Project Passenger Pigeon – From Billions to None

Artists conception of mural being installed in downtown Cincinnati that features John Ruthven’s mural of passenger pigeons flying over the Cincinnati Zoo in the 1870s.
Artists conception of mural being installed in downtown Cincinnati as part of P3 that features John Ruthven’s mural of passenger pigeons flying over the Cincinnati Zoo in the 1870s.

Do you know about Project Passenger Pigeon (P3)?  It is an international effort to mark the 100th anniversary of the passenger pigeon’s extinction in 2014. Friends of Ryerson Woods is a P3 partner.

The passenger pigeon was once the most abundant bird in North America and likely the world, with a population that likely exceeded a billion as late as 1860. But because it was the cheapest terrestrial protein, it was subjected to unrelenting exploitation that drove it to near extinction by the first few years of the twentieth century when the last wild birds were shot. All that remained were a handful of individuals in captivity, the last of which (Martha) keeled over in her cage at the Cincinnati Zoo on September 1, 1914.

Passenger pigeon specimens from the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum's collections.
Passenger pigeon specimens from the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum’s collections.

The story of the passenger pigeon has great relevance to us today. There is no better cautionary tale to the proposition that no matter how abundant something is, be it inanimate ―water, oil, etc.―or alive, it can be lost if we are not circumspect in our use. P3 seeks to familiarize the public with the story of the passenger pigeon and then to make the connections with current issues related to extinction and our place in nature. P3 intends to do this through its web-site, social media, curriculum, a book, and a variety of exhibits and programs.  Friends of Ryerson Woods has adopted the centenary as its 2014 theme, and we are developing a rich slate of public programs for 2014 that explore the themes of extinction and species survival.  We are partnering with other Lake County organizations to present a wide range of activities, exhibitions and presentations for you to enjoy throughout the year.

One program you won’t want to miss is a book talk by natural history historian and author Joel Greenberg. Joel has written the first comprehensive book on the passenger pigeon in 50 years.  It is being published by Bloomsbury USA and will be released early in 2014.  We’ve secured Joel for an author event on Thursday, February 20, 2014 at 7pm.  This event will be held at the Greenbelt Cultural Center and is being presented in partnership with Lake County Forest Preserves, Lake Forest College, Lake Forest Open Lands and the Wildlife Discovery Center.  Copies of Joel’s forthcoming book, Feathered River Across the Sky: The Passenger Pigeon’s Flight to Extinction, will be available for sale and signing.

Filming for the documentary with author Joel Greenberg and senior curator of urban ecology Steve Sullivan of the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in the museum collections.
Filming for the documentary with author Joel Greenberg and senior curator of urban ecology Steve Sullivan of the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in the museum collections.

The single element that can reach the most people is the documentary being made by director David Mrazek, “From Billions to None.” It is also the most expensive element. As such, P3 recently launched an Indiegogo crowd funding campaign and has already raised $22,000 of its $65,000 goal. These funds will allow for additional animation, trips to significant sites, production assistance, and other important tasks.  We’d love to be able to screen this film for you in 2014.  Would you be interested in supporting the production of this important film?

Here is the link:

http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/from-billions-to-none-the-passenger-pigeon-s-flight-to-extinction

Coyotes in the Neighborhood

coyote_final_sm
Coyote illustration by Gretchen Baker.

Friends of Ryerson Woods hosted a panel discussion on “The Hidden World of Wolves and Coyotes” in November 2012.  Afterwards, our executive director, Sophie Twichell, was invited to write an article on misconceptions about coyotes for the Lake Bluff Open Lands Association’s newsletter. We thought our readers might be interested in this information as well.  Let us know if you learned something new after reading the article. Enjoy! 

by Sophie Twichell

Do you hear coyotes howling at night? See them trotting down the sidewalk or crossing streets? Without a doubt, coyotes are active members of our North Shore communities.  But, how much do we really understand this medium-sized member of the dog family (along with wolves and foxes)?  Coyotes are often misunderstood, as well as underappreciated for the valuable role they are playing.  Learning more about these elusive creatures is the best way for us to live harmoniously with coyotes.

Coyotes, Canis latrans, are native to North America and currently occur throughout most of the continent. Their historical range prior to 1700 was restricted to the prairies and desert areas of Mexico and central North America. But over the past few centuries, coyotes have dramatically expanded their range across North America and now are found in an increasing number of cities in the United States and Canada. In addition to occurring in natural areas, coyotes are also found in a range of human-populated areas, including rural farms, suburbs and cities.

Stan Gehrt, Ph.D., Associate Professor in the School of Environment and Natural Resources at Ohio State University, has been leading a team of researchers studying urban coyotes in the Chicago metropolitan region since 2000.  Gehrt’s team has caught and marked 661 coyotes, including radio collaring 379.  He recently shared fascinating facts about coyotes with 200 curious community members at the Greenbelt Cultural Center in North Chicago at an event sponsored by Friends of Ryerson Woods and Conserve Lake County.

Stan Gehrt has been studying urban coyotes in Chicago since 2000. Photo courtesy of S. Gehrt.

Here is a sampling of what Gehrt’s team has discovered about coyotes on our region:

–          Most adults weigh between 25-35 lbs. A few big ones weigh in the 42-43 lbs. range. There are no 50 lb. coyotes.

–          They have individual personalities. Some are shy, others aggressive. Some howl often, others hardly at all.  Individual variation is tremendous.

–          Packs are made of family members and are very territorial.

–          Howling is a way to bring family members together, as well as to establish territory; it is not a sign of aggression or hunting.

–          Coyotes are monogamous for life; pairs only split upon the death of a mate.

–          The average litter size is 4-7 pups, although can range from 3-15.

–          Male coyotes help raise the young just as much as females.

–          February is the peak of mating season for coyotes; litters are born in April.

–          During mating and gestation is the only time coyotes will voluntarily use a den (a burrow in the ground or hollowed out tree); otherwise, coyotes usually sleep above ground in the open or in cover.

–          In captivity, coyotes can live 13 to 15 years, but in the wild, most die before they reach three years of age. Gehrt’s study found that coyotes generally have a 60 percent chance of surviving one year.

–          Coyotes inhabit virtually every green space of any significant size throughout the Chicago metropolitan region; if they are removed, new ones will move right in.

–          Coyotes in the Chicago metropolitan area confine most of their activity to nocturnal hours, whereas in natural areas, coyotes tend to be diurnal (active during the day) or crepuscular (active at dawn and dusk). This reduces the likelihood of interacting with humans.

–          Coyotes are incredibly adaptable. Gehrt showed video of coyotes crossing city streets and even interstates safely, apparently looking both ways before crossing the street and following green lights.

Over 200 people came out to the Greenbelt Cultural Center in November 2012 to learn more about coyotes. Photo courtesy of Conserve Lake County.
Over 200 people joined us at the Greenbelt Cultural Center in November 2012 to learn more about coyotes. Photo courtesy of Conserve Lake County.

Much controversy revolves around what coyotes eat.  Gehrt’s study has provided fascinating information, including some unexpected results.  A study of coyote scat (poop) revealed that the most common food items are small rodents (42 percent), fruit (23 percent), deer (22 percent), and rabbit (18 percent). They also will eat birds, frogs, skunks, insects and the occasional beaver or muskrat. Apparently the majority of coyotes in the region do not, in fact, rely on our pets (1%) or garbage (2%) for their diets.  (Scats often have more than one diet item; therefore, frequencies do not necessarily add up to 100 percent). As coyotes need to eat about 10% of their body weight each day, this preference for rodents can result in a diet of 3,000 rodents per year!  Further, coyotes serve as the primary predators on fawns. One surprising find was that coyotes control Canada Geese populations by eating the eggs. Geese parents can fight off raccoons but not coyotes. 97% of goose nest predation is carried out by coyotes. Geese and deer are often overabundant and difficult to manage. Thus, coyotes play a key role in naturally controlling rodent, deer and geese populations.

But, what about our pets? There are a few things to consider. It is natural canid (dog family) behavior to kill smaller canids. This is about instinct and survival. Given the opportunity, wolves will kill coyotes, coyotes will kill fox, and so on. This is less about getting a meal, but instead about eliminating competition. So, you want to keep an eye on your small dogs. Coyotes also may kill domestic cats for food or again to eliminate competition, but Gehrt’s study reveals that cats make up a very small part of their diet. Also, other predators eat cats, including Great Horned Owls. If coyotes live nearby, do not let pets run loose, especially domestic cats. When hiking in preserves, keep dogs on leashes.

Attendees enjoyed viewing the mounted coyotes, pelts and information provided by the Wildlife Discovery Center and the Lake County Forest Preserves.
Attendees enjoyed viewing the mounted coyotes, pelts and information provided by the Wildlife Discovery Center and the Lake County Forest Preserves.

In general, coyotes will avoid humans. Considering how many live around us and how few incidents we actually have with coyotes, it is clear they are staying out of our way. But, there are many ways we can minimize the possibility of conflicts with coyotes.  Most important is not to feed them. Many people unintentionally feed coyotes by leaving pet food or garbage out at night or by having large bird feeders. Coyotes are generally not interested in bird food, but bird feeders often attract rodents, especially squirrels, which then attract coyotes. Although coyotes seem to have a natural inclination to avoid human-related food, this can change when prey populations are low, or if the coyotes are young and haven’t yet learned to hunt effectively. If you encounter one or more coyotes on a trail, do not run away. It is part of canid (dog family) instinct to chase something that flees. That is how they chase down prey. Instead, you should make a lot of noise, as well as throw something at them.“Coyotes in the Chicago area are successful in spite of us, not because of us,” Gehrt contends. “They eat their own food, not ours.  They hunt as if we weren’t even here. They do their best to avoid us.”

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coyote mount
A close up of the Wildlife Discovery Center’s mounted coyote.

FIVE EASY STEPS TO AVOID CONFLICTS WITH COYOTES

Conflicts with coyotes can be avoided by taking simple precautions or by altering behaviors to avoid confrontation:

1. Do not feed the coyotes.

2. Do not let pets run loose.

3. Do not run from a coyote.

4. Repellents or fencing may help.

5. Report aggressive, fearless coyotes immediately.

To learn more about the Cook County Coyote Project, visit www.urbancoyoteresearch.com.

The Hidden World of Wolves and Coyotes

Did you know that coyotes live in almost every green space of any size in the Chicago metropolitan area? Did you know that their cousins, the wolves, are also thriving across the state line in Wisconsin? Explore the hidden world of these fascinating predators and what their presence in our region means for people. Join us for an intimate look at these animals.

The Hidden Word of Wolves and Coyotes 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

7:00 to 9:00 p.m.

Greenbelt Cultural Center

Adrian Wydeven and Stan Gehrt, two of the country’s leading experts, will lead this discussion. Wydeven studies wolves for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and Gehrt is the leading researcher of urban coyotes in the Chicago region. This program is presented in partnership with Conserve Lake County, Lake Forest Open Lands, Wildlife Discovery Center and the Lake County Forest Preserve District.

Tickets are $15 ($10 for members of Friends of Ryerson Woods, Conserve Lake County, Lake Forest Open Lands or Wild Ones). Register here.