are no rehabilitators licensed to care for fawns. It is illegal to possess most wildlife in Massachusetts without a permit. A list of licensed wildlife rehabilitators can be found here.

Spring is for the birds

You don’t need a bird feeder to attract colorful and melodious birds to your yard or garden. Most bird feeders draw the unwanted attention of squirrels, chipmunks, turkeys, mice, rats, and even black bears. Providing natural resources will bolster the chances of having birds venture onto your property. Follow these three tips to entice birds to take refuge in your yard or garden.

  1. Give them water. A bubbling birdbath or shallow fountain will attract birds that need a drink of water or a bath.
  2. Offer native food sources. A healthy mix of vegetation provides food for a variety of birds. Adult birds eat berries and fruits that native trees and shrubs provide, while juveniles feast on caterpillars and other invertebrates that find refuge in the native plants.
  3. Provide shelter. Opportunities for shelter are just as important as water and food. Dense shrubs and conifer trees provide safe areas for birds to sleep. Wooden bird houses provide nesting areas in the spring and summer, and roosting areas for cooler weather.


Learn more about creating a bird-friendly area with MassWildlife.

Brown Trout study continues on the upper Deerfield River

In 2018, MassWildlife and Trout Unlimited launched a project to study Brown Trout in the upper Deerfield River (Fife Brook Dam downstream to Charlemont). If you fish in this section of the river, you can contribute to the study by completing an online form during or after each fishing trip you take. Since 2018, and for the duration of the study, the adipose fins of all hatchery Brown Trout stocked in the upper Deerfield River will be removed. Beginning in spring of 2019, a number of Brown Trout already in the upper Deerfield River will be captured and marked with individually-numbered external tags.

Please fill out the form every time you fish in this section of the Deerfield River. Data collected from completed forms will show the ratio of wild to stocked Brown Trout being caught, the number of tagged fish being caught, the general locations that Brown Trout are being caught, and the effort expended by anglers in this section of the river.

The adipose fin is a small fatty fin on the dorsal surface (back) of the trout between the tail and the dorsal fin. Research has shown that the removal of this fin is the least intrusive, detrimental, or painful compared to all other fins on the body. Fin clipping is performed by trained biologists, who then stock the fish in their usual locations in the upper Deerfield. Eventually, all hatchery fish in this section will be marked with a fin clip. Anglers should note that for the next few years, there may be holdover hatchery browns in the system that have not been marked.

This project took shape through a collaborative process involving MassWildlife and Trout Unlimited (in particular, the Deerfield River and Greater Boston Chapters and the Massachusetts-Rhode Island Council), and included input and assistance from a number of other interested parties and individuals from UMass Amherst, US Geological Survey, local Deerfield River fishing guides, and local watershed groups. The study will yield data on important population metrics including abundance, mortality, and growth rates of individual fish. MassWildlife will use this information to more effectively manage the upper Deerfield River Brown Trout fishery.

Wear your life jacket when boating this spring

With nearly 1,500 miles of coastline, four major river systems, and hundreds of lakes and ponds, Massachusetts offers incredible boating opportunities. As warmer weather sets in, many residents will be taking to the water on boats. The Massachusetts Environmental Police and MassWildlife remind boaters to think of safety first when enjoying the water.

Those first warm days of spring can mask water temperatures that are often dangerously cold. If you capsize or fall overboard, you can succumb to hypothermia within minutes. Hypothermia is the lowering of the internal body temperature. This temperature drop can make it difficult for you to swim, paddle, or stay afloat. A sudden, unexpected fall into cold water can also cause you to involuntarily gasp and ingest water, which can lead to death by drowning. While most life jackets will not prevent hypothermia, they do help you stay afloat. Wearing a properly fitted life jacket (personal flotation device) could save your life. Most boating fatality victims were not wearing a life jacket. In Massachusetts, life jackets must be worn by: 

  • Canoeists and kayakers from September 15 to May 15
  • Youth under 12 years old
  • Personal watercraft users
  • Waterskiers
  • Stand-up paddleboard users

Learn more about boating safety and find boating safety courses.

Now is the time to look for blooming spring ephemerals!

Spring ephemerals are early herbaceous flowering plants that produce leaves, bloom, and set seed quickly after snowmelt in the spring. Although what we see happens during a short period of activity, these plants are actually perennials that spend most of their time as bulbs and rhizomes below ground and out of sight. Young plants can take three to six years to reach maturity and start to bloom.

Spring ephemerals are found in deciduous forests dominated by maple, ash, cherry, and hop-hornbeam. They take advantage of sunlight that reaches the ground before the trees have leaved out. The spring ephemeral flowers provide the much-needed first nectar and pollen of the season for over-wintering pollinators, such as queen bumblebees of Bombus species. Some spring ephemerals have specialist pollinators such as mining bees (Andrena spp.) and carrion flies. By the time leaves on the forest trees have expanded, the leaves of the spring ephemerals are already dying back, and the plants are going dormant. Rain and snow melt often raise groundwater levels in the early spring. Once the trees start to leaf out, they pull large amounts of water out the soil through their roots. The amount of water that is absorbed by the trees is so great that  groundwater levels drop. Early spring groundwater is rich in carbon and nitrogen (from decomposing fall leaves) and the spring ephemerals use these needed nutrients to grow. Most spring ephemerals also rely on symbiotic mycorrhizal fungi to help supply their nutrient needs. These fungi help plants draw more nutrients and water from the soil and link the spring ephemerals with the forest trees in their habitats through an underground network of fungal hyphae and roots.

As the days continue to get longer and the temperatures are warming, go out and enjoy these early spring bloomers! Some of the widespread species to look for include wake robin (Trillium erectum), spring beauty (Claytonia virginiana), trout lily (Erythronium americanum) and blood-root (Sanguinaria canadensis).

Some of our rare, protected plants are spring ephemerals. If you see any of the following, enjoy their beauty! Carefully take a photograph and record the specific location, and send this information to MassWildlife’s Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program.

Common name Scientific name State status
Fen cuckoo-flower Cardamine dentata Endangered
Purple cress Cardamine douglassii Endangered
Violet wood-sorrel Oxalis violacea Endangered
Narrow-leaved spring beauty Ranunculus micranthus Endangered

There are also spring ephemerals on the Massachusetts Plant Watch List. MassWildlife is closely monitoring these plants to learn as much as possible about them:

Common name Scientific name
Spring cress Cardamine bulbosa
Three-leaved toothwort Cardamine maxima
Showy orchid Galearis spectabilis
Early blue cohosh Caulophyllum giganteum
May apple Podophyllum peltatum
Early crowfoot Ranunculus fascicularis
Large-flowered bellwort Uvularia grandiflora
Selkirk's violet Viola seklirkii

MassWildlife is partnering with Zoo New England to study and monitor wood turtles

This spring, MassWildlife and Zoo New England begin a new three-year project focusing on the conservation of wood turtles. Once common in most of the cool, free-flowing streams of the Merrimack River Valley, wood turtle populations have declined so much that they are protected under the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act. Populations closest to Boston have experienced major decreases as residential developments have increased.

You may say that things don’t look good for wood turtles, but there is hope. A few, small populations still persist. They are small and isolated, and in need of focused and sustained management efforts to thrive. Working with Zoo New England provides a timely opportunity to understand and implement the most pressing management needs for wood turtles in eastern Massachusetts.

MassWildlife and Zoo New England have partnered on other important conservation efforts. Probably the most well-known is the northern red-bellied cooter headstart program. For over 20 years, more than 4,000 of these state and federally endangered turtles have been released. Headstarting is a process in which hatchling turtles are captures and raised over 8–9 months, resulting in yearlings that are the size of 3-year-olds at the time of release. This increase in size gives each turtle an advantage in surviving to adulthood.

Steps involved in this wood turtle project includes searching stream habitats to find wood turtles, tracking movement patterns and habitat use with radio telemetry, and identifying unoccupied areas where wood turtles might successfully establish populations in northeastern Massachusetts. Hatchling wood turtles will be headstarted, outfitted with tracking devices, and released in areas where they hatched or in a nearby, suitable reintroduction site.

The wood turtle is so-named because its carapace, or top shell, looks like carved wood. These medium-sized turtles grow to about 6–8 inches in length and are found in small populations throughout stream habitats in Massachusetts. Though few hatchlings survive to adulthood, once wood turtles reach maturity they can to live to more than 70 years. As adults, wood turtles have few predators but are vulnerable to road casualties, forestry and agricultural activities, streambank development, and pesticide and heavy metal pollution in waterways.

Coyote listening session

MassWildlife is holding a public listening session on coyote management, hunting, and hunting contests. The session will be held on May 9, 6–8 p.m. at the Mohawk Trail Regional High School (26 Ashfield Rd., Shelburne Falls). The session will include a short presentation by MassWildlife staff, followed by an opportunity for attendees to comment and ask questions.