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The Preserve is home to mice, rats, moles, voles, muskrats, woodchucks, beavers, squirrels, skunks, mink, rabbits, raccoons, opossums, foxes, coyotes, and deer. Some 33 mammal species have been documented. They all play a role in maintaining a healthy biodiverse community. Remember parks are for people, but Preserves are for critters. Here are a few animals you may see in the preserve if you are quiet and observant.
The Eastern Cottontail is home in various habitats: woodlands, thickets, fields, brush piles, and lawns. They often freeze in place and rely on camouflage fur to hide from predators. They make a small nest burrow which they line with soft plants and fur from the mother rabbit’s chest. They cover the burrow with dried leaves and grasses. Babies are born naked and helpless, with their eyes closed.
White-tailed Deer are overly abundant within the Preserve. Hunting is periodically permitted to control their population numbers. Watch for hunting signs posted at trail entrances in the fall and winter. Be sure to wear orange so hunters can clearly see you. Deer have no den or nest and sleep in a different location nightly. They are herbivores, eating nuts, seeds, and green plants in the summer, and bark and twigs in the winter.
The American Mink is a semi-aquatic member of the weasel family. They live on the banks of rivers and streams. A mink den may be an abandoned muskrat, woodchuck lodge, or a hole under tree roots. They are primarily solitary, except during mating season (February to April). At birth, the young are blind and hairless. Their eyes open at 5 weeks. At 6 or 7 weeks of age, they leave the den and hunt alongside their mother for snails, earthworms, snakes, shrews, fish, frogs, and birds. They are active year-round. photo by Chuck Homler
Rivers, streams, ponds, and wet ditches make fine habitats for the American Beaver. Often called nature’s engineers because of their ability to construct dams. Beavers are nocturnal so you are most likely to see signs of beaver instead of the animal itself. Look for chewed tree trunks or lodges built across a stream. No other mammal besides humans changes its environment as much as beavers. The lodge photographed, was located along the PenDel track not far from Parking Lot #1 in a ditch that drained to White Clay Creek.
Coyotes are omnivores, eating small rodents, reptiles, amphibians, birds, eggs, insects, and berries. Their home may be a hole in the riverbank or hillside. Dens also are made under tree roots and rocks. Be sure your pet is on a leash when walking within the Preserve.
Little Brown Bats often hunt for insects over rivers and ponds. They may gather in maternal colonies of up to 75 bats. At one time such a colony was located in the attic of the London Britain Meeting House. Bat houses have been erected within the Preserve to encourage their beneficial presence.
The Opossum lives in deciduous forests, farmland, welands, suburbanyard and cities. It makes a nest of leaves underground or or in a hollow log. As an omnivore, it eats; insects (yes ticks!), sunflower and Nyger Thistle seeds, nuts, berries, fruit, leaves, bird eggs, fish, reptiles, amphibians, small mammals, road kill, and earthworms. Newborns are the size of navy beans, they climb into the mother’s external fur-lined pouch, where they attach to a nipple for as long as 2 months.
The flying squirrel has bulging dark eyes compared to the gray squirrel and loose folds of skin between the front and hind legs which allow it to glide. They nest in old woodpecker holes or may build a small round nest of leaves on a tree branch, similar to the gray squirrel. As an omnivore, they are known to eat seeds, nuts, carrion, baby mice and baby birds, lichens, mushrooms, and fungi.