Feeling frisky? Now that the weather is warming up, Summit County residents and their pets have been heading out to local trails, parks and preserves in droves. But they aren't the only ones spreading their wings. It is nesting season for many local avian species.
Many of the birds that are native to Summit County build their nests on the ground and are particularly vulnerable to being disturbed by people -- even more so by their dogs.
According to Phil Douglass of Utah's Division of Wildlife Resources, geese, cranes, pheasants, quail and killdeer are among them and they are busy right now pairing up and setting up housekeeping.
Killdeer like to camp in rocky terrain and can be found nesting right along the Rail Trail. The area's popular Canada geese and Sandhills prefer to be near water and residents often stumble across their nests while following a stream or creek bed.
Unfortunately, by the time hikers and bikers realize they are intruding on a nesting bird their dogs have likely picked up the scent and decided to take the matter into their own paws.
While Douglass says many bird moms have developed clever tactics to lure potential predators away from their nests it is still up to pet owners to keep their animals under control.
And let's not just single out canines. Studies show that domestic and feral cats are wreaking havoc among wild bird populations. "Who hasn't seen a cat with a bird in its mouth," asks Douglass.
Cat owners may not realize their free-range felines are taking a toll on local songbirds. Various scientific studies suggest one to three billion birds are killed by cats every year. The owners may have thought their pets were doing a public service by reducing the rodent population when in fact they are indiscriminately nabbing bluebirds, tanagers and other welcome sights.
From now, while local birds are mating and laying eggs, through June, when hatchlings are just learning how to swim and fly, area residents should be especially vigilant about letting their animals roam free.
Living in a rural environment comes with unique responsibilities, among them is the imperative to tread lightly and share the space with other creatures. There are plenty of other hazards threatening our Rocky Mountain bird populations, like loss of habitat to growth and development or air and water pollution. Admittedly, those are complex problems but avoiding simple carelessness -- that is something we can do.