Wildlife In D.C.
The District of Columbia is home to a surprising amount of wildlife. Even though the city has no remote wilderness areas where wildlife can live in absolute seclusion, its proximity to Rock Creek Park, the Chesapeake Bay and the Anacostia and Potomac River, still make D.C. a very attractive place for many animals. They make their homes in our parks, forests, rivers and streams and now, with greater and greater frequency, in close proximity to our urban areas.
Living so close to urban development presents these animals with new challenges and dangers. They can be hit by cars, attacked by domestic animals, or simply have their homes destroyed by development and human carelessness.
If you are interested in learning more about wildlife in D.C., click here.
Helping Wildlife in Our City and Parks
Some simple things you can do to help wildlife are:
- Always keep dogs on a leash. Unleashed dogs kill animals — they are, after all, carnivores by nature. And they can destroy nests or harass ground dwelling birds and small animals to the point that the parents abandon their young.
- Keep your cats indoors. Domestic cats are the single largest cause of bird deaths. Every year, cats kill approximately 2.4 billion birds and 12.3 billion mammals in the United States.
- Put decals on your windows during migratory season. To prevent birds hitting glass, apply translucent contact paper or bird tape (available at abcbirdtape.org) to the outside of your windows. For maximum effectiveness, the tape or stickers should be no more than four inches apart.
- Do not litter. Many types of litter can be harmful to animals. Discarded gum, for example, has been known to kill birds, and animals can become entangled in six-pack rings. Discarded food may be eaten by wild animals, but they do best on a natural diet of the things that grow wild in the park. Moreover, frequent feeding can make wildlife dependent on human food.
- Stick to the official trails when walking in Parks. Short-cuts, “social trails,” and informal paths not only disturb animals, especially those who are breeding, they also cause habitat fragmentation. When a habitat becomes fragmented by a new path, it is opened for predators, invasive plants and animals, and parasites. These, in turn, can make the habitat less useful for native animals.
- Enjoy wildlife from a distance. It is generally not safe for you to get too close to wild animals, and they need their distance from you. By keeping about 50 feet between you and any small mammals and birds you observe, you can let them continue their feeding, resting, or breeding activities while being smart and safe yourself.
- Do not catch and remove animals from their homes. It is illegal and wrong to remove animals from parks. They are not domestic and they do not make good pets. Many are extremely difficult to care for, even by experts. If you think an animal you find needs help, contact park staff for advice. Don’t take matters into your own hands.
- Consider volunteering to help improve park habitat. Many parks host special clean-up events and have volunteer corps that maintain trails and remove trash and invasive species of plants.
Keeping Wildlife Out of Your Home
Even those of us who love wild animals are not pleased when the animals move into our homes. A few relatively simple measures can help prevent or resolve conflicts between you and your wildlife neighbors. For starters:
- Make sure all your garbage cans have secure lids. If they do not, use bungee cords to keep the lids on tight.
- Keep dumpsters away from fences, and trim branches that overhang them to keep animals out. If an animal is stuck in a dumpster, place a large limb in the container so it can climb out. Be patient, animals do not always leave immediately.
- Don’t feed your pets outside. Leaving pet food out attracts animals both large and small. Even if your pet eats most of its food soon after you put it out, small particles left behind can still attract wild animals.
- Hang bird feeders out of reach of other animals. Given the chance, squirrels, rodents and other animals will eat the seed you leave out for birds. Be sure to hang your feeder in a way that other animals cannot get to it.
- Fence you vegetable gardens. Some gardens attract animals. If you discover that your garden is attracting wild animals, put up fences and other barriers.
- Close-off entry points to your house. Put caps on chimneys and vents and make sure window screens and screen doors are secure. Enclose crawl spaces under porches and homes with hardware cloth. Bury the hardware cloth several inches into the ground and make sure that you are not sealing in animals who may be in these spaces. Caulk or otherwise seal openings in eaves, corners, and foundations.
- Cut back branches that overhang your roof. Cutting back branches helps keep animals off the roof and out of dormers and attics.
- Be mindful of small animals when mowing your lawn. Before you mow, do a walk-through of your lawn to look for rabbits, turtles, toads, fledgling birds, and other animals. Leave the animals in place and work around them, returning later to complete the mowing when the animals are gone.
- If you need to remove an animal from your home, do it humanely. Animals can often be humanely evicted from attics, garages, sheds, and crawl spaces using a bright light, a loud radio, or a safe repellent such as ammonia-soaked rags. It may take several days for a mother to move all her babies. To check to see if the animal has left and not returned, sprinkle baby powder around the entrance hole and look for tracks. Trapping animals and releasing them elsewhere is generally not effective in the long run, and it’s not humane. Relocated animals often can’t survive in unfamiliar locations.
You may not be able to solve all problems yourself. Those in the Washington, DC metropolitan area may contact Humane Wildlife Services by telephone at 866 9HUMANE (866 948 6263) or by using their online service request form. Humane Wildlife Services is a professionally certified and licensed agency staffed by wildlife biologists. Fees apply.