Scott Shalaway: October concerns include deer

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October brings two wildlife concerns to mind — feeding birds and avoiding deer on the highway.

All-time high price

With sunflower seed prices at an all-time high, I’m beginning to rethink the foods I offer my backyard birds. If I’m going to pay 60 to 70 cents per pound for sunflower seed, I think I’ll spend a little more to upgrade the menu.

Though black oil sunflower seeds attract the greatest variety of feeder birds, they are not always birds’ preferred foods. In preference tests I’ve done over the years, seed-eating birds choose sunflower kernels, peanuts, and other nuts over in-shell sunflower seeds when they have a choice.

At today’s high prices, these foods are a bit more expensive than in-shell sunflower seeds, but birds eat every morsel.

No bargain

Even at normal prices, sunflower seeds are less of a bargain than they appear. The hulls of in-shell sunflower seeds make up as much as 45 percent of the weight of the product, so almost half of what you pay for is unused. Sunflower kernels are more expensive, but there is no mess and no waste.

One caveat regarding sunflower kernels and shelled nuts is that they must be kept dry, or they get moldy. Therefore it is essential to use feeders that keep food dry. A platform feeder, for example, provides no protection from the weather.

Protection from elements

The only truly weather-proof feeder on the market, and the one I use for sunflower kernels, is the All-Weather Feeder (manufactured by Goldcrest). It is essentially an oversized tube whose ports are totally protected from rain and snow.

Droll Yankees’ Big Top also offers excellent protection from the elements and is ideal for clinging birds (e.g., chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, and woodpeckers) that love sunflower kernels and nuts.

Experiments

I’ve also experimented with safflower seed in recent weeks. After allowing my sunflower feeders to hang empty for six weeks, I offered at single tube filled with safflower seed.

It took about 10 days for birds to empty it, and cardinals and chickadees are the only species I saw on the feeder. I’ve never been a fan of safflower, and this experience did nothing to change my opinion.

I’m dealing with the high price of sunflower seed by switching to sunflower kernels and nuts. And I’m protecting my investment by placing these foods in feeders that offer protection from the weather.

* * *

Avoiding deer is a bigger problem. Last week I was driving to the Pittsburgh airport for a morning flight. It was still dark, when suddenly — BOOM!

Deer accident

I hardly had time to get my foot on the brake. The deer seemed to appear out of nowhere, and I hit it hard. It limped away, but I can’t imagine it survived. My car didn’t. Steam began hissing from the radiator, and I’ve since learned the insurance company has declared my car a total loss. Fortunately, I suffered no injuries.

The fourth quarter of the year, which coincides with the breeding season of the white-tailed deer, is notorious for the frequency of vehicle-deer collisions. Automobile insurance companies, like hunters, call it “deer season.”

Big number

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, for example, reports that over the last five years, 46 percent of all deer-car collisions occurred in October and November.

Nationally, insurance companies project about 1.5 million deer-vehicle collisions each year that cause more than one billion dollars damage. These collisions kill several hundred people and injure tens of thousands more.

Drive defensively

My point is that accidents happen. It is now the time of year when deer-vehicle collisions are most likely to occur. So drive defensively and be careful.

• Slow down, especially between dusk and dawn.

• If one deer crosses the road ahead of you, beware. They travel in groups and more are likely to follow.

• Use high beams when there’s no oncoming traffic.

• If you see a deer in your path, brake firmly. It’s better to hit a 150-pound deer than an oncoming 3,000 pound vehicle.

• Don’t try to remove an injured deer from the road. An injured deer can thrash with its hooves and cause serious injury.

• Report the accident to your insurer. Typically, deer-vehicle collisions are covered by the comprehensive part of your policy.

(Send questions and comments to Dr. Scott Shalaway, RD 5, Cameron, WV 26033 or by email via my web site, http://scottshalaway.googlepages.com)

About the Author

Scott Shalaway, who holds a Ph.D. in wildlife ecology from Michigan State University, writes from his home in rural West Virginia. A former faculty member at Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma Biological Station, he has been writing a weekly nature column for newspapers and freelancing for magazines since 1986. Send questions and comments to scottshalaway@gmail.com. You can also visit his Web site, http://scottshalaway.googlepages.com. More Stories by Scott Shalaway

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