(Updated 12:30 p.m.) Don’t pet or feed wild animals. In fact, local animal control encourages you to haze them if they get too close to the house or if you feel threatened.
As winter sets in, homes around Fairfax County could look particularly appealing to animals looking for a refuge for the cold weather or a bite to eat. Sergeant Alena Swartz, Animal Control Officer for Fairfax County, urges local citizens to resist the urge to let the wildlife in.
“If you have anything that might be seen as a good nesting area, like under sheds or low-rise porches, a lot of animals can use that as a den,” said Swartz. “You don’t want them denning in your yard, you want them in the woods.”
If an animal is simply moving across the property, Swartz says it’s fine to let them pass, but sometimes animals can come too close to the proximity of the house and conflict can occur when the animals become too comfortable around humans.
Swartz said to make sure to check under those areas first before they are closed in or any animals trapped inside could starve. Swartz recommended placing loose dirt below holes being closed up to be able to check later and see if an animal has attempted to scratch or dig out from the inside. If there are signs of activity, call pest control.
Overall, Swartz said the seasonal change doesn’t the types of animals seen around the area, though squirrel infestations are more common in the spring and summer. But Swartz said Fairfax residents are still likely to see foxes, raccoons, or the odd coyote or two throughout the winter months.
If residents spot a fox or coyote in their yard, Swartz said residents should do everything they can to scare the animal away, both for the safety of residents and for the animal.
“Get a can… shake things around,” Swartz said. “Try to scare them away. Foxes will sometimes just become acclimated to that, so you really have to make sure you scare them away.”
If the animal persists, Swartz says residents should throw rocks near the animals, though not directly at them.
Swartz said animals becoming too acclimated to humans can lead to wild animals changing their behavior in ways that may hinder their survival.
“Don’t want them thinking okay be to be around people,” said Swartz. “Don’t leave pet food outside, what [your pets] don’t eat take up and bring in, or [wild animals] see that as a food source. They’ll think ‘why try to find my own food when I can come here?’ We need them to maintain a fear of us or they stop doing what they normally do.”
Swartz said that the amount of wildlife around Fairfax hasn’t shown a substantial change, but as the communities grow and expand they are taking away resources from that wildlife and sightings become more common as humans encroach on their habitat.
For most animal sightings, Swartz said local residents should contact the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) at 1-855-571-9003. The DGIF deals largely with animals that are considered nuisances, like a groundhog repeatedly pilfering a local garden. But for animals that appear sick or injured, Swartz says to contact animal protection police at 703-691-2131.
Photo courtesy Brandy Schantz
Local Students Excel at State Science Fair — Among the honorees at the 2017 Virginia State Science and Engineering Fair was Michael Gamarnik of South Lakes High School, who took third place in electrical and mechanical engineering for his project, “The Effect of Vortex Generator Angle on the Downforce of an Airfoil.” Rini Gupta and Shalini Shah of Herndon High School took third place in behavioral and social sciences for their project, “Effect of Binaural Beats with Isochronic Tones on PTSD & GAD Patients.” [Fairfax County Public Schools]
Baby Deer Should Be Left Alone — The Fairfax County Police Department’s Animal Protection Police is reminding residents that in almost all cases, white-tailed deer fawns found alone are not orphaned or abandoned. They should be left where they are, as their mothers will return for them. [Fairfax County Police Department]
Learning Facility Coming to Fox Mill Center — Ashish Gandhi and Sapna Chordia are opening a branch of Sylvan Learning later this year, offering tutoring programs and camps to kindergarten through 12th-grade students. They plan to open in June, in time for summer programming. [Fairfax Times]
Document-Shredding Program Set for Saturday — The Fairfax County Solid Waste Management Program will sponsor a secure-document shredding event at the North County Human Services building (1850 Cameron Glen Drive) on Saturday morning. Residents can have up to four boxes of materials of a sensitive nature, such as tax documents and financial records, shredded. [Fairfax County]
Board of Supervisors Adopts Resolution on Diversity, Inclusion — At their meeting Tuesday, Supervisors voted to reaffirm that the county is “a welcoming and accepting community where residents of all backgrounds deserve to feel respected and safe.” [Sharon Bulova/Facebook]
Checkers to Expand in D.C. Region — The fast-food chain plans to open 20 locations in the Metro area and is currently in the process of seeking franchisees. [Washington Business Journal]
Longtime Coach Goes Into Local Hall of Fame — Al McCullock, who won 235 games and two regional championships in 15 years as Herndon High School’s baseball coach, was recently inducted into NOVA Baseball Magazine’s “Home Plate Club” Hall of Fame. [NOVA Baseball Magazine]
Beware of Bears as Weather Warms — The Fairfax County Police Department is sharing precautions for how to keep bears away and what to do should you encounter one. They say while bears tend to avoid humans, they sometimes wander into suburban areas in search of food. [Fairfax County Police Department]
Image via @NickDowsett on Twitter
In a statement to the community, the Fairfax County Police Department agency says residents often find baby animals they believe to be orphaned and they take them in — a bad idea, APP says.
While these actions are well-intended, it is important to realize that they may be unnecessary and can actually be detrimental to the wildlife concerned. Most wild animals are dedicated parents and do not abandon their offspring. Many wildlife species hide their young for safety nestled in grass or bushes and leave them alone for extended periods of time to look for food. Most of the time, the mother is nearby and will return to her offspring.
When humans intervene to “rescue” them, their survival rates decline. Many rehabilitated animals do not survive their first year upon release back into the wild. A wild animal’s best chance of survival is to stay in the wild.
- shows signs of flies, worms or maggots, which look like grains of rice
- was caught by a cat or dog
- is bleeding or shows signs of trauma, such as swelling
- has parents that are known to be dead
- is very cold, thin or weak
- is on the ground unable to move
- is not fully furred or feathered
When an animal is found in these conditions, the APP suggests calling them at 703-691-2131, the Virginia Wildlife Conflict Helpline at 855-571-9003 or a local veterinarian. It does not suggest attempting to retrieve the animal and raise it yourself.
Attempting to capture wild animals can result in human injury when animals feel threatened or are in pain. Human handling may do more harm than good and may cause unnecessary stress on the animal or result in trauma.
Photos via Fairfax County Police Department/Animal Protection Police
This article was submitted to Reston Now by Dave Ryan of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.
No matter how much some readers may yell at certain pesky geese to stop blocking Reston roadways and pooping on its sidewalks, some of these wildlife neighbors never seem to get the message that they should fly away or migrate to more natural areas.
Why is this? Katherine Edwards knows.
In a Jan. 18 presentation to the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Reston Community Center Lake Anne, Fairfax County Wildlife Management Specialist Dr. Katherine Edwards explained that there are two distinct populations of Canada geese that inhabit Fairfax County — migratory and resident. Present-day resident geese originated from captured migratory ones that decades ago had their flight feathers clipped, and were then largely used as live hunting decoys.
Even when these captive birds were released or escaped and no longer had their flight inhibited, they did not resume their ancestral migratory patterns. The reason: For a goose to migrate, it must be taught the flight path by its parents or flock.
Successive generations of geese never learned to migrate. Over time, the birds and their descendants, while able to fly, lost the instinct and need to migrate — so they’re blissfully happy taking up permanent residence right here in Reston.
According to Edwards, communities like Reston provide an abundance of ideal nesting and foraging habitat for geese in the form of lawns, sports fields, golf courses, parks and ponds. With relatively few predators around, goose populations are safe to expand in suburban areas. However, this increase in goose numbers often leads to conflicts with humans in terms of overgrazed lawns, accumulated droppings, molted feathers and roadway hazards.
Edwards added that the county uses a variety of methods to manage resident geese, including habitat modification and egg oiling to reduce flock growth.
For more information about wildlife in Fairfax County, visit the Fairfax County website. For more information about how the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at George Mason University provides educational, social and cultural opportunities to citizens of Northern Virginia, visit its website.
Photos courtesy David Ryan/OLLI
While there is no way to verify whether the animals were actually coyotes, the reports have similarities, and Fairfax County wildlife officials say they are getting an increase in the number of calls reporting coyotes countywide.
Wildlife officials say coyotes are established and widespread in Fairfax County.
A resident of Becontree Lane contacted Reston Patch last week to say she saw a coyote in her backyard near a wooded area.
“At first I thought it was a fox because we’ve seen those, but no bushy tail and the face and coloring were different,” the resident said. “Seeing the coyote photo on your article, I now know it was a coyote!”
More recently, several Fox Mill Woods residents say they saw coyotes in that area off of Lawyers Road in the last few days.
Abby Reed told her neighbors on a neighborhood message board that she saw a coyote on Blue Spruce near Riders Lane about 7:15 p.m. Sunday. Another neighborhood resident, Eliza Beaulac, said she saw one hit by a car on Sunset Hills Road near Target on Monday.
Another Fox Mill Woods resident said this after his dog was making lots of noise about 11:15 p.m. Monday night: “I saw either a very large fox or a coyote in the tip of the park behind my backyard between Grey Birch and Blue Spruce. … I put my head over with a flashlight and shined it right into the animal’s eyes about 50 feet away. It looked to be the size of a husky when it finally turned to the side and decided to leave. I haven’t seen a fox that big so either it was a loose dog or a coyote.”
County wildlife officials say keep an eye on your house pets just to be safe.
“The best way to safeguard pets in areas where coyotes are active is to keep them indoors and do not leave them outside without supervision,” Katherine Edwards, Fairfax County Wildlife Management Specialist, said in a release.
Coyotes are territorial and may view larger dogs as potential competitors, particularly from January to June while mating and birthing pups.
Coyotes are opportunistic foragers with diverse diets that commonly prey on small animals such as mice, rats, voles and rabbits but will also readily eat fruits, plants and carrion, says Edwards.
Coyotes may mistake small, unattended pets including cats and small dogs as prey due to their similar size to natural prey.
In suburban areas like Reston, most coyotes will be looking for available food or den sites.
Wildlife specialists say residents should take precautions to minimize encounters with people and their pets. That includes these tops:
- Never feed or attempt to “tame” a coyote.
- Place garbage and compost in an animal-proof container, such as a metal trash can with latches on the lid or secure with bungee cords.
- Keep trash inside until the morning of trash pick-up whenever possible.
- Do not feed pets outside or store pet food outside.
- Pick up ripe, fallen fruit and do not let it accumulate on the ground.
- Put away bird feeders at night to avoid attracting small rodents and other coyote prey.
- Trim shrubbery to ground level to remove hiding cover.
- Close up all openings under porches/decks, crawl spaces or out-buildings where animals might establish dens.
- Keep small pets inside and do not leave unattended when outside.
- Keep dogs on short leashes (less than 6 feet) while walking outside.
- Provide secure shelters for poultry, rabbits, and other vulnerable animals.
- Be alert at dusk and dawn. Coyotes are most active at night and early morning hours; however, they may be active during the day in search of food or denning sites.
What to do if you see a coyote? Officials say use “hazing techniques” to frighten coyotes from the property.
- Yell and wave your arms at the coyote.
- Use noisemakers such as whistles, air horns, bells, “shaker” cans full of marbles or pennies, or pots and pans banged together.
- Throw non-edible objects in the direction of the coyote including sticks, small rocks, cans, or tennis balls.
- Spray the coyote with a water hose, water guns or spray bottles with vinegar water, pepper spray or bear repellent.
- Install motion sensor lights or a motion-activated sprinkler around your home.
- Install fencing to keep coyotes out of yards. Fencing should be at least 6 feet tall, have an outward slanting overhang or roller-type device to prevent coyotes from climbing or jumping, and have an L-shaped mesh apron buried one to two feet to deter digging. Few fences are completely coyote-proof.
If these techniques do not solve the problem, Virginia regulations allow nuisance coyotes to be removed by a licensed trapper or critter removal service.
If you see a coyote that is behaving aggressively or appears sick or injured, contact the Fairfax County Police non-emergency number at 703-691-2131.
Coyote picture courtesy of Fairfax County Police
Fairfax County Police say residents need to be on the lookout for black bears.
Over the weekend, there were several bear sightings in Vienna, said Fairfax County Police spokeswoman Lucy Caldwell.
A bear was reportedly hit on the Dulles Toll Road Saturday morning between Beulah Road and Hunter Mill Roads, the latter of which borders Reston. A resident of the 1600 block of Fremont Lane in Vienna called in a report of a bear in his backyard Saturday at about noon.
Caldwell said police do not know if it was the same bear or two different bears.
There are usually a few bear sightings each year — there were several near Baron Cameron Road and Reston Parkway a few years ago — says Caldwell. However, late April is very early for the bears to be out, she said.
“It is unusual to see them in April,” she said. “In past years we have seen them in June.”
Animal Control Officers say should not panic or feel alarmed when they see one.
From the county:
Bears typically avoid humans, but in their search for food it is not uncommon to see one. Most often, bears will keep moving through an area once they fail in their attempts to find food.
Unless the animal is sick or injured, or poses a threat to public safety, animal control officers do not take actions to attempt to remove bears from a neighborhood. Black bears have a natural fear of humans, and in most cases, would rather flee than encounter people.
If addressed quickly, wildlife issues caused by food attractants in yards can be resolved almost immediately.
Take the following precautions to keep bears and other wildlife away from your home:
• Do not store trash on porches, decks or in vehicles.
• If a bear is sighted in your neighborhood, remove birdfeeders.
• Take garbage to the curb on the morning of pickup, rather than the night before.
• Consider installing electric fencing around gardens, dumpsters and other potential wildlife sources. Electric fencing is an inexpensive and efficient proven deterrent against bears.
Photo: Bear in Vienna April 26/Credit: Fairfax County Animal Control