It’s fall. Fall means rut and rut means increased deer sightings. It seems we’ve got deer everywhere these days, from breaking into banks to breaking your car bumper! That’s right, we’re bringing it up – the dreaded car-totaling-experience of a deer placing itself directly in your line of travel. Deer mating season is between October and early December. Male deer in rut are actively searching for mates, not actively following traffic laws. But those wandering white-tails who freeze in our high beams aren’t the only collision victims.

Bear sow with cubs crossing the road at Ford Mountain State Park.
Bear sow with cubs crossing the road at Ford Mountain State Park.

What else causes wildlife to cross the road?

Every year in the United States, an estimated 400 million animals are killed in automobile collisions. For many species these collisions are among the top causes of mortality. But did you know that our actions also bring wildlife closer to roads?

Turkey hen crossing road.The series of unfortunate events goes something like this: You’ve just finished a nice, juicy apple while driving down a winding road. It’s a blustery day, and you’ve got the windows rolled down and the music turned up. You shrug and think to yourself, “It’s biodegradable, right? I can toss it.” And WHOOSH, there goes your half-eaten apple, tossed from the car window to the side of the road. You smile and think: “Maybe some critter will get an easy meal off my apple core.”

You were right, but it may not go the way you had hoped. Animals have an amazing sense of smell, which can draw them to litter on the side of the road when searching for food. So here comes mama opossum with eight joeys on her back who has followed her nose to your apple core! She gobbles it up and continues on her way, stumbling onto the road from which you tossed that apple core. BAM! Mama opossum is in the path of a gas-powered predator.

Eastern box turtle moved from roadway

Roadside litter is both dangerous and attractive to wildlife. They can get their heads stuck in containers that smell of food, cut themselves on cans or broken glass, eat plastic or latex they mistake for food, or simply wander too close to a road following their nose. Even birds are known to swoop down to grab litter someone tossed out of a window, putting themselves at risk of being hit by cars. Roadkill itself can be an attractant to other animals, causing a chain reaction when other animals scavenge carcasses in the road.

 

How do we fix this?

Wildlife biologists are studying road ecology and researching how to reduce the number of wildlife-involved accidents.  These studies include capturing and marking of wildlife with GPS collars, recording migration patterns, and pinpointing the most prevalent road crossings of these animals.

White-tailed deer doe crossing road.

Being attentive is the first step to helping keep the roads clear of Dead on Road (DOR) critters. You help wildlife by not littering, being aware of wildlife signage, and watching your speed. Doing your part to help keep critters off the roadways could save millions of animal lives, not to mention your own.