Weird Winter Wildlife

This winter, there have been several unusual winter wildlife sightings on Nantucket. Most of these sightings are of creatures that ought to have migrated well south of us by now. A lone Piping Plover was spotted at Smith’s Point during the annual Christmas bird count on December 30th. Typically, these summer denizens of Nantucket’s beaches begin their southward migration by the end of August with the last stragglers fleeing by late September. A Whimbrel was spotted in mid-January poking around Folger’s Marsh. Whimbrel’s summer breeding territory is in the far northern arctic, but they spend the winter along the Gulf Coast of the US to South America.

Another surprising find was a Hoary Bat! On a warm and rainy Sunday, January 20th, the high temperature on Nantucket reached 52°F, a temperature warm enough that a bat may have been able to take advantage of to search for a tasty winter moth snack at a time of year that bats are typically hibernating. However, between 5 and 8 pm, the temperature dropped quickly and drastically, and by Monday morning on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, had bottomed out at 8°F. Around 9:30 that morning, a woman walking her dog at Gardner Farm came upon what she assumed was a pine cone but upon closer inspection, realized was a bat on the ground in the middle of the trail! The bat was sluggish but alive – so she called the “bat lady“. This area of the island contains a large stand of pitch pine and is where we have documented many Northern long-eared bats – so it was quite a surprise to arrive and find a Hoary Bat!

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Hoary Fat found on Nantucket on January 21, 2019                      Photo credit: Danielle O’Dell

We’ve never captured this species on Nantucket before although we have occasionally “heard” them on our acoustic detectors throughout the summer, but not in the dead of winter. Hoary’s are thought to be mainly migratory, heading south where they can continue to feed throughout the winter, rather than hibernating as some other bats species do. We would not expect to find a Hoary up north at this time of year, although, apparently not all Hoary bats adopt the migration strategy, some instead, are capable of hibernation as well. Perhaps we have a few Hoary’s choosing to winter on Nantucket?

The bat was transported to the Cape Wildlife Center for rehabilitation. As of January 29th, Robyn Rohm, a wildlife rehabilitator, reported that the bat was alive and well. It took a day or two for it to acclimate and learn to eat mealworms but she is now pigging out on 40 mealworms per day! She has no injuries so was likely just cold stunned by the quickly plunging temperature. They will keep the bat until the weather begins to warm and expect to release her in the spring without issue.

If you find an injured bat on Nantucket, it should never be touched with bare skin! If a bat comes in contact with human skin, whether or not it appears sick and even if there are no bites or scratches, a vet will have to euthanize the bat and send it for rabies testing. The best policy if you find an injured bat is to wear thick gloves or use a stick to get it in to a box or some sort of container and bring it to Offshore Animal Hospital. You will notice in the photo above my bare hands holding this bat – because I have a rabies vaccination, the Mass State Veterinarian allowed this bat to be rehabbed, vs. euthanized.

Should you find a bat in your house, the best thing to do is isolate the bat in one room, shut all the doors and open the windows. It will eventually find its way out. It doesn’t want to be in your house any more than you want it to be there.

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The Nantucket Conservation Foundation is a private, non-profit land trust that depends on contributions from our members to support our science projects, conservation property acquisitions and land management efforts. If you are not already a member, please join us now!  www.nantucketconservation.org

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