A New Camera Trap Monitoring Program for Private Landowners

A New Camera Trap Monitoring Program for Private Landowners

A deer darting across a path, a bobwhite calling at sunrise, or the tracks of a coyote in the mud are all fascinating examples of how we enjoy our natural areas. Have you ever wished you could watch wildlife all day to understand the intricate relationships they have with one another? What if you could learn more about their behavior? And their habitat and daily activities?

Deer captured on a digital game camera. Image: Dr. Carolina Barzzui.

Dr. Carolina Baruzzi at the UF/IFAS North Florida Research and Education Center and Dr. Corey Callaghan at the UF/IFAS Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center are launching “ConservationCam”, a new extension program to help you monitor wildlife on your property using camera traps.

Camera traps are a valuable tool for wildlife monitoring. When an animal moves in front of a camera, they trigger a motion sensor to take a picture or video. Camera traps can be set up in multiple ways to target a species or habitat of interest, such as a forest opening or a wildlife burrow. Thanks to their versatility and relative low cost, camera traps are being used in a variety of contexts, for example, understanding the effects of wildlife or habitat management on target species.

Images of turkeys captured on a digital game cam. Image: Dr. Carolina Barzzui.

The primary goal of ConservationCam is to provide private landowners with access to camera traps, and expert guidance about monitoring wildlife and managing natural resources for biodiversity based on camera trap observations. Armed with this knowledge, landowners can make informed decisions about land management practices that positively impact biodiversity on their property. If you live in the Florida Panhandle, and are interested in using camera traps to monitor wildlife on your property, while learning how to answer different ecological questions, we are gathering expressions of interest through this online form.

Rabbit near a burrow on a digital game came. Image: Dr. Carolina Barzzui.
Why white-tailed deer have spots

Why white-tailed deer have spots

About now a doe is searching among the shrubs and grasses. She is looking for a site to have her fawns.

White-tailed deer fawn season will peak in the summer across the Florida Panhandle. In the first weeks of life, fawns are not able to follow their mother and spend most of their time bedding. Although vulnerable, fawns can still rely on remarkable adaptations to survive. Their spotted coat provides excellent camouflage amidst the dappled sunlight filtering through the vegetation. To avoid being detected by predators, newborn fawns also have minimal scent and the ability to suppress their respiratory and cardiac systems when predators are nearby.

In addition to these critical adaptations, vegetation cover is essential to provide fawns the protection they need from predators. A lack of ground cover makes fawns very easy for predators to see, spots or not. This cover is also critical to protect fawns from heat, especially during Florida hot summers. Ideal fawning sites have thick and abundant vegetation. In particular, early successional sites where forbs (i.e., broad-leaved herbs) and native grasses are abundant are the perfect hiding cover for fawns. While forbs and grasses are important components of fawn cover, forbs can also help improve mother’s and fawns’ nutrition. In fact, forbs can be rich in crude protein and nutrient content, with some forbs reaching more than 30 percent crude protein content. The summer is a period of exceptionally high nutritional stress for mothers and fawns, and access to high-quality forage promotes fawn nutrition and growth. Because the mothers do not usually move far from their fawns, fawning sites rich in forbs can keep mothers healthy, and provide good forage for fawns.

Knowing the challenges fawns face, here are three things you can do to help:

First, if you find fawns, do not approach them – they are most likely not abandoned! Mothers leave fawns alone to avoid attracting predators close to the fawn bedding area, but they visit them throughout the day to nurse. Interacting with the fawn may cause them stress and, if fawns are relocated by humans, they may be permanently separated from their mothers.

Second, do not mow or pay close attention when mowing. Mowing can remove good fawn cover or, worse yet, endangering fawns.

Third, it is essential to promote good fawn cover. Landowners and managers can promote fawn cover by establishing or maintaining existing early successional sites such as forest openings. Thinning and prescribed fire can go a long way to promote this vegetation structure. However, remember that it takes time for the vegetation to respond and regrow after management practices have been applied. For example, mothers with fawns will likely avoid freshly burned areas unless they are close to other areas with better cover.

Helpful links to learn more:

EDIS white-tailed deer fact sheet: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/UW121

Fire University Podcast, Fire as a tool to increase nutrient availability for fawns and lactating does: https://fireuniversity.libsyn.com/episode-27-fire-as-a-tool-to-increase-nutrient-availability-for-fawns-and-lactating-does-ft-dr-bronson-strickland

Deer University Podcast, Predator impacts: https://deeruniversity.libsyn.com/predator-impacts-part-2

Key deer mother lactating. White-tailed deer mothers leave fawns hiding, but visit them throughout the day to nurse. Photo: Michael Cove.