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Life on the Edge of the Road

Wildlife live precarious lives that are wrought with good and bad events. Difficult migrations from their wintering grounds to the breeding areas in North America can be dangerous and deadly, but many survive and when they do they start the cycle afresh. At this time of year we see baby birds everywhere, noisy and raucous; they delight and amuse. Likewise mammals, reptiles and amphibians have bred and their offspring are plentiful and visible. Insects by the trillions have emerged to ensure their future generations persist to feed just about everything else. I did several breeding bird surveys,,in eastern Ontario in May and June, and noticed a disturbing number of roadside casualties along my route. On a single day, I saw opossum, four deer, red fox, coyote, muskrat, beaver, raccoons, all three common squirrels, skunks, porcupines, groundhogs, cottontails, frogs, turtles and about 25 species of birds dead along my driving route. This got me thinking, what is the long-term impact of this? On a brighter note, many quick learning birds and mammals have cars figured out. Squirrels and deer stand patiently by the roadway waiting for a gap. I watched turkeys doing likewise this week. Those that take a while to learn usually don’t make it, but they do become food for scavenging vultures, crows, ravens, foxes and many more animals. Crows seem to be particularly adept at dodging cars as they frequently start their day along a busy road picking up critters killed overnight, be it frogs, large bugs or bigger roadkill. They watch the traffic, dash out and grab a bite or two then dash back to the shoulder waiting for the next gap. I used to see very few crows killed by cars but this week alone I saw four dead adult crows. This is odd as they really are good at reading traffic. Is food more scarce and therefore they’re taking more chances? Or is some other factor at play? Red-winged Blackbirds and Grackles also have learned to dodge cars, even on busy roads like Highway 401, as they dash out to grab a tasty bug killed by a passing car. Sometimes they cut it pretty fine and it is not uncommon to see one smunched on the roadway. Animals, for example; insects, reptiles, amphibians, mammals and birds, of necessity, must cross our roads to get to food sources, mates and breeding sites. Turtles are obvious at this time of year, as they move from wetlands to the verges of roads to lay their eggs in the gravel shoulders. This deadly game often results in their demise for they cannot outrun a car. Unwitting drivers kill thousands every year, seeing them simply as a lump of dirt on the roadway. Frogs undertake nighttime migrations in search of mates on rainy nights. They too die by the thousands. Birds fly across roads and mammals walk, each in turn becoming roadkill. I can’t even image how many insects are killed by cars annually; billions or trillions for sure! No wonder insect-eating species are in serious decline. So let’s take a moment to reflect … In 2017, there were 34.3 million vehicles registered in Ontario. If every one of these killed just one bug per day, during the period May 1st to September 1st, that means over 42 billion bugs died on our windshields in Ontario. Sadly many more than one bug per day is killed, so the number is likely in the trillions or at least hundreds of billions! So what does all this mean? I’m not sure in the long run, but realizing how important small species, such as insects and small mammals and birds, are in the food chain, if the foundation (i.e. insects) is irreversibly reduced to a non-sustainable number, then everything above it will perish. I really don’t know what can be done, but we have to realize first that there is a problem. Bugs are disappearing at an alarming rate across the world and animals that feed on them are too. Silent spring may not be that far away. Now I’ve depressed myself! Geoff Carpentier is a published author, expedition guide and environmental consultant. Visit Geoff on-line at and on LinkedIn and Facebook.

Editors note: Don’t worry the animals have it down, they reduce reuse and recycle, so there’s still hope.

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