As cities grow further into wildlands and natural habitats, and as animals attempt to adapt to these urban environments, it is inevitable that people and wildlife will come into more contact.
My guest today, Jessica Wolff, works to help people and wildlife when these interactions occur. She is an Urban Wildlife Coordinator for the Nevada Department of Wildlife. As an Urban Wildlife Coordinator, Jessica educates the public and fields calls from the public. These calls include questions about unexpected animals in people’s yards and houses and reports of sick or injured wildlife in the city. And occasionally Jessica is dispatched to assess, capture, move, or otherwise help animals in distress.
Today we discuss the most common wildlife encounters that Jessica handles, ranging from coyotes, to bats, to raccoons, to fledgling birds. And this allowed us to get into some of the natural history and urban adaptations that these animals have.
Jessica also answers listener questions about bat boxes and fox burrows, and adds some insights into some of my own backyard wildlife.
I know that I’m coming away from this conversation with a better perspective on what it means to offer resources – intentionally or unintentionally – to wild animals.
So without further delay, Jessica Wolff.
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Links To Topics Discussed
People and Resources
The Accidental Ecosystem, People and Wildlife in American Cities, Dr. Peter Alagona. See my podcast episode with him, too.
Bats and Insecticides from BatCon International
How do pesticides affect bats? – A brief review of recent publications, J. M. Oliveira, A. L. F. Destro, M. B. Freitas, L. L. Oliveira – from the Brazilian Journal of Biology
Smithsonian Magazine article on “Coywolves” – Coyote and Wolf hybrids in Eastern North America
Note: links to books are affiliate links
Opening – Fearless First by Kevin MacLoed
Closing – Beauty Flow by Kevin MacLoed
Both can be obtained from https://incompetech.filmmusic.io/
Transcripts are automatically created, and are about 95% accurate. Apologies for any errors.
[00:00:00] Michael Hawk: Jessica welcome to the podcast.
[00:00:02] Jessica Wolff: Thank you so much for having me. I’m super excited to be here.
[00:00:05] Michael Hawk: Yeah. I think that what we’re going to talk about today follows a theme that often comes up and that’s one of human and wildlife interactions, especially in urban or suburban areas. So I’m excited to hear what you have to say since you actually work in in that realm.
[00:00:21] Jessica Wolff: Yep. It is my whole world right now.
[00:00:24] Michael Hawk: So before we get into that I always like to find out a little bit about my guests and in particular, where did you grow up and what led you down this path of interest in.
[00:00:34] Jessica Wolff: Yeah. I spent most of my childhood and Reno, Nevada. We moved here when I was about seven. So majority of my life has been spent here. And I was privileged enough to live in an area where I could get outside whenever I really wanted to my house backed up to a nature trail and there was a Creek back there.
[00:00:52] So I would always spend hours during the summer kitchen crawdads and hanging out in the water. And then watching hours and hours of animal planet crocodile hunter, deaf Corwin experience. All of those shows really led me kind of down this path of loving wildlife and being super interested in it.
[00:01:07] And now I got to turn it into a career, which is super amazing and not everyone gets to do that. So I’m super, super low.
[00:01:14] Michael Hawk: With that Creek access, is there any experience that jumps out in your mind is like something that you tell people about still to this.
[00:01:22] Jessica Wolff: One summer, me and my cousin in one day caught over a hundred ads, which was pretty impressive. I was very excited about that. And then one story I like to connect back to is behind the Creek. There’s this big Sage brush habitat in. I remember being up in my mom’s room one day, looking down and looking outside and being like, oh my gosh, she’s a dog out there.
[00:01:43] What is that? And then I quickly realized it was actually a coyote. And I remember when I was a kid, I was pretty freaked out about it. It was not something that I saw every single day. So it was a very Life-changing experience in a sense. And now I get to talk about coyotes all the time and I’m a super big fan of them.
[00:02:02] So I definitely shifted my scared feelings from when I was seven years old to now just being absolutely obsessed with them.
[00:02:09] Michael Hawk: I can’t wait to get into the coyote subject. And I have lots of questions about them. So fast forwarding to today w what is your exact title?
[00:02:18] Jessica Wolff: So I’m actually transitioning to the wildlife education coordinator but for the past two and a half, three years, I’ve been the urban wildlife coordinator for the department of wildlife in Nevada in the Western region, we’ve got two of us.
[00:02:30] Michael Hawk: . And what is a day in the life of an urban wildlife coordinator look like?
[00:02:35] Jessica Wolff: Every day is super different. Yesterday morning I spent my morning running after a goose with an injured wing in the whole foods parking lot. This morning I came in and helped two people with some that issues, a person with a morning dove that was nesting on an outdoor refrigerator. So every day is different.
[00:02:56] From urban wildlife calls, helping people through issues that they might have questions that they have, or even just going out there some education Some programming on living with coyotes. Tonight I have a board of directors meeting down in Carson city where I’m going to talk about some of the critters that they have down there.
[00:03:14] Why they’re there, all that good stuff, teaching people how to live with animals. And I also create some of the content for our Instagram and Facebook trying to just get out the message that we all live in urban environments. And in those urban environments are a lot of different.
[00:03:30] Michael Hawk: I think those examples you gave a goose and mourning, dove bats. Like those are examples that apply you’re in Nevada. And obviously the habitats in Nevada are very different.
[00:03:40] than much of the United States. But those three examples I think, do apply to much of the United States. So I’m curious when, how did this goose call come to be?
[00:03:50] Was it a concerned citizen? Was the goose being aggressive? Like how did you get involved and what, what specifically were you looking for?
[00:03:57] Jessica Wolff: We got a bunch of calls, actually, the whole foods parking lot, like many areas is a pretty busy zone here in Reno. We only have one, so there’s lots of people around. So we got quite a few calls the day before. And I went out in the afternoon to try and remove it from that situation. Being in a whole foods, parking lot is not the ideal habitat for a goose.
[00:04:19] And people were going to continue to see it and be worried about it. So I wanted to try and remove it from that situation. And so I was out there for about an hour trying to track it down, but it was very mobile used its legs quite well. So then out there couldn’t find it.
[00:04:33] And then we got more calls in the afternoon and morning. So I went out in the morning to try and capture it then. And it was just hanging out by the, Qdoba sitting down. And I was like, yes, there’s no one around. See me drink after this thing. Cause it w it was quite mobile. So there was some running involved and I looked like a chicken with my head cut off, to be honest, I’m trying to capture it, but I was able to grab it and remove it from that situation so that it was no longer than, yeah.
[00:04:59] Michael Hawk: , how do you capture a goose? Is it with a net or did you like physically just grab it or?
[00:05:03] Jessica Wolff: No, I had a, I have a big net that I use usually when they see you with a net though, they know something’s going on and they’re not super excited about what’s about to happen. So it started to run off and there was much running back and forth while I tried to grab it, but I was successful
[00:05:18] Michael Hawk: so in order to do that sort of work, what sort of training and education is.
[00:05:24] Jessica Wolff: So I took a little bit different path than other individuals. I was actually a psychology major in, at UNR and I went and I worked in the solar industry for about two years down in Las Vegas, came back to Reno and really wanted to make my passions my career. So I started off as an AmeriCorps member with the department of wildlife and then I got to work on a botulism project. We actually had a big outbreak of avian botulism out at Carson Lincoln pasture during that summer. So I got to help the department out with that. And then I worked for. Retail for a little bit and then got my position as the urban wildlife coordinator.
[00:06:04] So a lot of it was learning on my own teaching myself different things and then reaching out and connecting with other people in the field and creating those networks. So a lot of it was things that I learned while in my AmeriCorps position. And then things that I learned from coworkers.
[00:06:21] Michael Hawk: . It sounds like a lot of hands-on experience and, you and I actually met at the NAI conference and what I can tell is it seems like strong communication skills. The NAI is all about communications and your background in psychology and what you’re doing now, it seems like communication is a central point to a role like you have.
[00:06:41] Jessica Wolff: Absolutely. Yeah. I’m talking to people every single day. I might have wildlife in my title, but it’s definitely not, oh, wildlife specific position. It’s more connecting with people and teaching them how to live with the wildlife instead of actually being hands on the ground with the wildlife every single day.
[00:06:59] Michael Hawk: So that might mean telling people things that they might not be prepared to hear or may disagree with, but doing it in a way that can get the point across
[00:07:09] Jessica Wolff: Exactly. Yeah. Lots of that.
[00:07:11] Michael Hawk: the examples that you gave. It sounds like , you receive calls from the community at large. Do you find yourself working with certain segments of the community more often than others? Is it typically homeowners or property developers or do you get involved in early stages of development projects where there’s wildlife.
[00:07:32] Jessica Wolff: I’ve been involved in a few of those conversations, but typically it’s more of our habitat division that takes over those conversations and works with developers and makes a big environmental impact. Write up what animals are there, what animals could be affected by that. That’s one area that I’d like this position to get more involved in, because I think there’s a lot of upfront education that we could utilize in those situations.
[00:07:57] Especially with how Reno is growing. I don’t know. You are aware, but we’re going quite a lot. We have new housing developments going all over the place. So trying to get people to education before they move in, because oftentimes developers will put a housing development in an area where there might be a lot of mule deer or a lot of bear activity.
[00:08:18] And they, homeowners might not be as aware of what issues could come when they’re buying their house. So trying to just let people know, Hey, this is what you’re getting into. When you live out here, which is wonderful. Living your wildlife is an amazing opportunity to connect with nature, but there are some potential downfalls to that as well.
[00:08:36] Michael Hawk: So for people who have never been to Reno, can you set the scene what’s Reno, like what are some of the landmarks, some of the natural areas that are.
[00:08:45] Jessica Wolff: Yeah. So Reno is a really cool location. About an hour and 15 minutes away from lake Tahoe. So we’re surrounded by mountains. We’ve got lots of Sage brush, pinyon, Juniper habitat around us. And then through downtown Reno, we actually have the Truckee river. So lots of opportunities for winter sports, summer sports, mountain biking, hiking, backpacking voting so many different activities just right outside your back door.
[00:09:12] Michael Hawk: You’re literally the east side foothills of the Sierra, Nevada.
[00:09:17] Jessica Wolff: Yeah. Yeah. So we get snow during the winter time, four seasons. It’s a beautiful place to live.
[00:09:22] Michael Hawk: talked about some of the issues that you handled just yesterday, which it sounds like you had your hands full for one day. Yeah this time of the year, we’re talking in June. This episode will either get published yet this month or in July. What are the typical sorts of issues that you do find yourself encountering.
[00:09:42] Jessica Wolff: So during this season at a lot of young wildlife issues come up one of the biggest ones we get is people finding young birds on the ground and thinking that they’re injured when they’re actually just fledglings fledglings are young birds that have just come out of the nest and they’re on the ground and they’ll be on the ground for a few days up to a week or two.
[00:10:03] Totally normal. We expect to see that. But if you’re not aware of that part of the life cycle of a bird, it can be a little drawing seeing this small little bird hanging out on the ground, seemingly helpless. So a lot of the calls right now are just helping people understand the life cycle of the birds and understanding that leaving them is the absolute, best thing you can do for them.
[00:10:24] I often talk about it. Like it’s like college for the birds. They get kicked out of the nest, but parents are still around helping out, but it’s really important for them because they’re going to learn how to find food on their own, how to use their wings, how to fly all of those really important lessons that they really need to be able to become an adult functioning bird out in the world.
[00:10:45] So fledglings are a big one.
[00:10:47] Michael Hawk: And can I ask you a question? So I moderate a backyard wildlife group on Facebook and this time of year, a lot of well-meaning people post exactly what you said. , leave the fledgling alone.
[00:11:00] And somebody posted that and there was a response saying well, I have neighborhood cats that roam, this is the person, responding. I don’t leave the fledgling alone. I’ll relocate the fledgling up onto a platform. So the cat can’t reach it and like, I have lots of questions.
[00:11:16] It’s like, what does this platform look like? Is it just going to jump down? It sounds kind of like fruitless exercise that may have unintended negative consequences as well. Can you maybe elaborate a little bit on that scenario and what you.
[00:11:29] Jessica Wolff: Yeah. During the spring time, especially spring and summer, we really ask people to keep their cats inside because that is certainly, a human caused issue. When it comes to our wildlife, cats are responsible for the deaths of billions of birds every single year as well as mammals and reptiles and all of those things.
[00:11:47] So with that being said, knowing that young birds are going to be on the ground. If you are a cat owner, it’s super important to just keep them inside. Or if you want to have them have some outside time, you can create a catio which is fully enclosed, and they’re not going to get access to any wildlife.
[00:12:03] It’s also going to protect them. Outdoor cats typically will live shorter lifespans because of diseases and cars and. More human caused issues that kinda come up. So if you can keep them inside or on a leash so that they don’t have those negative impacts as for putting the fledgling on a platform or something like that.
[00:12:22] Like you said, I would imagine it would jump down pretty quickly and still be hopping around somewhere else. And also cats are pretty good jumpers. So I wouldn’t be surprised if the cat was still able to get up there. You’re not necessarily going to hurt the fledgling by getting your scent on it.
[00:12:37] The parent bird. Won’t abandon it for that reason, but. You’re going to be adding a lot of stress to an already stressful situation. If you imagine you’re a tiny bird hanging out on the ground, doing what you’re supposed to do, learning from your parents, learning on your own, all that good stuff.
[00:12:52] And then this big predator, because ultimately we are predators to these small birds comes over and picks you up and puts you up on a tall space. That’s a pretty intense, scary situation. I wouldn’t personally want to go through that. So probably best to just leave them alone and try and educate your neighbors to keep their cats inside.
[00:13:10] Michael Hawk: Yeah. And as you were talking about this, I admit, I didn’t think too hard when I saw this response on the Facebook post, but hearing what you’re saying I’m, I’m also thinking you’re drawing a lot of attention. Young bird and other predators, like Crozer Ravens or, like smart corvids may see this and be like, oh, there’s an easy meal that you just put on a platform for me to come down and get.
[00:13:32] So, Yeah, I, it seems like just leave it alone is really the best thing to do.
[00:13:36] Jessica Wolff: Yeah, absolutely. And if you’re really concerned too, you can always choose to create more of a wildlife habitat in your backyard. Maybe put some bushes that could provide some shelter for them and hiding places. That’s probably a better route to go than trying to intervene.
[00:13:52] Michael Hawk: Great ideas. And you were telling about some of the other common calls that you get this time.
[00:13:59] Jessica Wolff: Yeah. We also get quite a few calls about coyotes bats deciding to live in attics or on houses, or just roosting on houses. Like lots of different ones.
[00:14:10] Michael Hawk: You mentioned coyotes at the beginning and again showing up in neighborhoods this time of year. Is it. T tell me more about the coyote situation. Is it really just this time of year or are they semi-permanent urban residents these days?
[00:14:21] Jessica Wolff: Yeah. So coyotes are pretty amazing critters. They’ve really adapted to live near humans quite well. They’re opportunistic omnivores, so they’ll eat just about anything. And our backyards typically provide a lot of amazing resources for them. Whenever we’re putting out food for birds, we’re attracting the predators of those birds.
[00:14:43] So a coyote can not only eat the birds that are attracted to the bird theaters. They could eat the seeds if they really wanted to. And they could also eat the rodents that are also going to be attracted to those birds. So coyotes do a really great job of finding the resources in our neighborhoods and taking advantage of.
[00:15:00] Especially in Nevada where it’s a pretty arid environment, our backyards also provide a lot of water resources for them. So it’s really common to have them around urban areas year round.
[00:15:12] Michael Hawk: And do you see a trend with the coyotes? Is it pretty, pretty steady population-wise or are there more I suppose as Reno is growing, like you said, it’s probably more and more interactions with coyotes.
[00:15:23] Jessica Wolff: So we don’t have a ton of studies on coyotes and their population growth here in Nevada. They’re actually considered to be an unprotected species. So I think the last estimate that was done said that it statewide, we have about a hundred thousand. But that was done quite a few years ago, so it could be more or less.
[00:15:41] I don’t have. Exact numbers that I could share with population growth or decline or anything like that. But for my experience growing up here we’ve had coyotes here forever. Like I had him in that Sage brush patch behind my backyard growing up. They’ve been all in the Hills behind neighborhoods utilizing that Sage brush, the cotton tails that live there, the Jack rabbits, all of that.
[00:16:02] So they’ve always been around. I think that a lot of times that people who live in Nevada don’t expect them there because we, at least in Reno, we’re pretty urban city. So seeing a coyote in your backyard is definitely a little jarring the first time, because you don’t expect them to be there. Oftentimes we think of wildlife being really scared of us and not wanting to live near us, but because we do provide those amazing resources to them, it really invites them into the area and they know how to take advantage.
[00:16:31] Michael Hawk: Previous guest Dr. Peter Algona he has a book called the unintended ecosystem, which is about urban wildlife and the history. He said, he’s an environmental historian. And in his book, there’s a story about. Coyotes that live in downtown Chicago. So if they’re in downtown Chicago, yeah. They’re going to be in nearly any city that you could think of.
[00:16:50] I think in north America
[00:16:52] Jessica Wolff: Absolutely there even in central park, in New York city. So they’re certainly everywhere and they find little niches and are able to survive, which I think is pretty incredible because I don’t know about you, but I did not want to live in New York city. It’s a little too urban for me, but there are coyotes that are like, this is amazing.
[00:17:09] So much food.
[00:17:10] Michael Hawk: When they’re in these environments, are they still living in family groups or do they.
[00:17:14] Become more solitary or that this does that lifestyle change to adapt to the urban environment.
[00:17:21] Jessica Wolff: So it really depends. We do have solitary ones. We also do have packs. Yeah it doesn’t really change too much from my understanding. We still have the pack structure. And coyote dens grad or throughout the city and all of that. So they’re still doing pretty much the same thing. They just might be shifting some of their food sources to be a little bit more general than a coyote that might live in the middle of Nevada, where there’s only really rabbits and small rodents that they get to eat.
[00:17:49] The coyotes here have a little bit more variety that they can take advantage of. They also, from other studies and other states coyotes have smaller territories in urban environments because there’s more of a density of food resources in urban areas. And there are out in the wildland spaces so we can have a few more packs than maybe would be in a similar space in a wild linear.
[00:18:17] Michael Hawk: I see, and something I’ve been thinking a lot about recently. And I had a wonderful experience just a few nights ago. I was camping down at pinnacles national park and was aroused awake at 4:00 AM to a bunch of coyotes, very nearby. Like they sounded like they could have been. 50 feet away yipping and howling and just kinda seemingly having a good old time yelling back and forth to each other.
[00:18:42] First of all, what is happening there when they’re communicating like that? And do you again, do you see a difference in an urban environment and how they communicate.
[00:18:50] Jessica Wolff: So I don’t really know if it’s different in an urban environment. I don’t speak coyote fluently. Unfortunately. I think that would be an amazing superpower to have, but typically. They’re doing just that, communicating to one another, one of the common misconceptions about coyotes is that they’ll howl when they have a kill, but typically coyotes are hunting by themselves.
[00:19:13] They’re solitary hunters, and they’re going after small food sources like rabbits and quail and small little rodents and those sorts of items. So when you think about it, if you have a little rabbit and you’re a coyote, you don’t really want to announce to everyone else in the area that, Hey, I have an amazing snack.
[00:19:31] I know that when I get a pizza, I keep it quiet from everyone else. Cause I want to eat that whole pizza myself. So they don’t typically how and yet when they catch something, it’s more just to, like you said, communicate to one another. Typically in those pack structures, they’re there to defend their territory with one another.
[00:19:49] So it could be that maybe an intruder came in and they’re trying to communicate that to one another or. Many other different things that they’re trying to talk to one another about, but usually it’s not because they got something yummy to eat.
[00:20:00] Michael Hawk: It seems like an important point that you just made is that they are solitary hunters. They aren’t like wolves that are going to hunt in a pack.
[00:20:08] Jessica Wolff: Yeah, exactly. It’s usually just the one. Occasionally you’ll have to hunt together, but generally speaking, they’re disowned their own.
[00:20:16] Michael Hawk: So what other myths or public perception challenges do you have with respect to coyote?
[00:20:22] Jessica Wolff: One of the biggest ones that we have here is that , they’re coming after humans and they’re going to harm humans. A human coyote conflicts are rare. Typically when they do happen, it’s because someone is actively. Helping the coyote associate people with food, whether that be putting out dog food for them or hand feeding them or things like that, where they’re actively trying to basically domesticate the animal or thinking that they’re helping the animal, but ultimately it’s harming them because they’re losing that fear of humans.
[00:20:56] Michael Hawk: I suppose some of that could be accidental as well. If you like, so back to the outdoor cat thing, if you’re putting food out for an outdoor cat, you’re going to attract all sorts of wildlife and maybe unknowingly that some neighborhood coyote picks up on this and. And you don’t even know that you’re doing this and potentially leading that coyote into a negative encounter with.
[00:21:17] Jessica Wolff: Absolutely. Yeah. I’m putting out food for really any kind of domestic animal is just going to increase the likelihood that your. Wild animals come into the area and slowly over time, they’ll become habituated to humans and urban environments. So basically that just means that they’re getting used to us and they no longer have that fear response.
[00:21:39] A good example of that for humans is like, when you move into a brand new house and maybe your refrigerator makes this humming noise and for the first week, it just annoys you to no end. But then after a while you slowly get used to it and you start to naturally ignore it. That’s what you’re doing when you’re, not actively scaring off coyotes or you’re, letting wild animals become comfortable in your backyard.
[00:22:01] And that can be detrimental to them as well as humans in some senses.
[00:22:06] Michael Hawk: Thought that sprang into my mind when I mentioned, okay. Hey coyotes, they do not hunt like a Wolf hunts. And I know back east there’s actually been some papers written. Some, I think even some genetic analysis that shows that there’s some hybridization occurring between wolves and coyotes, or it may be, it occurred in the distant past.
[00:22:24] I admit I’m not real up on the specifics of those studies, but they were published, I think in Smithsonian magazine and some other reputable places. There’s such a thing exists out in the west.
[00:22:34] Jessica Wolff: So we don’t have an established population of wolves in Nevada. So there’s really not that opportunity for them. Really haven’t come into contact with anything like that. So I can’t really speak to it. And this is just from my experience, maybe someone else has, but I haven’t really had any examples of coy wolves or coy dogs here.
[00:22:54] Michael Hawk: Maybe this could be a topic for a future episode. I’ll look into it and see if there’s anyone willing to talk about it, because it’s fascinating as I understand it, it does lead to some traits that are unique to a coy Wolf that maybe makes them even more adaptable to living around people
[00:23:11] Jessica Wolff: Yeah. I’d be super interested to know more. , I don’t really have any experience with it.
[00:23:15] Michael Hawk: So much to learn.
[00:23:16] Jessica Wolff: yeah. My favorite quote is the more you learn the less, you know, and I feel like in this job, it is so true. You learn one thing and then it adds like 50 other questions.
[INSERT] Michael Hawk:
I did a bit of research on Coywolves, and found the Smithsonian article.
The article says they are “about 55 pounds heavier than pure coyotes, with longer legs, a larger jaw, smaller ears and a bushier tail. It is part eastern wolf, part wester wolf, western coyote and with some dog.” And “Coyotes dislike hunting in forests. Wolves prefer it. Interbreeding has produced an animal skilled at catching prey in both open terrain and densely wooded areas,”
There is also an infographic on PBS Nature’s website, which I’ve linked in the show notes, that says Coywolves date back to at least 1919.
And as far as I can tell, they are restricted to the northeastern united states and bordering areas of Canada.
[00:23:26] Michael Hawk: exactly. Yeah. Another one that I find really fascinating is bats and. I again, I think this is something that could be applicable to much of the United States, much of the world, probably. I’m not sure that current bat situation in Europe, I grew up in the Midwest and we had bats in the summertime.
[00:23:44] We used to see them flying around at dusk catching insects, of course, out here in the west. There’s a lot of bats. What are the types of encounters that you’re seeing? People calling about, you mentioned like getting into addicts for again,
[00:23:56] Jessica Wolff: Yeah. So I’m in Nevada. We have about 23, 24 species of bats, depending on the biologists you talk to. So we have a pretty diverse group of bats that we have here. So in urban environments at least here in Reno, typically during the winter time, they’re not here as far too cold. They either migrate away or they’ll hibernate.
[00:24:18] Typically somewhere else, sometimes in people’s homes, hopefully not, but occasionally that can happen. So we don’t have a lot of activity during the late fall, through winter time. But during the spring time, they’ll either come out of hibernation or they’ll migrate back up. Here in Reno, we have a bridge that gets a maternal roost of Brazilian free tailed bats every single year, which is super exciting.
[00:24:41] And they come and eat up all of the mosquitoes for us, which I am totally grateful for because mosquitoes love me. But as for issues with urban areas, it can be anything from just a bat roosting in a patio. Occasionally they’ll get inside of a house. Oftentimes it’s people finding that on the ground, just sitting there and they’re concerned that they’re sick.
[00:25:06] Michael Hawk: So if you see a bat, just sitting there, like I had a scenario a few years ago where a bat showed up and was just clinging to this screen on a window I just, I thought this is odd. And I just decided to leave it alone thinking okay, it’s going to move along when it’s ready to and then it stayed there all day in the sun.
[00:25:27] I was like this doesn’t seem right. And after about a day and a half, I went out to investigate it up close and it had it had died. It came and attached to the screen for some reason. I don’t know if it got stuck or if it was just sick.
[00:25:39] and that was a last Gaspar or something. So , in my scenario, maybe there’s nothing I could have done, but but if somebody were to encounter a situation like that or a bat on the ground what should.
[00:25:50] Jessica Wolff: It kinda depends on. The resources in the area. Typically I like to suggest to people to just leave it alone for 24 hours and then revisit it because animals have different behaviors. Some that we don’t understand, nature is super interesting and it’s definitely not black or white.
[00:26:08] There’s many different gray situations that can happen with that. So usually I ask people to just leave it alone for 24 hours. If it’s actively like hissing and screaming at you, then maybe a different strategy is needed. We did have to pick up one that down in the Dayton area, this was years ago and it was actively hissing at us and that we got it tested in that actually came back positive for rabies.
[00:26:34] On that sort of situation, I would reach out to your local department of wildlife or sometimes animal services can also help with.
[00:26:42] Michael Hawk: When you say actively hissing or acting aggressively like that, I assume that’s like an unprovoked aggression. If you walked up and poked it with a stick and it hissed at you, like that would not be a sign of rabies. That’s just leave me alone.
[00:26:53] Jessica Wolff: Yeah, definitely. It would. We just walked out onto the patio and it was just like chirping and hissing and acting very, not like a normal bat would typically the bat today, see that maybe have grounded themselves or just sitting there, or like trying to crawl up to a place where they can fly off.
[00:27:10] So if it’s acting super strange like that, I would definitely call someone right away. But if it’s just hanging out. Doing anything super abnormal, typically leaving them for a little bit, just to see if they’ll move on their own is really important. It’s also important to take into account the time of year especially during migration season.
[00:27:26] If you have a single bat hanging out on your porch roosting, they might just be taking a rest from that migration. So they might be there for a few days or a week or so, and then take off
[00:27:37] Michael Hawk: I just like birds, they sometimes will stop over fuel up and then proceed.
[00:27:42] Jessica Wolff: exactly.
[00:27:43] Michael Hawk: So you mentioned the benefits of bats and how they protect you from the mosquitoes that seem to enjoy feasting on you so much. think. Public recognizing the benefits of creatures like bats more and more, or is there still outreach needed to help people understand the benefits that come along with some of these wild animals?
[00:28:04] Jessica Wolff: I think there’s always more education that we can do. I think it’s important to recognize we all have different wildlife values. So the more we can talk about the benefits of different animals, the better we are as human race for bats, I think that it’s gotten a lot better. Especially from the time when, before I was born you had like Merlin Tuttle who was a huge advocate for bats and really helping to change people’s views about bats.
[00:28:34] I do see more people getting more excited about bats. Then I think there were in the past there, a lot of people don’t necessarily consider them a little rodents with wings anymore, which they’re not, they’re very different from rodents. They’re in a completely different family. But I think that was a lot of what people used to view them as, and more people are viewing them as a helpful source.
[00:28:53] They give us so many different benefits, like tequila wouldn’t be possible without bats. That’s pollinate the agave plants. So that’s an amazing benefit. They pollinate many other plants. They save Texas farmers, hundreds of thousands of dollars every year in pest control.
[00:29:11] Eating the little moths that take advantage of the, I think it’s the corn crop. So they do a lot of services that we didn’t really know years ago.
[00:29:20] Michael Hawk: Are they susceptible to, insecticide problem. So if people are treating like say we’re doing mosquito spraying or things like that, and you have insects that have insecticide in them and the bat comes along and each that are they are they being affected by that?
[00:29:33] Jessica Wolff: I’m actually not sure on the answer to that one. I would imagine it’s much like rodenticides and mammals, but I’m not sure. Sorry.
[INSERT] Michael Hawk:
It seems that bats are likely susceptible to negative effects from ingesting insects that have been poisoned with insecticide. However, my cursory search didn’t yield any great studies directly confirming this. Most of the studies were either behind paywalls, or simply confirmed the existence of pesticides in blood and tissue samples. In the latter case, it is not much of a leap to assume this would be bad, but these studies did not confirm any symptoms or indications that could be tied to the pesticides.
A common refrain in these studies and in journalistic articles is that bats are overlooked and there is inadequate funding to validate the impacts.
I’ve included links to a couple articles that are not behind paywalls.
[00:29:43] Michael Hawk: So just like with coyotes and the myths or misperceptions that exist, are there any other ones with bats that you’d like to.
[00:29:49] Jessica Wolff: I think another one that people often think is that all bats have rabies. That’s a pretty common misconception for that. And in Nevada, less than 1% of bats actually do have rabies and rabies is something that any mammal can really have. So it’s not just a bat specific problem. So just because you have that, that are living near you definitely does not mean that you’re gonna contact rabies or be exposed to rabies or anything like that.
[00:30:17] Michael Hawk: Don’t, you actually have to be bitten or have some sort of like blood contact or something to to get rabies.
[00:30:24] Jessica Wolff: Yeah, there have been cases where people have gotten it in like a lab environment with really close contact to the virus. There have been instances of people breathing it in and get contacting it that way. But typically for you, we’re me where we’re not working directly with bats every single day.
[00:30:44] We’re not trying to touch a bat. The likelihood of us contracting rabies. Very very, Very small. I do suggest whenever people do find a bat that’s maybe on the ground or a dead bat, make sure you’re not touching it. That’s going to be your best protection is just leave the wildlife alone and let them do their thing.
[00:31:02] And you should be totally.
[00:31:04] Michael Hawk: And this may be a good transition to a few questions that I always ask my patriotic patrons, if they have any questions for upcoming guests. And I had one. That says we have a couple old bat boxes that don’t seem to be in use. Should we try to refurbish them or replace them entirely besides putting up the boxes?
[00:31:21] Is there a way to attract bats to these boxes? So I guess that opens up a, maybe a broader set of questions. I bat boxes. Yes or no. Do you you encourage them.
[00:31:32] Jessica Wolff: Yeah, I personally love bat boxes. I think they’re a super nice way to give that’s an option to be in our urban environments, but maybe not necessarily on or in our homes. So giving them a different roosting spot is great. One of my favorite resources for bat boxes is back con international. They have a bunch of information on how to put up that boxes, the proper placement of bat boxes and all of that.
[00:32:01] So I would definitely check out their website and you can get even instructions on how to build them if that’s something that you’re interested in doing.
[00:32:08] Michael Hawk: Yeah, I just assume I haven’t investigated myself, but I assume it is important to place them in locations with certain temperatures, certain shading or openness ability to access, there’s probably lots of considerations that go into that.
[00:32:21] Jessica Wolff: Absolutely. Yeah. It’s not just a set in place sort of thing that you can do. You definitely have to have an angled a certain way and you certain materials and all of that to attract them into the area.
[00:32:31] Michael Hawk: And do you know, is there, I assume there’s some sort of ongoing maintenance like they do. If you have a Babylon box, are you cleaning it every winter or anything like that? Or you just let the bats do their thing?
[00:32:42] Jessica Wolff: I imagine you would want to probably clear it out a little bit especially for the guano that gets kinda potent after a while. So you can clean up the area around the bat box, get some of that guano and use it as fertilizer in your garden. That’s probably more for the benefit of us humans than the bats, but that would definitely be something I would consider and trying to keep up on
[00:33:05] Michael Hawk: As you can tell, I haven’t personally tried bat boxes. I’ve wondered about it because I do see bats around here, but I haven’t gotten to that stage yet.
[00:33:11] Jessica Wolff: it’s on my list as well.
[00:33:12] Michael Hawk: Yeah. I had another question I received. I’m not sure what the Fox situation is like in your neck of the woods, but the, this listener says that they have a family of red foxes that live underneath their shed.
[00:33:24] And should we try to discourage them? Discourage them to leave. I don’t know if he meant encourage or discourage. I’m not sure. So I guess what should we do? And is there any danger to the concrete foundation under the.
[00:33:37] Jessica Wolff: Yeah, so I would discourage them from being in the area more depending on how you feel about it. They could definitely get into things that maybe your neighbors have and your neighbors might not like it. So living in these urban areas, we do have to be considerate of what our neighbors needs might be.
[00:33:55] So typically for the benefit of the animal, I usually suggest to encourage them to maybe find a more natural. Place to live that won’t impact your neighbors as much. So you can do simple things like playing or radio right next to the den to encourage them to leave that way. Um, Just modified the area so that they don’t really want to be in that space anymore.
[00:34:18] Also look around the area, see what maybe they’re getting into when it comes to food or water. Obviously, you know what their shelter is, it’s underneath your shed, but trying to remove those food and water resources to encourage them to leave that way. If you do notice that they do have kids in the den or in the area, I would probably hold off until they’re done with that season.
[00:34:39] And there you can, then you can encourage them to leave on their own. But that’ll just be a good thing for them in general, because that’s gonna them from living in urban areas. And then it’s also going to discourage them from wanting to be near humans, which is typically. Best for everyone involved.
[00:34:56] And as for the danger to your concrete foundation, I’m not the most handy of people. So I can’t really speak to that, but I would definitely encourage you once you do get them to leave, to take a look underneath there and fill it in as much as you can. I suppose it would probably have to do with how dug under the shed is and how big their done is.
[00:35:14] If the concrete foundation is compromised in some way,
[00:35:18] Michael Hawk: Yeah, I could see that if you don’t have structure underneath the concrete, that probably does put it at risk. And just to, this is maybe, an insight into the warped mind that I have. But when you talked about putting a radio. Near the foxes to help encourage them to leave. I’m thinking, you know what?
[00:35:33] You could do two things at once. There, you could actually encourage them to leave, but also study their musical preferences and see exactly what it is that gets them to leave.
[00:35:43] Jessica Wolff: Absolutely. Do they like metal? Are they more of a classical rock? Kinda kind of Fox?
[00:35:50] Michael Hawk: Okay. And you supplied a couple other common questions that you get. One being there are raccoons frequent in our yards are going into storm drains. What should we do?
[00:36:00] Jessica Wolff: Yeah. So another critter that has really done well, living near humans are raccoons. Just like the coyote, they are omnivores. So they’ll eat just about anything, kind of how they got their name, trash Panda. You can often find them and garbage rooting around trying to find delicious treats that we didn’t want to eat.
[00:36:19] So they are pretty common in our neighborhoods and they’ll actually use storm drains as little highways to get around a city. So what I usually suggest when raccoons are coming into the area is to, for sure look around and see what resources they’re. Taking advantage of so pet food left outside water dishes, trash compost, bird seed, all of those sort of things can encourage raccoons to come into the area as well as state in the area.
[00:36:50] So trying to remove those and remove that habitat from them is going to be where you want to start. And that’s going to really ultimately be your long-term solution to any kind of wildlife issues that you might come into contact with. You always want to think like an animal. Look at what they’re accessing and try and remove that to encourage them to leave.
[00:37:11] You can also do things like hazing, clapping your hands, banging some pots and pans together, yelling at them. When you do see them in the area, just to further encourage them to move on and recognize that people are scary and you don’t want to live near them. So find someplace else to go. And then if you do have doggy doors or pet doors that have access into your house, keeping those closed is really important because we have had issues where raccoons are super smart and they decide, Hey, there’s dog food right inside this store.
[00:37:41] I’m just going to go in, take a few bites and then get out of here. So not something that you really want to have inside of your house.
[00:37:47] Michael Hawk: Yeah, raccoons are incredibly intelligent. I’m endlessly fascinated by the stories and anecdotes that I hear from people about what raccoons are capable of and what they’ve done. And I’m guessing just given the climate of Reno that this may not be as big of an issue where you’re at but here in the bay area and through, lots of the rest of the U S a lot of people have grass lawns and grubs.
[00:38:11] It seems like raccoons, like to dig up lawns in search of grubs. So I, the connection that. Was created in my head was like, it’s another reason to plant some native plants in your yard and get rid of that lawn. And he’s now you don’t have to worry about this raccoon coming along or the troop of raccoons coming along and digging up your lawn overnight.
[00:38:30] Jessica Wolff: Absolutely. And it benefits all the other native wildlife too. So it’s a good option for.
[00:38:37] Michael Hawk: We have a lot of raccoons in our area. In fact just last night, my my wife commented that she saw a raccoon prints on our front walkway and I’ve seen them in my backyard and, we haven’t had any negative encounters with them. So I haven’t really found a reason to do anything.
[00:38:54] But I suppose that in a situation like that, it’s would your recommendation be like, Yeah, just status quo, let them do that.
[00:39:00] Jessica Wolff: Yeah, I think it’s just important to recognize it. Even if you’re okay with it, your neighbors might not be okay with it. So long-term for the animal. Discouraging them from being in the area is probably best for them. I personally wouldn’t care if there was a raccoon in my yard, but there are other people who do.
[00:39:17] So just in general, I try and discourage wildlife. Just to be mindful of neighbors and maybe their desire to have those animals removed.
[00:39:26] Michael Hawk: I see. Yeah that’s a good point. You had one other question that intrigued me that apparently you’ve gotten multiple times.
[00:39:34] I found a duck nest in my backyard, but we’re far away from water. Is this normal? What should I do? that’s a common question that you get.
[00:39:41] Jessica Wolff: Absolutely. Yeah, we get lots of questions on nesting locations of birds. They can find themselves in some pretty odd locations inside people’s Reeves, not necessarily ducks of course, but little songbirds we’ll use Reeves as a little nice little nesting spot. But ducks frequently, it will nest in people’s backyards, even if they are like a mile or two away from a water source.
[00:40:03] And it’s a pretty common occurrence, especially here in Nevada where we don’t necessarily have a lot of water in the area. So the best thing to do, if you do come into this situation is to respect the duck. They have made their decision With everything. There are good parents and bad parents, and sometimes they make odd decisions when it comes to nesting locations.
[00:40:25] And sometimes they just find that it’s a really safe place for them to be, and they like it. And so we need to respect that they’re also federally protected, so it’s illegal to remove them sidebar there. But when they do hatch out, the best thing you can do is give them an option to leave.
[00:40:39] So if you have a gate just prop that open, give them a few hours to find their way out. You can even act like a little border Collie gently and clap your hands and guide them out so that they’re, they have the option to go wherever they want to go. From there, we usually leave them alone and let them find their way in the world.
[00:40:59] Most of these ducks and geese nesting in backyards are urban birds. So they do have to learn to navigate a city in order to be successful. And if you’re trying to capture a bunch of little ducks and goslings, you’re putting them and their parents under an incredible amount of stress. And typically the parents will fly off and not let you catch them.
[00:41:23] So then you potentially have a bunch of abandoned ducklings on your hands. So really leaving it to the parents and letting them go on their way is the best thing you can do for them. Give them the option to leave if they want to, and then provide that safe path out.
[00:41:36] Michael Hawk: One of the principles, to consider there. Well, Actually, no, I’m not gonna go.
[00:41:41] Jessica Wolff: I’m interested now though.
[00:41:43] Michael Hawk: Okay, so I will. So if you see a nest and you’re thinking, wow, this isn’t a weird spot. Why is it here? A, a common thing for birds is like where they spend their days, where they’re foraging for food is very often not where they’re going to nest. They’re going to be on the outskirts of that.
[00:41:58] They want access to that food, but it’s not like a duck is going to build a nest right on the side of the lake where all the other ducks and all the other predators and all the other people come and and use that habitat. So it makes sense that they know what they’re doing. The ducks knew what they were doing by putting that nest in your yard.
[00:42:14] And presumably they know what they’re doing to help raise their young and get them out of there as well.
[00:42:20] Jessica Wolff: Exactly. Yeah. Like we are definitely not a duck parents, so we don’t know what they’re thinking, but it’s best to just leave them to make those decisions for themselves.
[00:42:31] Michael Hawk: You need two super powers. One is to speak coyote and the other is to think like a duck and and then you’ll be set.
[00:42:36] Jessica Wolff: that would be amazing if I could just, I think, that question that comes up all the time. Like If you could pick any superpower, what would it be? My momma definitely be like talk to animals.
[INSERT] Michael Hawk:
OK, third interruption – I promise it is the last!
As I’m going through the edit, I realize that I was not very clear at all here, and I think that is because nature is nuanced, and it is hard to succinctly communicate that.
What I was attempting to say is that nest selection involves a balance of site safety, which often means secrecy, with the energy requirements of building and getting back and forth from the nest to foraging grounds. Ducks, being large birds, have more trouble with secrecy and sometimes go further away. Mallards, for example, are ground nesters, and do want some concealment. So a backyard a few blocks from the city park might work out well. Of course, there are always exceptions, such as if there is a protected island in the water body, or other inaccessible area. Of course, other birds are less selective, and seem to just use a “throw as many nesting attempts as possible” at the problem, hoping for success.. I’m looking at you, Mourning Dove.
OK, now on to the wrap up with Jessica.
[00:42:46] Michael Hawk: So if you could magically impart one ecological concept that you’ve learned, or you’ve observed to help the general public, see The world as you see it, what would that.
[00:42:55] Jessica Wolff: The biggest point that I would want everyone to understand is we’re all looking for different ways to survive. We’re all trying to survive on earth in the world. And wildlife is really no different. They’re just trying to find the resources that will allow them to continue to live and continue their life cycle.
[00:43:17] So when you do approach urban wildlife issues, It’s important to think about the species that you’re interacting with or trying to discourage from being in the area or even encourage when it comes to birds or animals like that. So look around your space, what’s attracting them, how are they using your neighborhoods as a benefit to themselves?
[00:43:38] And then you can act accordingly that way. So really you gotta put yourself in the skin of the coyote or the raccoon and look at your space holistically as a whole, and to really figure out why they’re there and why they’re coming into the area and what they’re using. And I think that having that perspective and having a little bit of empathy with that idea of we’re all just trying to survive would really help with a lot of those urban wildlife issues that do come up.
[00:44:07] Michael Hawk: Yeah. I like how when we were corresponding, you wrote that wild animals don’t show up to put a burden on us. They show up.
[00:44:12] because we provide for them and that’s essentially what you just said, but I that phrasing is very nice and I think positions it really well. One thing that I was really wanting to ask you, you know, we talked about some of your recent encounters with wildlife and more generally in, in the time you’ve been in this position, what is the one wildlife encounter that you’ve had that really stands out and jumps to mind?
[00:44:34] I feel like you were at a party and someone’s like, tell me the most interesting, crazy funniest story that you’ve had. What would that be?
[00:44:41] Jessica Wolff: Oh, gosh, there are probably too many to count, but I think the one that like haunts me and it’s not even actually wildlife, but there is this little wetland area in Reno and they have the. Coyote effigy that sits out on this little bank. And hangs out there all of the time, it’s there year round.
[00:45:03] And I think they use it to try and discourage geese or something in the area. And it doesn’t really work really well because there are tons of geese and waterfowl all over the space, but every year, at least once or twice, I get calls about that coyote. And I know exactly where it’s located and people have, there’s a dog or a coyote or a, this past week, it was a sheep on this little island and it needs help.
[00:45:26] And I have to break it to them that it is in fact, a plastic coyote. So that one brings me great joy every year we’ve even had news articles written about it. And I totally get it cause it’s on a really busy roadway. When you’re just going by, it looks like this poor little animals stuck on this island and it doesn’t really move.
[00:45:45] It stays there. And if you keep going by, it’s just staying in the same spot. So totally understandable that you think that it’s hurt or in need of help somehow, but it is in fact, just a plastic little coyote.
[00:45:57] Michael Hawk: Yeah, it must be so petrified. It hasn’t moved in days. It’s it’s standing particularly still,
[00:46:03] Jessica Wolff: Yep.
[00:46:04] Michael Hawk: it reminds me of the first time I saw one of those plastic owls people put out to try to discourage birds from roosting on buildings. Like the first time I saw one of those, I’m like, wow, it’s a great horned owl.
[00:46:14] What’s it doing out in the middle of the day? And then later it’s still, there must be something wrong with it. Like the sun is shining right on it.
[00:46:20] Jessica Wolff: Yup. Exactly.
[00:46:21] Michael Hawk: that’s a funny one. I think I read one of the stories about that and it’s near the airport, so it’s, it seems like that’s reasonable, but just like with those owls, after a short period of time, I think all the wildlife just acclimates to it and they don’t even see it like that running refrigerator example that you mentioned before.
[00:46:39] Jessica Wolff: Exactly. Yeah. If you are going to use them, they are good tools that you just have to keep moving them, putting them and leaving them in one spot is eventually going to do nothing for you.
[00:46:48] Michael Hawk: This has been really enjoyable and fun and I hope that you’ve enjoyed it as well. And before we depart, though, I want to hear about any upcoming projects that you’re working on. You’d like to highlight or what’s on your radar. What are you looking to learn next or do.
[00:47:03] Jessica Wolff: Yeah. So I’m actually shifting away from the urban wildlife position. So instead of being urban wildlife focused, I’m just going to be general wildlife education focused. So I’m really excited for that. It means I get to do a lot more things with kids and come up with a kid related programming, which is one of my favorite things to do.
[00:47:21] And then we’re also going to be piloting our urban wildlife high school program, this coming fall, which is really exciting. We’ve got a lot of different programming for K through 12, but. One of the areas where we felt like we were missing is that high school group. So we’ve created a three part program for them specifically focusing on urban wildlife and urban wildlife topics and issues that, that come up.
[00:47:47] So hoping to get some kiddos into excited about the field in general, but then also just generally knowing what to do and why we make the decisions that we make and ways that they can live with wildlife and teach others to live with wildlife.
[00:48:01] Michael Hawk: And so it’s a high school program. Is it then open to anybody in the state of Nevada, any biology or science teacher that wants to put.
[00:48:08] Jessica Wolff: Yeah, so we’re going to start the pilot, this fall, I believe. And we’re going to just start with five to six classes in each of our regions because we want to get feedback on it before we really open it up to everyone else. But if you, yeah, but if you’re interested, definitely let me know.
[00:48:22] We have three different regions, so we are broken up into three there’s the Eastern region Western, and then Southern. And we’ll do about five to six in the Western and Southern and one to two in our Eastern region. And then we’ll hopefully go from there and expand it even. Yeah.
[00:48:37] Michael Hawk: Sounds exciting. And you said people can reach out to you. So how can people contact you or follow your work or follow the department of wildlife?
[00:48:45] Jessica Wolff: Yeah. So we are on almost all social media. You can look us up the Nevada department of wildlife. You can look us up on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, even. And then that’s where a lot of our work gets posted. And if you want to follow me personally, I have an Instagram, it’s not a very inventive name.
[00:49:02] It’s jawolff93. But you can definitely follow me there. You’ll find wildlife content as well as dog content and gardening content. And occasionally some worms, cause I’ve got a vermicompost that I’m super excited about.
[00:49:15] Michael Hawk: Wow. I’ll definitely inspect that and look for that. So is there anything else that we didn’t cover that you were really hoping to talk about.
[00:49:22] or any parting words?
[00:49:23] Jessica Wolff: I think the last thing I would really do. People to understand you you brought up the coat that I had in there, but wildlife really, they’re not there to put a burden on us and we really do provide them with such amazing habitat. So keeping that in mind, whenever you’re, having any sort of interaction is really important.
[00:49:42] And just to keep in mind that they are trying to survive and they’re just doing what they need to do.
[00:49:47] Michael Hawk: Yeah. I like to think that a lot of my regular listeners are on the same wavelength with that sentiment, but when it comes to, interacting with wildlife out in the wild and then suddenly it becomes your backyard. I know people’s views can suddenly change dramatically in that scenario.
[00:50:02] It’s good to hear that message. And I thank you for sharing it today. Jessica. Yeah. Thank you so much for all the time you spent today. I hope you enjoyed it as much as.
[00:50:09] Jessica Wolff: Yes. Thank you so much for having me. I I’m really looking forward to hearing this and thank you for spreading the message about urban wildlife and all wildlife issues. It’s really needed it.