Despite the rise of multi-storey condos and the growing sprawl of mini malls gobbling up what greenery is left in the city, wildlife in York is still going strong. In fact, they’ve adapted quite well to urban areas.
“These animals have learned that there is little to fear from people,” said Wil Wegman, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Natural Resources for the Aurora District that also deals with Toronto.
“In many instances humans and their daily activities can become a primary source of food and even habitat.”
Although the human population in York continues to grow, the wildlife in the area has maintained a steady presence. It’s still a place where small mammals like squirrels, mice, chipmunks, raccoons and even opossums call home.
According to Toronto Field Naturalist member Madeleine McDowell, the York area is also home to mink, muskrats, beavers, red foxes and the occasional blue heron.
McDowell, who also co-ordinates walks around the city’s more vibrant wildlife areas, says the Scarlett Woods golf course at Eglinton Avenue and Scarlett Road holds its fair share of wildlife.
“A river flows through the golf course and crayfish and fish can be found there,” said McDowell. “Even Canadian geese nest in the area.”
A lush aquatic ecosystem upstream of the Humber River, which runs along the communities of Weston and Mount Dennis, is also exploding with a “diverse and vibrant fish population,” according to Wegman.
“Upstream, migratory Chinook salmon can be found in late summer/early fall,” said Wegman.
Eglinton Flats, bordered by Eglinton Avenue and Jane Street, in particular, has a variety of wildlife residing in its borders.
According to Dave “The Turtle Guy” Watkins, a regional outreach worker for reptiles and amphibians for the Toronto Zoo, the Flats are brimming with wildlife. There are 47 bird houses, 18 beehives, eight bat houses and at least three turtle nests.
To date there are three species of turtle that make their home at Topham Pond in the Flats: the snapping turtle, the Midland painted and now the red-eared slider, which has become an invasive species. According to Watkins, this species in particular is usually bought at pet stores.
“People get them and they grow to be huge and then people release them into the wild,” Watkins said. “A lot of them don’t survive, but they’re very adaptive and have actually got a foothold in the park. There are more of them now than our native species turtles.”
Watkins said the turtles’ competitive nature regarding nesting grounds has helped the species prevail.
Aside from the turtles, toads, green frogs and leopard frogs can also be found in the Flats. There are also a few bullfrogs, which Watkins believes were once pets that were let out into the wild.
Danger lurks in the area, particularly for turtles once they become more mobile in the spring. Many meet their fate trying to cross the busy streets of Jane and Eglinton. Those that do make it across occasionally end up nesting in residents’ backyards.
But at the moment, well into the winter months, most animals have either migrated south or are hibernating. However, residents may still catch the occasional wild beast rummaging around for food during the day or expanding their hunting range.
For the Toronto Wildlife Centre, its busiest season falls between April and October, but it still gets calls during the winter months about general wildlife concerns and orphaned or injured animals.
“It’s nowhere near as busy in the wintertime,” said Nathalie Karvonen, director of the Toronto Wildlife Centre. “We’re still steady, but it’s like night and day once springtime comes. There are not many babies to deal with, either.”
The TWC is the only rehabilitation centre in the GTA, making its facility the primary point of contact for most animal issues. According to Karvonen, the TWC receives more than 30,000 calls a year and has a maximum admittance of 5,000 animals.
This past year, York had 140 submissions of animals, the majority of them for birds ranging from pigeons to red-tailed hawks.
According to Karvonen, 60 to 70 per cent of the overall submissions into the rehab centre are birds.
“For a lot of the small migratory birds out there like warblers, kinglets...hitting buildings with glass windows is a very common reason for a bird to be admitted,” Karvonen said.
Other reasons include flying into power lines, getting hit by cars or being attacked by household cats, resulting in injuries such as a broken beak, head trauma or eye damage.
According to Sandy Donald, director of Ontario Wildlife Rescue, the incidence of orphaned and injured animals is escalating and has largely to do with human expansion.
“We’re moving into their territory and they don’t have anywhere else to go,” said Donald.
With humans encroaching more and more into rural areas, animals often wander into highly populated areas looking for food.
“I think we still need to do a lot of learning,” said Karvonen.
“For the most part wild animals in suburban and urban areas are just trying to do their normal stuff. It’s just difficult to do with the obstacles we present to them.”