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Wildlife take the heat as drought continues



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Updated: July 30, 2012 6:21AM

I’d start out this column with a little dry humor.

But frankly, I don’t find a whole lot to smile about when the most significant moisture in my life right now is located under my armpits.

I can take the heat. Honest. I don’t even have air conditioning in my home. And I’ve got the windows rolled all the way down on my commute to work every day, no matter how hot and humid.

What’s really got me wrung out, however, is the drought that has decided to come calling this summer. Experts tell us 70 percent of the state is experiencing its unwelcome visit. A year ago we were looking at record breaking rainfall; this year we’ve barely seen a half-inch fall through all of June.

Not that we need numbers to tell us things are bad. Ponds are drying up. Flowers are wilting. Trees are dropping their leaves. Corn is curling. Lawns are scorched. And in case you’ve not noticed, birds are panting.

OK, so I’ve not actually seen the birds panting myself. But according to Jack MacRae, naturalist at the Willowbrook Wildlife Center in Glen Ellyn, they are indeed sweating and breathing heavier as they deal with the heat and lack of water.

Yet our fine feathered friends are the lucky ones. They can at least flap their wings and go in search of hydration. Frogs are not so lucky. If their pond dries up, it’s more than a hop, skip and a jump to find another water supply.

And think about all those poor lumbering turtles. In this amazing race for survival, they will be lucky to make it to the next drinking hole by Christmas.

In fact, much of our backyard wildlife are moving at a slower pace, laying low and trying to conserve energy like the rest of us. Some species are feeling the heat more than others. Because of the lack of hydration, mama mammals are struggling to produce the milk to feed their youngsters, says Ashley Flint, director of the Fox Valley Wildlife Center in Elburn. “I expect we will see more of the babies dying.”

It’s especially hard on animals that are out in the open, the experts say. With no shade to ease these harsh conditions, there could be more little rodents in trouble.

Squirrels are luckier, notes MacRae. They tend to hang closer to humans so they will probably find a way to survive. Plus, I’ve noticed the dogs that usually chase them up trees are simply too hot to even move out of the shade.

Speaking of nature, it’s a well-established fact we humans love to complain. At least we’re not getting hit with wildfires or floods. And I can remember a time not so long ago — the spring of last year to be exact — when we were all grumbling about the rain that wouldn’t go away so we could plant our flower beds and play our baseball games.

During that 2011 monsoon, we also had to deal with grubs and worms earlier in the season, says MacRae, which in turn meant more robins flying about. But this year’s heat and drought have dramatically reduced their food supply, so “it’s going to level it off,” he noted.

And, while we can worry about birds panting and bunnies baking, in the end, “it’s about survival of the fittest,” adds Flint. “It’s nature taking its course.”

Which is how we should all view the drought of 2012. One hundred degree temps? Zero precip? No sweat.

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