Thursday, April 10, 2014

Some-bunny loves you:

With the coming of spring, it's time to remind folks about what to do if you happen to find baby wild animals.  Often, when you come across a nest of wildlings, be they feather or fur, it's best to leave them alone.  Out in the wild, wild mothers will leave their youngsters unattended for brief periods of time if they go off to forage.  Consider this: if they were able to build a nest without you necessarily knowing their secret hiding place, then they would probably prefer to try to raise the next generation without being disturbed. Some nests are very elaborate, intricately weaved with the finest talent and skill by a wild parent, or sometimes, the nests are merely a little scrape in the ground with a few blades of grass placed over the top of the scrape.  Such is the case with baby bunnies.  When folks are getting out in the yard for springtime cleanup, a nest of rabbits may very well be disturbed. If you find a nest of rabbits, there are usually 2 to 4 babies, curled up in a pile.  Do not be alarmed.  Mama bunny will leave her little ones all alone pretty much for the whole day and only come back to take care of the kids at dawn and dusk.  More than likely, mama bunny will not be seen too much throughout the day as she stays away from the nest to keep would-be predators away from her babies. If you do come across them and disturb them, quietly place them back where you found them, cover up with a bit of soft grass, and try to keep curious children and pets out of the vicinity if possible. A way to tell if the babies are being taken care of  is to put a soft string, or a couple of light twigs over top of the bunny nest and come back the next day to see if mama has moved them to take care of the babies.  You can also place a very light layer of unscented baby powder around the nest and look for paw prints as well. Hopefully you will be able to tell if mama has come back when no one is looking.  Another thing you may not know about baby bunnies, is that, believe it or not, they are on their own within a month.  If you catch a baby bunny that's about 4 inches long and has its eyes open and is out in the yard, it's pretty much on its own at that point.  Sometimes, if they are just right out of the nest for the first time, they will freeze in fear and not move.  This is a strategy of theirs to hide from you in plain sight.  Wild bunnies are very nervous creatures, and can become easily stressed out if handled and actually die of a heart attack, so it is best to NOT disturb them if at all possible.  After a while, if they are left alone they will most likely move on and keep to themselves, hiding in the softly wafting blades of grass watching from the safety of a little hidey hole in your yard. Next time, I will tell you about baby birds and what to do if you happen to find a young feathery friend hopping around in your yard, that's seemingly injured, but in all likelihood, is not truly injured.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Snow fun

Working as an animal keeper on a snowy day has its own unique challenges and rewards.  The animals still have to be taken care of even in bad weather, so animal keepers have to come in and take care of the animals when everything else has been shut down.  During a snow day, it can be very rewarding to see the animals enjoy playing in the snow.  Animals that particularly enjoy playing in the snow include the red wolves, the coyotes, the bobcat, and the otter.  Many of the other animals would prefer to hunker down and wait out the invasion of  the cold wet stuff.  The red foxes will curl up in a ball, often with their tails tucked over their noses like a scarf.

Here, Mr. Red Fox looks up to see what is going on around his home

Lovely lady red fox looks out over her enclosure

The eagles don't seem to be concerned about the fact that there's snow in their enclosure.  They are looking out over the boardwalk to keep an eye on what is going on while the Museum's boardwalk is being cleared of the blanket of snow:

In order to clear away the snow on the boardwalk, the maintenance crew has a tractor with a snow blower attached to the front to push away the snow.  Here, before the eagles go into their enclosure, a member of the maintenance crew works diligently to clear the boardwalk:

Although the lake may be frozen, the snow piled up, and the Museum closed for the day to the visitors, there is much work that still occurs on those cold snowy days when the white stuff falls down and covers everything in a white blanket.

You otter love some snow!

Last month, the animals at the VLM got to experience a snow day play day. Many of the animals found the snow quite entertaining, but others were not overtly happy to see the cold white stuff. Here's a video of our otter enjoying some snow play time:


Saturday, January 25, 2014

What will the woodchuck whisper? Winter or Spring?

What will the Groundhog say? Will there be 6 more weeks of winter? Or is spring just around the corner? During the first part of February, there is a custom that the groundhog, or woodchuck,  will come out of his den to predict what weather we may see with the coming of spring.  According to folklore, if the day is sunny and bright and the groundhog sees his shadow, he is said to be scared of his shadow and runs back into his den to sleep and  hide for 6 more weeks of winter.  But if the day is gray and cloudy, and he doesn't see his shadow, then spring is not far away.  Each year, Punxatawny Phil, the most well-known groundhog, comes out of his den to let his fans know if they should bundle up and stay in for a few more weeks, or if they can get out and about and enjoy warmer weather.  Groundhogs, also known as woodchucks, marmots, or whistle pigs,  are members of the rodent family who burrow into the ground and stay in warm dens to keep out of the cold during the winter season.  The critters, Marmota monax, are elusive creatures who hide in their burrows for a few months in winter weather. They're typically grizzled brown and of a uniform color.  They have a bushy tail, small ears, and short legs.  Feet are typically dark brown or black.  Woodchucks are active during the day, especially in early morning or late afternoon.  In preparation for winter hibernation, they will build up a heavy layer of fat in late summer or early fall.  They will dig a winter burrow with a hibernation chamber, in which they will curl up in a ball on a mat of grass.  Once the weather warms up in the spring, they will emerge from the den and begin looking for a mate. Woodchucks will feed on green vegetation, such as grass, clover or alfalfa, or sometimes they will feed on corn and can cause some damage to a crop.  If the woodchuck gets alarmed, it will give a large, sharp whistle, followed by softer whistles as it runs to its burrow then cautiously peeks out. (source: National; Audubon Society Field Guide to Mammals) This whistling behavior is where it gets one of its unusual nicknames, the whistle pig.   The Virginia Living Museum is home to a non-releasable male woodchuck who is Newport News' very own weather prognosticator and we are having an event to honor this whistle pig on Sunday February 2. On our Facebook page, we are having a contest to name our little guy, so take a look and cast your vote. His name will be revealed during our Groundhog Day celebration, so come and see if we will have 6 more weeks of winter or if spring is just around the corner.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Gone, but not forgotten.....always in our hearts

And so begins a year of new beginnings. I'm sad to report  that in December, our animal care staff lost one of our animal friends.  The female otter, affectionately known as Sweet Pea to the keepers, had been on display for many years.  "Sweet Pea" passed away due to a heart condition based on her old age.  This otter was 14 years old and came to us from an Amish otter breeder up in Pennsylvania.  Because of her age and inability to keep up with our younger male otter, she had been retired from the exhibit for about a year.  So as the end of 2013 has come and gone, let us look forward to the adventures to come in the year of 2014. 

To Absent Friends....

I see you in my eyes.....
And you'll always be in our hearts, Sweet Pea.

Monday, November 25, 2013


A doe and one of the turkeys enjoy an early morning snack
Hello, Fine feathered friends! This Wednesday is the 4th Annual turkey pardoning ceremony.  The weather forecast is calling for fowl weather, but hopefully that won't fowl things up to badly.  The ceremony will occur rain or shine, but activities may be moved inside depending on what the weather is doing that day.  Come start your Holiday season a little early and visit our fine feathered fowl.  According the website,, here are a number of explanations for the origin of the name of Thanksgiving's favorite dinner guest. Some believe Christopher Columbus thought that the land he discovered was connected to India, and believed the bird he discovered (the turkey) was a type of peacock. He therefore called it 'tuka,' which is 'peacock' in Tamil, an Indian language.
Though the turkey is actually a type of pheasant, one can't blame the explorer for trying.
The Native American name for turkey is 'firkee'; some say this is how turkeys got their name. Simple facts, however, sometimes produce the best answers—when a turkey is scared, it makes a "turk, turk, turk" noise.

If you are willing to brave the elements, come over to the VLM for the annual turkey pardoning ceremony. We hope to see you there.

Come see the turkeys!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Can you spot the raccoon?

This morning, while out on the boardwalk, our female raccoon was taking refuge from the rain showers up in one of the trees in the exhibit. She's checking out her surroundings to see what's going on. Can you spot the 'coon in the tree?

Female raccoon nestles on the tree branch amongst the autumn color