City Critters - Nicholas Read - E-Book

City Critters E-Book

Nicholas Read

10,99 €


When we think of wild animals, we don't immediately associate them with the cities we live in. But a closer look soon reveals that we share our urban environment with a great many untamed creatures. Heavily illustrated and full of entertaining and informative facts, City Critters examines how and why so many wild animals choose to live in places that, on first glance at least, seem contrary to their needs. How do those deer, raccoons, squirrels, skunks, coyotes, crows, gulls and geese - not to mention the alligators, eagles, otters and snakes - manage to survive in the big city? What special skills do City Critters have that many of their wilderness cousins lack? Why have they developed these skills? And what are our responsibilities in ensuring that these animals can continue to share our city lives?

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Seitenzahl: 230



Wildlife in the Urban Jungle


Text copyright © 2012 Nicholas Read

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system now known or to be invented, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

Read, Nicholas, 1956- City critters : wildlife in the urban jungle / written by Nicholas Read.

Issued also in print format.EPUB ISBN 978-1-459803-23-7

1. Urban animals--Juvenile literature. I. Title.

QH541.5.C6R43 2012      J591.75’6      C2011-907424-9

First published in the United States, 2012Library of Congress Control Number: 2011942577

Summary: An entertaining and informative look at the many wild animals that share the North American urban environment.

Orca Book Publishers gratefully acknowledges the support for its publishing programs provided by the following agencies: the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund and the Canada Council for the Arts, and the Province of British Columbia through the BC Arts Council and the Book Publishing Tax Credit.

Cover design by Teresa Bubela Interior layout and illustrations by Jasmine Devonshire Front cover photography by Michael Durham/Getty Images

ORCA BOOK PUBLISHERS PO Box 5626, Stn. B Victoria, BC Canada V8R 6S4

ORCA BOOK PUBLISHERS PO Box 468 Custer, WA USA 98240-0468

To those brave few who still have faith enough to spit into the wind

The world for wildlife is getting less natural all the time. So sometimes animals need a little help…from us. Someone dropped a chunk of apple, which this chipmunk very gratefully picked up and ate.DREAMSTIME.COM


Introduction—Wildlife in the Urban Jungle

Hair, Teeth and Eyes—The Mammals

Wet and Wild—Marine Mammals

Waterworld—Fish and Other Aquatic Creatures

Our Feathered Friends—The Birds

Like Water Off a Duck’s Back—Birds Who Swim

Shells, Scales and Slime—Reptiles and Amphibians

The Creepy Crawlies—Insects and Spiders

Conclusion—What We Can Do for Them





If there were a poster species for North America’s urban wildlife, it likely would be the raccoon. They’re found almost everywhere on the continent.DREAMSTIME.COM

You and your family probably live in a city. Maybe it’s a big city. Or maybe it’s a town or a suburb. Maybe only a couple of thousand people share it with you, or maybe it’s a huge metropolis like Los Angeles or Toronto. New York, the biggest metropolis in America, has more than 20 million people in it. That’s gigantic. But big or small—20 million or 2,000—you probably live in an urban area with streets, houses, malls and cars. Statistics say 80 percent of American children live in places like this. In Canada the number’s even higher. So it’s very likely that right now, as you open this book, you’re in some form of a city too.

But if you look carefully, you’ll see that more than just people share your city. Out your window there may be a starling about to take flight. In your basement you might find a spider spinning a web. Or in your backyard a squirrel might be scampering from tree to tree. Look past the houses, malls and cars, and you’ll probably see other animals too: raccoons, skunks, foxes, pigeons, sparrows and crows, to name a few. You may not see them all the time—some are nocturnal, so they only come out at night—but that doesn’t mean they’re not there.

Animals like these have become permanent residents in cities throughout the United States and Canada. They’ve moved into places we used to think of as belonging to people and no one else. The strange thing is that for a long time they did it without anyone noticing. It’s like that expression, “Now you see them, now you don’t,” only in reverse. Now we can’t help noticing them because they’re everywhere. Even in Beverly Hills, one of the swankiest neighborhoods on the continent, residents are advised to protect their pets from coyotes who come down from the Hollywood Hills to hunt.

Because they are so adaptable, raccoons will turn up almost anywhere in a city. This one found her way to the top of a telephone pole.GLENN BAGLO/VANCOUVER SUN

Urban wildlife comes in all sizes—from the largest moose to the smallest mouse.WAYNE CAMPBELL

Of course, the types of animals you encounter in cities will depend on the city you live in. Alligators, who need to be warm, wouldn’t last a day in Denver in December. But if the thought of finding one in a backyard swimming pool terrifies you, you’d better not move to Miami. Other animals—those ever-present raccoons, skunks, squirrels and coyotes among them—tend to turn up everywhere. And people are starting to wonder why.

Not long ago, things were different. Twenty or so years ago, it was possible to let your cat outside without worrying that it would be snatched by a wolflike creature with forty-two teeth and a taste for antelope. Even now, it sounds far-fetched that such an animal, a coyote, would roam the streets of a place like Chicago. But as anyone who’s lost a pet cat or small dog to one will tell you, it’s not. Studies suggest that more than 2,000 coyotes live in and around the Windy City, along with about 9 million people. Wildlife—what we now call urban wildlife (words in bold can be found in the Glossary)—has become a fact of life in North American cities, even those as vast as Chicago. Cities are not just for people anymore.

Not that they ever were, at least not in the strictest sense. They’ve always been home to rats. Throughout history, wherever people have gone, rats have gone too. So have mice. Both eat the crumbs people leave behind. And there have always been songbirds. The “robin red breast” (actually the American robin) has long been a familiar harbinger of spring in many North American cities. Insects, too, are an enduring part of urban life. What would a picnic in the park be without a battalion of ants?

The coyote, perhaps more than any other kind of urban animal, has transformed many urban landscapes.RIC ERNST/THE PROVINCE

Though songbirds aren’t nearly as common in urban skies as they once were, many species, including the American robin, continue to cling on.WANDA UNDERHILL

What is new is that many cities are now home to different kinds of wildlife, wildlife that used to live only where you’d think wildlife would live: in wilderness. Years ago, it was unheard of for a black bear to navigate anything but the mountains north of Vancouver, or for a white-tailed deer to dodge traffic and dogs for a geranium dinner in Boston. Now those deer are as common as dandelions. Bears less so, but in certain city suburbs they make regular appearances each spring and summer. Even cougars show up occasionally. The question is, why?

Within Chicago’s famed Lincoln Park Zoo, a group called the Urban Wildlife Institute is trying to find out. It has enlisted scientists from a number of different disciplines to study urban wildlife and how it is able to live so near to us. One of the institute’s aims is to find out how we and wildlife can get along better, because more and more people now realize we have to try.

Years ago when urban raccoons, skunks and coyotes began appearing in larger numbers, city officials thought they could get rid of them by killing them. They were wrong. In addition to being cruel, killing individual animals proved to have no impact on overall populations. If a homeowner poisoned a raccoon in his or her backyard, it wouldn’t be long before another raccoon took the first one’s place. If coyotes in a particular neighborhood suffered an especially high death rate, females would simply have more pups to replace them.

Now we’ve learned that, like it or not, certain kinds of wildlife have decided to call North American cities home too. And there’s nothing we humans can do about it. As the old saying goes, “If we can’t beat ’em, we may as well join ’em”—because they’ve decided to join us. That’s why the Chicago institute is now studying conflicts between wildlife and people, diseases that can be passed between the two (AIDS, West Nile virus and the avian flu all originated in animals), and the territories we share. They believe what they learn in Chicago can be of benefit throughout North America.

But how did we reach a point where having a black bear in your garden, while never desirable (for you or the bear), has become almost normal? Believe it or not, you can probably answer the question in one word: space. There isn’t enough of it anymore. Not for the world’s wild animals and all 7 billion (and counting) of us.

The sad truth is that this is a terrible time to be a wild animal. All over the world, wild creatures of every size, shape and stripe are becoming extinct. Rhinos are disappearing from Kenya. Tigers are vanishing from India. Orangutans are fading from Indonesia. Here in North America, grizzly bears live only in fragments of Idaho, Wyoming and Alberta as well as larger portions of British Columbia and Alaska. We are in the midst of what scientists call “the sixth great extinction,” meaning this is the sixth time in geological history that huge numbers of animal species have disappeared in a very short period of time. The last one occurred about 65 million years ago when, it’s believed, either an asteroid or a comet struck the Earth and wiped out the dinosaurs. This time the extinction can’t be blamed on an outside event. It’s our fault and no one else’s.

Deer have become so common in some North American suburbs that they’ll turn up even on the busiest freeway.RAYMOND GEHMAN/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

Because of urban sprawl, black bears are being displaced from their traditional territories in parts of Canada and the northern United States. This one found his way into a Vancouver dump truck just before Christmas 2011.JAMES GEMMIL

Thousands of animal species disappear from the Earth every year, so in a hundred years—a mere blink in geological time—who knows how many will be left? The world is only so big, and there simply isn’t room in it for all the animals and us, especially when we live the way we do in North America—in big houses on big lots with big roads to serve them. So wild animals, who need large tracts of wilderness to survive, are paying the price.

At least most are, but not all. Some animals—such as those raccoons, skunks, squirrels and coyotes—have been lucky, or clever, enough to figure out a way to make our homes their homes too. They’ve been able to beat the odds and survive. Their secret is a process called adaptation.

Humans are remarkably adaptable creatures. If you had to move to a new home or school and learn a whole new set of subjects, you probably wouldn’t like it, but over time you’d get used to it. Even if you had to move to a brand-new city or country, you’d adjust. You’d probably feel out of place at first (“like a fish out of water,” as the saying goes), but with enough time, that feeling would pass. You may never learn to like your new city or country, but you’d get used to it. You’d adapt.

The sight of an urban moose has become less and less unusual in some North American cities, including Calgary.CALGARY HERALD

Most animals can’t. They’ve evolved to live in a particular way in a particular place. If that place—their habitat—is destroyed, they die. This is the main reason so many kinds of animals are vanishing: not because they’re being hunted or trapped in large numbers (although those are big problems too) but because their habitats—the forests, jungles, marshes and grasslands they live in—are being destroyed. Polar bears can’t live without massive ice floes on which to hunt, so if the floes melt, as they are around the North Pole, the bears will die. If the African forests where mountain gorillas live are cut down to stumps, as many are, the gorillas will die too. There’s a direct and unbreakable connection between where an animal lives and how it lives.

There are some wild animals, however, who are more like humans in that if their habitats are destroyed or altered, they will still survive. Biologists call these animals “generalists” because, as the name suggests, they’re not as picky about where and how they live. All the raccoons, skunks, squirrels, possums and coyotes who’ve come to live alongside humans in North American cities are generalists. They’ve all adapted to an entirely new living place. They’ve managed to move successfully from the wilderness into a city—a move that would kill other kinds of creatures, including most large carnivores. When cities spread out into suburbs and exurbs (suburbs beyond suburbs) and wilderness is destroyed, large meat eaters like wolves and cougars can’t cope. Yes, cougars do appear now and then in city suburbs, but only briefly and only if there’s wilderness nearby. Wolves never appear. Nature’s generalists aren’t as specialized in their needs. As long as there’s some green space left—and when you think about it, there’s plenty thanks to all the gardens, parks, golf courses and even cemeteries in cities—they manage.

Cities present urban critters with all kinds of dangers, but somehow they manage to survive. This chipmunk is proof of that.AMBER HOBBS/ATD PHOTOGRAPHY

In fact, in some ways generalists may be better off in cities than they are in the wilderness. When the predators who eat them (those wolves and cougars) or compete with them (as coyotes do) are not around anymore, life gets easier. Yes, they still have to worry about being hit by cars, the most dangerous predator of all, but they don’t have to worry about becoming somebody else’s dinner. So they have more time to search for their own. It takes a lot of fuel to be constantly on guard against a creature who might eat you, but if that creature is no longer there, you can use the energy you’d otherwise have spent running for your life on improving it: on gathering food, searching for places to build nests and dens, mating and raising young. So it could be that life is easier for urban wildlife. Without being able to ask them, we can’t know for sure, but it does make you wonder.

Bald eagles, the proud symbol of the United States, are remarkably resilient birds. As such, they can be found in the unlikeliest of places, including tire lots.WAYNE CAMPBELL

Amazing Animal Adaptation

Bald eagles, America’s national symbol, will build nests in city trees. When their chicks are born, they appear to be completely indifferent to any and all kinds of noisy human activity, providing that activity doesn’t threaten the chicks or their chances of being fed. Several pairs have even built nests in Philadelphia, which is appropriate since Philadelphia was once America’s capital.

Peregrine falcons in the wild build their nests on cliffs, but cliffs are rare in cities, so a pair of peregrines living in New York City built their nest at the top of the next best thing—the city’s famous Brooklyn Bridge. In Chicago, a pair has built their nest on the roof of a thirty-one-story building on Wacker Drive in the heart of downtown. Farther north, in Edmonton, a third peregrine falcon pair has built their nest on top of the clinical sciences building at the University of Alberta. Smart birds!

When it comes to finding food, a city can be a dining table for urban wildlife. Huge supplies of food are trucked into cities every day because there are so many people in them to feed. But unlike nature, which wastes nothing, human beings in modern urban jungles waste almost everything: energy, water, soil, building materials and food. We waste colossal amounts of food. If you doubt that, check out the number of overflowing garbage bins after a sporting event or a public gathering like a parade or fireworks display. Check out the Dumpster behind any restaurant. Check out your own waste bins. How much dinner did you toss out last night?

Food is everywhere in a city. A lot of it is food wild animals were never supposed to eat, such as French fries and chicken nuggets. (Humans were never supposed to eat them either, although we do.) But one of the defining characteristics of generalists is that they’ll eat almost anything. Humans are generalists too. Yes, we all have our favorite dishes, but we eat a whole range of foods, from vegetables to fruit to meat to milk to cereal, and everything that can be made out of those foods too.

In contrast, many other animals can eat only one type of food, or at least a very narrow range of foods. They’re what biologists call specialists. The world’s large cats—lions, tigers, leopards, cheetahs, jaguars and cougars—are dedicated carnivores, meaning they have to have fresh meat to survive. Wolves are the same; without meat, they’ll die. Pandas, the black-and-white bears who live in China’s temperate forests, eat almost nothing but bamboo. In fact, bamboo makes up 99 percent of everything they put in their mouths (the rest is made up of other kinds of grass and the occasional small rodent). What could be more specialized than that?

But generalists can eat a whole range of foods, including the foods city-dwelling humans throw out in such huge quantities every day. That’s not to say coyotes eat French fries, but the animals coyotes eat—rats, mice, voles and other small rodents—will. Or if they won’t eat French fries, they’ll eat enough of what humans eat and throw away to survive, even thrive. So they multiply and have rat, mouse, vole and other small rodent young. That makes urban coyotes happy because the more small rodents there are in a city, the more coyote dinners there are too.

The sight of an urban deer used to be something extraordinary. Now, with deer numbers exploding, even domestic cats aren’t fazed by them.GERDA KNUFF

How aware are people becoming of urban wildlife?

There’s plenty of evidence to suggest people are thinking about urban wildlife more than ever before. Certainly there’s more scientific inquiry, including that done by the US National Science Foundation, which has established urban research sites in Baltimore and Phoenix and funded an awards program for research into urban forests and the natural resources therein. There are also more scientific publications about urban wildlife. From 1993 to 1998, fewer than one in a hundred of the articles that appeared in the world’s nine most prestigious ecology journals dealt with cities and urban species. In the last five years, the number has grown sixfold, and it’s increasing all the time. In 1992, only one item about urban ecology was presented to the Ecological Society of America’s annual meeting. In 2010, there were 202. Mentions of urban coyotes in US newspapers have also increased: in 1990, there were two; last year, there were more than 250.

Birds of prey, called raptors, have the same kind of relationship with crows, pigeons and sparrows. Crows, pigeons and sparrows also eat a lot of the foods humans throw away. Think of how eagerly a flock of pigeons will peck at a handful of spilled bread crumbs. As crows, pigeons and sparrows have become flying fixtures in cities all over North America, so have certain birds of prey. Red-tailed hawks and peregrine falcons won’t eat bread crumbs, but they will eat smaller birds who do. So the more bread crumbs there are for small birds to eat, the more small birds there are for raptors to hunt. And that means more raptors in the urban sky.

Generalists also aren’t fussy about where they build nests or dens. Raccoons and skunks will build a den in a basement or an attic because everything they need for one is there: warmth, dryness and privacy. And if there’s a family of six humans charging around downstairs getting in and out of their SUV on their way to and from soccer practice, who cares? Curiously, that would freak out bigger, fiercer animals. You wouldn’t catch a grizzly bear being so accommodating—it would be outta there like a hunter’s bullet.

Our changing climate is also having an effect. Almost every year, the world gets a little warmer. This is especially true in cities because cities trap heat. All the concrete, glass, tar and other materials that go into constructing a city’s roads and buildings absorb and retain heat. Add to that all the exhaust belching from millions of tailpipes every day, and cities become a heat sink. This trapped heat can create some desperately uncomfortable summers for people, but in winter it’s a blessing, especially for certain kinds of animals. Many bird species are supposed to fly south in winter to escape Canada’s—and much of midwestern and northeastern America’s—harsh winters. That’s how they evolved. But when winters aren’t as punishing as they used to be, and when people leave food in urban parks for them to peck at year-round, the birds stay put. Why expend all that energy to fly south when they can stay up north and be fine?

Finally, people who live in cities tend to feel increasingly indifferent to having wild animals in them too. That’s important because it means urban wildlife no longer have to worry about being killed intentionally. Of course, there are exceptions. People with cats or small dogs wish there weren’t so many coyotes. And who likes being dive-bombed by a pair of angry crows? Canada geese deposit ugly droppings on lawns, and skunks leave pungent calling cards on fences, lampposts and dogs. In Florida, alligators turn up on golf courses at the most inopportune times. (Is there an opportune time for an alligator to appear?) And urban deer have a way of choosing the most beautiful and fragrant plants in a garden to nibble on.

Coyotes have always been a staple of the California landscape. Now they’re even found in Beverly Hills.ROB MCKAY/DREAMSTIME.COM

But as annoyed as we might be with them, we rarely go out of our way to harm them. We may hit them accidentally with our cars, and occasionally we’ll call pest control companies to remove them from our properties. Every now and then angry citizen patrols will discuss culling large flocks of Canada geese or hungry herds of urban deer. At the University of Victoria in British Columbia, officials wrestled for years with the problem of rabbits burrowing under the campus’s lawns and gardens. But by and large we’ve come to terms with urban wildlife. And that’s good news for them.

This book will introduce you to some of that wildlife—the familiar and not-so-familiar urban critters who share our urban jungle. It will explain where they live, how they live and how we can live more peaceably with them. Because, remember, there’s only so much world to go around, and with cities taking up more and more of it all the time, city living is fast becoming one of the best and only ways for some wildlife to survive.

Rats are the ultimate urban mammal. Wherever people go, rats follow.MICHAEL DURHAM/MINDEN PICTURES/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

When we think of deer, many of us picture Bambi— a graceful, timid creature who nibbles delicately on forest leaves and leaps away at the first sign of danger. So it was with jaws dropped and eyes open wide that people watched a doe like Bambi’s mom attack a dog in the small British Columbia town of Cranbrook (search “deer attacks dog” on YouTube). The deer thought her fawn was being threatened, so she went after the dog with hooves flying, kicking and stomping him in a way you’d expect to see in a WWE wrestling ring, not a small-town side street. Fortunately, the dog, who was pretty old and frail, wasn’t hurt, but people were shocked. Viewers just couldn’t get over seeing a deer, an animal they picture one way, behaving so outrageously in another. No wonder the video went viral, getting almost three million hits.

Despite their size, moose have much to fear from people, especially people behind the wheel of a car.LAURA COX

Shortly after, a newspaper carrier in the same town complained of being head-butted by another deer. “I was just lucky it was the head because their hooves are so sharp,” Brock James said afterward. He suffered a gash in his chin that required eight stitches to close. The following year in Langley, a suburb of Vancouver, a mother doe protecting her fawn stomped on an elderly dog and broke her back. The dog had to be put down.

Deer have become so numerous in some urban areas that citizens want them culled. It’s a controversial business, to say the least.THEA HAUBRICH

All over the United States and Canada, white-tailed deer, once known best as the endearing stars of that classic 1942 Disney cartoon, are becoming targets of city dwellers fed up with seeing their gardens browsed to bits. In some US states, the problem is considered serious enough for lawmakers to permit hunting of urban deer with rifles and crossbows. In Canada, such “control” measures are usually left to government. Regardless, it’s an issue, with more and more people thinking about deer in a way they never have before—because deer are going places they’ve never gone before.

The presence of black bears on urban streets depends largely on how much food there is for them in the wilderness. If there isn’t enough, they’ll look for it elsewhere.TOM BOPPART

What happened? As mentioned in the Introduction, it’s a question of space: ours and theirs. As cities grow bigger and more sprawling, wilderness areas get smaller and more limited, so what’s a doe, buck or fawn to do except go for those petunias in your flower bed? After all, the deer don’t know they were cultivated specially to decorate that dead space between the front path and the window box. To deer they’re just food. We shouldn’t blame them, but we do. So when deer like the ones in Cranbrook and Langley get frightened and defend their offspring in the same way they would in the wild, we freak. We demand that “something” be done, and, chances are, whatever that something is will be bad for the deer.

Such is the curious relationship we have with large urban mammals. We may like the idea of deer, moose, bears, cougars, bobcats and coyotes roaming the hills around the cities where we live. Knowing they’re there gives us a connection to nature that city living undercuts. But once they move out of those hills