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A Talk on the Wild Side.

9 Wild Animals to be Grateful for This Holiday Season

On Thanksgiving we're used to showing our gratitude to friends and family, and this year we're hoping to extend that appreciation to wildlife! With or without knowing it, these species provide us with exceptional benefits and it's time we say thank you.

  1. Pollinators: Food for a feast. Squash bees pollinate pumpkins, which makes tasty holiday pie possible.
  2. Squash BeeThis photo is courtesy of Nancy Adamson and the Xerces Society.

  3. Squirrels: Planting trees. Tree squirrels bury acorns in the ground to store food for winter. The ones they forget turn into oak trees!
  4. Squirrel with AcornThis photo, “Squirrel Acorn” is copyright (c) 2011 niXerKG and made available under a CC BY-NC 2.0 license.

  5. Oysters: Keeping water clean. An adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water per day.
  6. Oyster Bed Close UpThis photo is courtesy of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

  7. Bats: Tequila this holiday season? Lesser long-nosed bats pollinate agave and other cactus flowers.
  8. Lesser Lon-nosed BatsPhoto courtesy of USFWS.

  9. Vultures: Clean-up crew. These birds eat dead bodies of animals, preventing a world covered with decaying carcasses.
  10. Turkey VulturePhoto courtesy of Roy W. Lowe.

  11. Thistle: There are many instances of biomimicry for which we can thank nature for its incredible design inspiration. One particular case is thistle. The prickly seed burrs stick relentlessly to clothing as one walks through. These properties led to the invention of velcro!
  12. Burdock ThistleThis photo, “Pretty Dead Things” is copyright (c) 2007 Ian Muttoo and made available under a CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

  13. Snakes: Many species are beneficial to gardeners and farmers. Garter snakes eat slugs. Gopher snakes and rubber boas eat mice and rats. Sharp-tailed snakes eat Japanese beetle grubs.
  14. Gopher SnakeGopher Snake, Photo courtesy of USFWS.

  15. Sea otters: This keystone species has a major impact on its ecosystem. They eat crabs and urchins to keep the nearshore marine ecosystem healthy and stable.
  16. Southern Sea OtterPhoto courtesy of Lilian Carswell, USFWS.

  17. Wild turkey: This gorgeously awkward bird can be seen at many wildlife refuges across the country. Not to mention it’s the main event for many holiday feasts this time of year.
  18. Wild Turkeys Wichita Mountains Wildlife RefugeThis photo, “Wild Turkey 2 3-7-15” is copyright (c) 2015 Larry Smith and made available under a CC BY 2.0 license.

If you're looking for a way to show your gratitude for conservation this holiday, take the time and purchase a Duck Stamp or Tiger Stamp.

Celebrating Manatee Awareness Month

African manatee
A young manatee swims in Gabon. Photo by Lucy Keith Diagne

Did you know that November is Manatee Awareness Month? These gentle, slow-moving marine mammals have endeared themselves to generations and long inspired tales of the sea. Early explorers of the ocean once mistook manatees for young women, fueling legends of mermaids.  In several African countries, a manatee may be known as a “mamiwata” a name given to a spirit believed to be embodied by the manatee.

Through our International Affairs Africa Regional Program, we’re working to conserve African manatees, which inhabit 21 countries in Africa.

African manatees (Trichechus senegalensis) are hunted for their meat and are caught incidentally in fishing nets.  Threats to the species are rising because manatees are a preferred bushmeat species and wildlife laws designed to protect manatees are not well-enforced. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) predicts that African manatee populations will decline by one-third or more within the next century.


8 Fascinating Facts About Snowy Owls

It's that time of year again, when birders and wildlife enthusiasts hope to catch a magical glimpse of a snowy owl. Historically the birds travel southward (well outside their normal range) every four years or so. This is called an irruption. But, for many reasons, not all understood, snowies have been "irrupting" more often, and some predict another banner year for Southern sightings. We figured people might start talking about snowies as sightings increase, and wanted to equip you with some interesting facts to share. 

  1. Bristles on their beaks help them sense nearby objects. The beak (nearly covered by facial feathers) is hooked and used for gripping prey and tearing flesh.

    Snowy Owl BeakThis photo, “Snowy Owl Detail 2” is copyright (c) 2015 Mark Kent and made available under a CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

  2. Needing insulation from Arctic temperatures, snowy owls have a lot of feathers. This makes them one of the heaviest owl species in North America.

    Snowy Owl FeathersThis photo, “Do I need a haircut” is copyright (c) 2015 Mike Norkum and made available under a CC BY-ND 2.0 license.

  3. Their feet are covered with feathers, like fluffy slippers. This provides ample insulation for the cold Arctic climate.

    Snowy Owl FeetThis photo, “Arctic Owl in Fuzzy Slippers” is copyright (c) 2007 Danny Barron and made available under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

  4. They swallow small prey whole. Snowy owls will eat a variety of food including lemmings, Arctic hares, mice, ducks and seabirds.

    Snowy Owl With PreyThis photo, “Snowy Owl 02-03-14” is copyright (c) 2014 nebirdsplus and made available under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

  5. Females remain with the young, males bring the food and then females feed it to the owlets.

    Snowy Owl Female and OwletThis photo, “Snowy Owl” is copyright (c) 2006 Tony Hisgett and made available under a CC BY 2.0 license.

  6. Their wingspan is 4-5 feet on average. These powerful wings help them silently sneak up on or accelerate after prey.

    Snowy Owl FlightThis photo, “3” is copyright (c) 2010 Pat Gaines and made available under a CC BY-NC 2.0 license.

  7. Male snowy owls are almost completely white, while females are white with dark bars on her otherwise white plumage.

    Male Snowy OwlPhoto courtesy of Alaska Peninsula/Becharof National Wildlife Refuges.

  8. The Arctic summer forces snowy owls to hunt by daylight. Unlike most owls that are nocturnal, snowy owls are diurnal.

    Snowy Owl in FlightThis photo, “Forecast...Snowy” is copyright (c) 2010 Pat Gaines and made available under a CC BY-NC 2.0 license.

What to do if you see a snowy owl:

  • Keep a safe distance to observe quietly.
  • Do not play bird calls from your phone or other device.
  • Don't feed the owls
  • Avoid flashes when taking photos.
  • Keep noises to a minimum. 
  • If you find an injured owl: contact your state wildlife agency or local rehabilitator.
  • If you find a dead owl: contact your state wildlife agency.

Snowy owls on refuges across the country:

Arctic National Wildlife Refgue in Alaska

Snowy Owl at Edwin B. Forsythe NWR

Snowy owl at Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey, USFWS.

Snowy Owl at Siletz Bay NWR

Snowy owl at Siletz Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon by Roy W. Lowe, USFWS.

Snowy Owl at Cypress Creek NWR

Snowy owl at Cypress Creek National Wildlife Refuge in Illinois by John Schwegman.

Snowy Owl at Hamden Slough NWRSnowy owl at Hamden Slough National Wildlife Refuge in Minnesota by Lee Kensinger.

Snowy Owl at Benton Lake NWR

Snowy owl at Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Montana, USFWS.

Many Hands Makes Small Work

stream crossing
 The new stream crossing.

Craig Springer
, of our Southwest Region, tells about a new stream crossing in the Navajo Nation that benefits people and native fishes.

It’s fair to say that they earned an honest sweat—one boulder at a time.  

Staff from the Service’s New Mexico Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office (NMFWCO) along with biologists from the Navajo Nation Department of Fish and Wildlife (NNDFW) teamed up to fix a stream crossing—one to get fish upstream and to get people safely across a creek. It all happened in the rugged, high-elevation terrain of the Chuska Mountains inside the homelands of the Navajo Nation on Whiskey Creek. 

The stream pours out of the Chuska Mountains into Chaco Wash cutting a path through Canyon de Chelly National Monument, then toward the San Juan River near Mexican Hat, Utah.  Along its path these waters afford habitat for two important fish species, speckled dace and bluehead sucker. The latter of the two is considered a candidate for listing under the Navajo Nation Endangered Species List.


Dances with Gila Trout

Nate Wiese
Nate Wiese using a net to release Gila trout into Frye Mesa Reservoir. Photo by USFWS

Stocking Gila trout in an Arizona reservoir reminds Fishery Biologist Nate Wiese, manager of Mora National Fish Hatchery in New Mexico, that he really is living the dream.

Read his story

Outfoxing Mange in the San Joaquin Kit Fox

kit fox
In Bakersfield, there have been more than 90 known cases of mange in the San Joaquin kit fox. Photo by CSU Stanislaus Endangered Species Recovery Program

The endangered San Joaquin kit fox is facing a new threat and the Service is joining others to help save the species.  In addition to habitat loss, predation and human-induced mortality, a sarcoptic mange disease epidemic has hit the fox in Bakersfield, California, until recently a thriving population hub for the species.

Historically abundant throughout the San Joaquin Valley, kit foxes now exist in small, fragmented populations. The overall population size of the San Joaquin kit fox is estimated to be as low as 3,000. While populations occurring in natural areas are subject to fluctuations in abundance due to availability of prey and water, urban kit foxes live in an environment with a constant source of human-related food and water resources and fewer natural predators. Over the years, kit foxes in Bakersfield have maintained a population size of several hundred individuals and consistently high reproductive rates, but that stability may now be at risk.

Read More

Nov. 18's Conservation Connect LIVE on Law Enforcement and Wildlife Trafficking

Join us for Conservation Connect LIVE on November 18 at 2 pm ET to learn about Law Enforcement and Wildlife Trafficking and talk to conservation experts LIVE! Students have the opportunity to chat with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Law Enforcement Officer, Gabe Harper from Patuxent Research Refuge in Maryland and Education and Outreach Specialist Heidi Ruffler from our International Affairs Program. Tune in to ask questions about wildlife species, careers, and new technology being used to study our natural world. Mark your school calendars and join us at nctc.fws.gov/broadcasts  on November 18 and the third Wednesday of every month throughout the school year! 

Helping States Save the Monarch Butterfly

We are taking a lead role to help save the monarch butterfly, whose population has declined by more than 90 percent in recent years. Our Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program (WSFR) has committed to assist states to include actions for monarch butterfly and other pollinator conservation projects funded through WSFR grants.

In this video series “Saving The Monarch Butterfly,” WSFR's Kim Betton reports on research and partnership successes through the Monarch Joint Venture, State Wildlife Action Plans, the value of educating our youth – our future conservationists, and how you can get involved to help make a difference.

Watch all the videos

Veterans Help Lower Fire Risk on Refuges in Montana

Members of the 2015 Veterans Green Corps after thinning trees on National Bison Range in Moiese, Montana. (L to R: Clark Kelly, Kyle Nolan, Corey Langehenig, Levi Brinegar, Gabriel Duran, Matt Huff.) Photo by Mike Granger/USFWS

For the last five summers, a special team from Montana Conservation Corps (MCC) has helped clear overgrown vegetation and lower fire risk on national wildlife refuges in the state. MCC participants – all veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces -- have worked each summer using chainsaws and hand tools to remove trees, brush and other debris.


Connecticut Schools Create Wildlife Habitat, Connect Youth with Nature

Students often feel a sense of stewardship and pride in their schoolyard habitat after working hard alongside their parents and teachers to plan and implement the project. Photo by Audubon CT

This past summer, six elementary schools in New Haven, Connecticut, unveiled the results of months of hard work to transform their campuses into rich habitat for wildlife and powerful learning environments for students. With support from the Service, Audubon Connecticut, Common Ground High School and the Yale Peabody Museum, leadership teams at participating schools created ambitious schoolyard habitat master plans. Students, staff, community volunteers, and members of Common Ground's Green Jobs Corps came together to put these plans into action—creating nature trails, pollinator and songbird habitat, rock and rain gardens, meadows with walking paths, interpretive signs using student artwork, and bird blinds for observation. 

These new schoolyard habitats are a central part of the New Haven Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership—creating a matrix of urban habitat restoration sites across the city. While these sites provide important habitat for pollinators, songbirds, and other wildlife, the also improve human and watershed health, revitalize neighborhoods, increase knowledge about Long Island Sound, and engage communities in conservation action. 

This effort ultimately expanded to the point where it became one of the first officially designated Urban Wildlife Refuges in 2013. Connecting with this urban audience will continue to be a critical component in the pursuit of the Service's mission to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.

Learn more about this project at http://1.usa.gov/1k5QAlo

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