Not only are multiple days of over 100 degrees dangerous for humans, Oklahoma’s wildlife is feeling the scorching heat.
“Extreme heat during baby season in the wild can cause young animals to leave their nests or burrows prematurely,” said Inger Giuffrida, executive director of Norman WildCare. “It is not uncommon, for example, for nesting Mississippi kites to jump out of their nests to escape the heat. The heat combined with the drought in Oklahoma can even stress healthy adults.”
The WildCare Foundation in Noble is one of the top 10 wildlife rehabilitation centers in the country based on the number of animals it sees each year.
“Just like in winter when you put birdseed outside, this is another important time of year to support wildlife,” Giuffrida said. “Especially with all the smaller water sources drying up, animals just need support. We’re in the middle of a heat wave we haven’t seen since 2011, and in the middle of another drought.”
WildCare offers these three tips to help wildlife survive the heat that currently grips the state.
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How to help wildlife beat the heat
➤ Provide access to fresh water: Just like humans, animals need to stay hydrated to survive extreme temperatures. Due to the drought, many streams and small ponds have dried up.
To help wildlife, place shallow dishes or pans of water on the floor and fill birdbaths. Change the water at least once a day and even consider adding ice. While watering lawns where you live may not be allowed, it will provide much-needed relief and water for birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals if you can use water mists or sprinklers for short periods of the day, especially under a stand of trees . and insects.
➤ Provide shelter from the sun: it is much cooler from the sun. A pile of logs, a shady corner of your yard, or even covered porches or eaves can provide a place for animals to rest. Consider placing water sources in these shady areas.
➤ Wait to prune plants and areas with tall grass: Frogs, toads, turtles, rabbits and other wildlife can use these areas for shelter and moisture during high temperatures and drought. Consider spraying these areas with the hose. Water dripping from the plants and the moisture in the soil below will be a haven for wildlife.
And if you plan ahead, here are two things WildCare says people can do this fall to help wildlife next summer:
➤ Plant native plants and trees in your landscape: they are adapted to heat and drought and provide important food sources and shelter for wildlife.
➤ Create a green living environment: Concrete, asphalt, roofs and other hard surfaces absorb heat and release it in the evening, making the environment warmer. Minimize hard surfaces and choose native grasses and plants to keep the environment cool for wildlife and people.
And if you find an animal that needs help, call WildCare at 405-872-9338 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for advice. WildCare is open every day from 9am to 7pm.
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Butterflies in trouble?
The International Union for Conservation of Nature on Thursday added the migrating monarch butterfly to its “red list” of endangered species and categorized it as “endangered” — two steps away from extinction.
The group estimates that the monarch butterfly population in North America has decreased by 22% to 72% in 10 years, depending on the method of measurement.
In 2020, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the migratory monarch butterfly was warranted but not listed as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act. Other animal species had a higher priority for inclusion than the monarchs, the US Fish and Wildlife Service said.
“Right now, they (migratory monarchs) are a candidate species,” said Jena Donnell, a wildlife diversity specialist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will re-evaluate the status of migrating monarch butterflies in 2024 or 2025 for official listing as an endangered species, Donnell said.
“Everyone agrees that the butterflies are declining,” she said.
The reasons for the decline are many, scientists say, including changes in habitats caused by humans, catastrophic weather events, invasive species, parasites, disease and deforestation.
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The decline of prairies, open pastures and other areas where weedy plants such as wildflowers grow is partly to blame, along with the use of chemicals such as herbicides and pesticides in agricultural practices.
After wintering in the mountains of central Mexico, the monarch butterflies migrate north, breeding for several generations for thousands of miles along the way. The offspring that reach southern Canada begin the journey back to Mexico at the end of the summer.
The fall migration of monarch butterflies through Oklahoma en route to Mexico usually begins in late September and lasts through early October, Donnell said.
“Probably the best thing Oklahomans interested in monarchs can do is provide habitat,” she said. “Fortunately, it can be done on different scales. If you only have an apartment or a smaller backyard, you can put in a few containers of native plants. Flowering plants are what they’re looking for, but we recommend flowering native plants.”
Monarchs use the nectar of the plants as fuel for their journey. Sunflowers, goldenrod and flaming stars are just some of the flowering plants whose flowers are beneficial to butterflies, Donnell said.
“If you’re in a larger yard, you might want to create a pollinator garden with native plants or dedicate your backyard to sunflowers,” she said.
Okiesformonarchs.org provides a list of early blooming, semi-blooming, and late blooming plants for Oklahoma butterflies, along with places to obtain them.
The spring migration of monarch butterflies through Oklahoma usually begins in late March, and the bulk of the migration arrives in Oklahoma in April and May, Donnell said.
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