Wild+Life is a monthly e-newsletter with news about wildlife-watching activities, wildlife natural history, habitat and research projects benefiting wildlife, fun facts and upcoming events. Sign up to get Wild+Life delivered to your inbox every month.
In This Issue
- Partner Projects: AZGFD, Southwest Wildlife team up for conservation
- Wild Arizona: Become a citizen scientist
- Fast Facts: Abert’s squirrel
- Walk on the Wild Side: Upper Verde River Wildlife Area
- Upcoming Events: Virtual speaker wildlife series
- Video of the Month: Liberty Wildlife’s railroading eagle
Partner Projects: AZGFD, Southwest Wildlife team up for conservation
The Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) has a strong, collaborative partnership with Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center spanning several decades.
A couple of recent examples:
- In mid-September, the department’s regional office in Mesa released 14 javelinas in Unit 20B (northwest of Phoenix), which represent only a few of the 60 to 80 javelinas that Southwest Wildlife rehabilitates annually and slowly acclimates into family groups for the department to release in Environmental Assessment Checklist-approved areas.
- Southwest Wildlife also has been instrumental in rehabilitating orphaned black bear cubs. Since mid-2020, 10 black bears have been given a second chance at life in the wild. The most recent were two black bears released by the department in September in Unit 4A (northern Arizona). One was a cinnamon-phase cub that was brought to SWCC on Oct. 24, 2021. The male only weighed 15 pounds and was suffering from a severe ringworm infection on its snout. After successful treatments and rehabilitation, the only remnant of the infection was some scarring (see photos above).
The department and Southwest Wildlife also team up on many other projects, including Mexican wolf recovery and wolf pup fostering efforts. The sheer number of other wildlife that Southwest Wildlife rescues, rehabilitates and releases on an annual basis is staggering. The organization is a greatly appreciated partner in the conservation of Arizona’s wildlife resources.
Wild Arizona: Become a citizen scientist
iNaturalist is a Web-based tool that allows users to upload observations from the natural world.
Those observations can then be identified by other members of the community and provide valuable information to scientists about species distributions. In fact, it is an example of citizen science, an opportunity for the general public to contribute data to real-world science projects.
To date, more than one million people have contributed nearly 40 million observations into iNaturalist. It’s free to join the iNaturalist community and contribute observations. It can be accessed via inaturalist.org or through a mobile app.
— Eric Proctor, wildlife education coordinator
Fast Facts: Abert’s squirrel
Scientific name: Sciurus aberti. A suggested origin of the name comes from the Greek skia, meaning shadow, and oura, or tail, for the one that sits in the shadow of its own tail. The latter part, aberti, honors Col. John Abert, who led the U.S. Army Corps of Topographical Engineers for three decades in exploring and mapping lands west of the Mississippi River.
Description: Also called “tassel-eared squirrels” because they develop long, showy hairs, or tassels, on their ears from fall to spring. Typical Abert’s squirrels are large gray squirrels with a rusty stripe down the back, a white belly and an eye-catching gray tail trimmed in long white fur. However, some have black bellies and white tails, and even melanistic forms historically roamed Arizona forests.
Distribution: Six subspecies are found from southern Wyoming into northern Mexico. In Arizona, their range follows ponderosa pine forests across the White Mountains, Mogollon Rim and Kaibab Plateau, with isolated populations in the Chuska Mountains and introduced populations in many other ranges (e.g., Bradshaw, Hualapai, Pinaleno, Santa Catalina).
Habitat: Abert’s squirrels usually occur in ponderosa pine, but they have been seen in other conifer forests and even above treeline on Humphreys Peak. Ideal squirrel habitat contains open, unevenly aged ponderosa pine stands interspersed with small clusters of dense, young trees. Large trees provide cones, nesting areas and a network of interlocking canopies for travel.
Biology: Abert’s squirrels are diurnal and active year-round. They live three to four years and are fairly solitary but not territorial. They do not cache food resources but may bury unopened cones in scatter-hoard fashion. Abert’s squirrels eat ponderosa cone seeds, male cones, terminal buds and dwarf mistletoe infecting the trees. They also forage for fungi growing at the base of the trees and eat Gambel’s oak acorns. A unique feeding strategy setting them apart from other tree squirrels is that they eat the inner bark of pine shoots and terminal branches. They do so primarily in winters when persistent, heavy snowfall limits access to other foods, but it is a poor diet that leads to starvation. Breeding occurs April to June, with two to five kits born to coincide with emerging buds, fungi and tree seeds. Kits stay in the nest for seven to nine weeks before emerging in August. The female and young stay together through the fall and then the kits disperse.
Status: A popular small game animal in Arizona, this species is generally stable across its range. Large fluctuations in squirrel density among seasons or years are typical and come as a result of differences in the local abundance and quality of their food, the occurrence of deep, persistent snows during the preceding winter and droughts that may cause reproduction to fail.
Management needs: Because they rely heavily on ponderosa pine and other conifers, wildfires, logging and forest thinning practices can significantly impact Abert’s squirrel populations. Unlogged areas generally show a greater density of squirrels, but strategic planning and implementation of forest thinning activities can reduce negative impacts on Abert’s squirrels.
Other: These squirrels are typically active in the morning and early evening. When searching for Abert’s squirrels, look for clipped needle clusters, peeled twigs and shelled cone cores on the ground. In really open ponderosa pine stands, watch for squirrels along the edges of more dense forest.
— Larisa Harding, small game program manager
Walk on the Wild Side: Upper Verde River Wildlife Area
The 1,100-plus acres of the Upper Verde River Wildlife Area are home to abundant wildlife, including a lush riparian corridor that provides a key migration passage for several migratory bird species.
Located in Yavapai County, about eight miles northeast of Chino Valley, the wildlife area is part of the National Audubon Society’s “Important Bird Area” program. A three-mile stretch of the river that runs through the wildlife area is also designated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as critical habitat for an endangered native fish, the Little Colorado spinedace.
The wildlife area includes riparian sites, floodplains, cliffs and adjacent uplands. Some of the cliffs rise as much as 100 to 300 feet along portions of the river. A few of the species of birds that have been documented here include the bald eagle, belted kingfisher, peregrine falcon, yellow-billed cuckoo and golden eagle. The wildlife area also attracts mule deer, javelina, an occasional mountain lion, elk or bear, as well as common predators and furbearers.
Directions: From Highway 89 in Paulden, take Verde Ranch Road east about one mile. Make a sharp right, cross the railroad tracks and make a sharp left. After crossing the railroad tracks, take the first dirt road to the right. Stay on this road for about three miles to reach Verde River Canyon. Vehicle access is prohibited; the property is managed for walk-in access only.
Upcoming Events: Virtual speaker wildlife series
The Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) has partnered with the Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center (SWCC) to host virtual wildlife lectures. In addition to partnering with SWCC, the department’s Wildlife Viewing Program will conduct its own critter-based lectures twice each month.
- Black Bears — 6:30 p.m. Nov. 10 (SWCC). Description: Learn about the natural history and modern biology of the black bear. These animals are opportunistic feeders and have complex and interesting lives. Register
- Wolves and Coyotes — 6:30 p.m. Nov. 15 (AZGFD). Description: Learn about the highly adaptable coyote, an extraordinarily intelligent and opportunistic species. That will be followed by a deeper look into the history of Arizona’s wolves. Find out what caused them to become extinct and how AZGFD, along with other federal and state agencies, have reintroduced the Mexican gray wolf back into our ecosystem. Register
- Black Bears — 6:30 p.m. Dec. 1 (AZGFD). Description: Learn about the natural history and modern biology of the black bear. These animals are opportunistic feeders and have complex and interesting lives. Register
Video of the Month: Liberty Wildlife’s railroading eagle
All aboard! Share a picturesque train ride on the Verde Canyon Railroad with a special guest — Sonora, the bald eagle. Sonora was injured in the wild and cannot be released, so she serves as an educational ambassador for Liberty Wildlife, a wildlife rescue and rehabilitation service in Phoenix. The hope is that all who meet Sonora will come away with a greater appreciation for Arizona’s wildlife.