A mourning dove nestling is cared for this week at the Center for Wildlife in York, which has had fewer admissions since traffic decreased on Maine roads because of the pandemic. Photo courtesy of Center for Wildlife

The number of injured animals brought to two of Maine’s largest wildlife hospitals has dropped significantly early this spring as vehicle traffic has sharply declined because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Admissions at the Center For Wildlife in York dropped 44 percent in March from its average over the past five years. At Avian Haven in Freedom, there was a 47 percent decline in admissions last month.

“The No. 1 reason we see animals come to the center is they are hit by cars – on average it is 52 percent of our admissions,” said Kristen Lamb, director of the Center For Wildlife, which each year cares for roughly 2,000 injured wild animals representing more than 190 species of birds, reptiles and mammals.

“We’ve seen a decrease in both the adults hit by cars and the orphans that become orphaned because the parents are hit by cars,” Lamb said.

Traffic statewide in Maine dropped by more than half from the first week of March to the first week of April as Maine schools and businesses closed and residents stayed home. In Kittery and along Interstate-295 in Portland, traffic in the first week of April was down more than 60 percent from 2019 levels, according to the Maine Department of Transportation.

An Eastern gray squirrel that was orphaned and brought to the Maine Center for Wildlife in York is bottle-fed by one of the center’s wildlife rehabilitators. Photo courtesy of the Center for Wildlife

On average, 52 animals are admitted to the York center in March, including 23 struck by vehicles. This March, 29 injured animals were admitted, including nine hit by automobiles. The nine included a wild turkey with a shattered femur, a porcupine with a crushed spine, and a barred owl with a fractured wing, leg and pelvis that had also suffered eye trauma.

“When spring hits and turtles start to cross the roads, we are inundated with turtles that have been struck by vehicles, as well,” said Sarah Kern, the center’s community engagement specialist.

At Avian Haven in Freedom, co-owner Diane Winn said 50 birds were admitted in March, including eight that were struck by cars, compared to 94 admissions in March 2019, including 23 hit by cars. She said there could be other factors for the decline besides less traffic, and noted that much of Maine had a mild winter.

“Another factor that may be related to weather is species,” Winn said. “In March of 2019, we admitted 40 barred owls, whereas in March of 2020, only three. However, it was widely believed a year ago that barred owl admissions were high in the early months of 2019 because the alternating freezing and thawing temperatures had created several layers of ice within deep snow cover, and owls would have had a difficult time hunting mice, which were in snow tunnels close to the ground. This year, we have not had as much snow.”

At least one other large wildlife center in New England has also seen a steep decline in injured animals. The Tufts Wilderness Clinic in North Grafton, Massachusetts, reported a 53 percent decrease in admissions with 92 wild animals brought to the center between March 9 and April 14, including about 16 hit by cars, compared to 197 admissions last year during the same period, when an estimated 49 were hit by cars.

Traffic during the first two weeks of April was down 42 percent to 54 percent from last year, according to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation.

A red-throated loon is cared for this week at the Center for Wildlife, which rehabilitates 2,000 wild animals annually. Photo courtesy of the Center for Wildlife

In Maine, vehicle strikes of large animals (moose, deer and wild turkey) were up slightly in March. On average, there were 345 deer struck by vehicles, one moose and four turkeys on average over the past five years in March, compared to 367 deer, four moose and five turkeys this year, according to the Maine DOT.

Maine deer biologist Nathan Bieber said that, except for far northern Maine, this winter was very mild compared to recent years and for most of the state white-tailed deer – which make up the vast majority of reported big-game car collisions – were able to move from their winter habitat earlier. He also emphasized it’s difficult to draw any conclusions from one month’s worth of data.

“This year’s crash data doesn’t indicate a trend,” Bieber said. “It just indicates this year was peculiar.”

Winn and Lamb also noted it’s hard to draw clear conclusions from such a small data set.

However, Lamb said the decrease in traffic volume undoubtedly would boost the success of the mass migration of amphibians that takes place each spring. “Big Night,” the annual amphibian migration that typically occurs on the first warm rainy night in spring, features frogs and salamanders crossing roads to get to breeding grounds in vernal pools.

“Amphibians are the lifeblood of the upland forest,” Lamb said. “This pause is having a physical impact where there is now less mortality on the roads.”

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: