January 25, 2011
Please note, some of the images in this post may not be suitable for small children and young students!
Do Roads have an impact on wildlife? The answer is YES! This answer however, cannot always be deemed as a negative impact as some wildlife species may benefit from roads as they feed (scavenge) on the remains of animals that may be killed by cars along our roads. This certainly is the case where “roadkills” provide a major food source for the two species of vultures, the black vulture and the turkey vulture. These birds find plenty of food along Georgia’s highways. However, it is my opinion, through 40 years of observing and recording “Roadkills” , that roads have a much more negative impact on wildlife overall, than a beneficial one.
Black Vulture & Crested Caracara feeding on a roadkill. Photo taken in West Texas.
What brought this to mind was a short drive on Monday, January 24th, from Atlanta to Greenville, South Carolina. I carry a small voice recorder in my vehicle so I can record observations while on the road and on this particular day, I witnessed some interesting numbers of road casualties.
I departed Marietta around 1:45 PM and drove around I 285 to I 85 North. All of the wildlife roadkills were observed on I-85 during the 2 hour drive. During the winter months, many birds of prey hunt the medians and roadsides of our interstates as these open areas provide good visibility for these birds in searching for rodents and rabbits upon which they feed. On this particular drive, I saw more Dead on Road (DOR) red-tailed hawks than I typically see on Georgia’s highways. I observed 3 DOR red-tails, all of which appeared to be immature birds. (birds of last years hatch) I see DOR red-tails on occasion but observing 3 dead ones during a 2 hour drive is not typical. I also record the numbers of live red-tails and I observed 12 live birds during the drive. In addition, other DOR species included: 1 DOR Barred Owl, 2 DOR gray fox, 1 DOR coyote and as usual, large numbers of raccoon and opossum.
Through 40 years of driving roads in the U.S., I have observed a tremendous number of DOR casualties. The casualty species range from frogs, toads and salamanders, birds, small rodents and insectivores to large mammals including deer and elk. While driving in MN. , a number of years ago, I observed a DOR cougar, which had a blue collar….obviously, someone’s escaped animal. (Note! The collar was not a telemetry collar such as would be used by researchers in tracking wildlife species)
Through much of the 1990’s, I collected data on my drives to and from the Chattahoochee Nature Center, where I worked and that data I published as an article in Southern Wildlife, May 1996.
In the United States, we are so incredibly fortunate to have the means of getting to and from locations all over the country by driving on well maintained highways. That benefit to you and I and all who live and visit the U.S., unfortunately, comes at a cost to our native wildlife.
The following images are just a few that I have taken over years of recording roadkills. They may not be suitable to show your young children or students but unfortunately, this is a sad reminder and a reality of what occurs daily along our roads. Please use discretion in your methodolgy of teaching children in regards to subjects such as this.
Unfortunately, even the scavengers are occasionally a casualty as well. Here, my grandson, Caleb, who is 7 yrs. of age, lifts the wing of a black vulture. He has learned a great deal about feathers, fur texture and the subtle colors and patterns exhibited by a variety of wildlife, from roadkills. Thus I not only document the species but also use roadkills as a teaching resource with my grandchildren.
DOR Coachwip Snake DOR Eastern Garter Snake and her young. She was near term in giving birth when she became a roadkill casualty. (Garter snakes are live-bearers)
DOR Canebrake Rattlesnake. Large rattlesnake species are severely impacted by roads and research has proven that new roads constructed through prime rattlesnake habitats severely impact large apex predators like rattlesnakes.
A gray fox in the early morning mist. Just another reminder of the impact of roads on our native wildlife. I find gray foxes to be much more common than the red fox. This through recording data on DOR’s. The image on the right shows the white throat, the beautiful reddish color on the sides of the neck, slight reddish on the lower sides and a “grizzled” tri-colored hair (black, white and gray) on its upper sides. The gray fox also has a dark stripe running down its back and it extends down the length of the tail. The tail tip is black. (Red foxes have a white tipped tail) It is sad to find an animal such as a DOR gray fox, but much can be learned from recording and photographing them as they are indeed of scientific interest and value. In addition, many mammal study skins in the scientific collections in universities and museums are obtained from DOR’s.