July 12, 2019
Update: McGraw’s fawn survival research study
By Shane McKenzie/McGraw
McGraw photo
The relationship between white-tailed deer and coyotes is an ongoing collaboration between the Max McGraw Wildlife Foundation and the Forest Preserve District of Cook County. For the past three years, one of our main field researchers in our Fawn Survival Study has been Gretchen Anchor, whom many members may know from her part-time job on the food service team at Pond Cottage.

The study aims to better understand the impact of coyotes may have on white-tailed deer in the Chicago region. Over the past five years, we captured and radio-collared 81 fawns in the Poplar Creek Forest Preserve in Hoffman Estates. The fawns are located either through systematic searching called “fawn sweeps” or by implanting transmitters into pregnant does. When the transmitters are expelled, it signals that a fawn is nearby.

Gretchen, who was working on her master’s degree through The Ohio State University, then tracked the fawns’ survival. Of the 81 fawns, 55 died – and about three-quarters of those deaths were linked to coyotes. Almost always, coyotes preyed on fawns less than three weeks old.

This predation rate is higher than in other studies, which suggests that coyotes may have an outsized effect on deer populations in our area.

The secrets of antler growth in elk, deer
By Matthew Every/Outdoor Life
McGraw photo
When you stop and think about it, antlers seem like the stuff of science fiction rather than real life. They're bones that grow extremely fast outside of a mammals body, and every year they fall off and grow back. For whitetails, at the peak of development, antlers will grow a  ¼ inch per day ; for  bull elk it's more like an inch .

To put that in perspective, imagine that one spring morning, you woke up and had two bones growing out of your forehead. In about a week, they would be 7 inches long, and two weeks later, you’d be knocking into every door frame you tried to walk through. While there still is a lot to learn about antlers, here are some of the secrets behind how antlers grow and what it takes for them to get so big.

Before diving into the nitty-gritty of antler growth, we should get one thing straight. Whitetails, mule deer, elk, moose, caribou, and many other antlered animals across the globe are part of the same  deer family , known as Cervidae . Male "cervids" (as well as female caribou) evolved to have antlers, and unlike horns, antlers are made of bone and are shed and grown back every year in a continuous cycle. For a large part of the year, they are made up of living tissue whereas  horns  are made of dead, fingernail-like tissue called keratin and remain attached to the animal year after year.

Poaching may have reached Botswana’s elephants
By Rachel Nuwer/The New York Times
Photo by Charlotte Gordon/flickr
In September, conservationists in Botswana discovered 87 dead elephants, their faces hacked off and tusks missing. Poaching, the researchers warned,  was on the rise .

The news had international repercussions. Botswana had been one of the last great elephant refuges, largely spared the poaching crisis that has swept through much of Africa over the past decade.

Following the announcement in September, Botswana’s ministry of the environment denied that there was a poaching crisis of any sort.
Even some scientists wondered whether the illegal ivory trade  really had found its way to Botswana . Now,researchers have published data in the journal Current Biology that seems to confirm their initial findings.

When crops are endangered, call in the drones
By Brandon Keim/Anthropocene
Photo by Ale Pictures/flickr
As drones have become more common and affordable, many animal-loving people have worried about their tendency to scare wildlife. Yet that problem may have a silver lining: drones might be used to scare animals away from crops, resolving conflicts with fright rather than lethal force.

In a study  published in the journal  Crop Protection , researchers led by Zihao Wang, an aerospace engineer at the University of Sydney, describe their deployment of an unmanned aerial vehicle at Australian vineyards confronted by ravens and cockatoos with a taste for grapes. This is no small matter: some vineyards have reported crop losses of up to 83 percent, and current methods of crop protection leave much to be desired.

Bird-excluding nets are cumbersome. Chemical repellents have unintended environmental consequences. Loud noises and scarecrows can work for a little while, but target animals soon become habituated to them. Poisoning or shooting crop-eating animals likewise provides temporary relief — but there are always more hungry critters to take their place, and death is hardly a fair punishment for eating someone else’s food.

Enter Zhang and colleagues’ drones.

Hunters volunteer to track down woodcock chicks
By Trevor Bach/Audubon
Photo by Andrew Hoffman/flickr
On a gray morning in early May, Gabby and Sage, both seasoned English pointers, bound off into the northern Michigan woods. Their noses are sharp, and the soggy young aspen forest they’re sweeping is ideal habitat for the game they’re after. But for a half-hour or so, the morning hunt is fruitless. “We going to turn around, Jerrie?” yells Randy Strouse, a retired General Motors millwright in knee-high waterproof boots and a blaze-orange hunting jacket. “Or go deeper in?”

The small search party opts to backtrack along the dirt road they followed in while the dogs continue exploring a forest carpeted with the brown of last year’s ferns. Gabby and Sage wear special collars that beep periodically and transmit location information to their handlers. When Jerrie Schultz’s GPS device shows his dog, Sage, standing rail-still 121 yards away—the way pointers indicate they’ve picked up a scent—the group turns in her direction. As the hunters approach, a nervous American Woodcock flushes. False alarm: It’s a male—smaller than a female, and not what they’re seeking today.

But soon both dogs are on point again, diligently holding a scent in a different patch of forest. The hunters scramble to catch up, climbing a low ridge tangled with brambles. This time a female woodcock erupts skyward, zips through the still-bare canopy, and vanishes in an instant. Unfazed by the commotion, Strouse and Schultz creep forward, scanning the forest floor. Within seconds Schultz drops a pink marking ribbon. There, impeccably camouflaged, crouches the hunters’ quarry: a fuzzy, roughly 10-day-old woodcock chick.

“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.”

-        F. Scott Fitzgerald

To read past McGraw Reports click here.