Slow R.I. Wildlife Could be Crossing

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

Much of Rhode Island's turtle population crosses local streets, such as this one in Barrington, in June to lay her eggs. (Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News)

Much of Rhode Island's turtle population crosses local streets, such as this one in Barrington, in June to lay her eggs. (Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News)

Turtles, foxes, woodchucks, birds and deer all take to the road this time of year. So drivers, and even hikers, are advised to take it slow and help protect Rhode Island's wildlife population.

Many young animals are adjusting to new surroundings, while others are expanding their territory in search of a mate. Dusk and dawn are when most animals search for food and at risk for encounters with vehicles.

Drivers can clear most animals from the road by flashing the headlights or beeping the horn. Deer, in particular, respond to blinking lights.

Also, don't throw litter out the window, for the obvious reasons, plus birds and other animals are attracted to roadside trash, such as apple cores, which puts them in harm's way. Save uneaten food for the compost pile.

Deer. Wildlife biologist Brian Tefft, of the Rhode Island Division of Fish & Wildlife, urges hikers and others in the outdoors not to assume unattended fawn and even small birds have been abandoned. Typically, their parents are nearby or looking for food to bring back to their young. The survival rate of animals that are relocated by well-intended nature lovers is low, Tefft said. "It's important to leave wildlife alone, especially this time of year," he said.

Turtles. Late June is peak turtle nesting season and females are stubborn about returning to the same spot each year regardless of what's in their path.

Rhode Island has seven native turtles and all live in freshwater and brackish ponds, streams and rivers. Four species of sea turtles are occasional visitors in offshore waters.

Christopher Raithel, of the state Division of Fish & Wildlife, said turtles often leave their watery habitats, especially around full moons. Others, such as the diamondback terrapin, head for shore at high tide on sunny days.

The state Department of Environmental Management (DEM) recommends not interfering with a turtle's pilgrimage. However, wildlife experts say it can be helpful to move a determined turtle across a busy road. Turtles are bound to their home range, so it's best not to relocate them from their immediate environment. 

Most turtles won't bite and can be picked up by the sides of their shells. Snapping turtles can be handled by the tail.

The most common turtle species in Rhode Island are the painted, box and snapping. The spotted turtle is protected, the wood turtle is protected and classified as a species of concern, the diamondback terrapin is state endangered and protected, and the eastern box turtle is protected.

The Wildlife Rehabilitators Association of Rhode Island says to avoid handling injured animals that are prone to transmitting rabies, such as raccoons, foxes, woodchucks, skunks and bats. Call your local animal control officer or Wildlife Rehabilitators at 401-294-6363 for assistance with an injured or orphaned bird, reptile or mammal.