Make a difference! Create wildlife habitat in your Florida backyard

Your backyard can be a gathering place for birds, butterflies, frogs, flying squirrels and more. Attract native species by offering food, water, cover and space for them to raise their young, and your yard will be transformed into a welcoming habitat for wildlife.

Today, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is introducing Backyards and Beyond, a campaign challenging Floridians to make a difference and have fun by creating a refuge for wildlife in their own backyard.

“Imagine your backyard as a place where butterflies are attracted by flowers, songbirds are gobbling up seeds and berries, and frogs, bats and lizards are eating mosquitoes and other insects,” said Jerrie Lindsey, FWC’s director of Public Access Services. “Your efforts to create wildlife habitat at home will have a positive impact because animals need places to live beyond our wildlife management areas. Backyards and Beyond is also a great opportunity for you and your family to enjoy watching wildlife.”

Five easy ways to become involved in Backyards and Beyond:

  1. Turn your yard into a diverse wildlife habitat by adding native plants. A variety of native trees, shrubs and plants will provide natural food and cover for wildlife. A flowering native plant or shrub, for example, can provide nectar and pollen for butterflies and other beneficial insects, which in turn may be a meal for birds, lizards and frogs.
  2. Attract native wildlife to your yard by providing the four basics: food, water, cover and enough space for raising young. By doing so, we increase the number and variety of species that visit our yards, improving our chances to observe them more closely.
  3. Document wildlife activity in your backyard. Submit photos via iNaturalist to Florida Nature Trackers projects, and even create a species list for your own backyard.
  4. Create a butterfly garden, build a nest box for birds or add a brush pile for small animals like earthworms, birds, toads and lizards in your backyard. Planting a Refuge for Wildlife is an easy-to-understand guide to these projects and other ways that your backyard can support native wildlife. This illustrated publication created by the FWC and Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida can be ordered online at WildlifeFlorida.org.
  5. Go beyond your backyard. Invite family and friends to explore Florida’s outdoors at wildlife management areas, local and state parks, state and national forests, and national wildlife refuges. Use Florida Nature Trackers to document what you see.

People who create a wildlife refuge in their backyards will contribute to conserving Florida’s wildlife and habitats. By documenting animals observed in their backyards, they also generate valuable information. FWC biologists will be able to see the wildlife photos submitted to Florida Nature Trackers and use the data to help direct their efforts to research and manage native species throughout the state.

Remember, wild animals do not need supplemental feeding from people. Naturally-occurring insects and native plants with nectar flowers, edible fruits, nuts and seeds provide nourishment for most butterflies, birds and small animals. Pet food, corn and other supplemental feed can encourage unwanted visitors.

Need help getting started? Explore the Backyards and Beyond website for more information on how you can get involved.

While Backyards and Beyond is a statewide campaign, there is also a local initiative in Leon County and the city of Tallahassee, involving the FWC and partners. You can participate by joining the Backyards of Leon County project.

What if you live in an apartment, townhouse or condominium — and don’t have a backyard? You can still participate. Plant native flowers in containers on your front steps, on a balcony or in a window box. Work with neighbors to add native plant life to shared spaces like playgrounds, parks and other open areas in your development or community. Get children involved by bringing Backyards and Beyond to groups such as the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts or a school, church or community youth group or homeowners association. No matter where you live, you can make a difference.

Go to FloridaNatureTrackers.com/Backyard for more information.

Wild turkey: A different twist for a Thanksgiving favorite

FWC photo by Andy Wraithmell

Click the Photo above for a video recipe that is mouth-watering delicious!

Thanksgiving is a favorite holiday for all who cherish its traditions involving friends, family and food. Some love preparing dishes from recipes that have been passed down through the generations. Others enjoy experimenting with new flavors. An interesting culinary trend is using organic ingredients and serving wild turkey for Thanksgiving is a delicious, clean-eating option. 

“Florida’s abundant wild turkey populations can provide the ultimate locally-sourced, organic Thanksgiving feast when knowledge, skill and good fortune come together for a successful hunt,” said Chef Justin Timineri, executive chef and culinary ambassador for Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. “We’ve developed several mouthwatering wild turkey recipes for the big day and ways to serve leftovers using a variety of Fresh from Florida products.” 

Wild turkey cottage pie, scrumptious. Click the picture for the recipe.

Wild turkey is a tasty and versatile protein. Fresh from Florida chefs adapted several recipes to use wild turkey ranging from Tikka Masala, an Indian dish traditionally served with chicken, to wild turkey quesadillas and wild turkey cottage pie (a take on shepherd’s pie). Because wild turkey meat is low in fat, techniques for cooking them differ from domestic birds, and the Fresh from Florida chefs provide recipes and tips on how to prepare tender, juicy meals. 

The Sunshine State is home to robust populations of two wild turkey subspecies: the eastern and the Osceola wild turkey. Florida is unique because the Osceola subspecies lives nowhere else in the world but on the state’s peninsula.  

“Turkey hunting in Florida is a chance to experience the outdoors in a very special way,” said Roger Shields, wild turkey program coordinator for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). “However, wild turkeys are extremely wary and possess sharp eyesight and excellent hearing so hunting them is a challenge.” 

The FWC uses scientifically proven wildlife management strategies and professional expertise to meet conservation objectives and perpetuate sustainable turkey hunting opportunities. You can learn more about wild turkeys, including their behavior, habitat needs, and where they live in Florida at MyFWC.com.

Links to photos, video and recipes: http://myfwc.com/news/resources/columns/hunting-news/.

Florida Bears more ACTIVE this time of year

Bears are hungry at this time of year, but It is illegal in Florida to intentionally feed bears or leave out food or garbage that will attract bears and cause human-bear conflicts. FWC Photo

In fall, Florida black bear activity increases as bears begin a natural process of putting on fat for the winter. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) reminds people to be BearWise to help prevent conflicts with Florida’s largest land mammal.

To be prepared for winter, bears require around 20,000 calories a day and will eat anything that’s convenient. Getting food from a garbage can often provide bears with more calories in a shorter amount of time than foraging in the woods. This easy source of calories draws more bears into areas where people live and work, which can be potentially dangerous for both people and bears. Keeping garbage secure not only helps keep people safe but also helps bears. 

“We are assisting local governments with advice and funding to help them be more BearWise,” said Dave Telesco, head of the FWC’s Bear Management Program. “But everyone has a role. The best way people can help is by keeping trash secure from bears.”

Since 2007, a total of $2.1 million of BearWise funding has been provided to local governments. Over $1.4 million of this was provided with support from the Legislature and Gov. Scott, and $680,000 from the Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida using proceeds of the Conserve Wildlife license plate.

To keep bears wild and away from your home, follow these simple tips:

  • Secure household garbage in a sturdy shed, garage or a wildlife-resistant container.
  • Put household garbage out on the morning of pickup rather than the night before.
  • Secure commercial garbage in bear-resistant dumpsters.
  • Protect gardens, bee yards, compost and livestock with electric fencing.
  • Encourage your homeowner’s association or local government to institute ordinances to require trash be secured from bears.
  • Feed pets indoors or bring in dishes after feeding.
  • Clean grills and store them in a secure place.
  • Remove wildlife feeders or make them bear-resistant.
  • Pick ripe fruit from trees and remove fallen fruit from the ground.

It is illegal in Florida to intentionally feed bears or leave out food or garbage that will attract bears and cause human-bear conflicts. If you see or suspect that someone is feeding or attracting bears, call the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 1-888-404-FWCC (3922).

You can also help people and bears stay safe by remembering to watch for bears while driving. This time of year, bears are traveling across more roads in search of food, which results in more bear-vehicle collisions. Every year over 230 bears are killed on Florida roadways. The FWC advises drivers to be aware of their surroundings as they drive in bear country, especially around dusk and dawn, and when there is forest on both sides of the road. The FWC works with Florida Department of Transportation to post bear crossing signs in areas that receive particularly high levels of vehicle-bear collisions.

For more information on Florida black bears, including how to reduce conflicts with them, visit MyFWC.com/Bear and click on “Live BearWise.” There you can click on “brochures and other materials” to view “Vehicle Collisions with Bears” one in a series of FWC’s Living with Florida Black Bears videos.  

Florida’s statewide alligator harvest begins Aug. 15

Florida alligators are numerous these days. Forrest Fisher Photo

Recreational hunting is one part of managing the state’s healthy alligator population.

Florida’s statewide alligator harvest, nationally and internationally recognized as a model program for the sustainable use of a renewable natural resource, begins Aug. 15. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) issued more than 7,500 permits, including an additional 1,313 county-wide permits, as a method to help manage the alligator population.

Alligators are a conservation success story in Florida. They were included on the original federal endangered species list in 1967. Conservation efforts allowed the population to rebound, and they were removed from the list in 1987. Today, the state’s alligator population is estimated at 1.3 million alligators and has been stable for many years.
For over 30 years, the Statewide Alligator Harvest Program has been providing sustainable hunting opportunities throughout the state. The FWC establishes management units with appropriate harvest quotas based on research and proven science to ensure the long-term well-being of the alligator resource.

Recreational alligator hunting is just one part of the FWC’s overall approach to managing the species. The FWC’s Statewide Nuisance Alligator Program (SNAP) is another. People who believe a specific alligator poses a threat to people, pets or property should call FWC’s toll-free Nuisance Alligator Hotline at 866-FWC-GATOR (866-392-4286). When someone concerned about an alligator calls the Nuisance Alligator Hotline, we will dispatch an FWC-contracted nuisance alligator trapper to resolve the situation.

In addition, as part of a comprehensive effort to achieve alligator management goals, the FWC has issued an additional 21 Targeted Harvest Area permits that encompass 79 new areas. THA permits allow a managing authority to work directly with a designated FWC-contracted nuisance alligator trapper, making the process for removing nuisance alligators more proactive and streamlined.

THA permits, which have been in use for almost two decades, define the area’s boundaries, the duration of the permit and how many alligators can be removed. Currently, there are 260 THA permits issued that cover 1,460 sites throughout the state with more THAs expected to be added.

Serious injuries caused by alligators are rare in Florida. The FWC works diligently to keep Floridians and visitors informed about safely coexisting with alligators, including providing informational tools such as a video, infographic, and brochure.

FWC provides important Alligator Safety Advice

Report nuisance alligators by calling 866-FWC-Gator (392-4286).

Alligators can be dangerous.  Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Photo

Alligators become more active during warm weather months, and it’s not uncommon to see them throughout the state. Most interactions consist of seeing alligators at a distance. However, if you have a concern about a specific alligator, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) urges you to call their toll-free Nuisance Alligator Hotline at 866-FWC-GATOR (392-4286).

“The FWC places the highest priority on public safety,” said Eric Sutton, FWC’s executive director. “When someone calls our Nuisance Alligator Hotline to report an alligator they believe poses a threat, we dispatch one of our contracted nuisance alligator trappers to resolve the situation.”

Although alligator bite incidents resulting in serious injury are rare in Florida, the FWC recommends taking precautions when having fun in and around the water. Alligators inhabit all 67 counties in Florida and can be found anywhere there is standing water. Reduce the chances of conflicts with alligators by swimming only in designated swimming areas during daylight hours. Also keep pets on a leash and away from the water.

Because alligators control their body temperature by basking in the sun, they may be easily observed. However, the FWC urges people to keep their distance if they see one. And never feed alligators because it is dangerous and illegal.

The FWC also works to keep Floridians and visitors informed, including providing advice about Living with Alligators.

Learn more about alligators at MyFWC.com/Alligator.

 

 

Early Spring TURKEY SEASON – a Special Florida Resource

  • Florida Turkey Season is OPEN
  • Osceola Turkeys are Common in Florida
  • Wild turkeys are a Conservation Success Story in Florida & Across North America

By Tammy Sapp, Florida FWC

Osceola wild turkeys. FWC photo by Chad Weber.

Florida’s spring turkey season opened on Saturday, March 3, on private lands south of State Road 70, making it one of the first spring turkey hunting opportunities in the country. Florida is also the only place in the world where the Osceola subspecies of wild turkey is found. Also known as the Florida wild turkey, abundant populations of this subspecies live only on the Florida peninsula. It’s similar to the eastern wild turkey subspecies, which is found in north Florida and throughout the eastern United States, but tends to be smaller and darker with less white barring on the wings.

Hunting wild turkeys is popular in Florida and throughout North America. One reason people enjoy it is the range of calls wild turkeys make. The most recognized call is gobbling, which is most often associated with male birds, or gobblers, during spring when they breed. The gobbler will fan out its tail, puff out its feathers, strut and gobble to attract hens. Hunters pursue this wary bird by imitating various turkey calls to bring gobblers in close.

Getting to see a male wild turkey’s courtship ritual is exciting for new hunters as well as those with years of experience.

Another benefit of turkey hunting, for those lucky enough to harvest a gobbler, is that the meat is a good source of healthy, organic protein.

“Spring turkey season gives hunters the chance to share a delicious wild game meal with friends and family. It’s also a great time to share the turkey hunting experience with someone who has never tried it,” said Roger Shields, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Wild Turkey Management Program coordinator. “The weather is mild, the spring woods are beautiful, and the thrill of hearing a gobbler respond to your calls is a wonderful memory you can share with a new hunter.”

Wild turkeys are a conservation success story in Florida and across North America. They had almost disappeared by the turn of the 20th century, with populations remaining only in remote pockets of habitat. However, thanks to science-based wildlife restoration efforts, today Osceola and eastern wild turkeys are flourishing throughout the state.

North of State Road 70, Florida’s spring turkey season on private lands opened on Saturday, March 17. Florida’s wildlife management area system also offers opportunities for turkey hunters, and because dates and regulations can vary, hunters are encouraged to review the regulations brochure for the WMA they plan to hunt.

FWC wildlife professionals use scientific data to conserve wild turkey populations and provide regulated and sustainable hunting opportunities. Hunters also play an important role in wild turkey management by purchasing licenses and permits, and along with other shooting sports enthusiasts, contributing to the successful Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program. External Website

Get a snapshot of Florida’s wild turkey season dates and bag limits by visiting MyFWC.com/Hunting and clicking “Season Dates.” Learn more about wild turkeys by choosing “Species Profiles” at MyFWC.com/WildlifeHabitats.