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Wildlife struggles with relentless cold


Brutal nature offers teaching, learning moments



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January 10, 2018
IMLAY CITY — The extreme cold is taking its toll on local residents.

From dead car batteries to frozen pipes and furnace breakdowns, the string of days with sub-zero temperatures has been making life miserable for many.

The lingering cold not only affects humans, but family pets and even local wildlife.

Longtime resident Ted Collom recently happened on some harsh evidence of just how the bitter cold can affect wildlife.

On Friday morning, Jan. 5, Collom was approaching the back of the American Legion Hall downtown, when he noticed a large rigid bird near the door.

Upon closer inspection, he realized that the bird, later identified as a Cooper's hawk, was in a frozen state.

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Longtime Imlay City resident Ted Collom with frozen Cooper's hawk found Jan. 5 outside the American Legion Hall in downtown Imlay City. photo by Tom Wearing.

"I don't know what happened to it or how it got there," Collom said. "It's a beautiful bird. It may have injured itself and because it couldn't fly, it froze to death in the cold."

After bringing the deceased hawk to the Tri-City Times offices for viewing, Collom suggested it be taken to a taxidermy and preserved as an educational tool.

Responding to the suggestion was Lois Rheaume, who recently retired as a naturalist at Seven Ponds Nature Center in Dryden.

Based on the stripes on its underbelly, Rheaume identified the bird as a "juvenile" Cooper's hawk, whose age was probably less than one year.

"Based on its large size, it appears to be a female," she said. "The larger birds of prey (eagles, vultures and hawks) tend to be female.

Rheaume said Cooper's hawks like wooded areas, which Imlay City has, and typically feed on smaller, more vulnerable birds.

"The younger ones are not yet experienced hunters," she said. "They often hang around bird feeders to find easier prey."

Rheaume, who has experience as a taxidermist at Seven Ponds, said if the hawk is preserved, it can still be useful as an educational tool for children.

While uncertain about how the hawk met its demise, Rheaume speculated that if the bird sustained injuries, its ability to find food would have been compromised.

"When we thaw it out we'll be able to tell if it had been injured," she said. "These kinds of things are all just a part of nature.

"Extreme cold can be both good and bad," she said. "It can cut down on the insect pest population and also keeps the deer herds down.

"But the snow and cold can make it hard for the large birds, squirrels, raccoons and opossums to find food sources during the winter months."

Collom said he was pleased that his frozen find might still be of some value for teaching opportunities for children and adults.

"I'm glad to hear that it might be of some use," said Collom.

More unusual finds

Backyard marmot researcher and nature photographer Susan Sam recently learned about some highly unusual woodchuck sightings.

Within the past week, Sam was was contacted by wildlife rehabilitator Sally Bradford of Lapeer County, asking if she'd been contacted me about a groundhog found on the side of a road. Sam had not.

"It is highly unusual to have a chuck outside its burrow at this time of the year," Sam says.

She sought information from another wildlife rehabber, Lynn Oliver of Virginia, where she learned about an online rehab group forum.

"There was discussion about three semi-frozen juvenile groundhogs found in Lapeer County this week," Sam says. "That makes four!"

Since then, Bradford has been in contact with the other local rehabbers, and learned that one of the juveniles has died. Bradford noted that the juvenile chucks in her care are not hibernating at all, and appear to be very hungry—"almost starving," she said.

Sam also contacted UCLA Professor Dan Blumstein, who is involved with the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory's Marmot Project to see if he could shed light on why the juveniles would be outside of their burrows in the middle of hibernation season.

"I have no idea!" Blumstein responded. "Interesting."

Both humans and wildlife will get a break from the sub-zero temperatures in the coming days. Highs are expected to be back in the double digits, climbing up to 40 degrees by mid-week.

Editor's note: Catherine Minolli contributed to this report.

Tom Wearing started at the Tri-City Times in 1989, covering the Village of Capac as a beat reporter. He later served stints as assistant editor and editor. Today, he covers Imlay City and Almont as a staff writer. He enjoys music and plays drums and sings with various musical groups in the Detroit Metropolitan area.
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