When I talk to kids about habitats, I often ask them if they ever see animals near their homes. When we think of different types of ecosystems, we sometimes forget that we also live in many animal habitats.
Most people have seen birds, squirrels, and even deer in the middle of towns or cities, and have probably encountered a few animals while driving down the road.
Driving a car allows you to cover a greater distance than you would on foot, so the larger area covered often increases the likelihood that you will see certain types of animals. There is a tradeoff though, especially if you’re the one driving the car. Even if you manage to see something interesting, you will only be able to take a quick look. Sometimes you can safely park to watch, but often you have a few seconds and then have to keep going.
When observing animals on foot, you can sometimes get a little more observing time than if you must continue to drive safely. And even if you want to observe them more, it is difficult to follow an animal with a car. They do not exactly follow the available routes. Not to mention the safety issues of looking at the animal instead of other cars on the road.
Perhaps oddly enough (or maybe it’s more common than I think) I’ve encountered a whole host of interesting animals from the front seat of my car, and there have even been a few animals that I saw it for the very first time while driving. The first time I saw a pronghorn was when it crossed the road down the hill in front of me. Often these are just cool moments, but sometimes only seeing these animals for a brief moment as I speed past leaves me with more questions, and in turn great food for thought while I’m driving either on long distances, or on the same route that I take every day. daytime. In fact, one of those mysteries is why there’s now a little stuffed black-footed ferret alive on the front dashboard of my car.
A friend and I were driving on a dirt road out of the Badlands in South Dakota early in the morning. The sun was just above the horizon and there were no other cars in sight, when suddenly an animal crossed the road in front of the car. We were moving quite slowly and the animal was far enough away that we didn’t run the risk of hitting it. However, it was definitely unexpected and it happened so quickly that we only had a quick look at it. None of us had ever seen this animal before and were completely baffled as to what it could be. Discussing what we noticed about its size, color, location and how it moved woke us up and gave us something to talk about for a while. Eventually we found service and were able to use the wonderful world of internet search engines to determine exactly what species we had seen.
Now, ferrets might not be the most common sight for everyone. However, one of the animals that I and many others commonly notice while driving are birds of all sizes. Smaller birds flutter of course, but birds of prey are also common sites near roads.?
Birds of prey, especially hawks, often seek out smaller birds or rodents. Roads are often through open grassy areas, and many have strips of grassy dirt on the sides of the road or between the lanes on a larger highway. This has created habitat for small mammals such as voles and mice, which in turn attract hawks to hunt in these areas. This has made it fairly common to spot hawks along the highway, but it also means they are more likely to be hit by a car as they rush to catch a vole on the open sidewalk.
Sometimes these birds are individual occurrences and sometimes you can learn where to find specific birds if you drive a route often. You can learn where Red-tailed Hawks like to roost and hunt or where Great Blue Herons fly from swamp to swamp. Many animals will continue to search for food, water, or other resources in the same areas, even if people start building things around them. I lived in an area where we regularly saw sandhill cranes. A small suburb has sprung up around the swamps, but, despite the increase in people, they have continued to visit the pond which now resides next to a high school. Every spring and fall, you had to watch out for those cranes crossing the road from pond to pond. It should be noted that these were very polite cranes and generally used the crosswalk.
The problem with seeing animals from my car is that I so rarely actively seek them out. When I see one, it’s a surprising moment. Sometimes that surprise is welcome and sometimes that surprise comes with a moment of dread as something crosses the road. Either way, it’s a good reminder that we’re still in someone else’s habitat. Just because humans decided to build a road in a certain place doesn’t mean animals will move elsewhere. They will stay where their food sources and shelters are. As people have dispersed and continue to use routes of all kinds, it is important to remember that you are still sharing this space with the animals that live there. So be sure to keep an eye out for wildlife and people in cars on your next road trip, vacation, or just visiting a friend across town.
Audubon Community Nature Center builds and nurtures connections between people and nature. ACNC is located just east of Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. The trails are open from dawn to dusk, as is Liberty the bald eagle. The Center de la nature is open from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. every day except Sunday when it opens at 1 p.m. More information can be found online at auduboncnc.org or by calling (716) 569-2345.