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Living With Wildlife
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The variety of wildlife in our area is influenced by the surrounding lands. This map shows our neighborhood, and the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve (green and purple). Also, notice the park on Tallyran, trails and golf courses. Seeing these features on a map shows us how our neighborhood is connected with larger wilderness areas, and why we have so many opportunities to watch the wildlife as they pass through our area.

Balcones Canyonland Preserve Link 

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White Tail Deer

Hill Country White-tail deer herds roam through the neighborhood, and most residents consider them friends. White-tail deer are found throughout the US, with high concentrations in Texas. The name comes from the white fur on the underside of the tail, which is flashed as a warning of potential danger.

Deer are herbivores and ruminants, meaning they have 4-chambered stomachs. Their diets of leaves, buds, twigs, and grasses are compatible with residential areas at the edge of cities, which is why landscaping is best done with deer-resistant plantings. 

Their running speeds have been clocked at up to 30 MPH and jump heights at 6-8 feet. While they do not make audible calls, they do snort and grunt to convey potential trouble. In our area, fatalities come from coyotes and vehicles. 

Residents have expressed concerns with a range of issues about the deer, including driving, feeding, fawns, and health.

Driving Tips 

New residents, as well as new drivers need to be aware of deer crossing streets, especially in the fall, spring and summer. Fall is mating season, which means bucks are chasing does and can dart across streets at any time, but they are more active (and harder to see) in the hours of dawn and dusk. In the spring, moms and fawns also are crossing streets, and the fawns often lag behind. During the summer months, young bucks roam around together (bachelors’ clubs) and break up in the fall, as they go looking for love. During this time, there also is a lot of activity crossing streets.

 

We can widen our vision to take in what may be at the side of the street. Also, when possible, use your high beams and look for the glint of eyes. In other words, keep eyes open year-round. 

Better to Not Feed the Deer 

For many, the deer are treasured friends but feeding them so they become habituated to us has serious drawbacks. Deer corn is like junk food is for us - tasty but bad for our health. Food we leave out for the deer also attracts other animals, including coyote, which then also become habituated to an area. When deer eat their normal diet, the herd can maintain vitality, which means the strongest and healthiest survive. While this may seem harsh, it is better than herd sizes growing to unmanageable numbers that cannot be supported by the available food supply. The greater kindness is to look at the well-being of the whole herd. Also, within the City of Austin, feeding deer is a Class C Misdemeanor that includes a fine of $75-125. 

 

Fawns 

Spring is the time when fawns are born, and twins often are a result. One of the startling things the moms do is to park the fawns during the day while they go off to feed, and fawns may be found on porches, in yards, or even along a street curb. Our instincts are to help, but as the fawns have no scent, being parked in the open is a safe place from predators. The best thing is to leave them alone because the mom will return. 

 

There may be cases where the fawn is in a street or covered in ants. Texas Parks and Wildlife, Austin Wildlife Rescue, and All Things Wild (rehab center) say the mom will not reject a fawn with human scent. It is ok to briefly pick it up and relocate nearby. (Obviously, brush the ants off.)

 

Occasionally, something happens to a mom, and we may see a fawn wandering and bleating. The next step is look for dehydration (ears curled at tips, gently pinched skin between shoulder blades does not snap back quickly, and dry mouth). Also, if you lift the tail and find a dirty bottom, mom has been gone a long time.

 

After gathering your information, and you think the mom is not returning, call 311, and an Animal Protection Officer may be available. Another option is to contact a licensed rehabilitator such as All Things Wild.

 

Health 

Texas Parks and Wildlife surveys deer populations for numbers and health. Also, the City of Lakeway has done the same for their local herd. In both cases, the data show healthy deer.

 

Resources 

The best sources for information about our local wildlife are Texas based groups, such Texas Parks and Wildlife, Austin Wildlife Rescue, All Things Wild, City of Austin Wildlife, and Texas A&M.

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Native and Migratory Birds

Living at the edge of the City, surrounded by woodlands and park lands, we have great opportunities for adventures with birds.

 

Several people have seen turkey hens near Old Lampasas Road, a raven perch on the power pole for a chat, great blue herons flying by, or black vultures circling above looking for scents of potential meals. Red-Shoulder hawks also have nearby nests, and the list goes on.

Once you see something interesting, you will be hooked. 

Resources 

Get a handbook of the birds of central Texas. Keep it next to the binoculars for quick identifications.

Another source for our backyard birds is the Travis County Audubon site. They've also been very helpful with questions.

 

We are on the Central North American Migratory Path, and often see our Canadian friends going by. Geese can fly 40 MPH and up to 70 MPH with a tailwind. Many birds fly at night, and it is possible to watch the flight paths at the Bird Cast website. Search by county and state.

 

Exotic birds occasionally show up, such as a white cockatiel in the neighborhood one winter. It landed on the shoulder of a neighbor, who provided shelter for the night. Using the FB page for lost birds, the bird was reunited with its human flock.

 

Have you heard an unfamiliar call? The Cornell All About Birds site has just about everything you need to know. You might discover that an incessant nighttime call is a Chuck Will's Widow (nightjar family) and a different owl call belongs to a Great Horned Owl.

 

Who has visited you all? Maybe we should have a BVS birders' list.

Coyote

Coyotes are common in urban and suburban areas, as well as on ranches and farms. Urban areas offer a plentiful food supply of garbage, rats, and other small animals. For us, they roam between the wooded areas and our neighborhood streets. 

They may live in packs, pairs, or alone and are 3-4 feet in length, 15-45 pounds, and live 10-15 years. They look very much like a medium size dog, but the long brushy tail that hangs down is a sure sign of a coyote.  They have a good sense of smell, vision and hearing and can run up to 40 miles per hour.

 

They howl (a high quavering cry) and emit a series of short, high-pitched yips. Howls are used to keep in touch with other coyotes in the area.

Food and Dens 

Coyote hunt all hours of the day, especially when there are pups to feed, but we see them mostly at dawn and dusk. They are opportunistic feeders and will eat almost anything, alive or dead, garbage, meat, fish, vegetables, berries or whatever they can find easily. Their natural diet consists mostly of rabbits, rodents, carrion, and sometimes deer. For these reasons, it is important to have indoor cats, fenced yards for dogs, and leashed dogs when walking.

 

Make your home unattractive to them by removing food sources and den areas. Food can include things you put out for deer (which is not a good idea anyway), open trash cans, and pet food. 

 

Den areas can include an open sided porch. One resident had no idea a coyote was living under their side porch until a neighbor happened to see it. This applies to skunks, ground squirrels and armadillos, too.

If You See One

While the coyote know humans are around, they avoid contact. However, if you find yourself in the vicinity of a coyote, make yourself big (stand tall and raise arms) and yell (a good time for the Texas phrase “git on out of here”). Do not run – just back away slowly. 

Monarch Butterflies

Have you ever seen hundreds of Monarchs resting overnight on a shrub, or the stream of migrating butterflies traveling through your yard? It is a sight to behold and has happened in our neighborhood. 

 

Migration 

Texas Parks and Wildlife offers a great summary about the importance of Texas in this magnificent migration. TPWD - Monarchs' path through Texas

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Texas is an important state in monarch migration because it is situated between the principal breeding grounds in the north and the overwintering areas in Mexico. Monarchs funnel through Texas both in the fall and the spring. During the fall, monarchs use two principal flyways. One traverses Texas in a 300-mile wide path stretching from Wichita Falls to Eagle Pass. Monarchs enter the Texas portion of this flyway during the last days of September. By early November, most have passed through into Mexico. 

 

The second flyway is situated along the Texas coast and lasts roughly from the third week of October to the middle of November. Early each March overwintering monarchs begin arriving from their overwintering grounds in Mexico. Seeking emerging milkweeds, they move through Texas laying eggs before dying. Their offspring continue heading north, leaving most of Texas behind, the first of several new generations of monarchs that re-populate the eastern half of the United States and southern Canada.

 

A single butterfly does not make the trip from Canada to Mexico and back again. Adults begin mating in spring on the way back to Canada. As these eggs become butterflies, the females mate and lay eggs as they go north. In September, the mating stops, and the last generation is the one that migrates to Mexico.

 

Food 

What can we do to help our tiny friends? Plant pollinator gardens, which are good for butterflies, hummingbirds, and bees, as well as native milkweed for sustenance and home to the Monarch eggs. Of course, it is not quite that simple because there are many varieties of milkweed, and the ones most suited for Texas are in short supply. Seeds are available for anyone who wants to grow them. Might even be a good money raiser for groups. There are several native milkweed varieties and can be found at this link to TPWD - Texas milkweed.

 

The second choice is what we most often see in the nurseries, tropical milkweed, which flowers longer than Texas natives. There are some questions about it harboring a parasite that is harmful to Monarchs, and flowering past October which may keep the butterflies from reaching their over-wintering grounds in Mexico. One way around both problems is to cut it down in October. 

 

Austin is a major part of the migration route to Mexico. The monarch numbers have declined from harsh weather and dwindling habitat. The City of Austin, TPWD, and other organizations are making great efforts to plant more milkweed. So let's do our part and send out a Balcones Village / Spicewood welcome for the monarchs!

Texas Snakes

Snakes are common across the US, and of course, there are many in Texas. The large majority are harmless to humans, and the venomous varieties include coral snakes, copperheads, cottonmouths (also known as water moccasins), and rattlesnakes. That leaves many, many more non-venomous snakes in the state. All of them are helpful because they keep the rodent population in check. 

A great place to learn more about identification is the Central Texas Snake ID Facebook group. There are several experts on the site who can identify a snake and explain the details of the markings. After joining, you can post a picture for identification. There are a few people who may be available to remove a venomous snake, as well. If you have any interest in snakes, this is a good group to join.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/centexsnakes

Texas Snakes: A Field Guide​ by James R. Dixon, John E. Werler, and Michael Forstner is a well recommended book on the the subject of Texas snakes. Read more here.

Another source of info is Texas Parks and Wildlife. Their website covers almost every aspect of living with wildlife. 

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