The Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MassWildlife) is asking for a little help as it monitors the populations of bats, turkeys and rabbits. The state agency conducts regular surveys of animal populations in an effort to help biologists understand what’s happening with different animal groups, and, in some instances, develop strategies to improve the population numbers. In the case of bats and rabbits, the survey data is being collected as both populations are experiencing a decline in numbers and this may see both ending up on the endangered species list. In regards to turkeys, their population has grown since the 1970s effort to increase their numbers.
The bat population is the most troubling to state officials and biologists because of a relatively new and deadly white fungus that forms on the muzzle of the animal. Called White Nose Syndrome, it was
first found in New York six years ago and soon cases were found in New England. "We're very concerned with bat populations,” says Marion Larson, chief of information and education at MassWildlife. “Bat populations have crashed due to White Nose Syndrome. In some places in the winter where bats have been hibernating there used to be thousands, now there are dozens.”
The steep decline of bat populations is being seen throughout New England and in the Midwest. MassWildlife is asking that if people see a summer colony of ten bats or more on their property to report that information to agency biologists. Little Brown Bats and Big Brown Bats are the most likely species to be found in buildings. Please report the colony's location, what kind of place it is in, and about how many bats are in the colony, by calling (508) 389-6300 or email email@example.com. “We’re passing the information onto Boston University as part of a multistate effort to monitor what's happening with bats with this catastrophic decline,” Larson said.
New England Cottontail Rabbit
Since 2010, MassWildlife has turned to the Massachusetts residents for skulls and carcasses of rabbits. The grisly request was necessary since the two rabbit populations in the state can only be told apart by the sutures in the skull of the rabbit or through DNA testing. The issue at hand is the population of the elusive New England cottontail. A native of the area, its numbers have been declining while, the more commonly found Eastern cottontail, continues to be seen regularly around homes on yards and in gardens.
The New England cottontail is found in in very thick, shrubby areas that are hard to pass through and are covered in brambles and in young forest habitats. These types of habitats are less prevalent in Massachusetts resulting in a less attractive habitat for the New England cottontail. As a result, this rabbit is a potential candidate for listing on the US Endangered Species list. “The New England states and New York have been trying to figure out where the New England cottontails are,” says Larson. “We're looking to see how we can create habitats on properties we own and we're going to work with landowners interested in creating that kind of habitat on their land as well.”
Carcasses or cottontail heads should be placed in a plastic bag and frozen until they can be dropped off at a DFW District Office. The closest offices to Plainville, Norfolk and Wrentham are either Westborough or Bourne. The bag should include the exact location the animal was found and contact information. “We're asking people to be kind enough not to be grossed out and take the animal to one of our offices,” Larson said.
The annual turkey survey is conducted to help MassWildlife biologists see how well the spring hatch of young turkeys are doing. This data is then used to look at population trends. “We're asking people to count turkey broods,” Larson says. “We're looking for groups of 10 turkeys with their poults. We're asking for how many hens do people see in a flock," Larson says. "Several hens will get together with their young ones and feed. Kind of like a Mom's group."
MassWildlife also wants to know the size of the poults since this helps determine when the animals were born. “It helps give us an idea how well the spring hatch went and it gives our turkey biologists help determining what the population for turkeys is every year. We look for trends over many years. That's why we ask people for information.” The survey form is available online.
The survey data is being collected through the end of August. For more information, visit the MassWildLife web site or call (508) 389-6300.
Photo by Jackie Gately.