This winter in the United States felt so long and harsh it actually has its own Wikipedia page. But as tough as it was on humans, it may have been even harder on animals, who don’t get to curl up in front of the couch and watch television wrapped in blankets.
According to Lex Berko at the Atlantic Cities, urban wildlife care centers are seeing the effects of the weather in two ways. In Toronto, this winter brought in 50 percent more patients than last year, and ten times the number of birds and bats. In New York City, the centers have seen far fewer animals than normal, but their director Rita McMahon says that’s likely because the animals just died out there in the cold.
The patients these places did see were often either unusual—like the snowy owl that made headlines in D.C.—or frostbitten. Toronto dealt with far more frostbitten possums than they ever had before. Just like in humans, frozen opossum digits often have to be removed. For birds, losing their toes can be life-threatening as they can no longer grasp onto branches and perch.
So what can urbanites do to help their frigid friends? Berko explains:
We can however be more vigilant in acknowledging both these animals’ presence in cityscapes and their signs of distress. “We’re not taught to think of our neighborhoods and our communities as nature,” Magle notes, “but the reality is we all live in ecosystems and our ecosystems are full of wildlife.” So that swan that has been sitting there and doesn’t move away when humans approach? It might be too weak to move. That duck that’s been sitting on the ice-covered pond for hours? It might actually be frozen into the ice. Being able to recognize these signs and then act accordingly—which usually means contacting a local wildlife rehabilitator—is crucial.
Thankfully for humans and animals alike, the weather is getting warmer.