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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Two bald eagles fly from trees off Lakeshore path on March 3, 2024.

Campus critters: Exploring wildlife encounters at UW-Madison

A look at the diverse wildlife that call Madison home.

Every day, tens of thousands of University of Wisconsin-Madison students and faculty members traverse across the city. But amid the commotion of campus life lies a thriving and diverse ecosystem of wildlife — from raccoons to cranes to even coyotes — that call Madison home.

There are many wildlife sightings on campus, many of which are up-close encounters. 

Alex Nelson, a freshman at UW-Madison, said he has seen a hawk, a bald eagle and raccoons, among other animals. According to Nelson, raccoons are often seen at night around the Lakeshore neighborhood, while raptors are seen in the middle of the day. 

“I saw a hawk kill a squirrel and eat it, which was very fun to watch,” Nelson said. “And also a few days ago I saw a bald eagle.” 

Dr. David Drake, a UW-Madison Wildlife Ecology professor, said there is abundant wildlife on campus, including foxes, coyotes, deer, beavers and owls. 

Drake said there is a pack of coyotes that live in the Lakeshore Nature Reserve and often cross Lake Mendota in the winter. Meanwhile, he said foxes live all around campus, and the first foxes found on campus had made a den underneath Van Hise Hall. 

“When the fox kits first came up above ground on a sunny, warm spring day, there had to be 500 people in that grassy area just watching them,” Drake said. 

Jackie Sandberg, the Wildlife Program Manager at Dane County Humane Society’s Wildlife Center, said the center sees an average of 130-150 native species every year. Raptors and songbirds are most commonly brought in from campus. 

An urban landscape provides a great home for these types of wildlife, according to Drake. Urban landscapes possess both human and natural food sources, and wildlife can make homes out of human-made buildings. Drake said wildlife use structures such as chimneys or attics as shelter. 

However, Sandberg warned that an urban landscape can bring dangers to wildlife. Usually, animals come into the Wildlife Center if they are injured, diseased or orphaned. 

Sandberg said ducklings and other baby animals are especially vulnerable to being injured or separated from their parents because Lake Mendota and Lake Monona are separated by busy roads. 

“Hit by car accidents is probably one of the number one reasons we see patients from the downtown area,” Sandberg said. 

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She added that the “closer proximity people have to wildlife, there’s usually going to be some kind of conflict.” This can be from using environmental spaces or from wildlife getting stuck in things humans put into the environment, such as fishing lines. 

Sandberg said she sees mallard ducklings most commonly at the Wildlife Center. However, American robins, painted turtles, red-tailed hawks and great horned owls are also high on the list, though it varies from year to year. 

If you find an injured, sick or orphaned animal on campus, Sandberg suggests taking a photo and sending it to the Wildlife Center to help rehabilitators identify whether the animal needs assistance. 

If the animal needs help and can be safely contained, she advises calling the Wildlife Center before driving the animal to them. Additionally, she warned against giving the animal food or water because it will increase the animal’s stress level.

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