What does the toad say?

By Claire Morgan, Volunteer and Garden Coordinator, Gift Shop Manager

Pretty soon, we’ll be hearing a lot of what the toad says!  In early to mid- March we will start to hear the sound of the American Toad, Bufo Americanus, with its high pitched trill calling for a mate, as they do each spring.  Here in Roxborough, at the Schuylkill Center, we’ll be watching and listening during those early spring evenings.  When the evening temperature rises to 50 degrees and the ground is moist, the American Toads start to make their journey out of the woods of the Center and towards the Upper Roxborough Reservoir Preserve.

It’s almost magical to see all these toads emerging from the woods.  They don’t usually travel until after the sun sets, when there may be fewer predators, and mostly on damp and rainy nights.  But when the toads do start to move, there are usually hundreds at a time.

What is it the toads see in this old abandoned reservoir, built in the late 1800’s?  Now known as the Upper Roxborough Reservoir Preserve, the site served for many years as a holding basin for drinking water for Philadelphia.  As times changed and engineering improved, the reservoir outlived its usefulness, at least as a storage area for drinking water.  It serves another very important function: a habitat for wildlife.  The shallowness of the basin is the perfect place for toads to come to find a mate and produce offspring!  After courtship, the adult toads return to the woods.  The steep, brick-lined walls of the reservoir are not an easy path for these small, but determined toads, but their instincts tell them that they must make this journey in order to survive.

It is a difficult journey from the woods across the street, dodging cars and moving up the steep slope to the reservoir, and then down the other side of the reservoir.  All this to reach the shallow waters where they will lay their eggs for the next generation of toads.

It will be 6 weeks or so before the tiny “toadlets”, as we affectionately call these creatures the size of your thumbnail, make their way across the road to a permanent home in the woods.  In the woods, they serve a very special function in keeping mosquitoes under control for humans!

The Toad Detour project started six years ago when a citizen noted that toads were getting squashed as they crossed back and forth via Port Royal Avenue and Eva Street on their way to and from the Upper Roxborough Reservoir Preserve.  This group of dedicated citizens applied for a permit from the Department of Streets to close the roads on evenings when there was significant movement of the toads.  The Schuylkill Center has taken over this volunteer project for the past three years.  On evenings from March through June, children and adults come out with flashlights to count toads and watch this phenomenon.   We place barricades so motorists will take a short detour around the other side of the reservoir, protecting this special toad population

So, what does the toad say?  Thank you very much for saving my life!

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Those cute little baby bunnies and birds are tougher than you think…

“Baby animals fall out of trees all the time. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they need rescuing.” — Wildlife rehabber and clinic director, Rick Schubert

Spring is our wildlife  clinic’s busy season, as the wildlife baby boom hits, and people bring in baby birds that have fallen from nests or bunnies seemingly abandoned in their backyard. Out of the over 12,000 phone calls the clinic handles in a year, hundreds involve questions or concerns about baby animals being orphaned. That’s more spring babies than our clinic– or most similar clinics, I’d imagine– can treat onsite.  The good news is, many of these “orphans” really don’t need human help.

“The rehab and medical work we do here in the clinic may get all the attention,” says clinic director Rick Schubert, “but most of our work is done on the phone.” When taking a call, it’s important to ask the right questions: exactly where was the animal found, how long has it been there, has it been handled or fed, what’s its physical condition, etc. With this information, the clinic can determine whether or not the animal really does need clinic care and, if necessary, walk the caller through safe handling and transport.

The phone calls are also a critical opportunity for education and outreach. According to Schubert, “it’s much easier to prevent a problem than to correct the situation later, in the clinic.”

Many baby animals that you might think are orphaned, for instance, really aren’t, and would be better off left alone. But what if you’ve already picked it up, perhaps to check for injuries, or just out of an instinctive desire to care for it? Simply put it back where you found it and let the mother do her job.

“The idea that, once you’ve touched a wild baby animal the mother will reject it,is a myth,” declares Rick. “No wild animal will reject healthy offspring just because a human has touched it.”

(The key word there is “healthy.” Some animals will reject sick offspring, and even kick them out of the nest.)

Schubert considers the triage and education aspects of these phone calls so important that he rarely lets clinic volunteers answer the phone. That’s a job he reserves for himself and assistant rehabber Michele Wellard. He estimates that he spends an average of four hours a day on the phone. And while it may not be glamorous, that’s okay with him, because he can accomplish more good in less time.

So next time you find an “orphaned” squirrel, rabbit or bird in your yard—or any wildlife in distress— don’t hesitate to pick up the phone and call your local wildlife clinic for advice before you act. That’s what they’re there for.