Outdoors with Tom VeneskyWildlife busy beating the heat

By Tom Venesky - [email protected]

Summer seems like an easy time for wildlife.

But it’s not.

Sure, warm temperatures and lush vegetation allow many species to reverse the calorie-burning trend that occurs in the winter when the days are cold and food can be scarce.

But the summer months are not without challenges.

For deer, the heat brings swarms of insects — ticks, keds and biting flies to name a few — that are a constant harassment. And when it comes to bugs, deer are at a great disadvantage.

Lacking a long tail, deer can’t swish flies off their body like other animals, such as cows. All they can do is simply let the bugs bite and endure it until the sun goes down. Imagine a hoard of flies buzzing around your face but being unable to swat them away. For a deer, bugs in the summertime have to be an excruciating experience.

The insect problem for deer persists into the fall and, during some years, the dilemma can be downright deadly. In the early fall, swarms of midges can spread epizootic hemorrhagic disease in deer, which is often fatal.

Insects aren’t the only challenge for wildlife in the summer.

Heat, and the stress that results from it, is a big factor as well.

Hot temperatures impact every species, large and small. Black bears are at the top of the list, with a thick, black coat that soaks up the heat and offers no relief. I often wonder what feels worse to a bear – the heat of the summer or the cold before they den up in the winter?

My bet is on the former.

To cope with the heat, bears often wade into muddy swamps or streams for a cool respite.

When it comes to wildlife, nothing is immune to the uncomfortable heat. I’ve seen turkeys pant — which is the only way they can cool themselves — under the summer sun, and even spotted a group of vultures sitting on a barn roof with their wings spread out to capture the breeze.

The heat forces woodchucks into burrows, snakes under rocks and turtles into the mud, much like it causes us to go indoors.

Still, there is another factor of summer that can be trying when it comes to survival.

Water.

Like us, wildlife can go without food for stretches, but water is always crucial.

During times of drought, it’s not uncommon to see deer and turkeys congregate near a pond or even a puddle just to remain close to the precious water source.

For birds, water in the summer is as imperative as a feeder filled with seed in the winter.

That’s why it’s a good idea to maintain birdbaths in the summer. With plenty to eat in the wild, it’s more important to “feed” backyard birds with water than it is seed.

While this summer has been unusually wet and humid, there is still time for a heat wave to strike and a drought to dry things up.

Just like wildlife are tested in the winter, the challenge of summer shouldn’t be overlooked.

By Tom Venesky

[email protected]