Friday, May 8, 2009

Happy Mother’s Day – to all Mothers!

As we all spend this Sunday paying tribute to our mothers, it is also a good time to appreciate all of the wild mothers that help to raise the next generation of reptiles, birds, mammals, and other wildlife in the hills. Like human mothers, they have to deal with a lot of challenges when raising their young before they eventually leave home and disperse to find their own place in the world. These challenges can be especially daunting when living next to our human urban and suburban environments.

Take mule deer for example. They are basically single mothers, as the males generally become solitary after mating. After an approximately 6 1/2 month gestation period, female mule deer (or does) give birth to one or two young fawns (younger does generally only have one, while older does tend to have twins). Although these young fawns are born ready to walk, their primary strategy for surviving is to hide – they lack a detectable odor and have spots to help them remain camouflaged while mom is away. So, mule deer moms have the challenge of finding a safe place for their young while they leave periodically to find food, so that they can have enough sustenance to lactate. Another challenge comes after about five weeks, when the fawns are weaned and they need to forage for food with mom. Not only are they vulnerable to attacks from predators at this time, such as mountain lions and coyotes, but they are highly vulnerable to attacks by humans…in their cars. Since mom now has another mouth or two to help feed, she must lead her young to many places to find more food – in urban areas, this means having to cross roads. Unfortunately, deer crossing signs are not enough to prevent collisions between vehicles and deer, although providing safe passages such as the wildlife underpass at Harbor Boulevard to help, and deer have been frequently documented using this underpass. Another challenge moms have is keeping their kids away from "junk food", just like human moms. Unfenced vegetable gardens or ripe or rotten fruit fallen from fruit trees can attract mule deer, which can become habituated to this unnatural food source and makes them easy targets for predators.

All moms deserve our thanks for teaching us the tools to survive in the world, and moms with wings, scales, or fur are no exception. So, thanks moms, and Happy Mother’s Day!