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Avoiding Animals
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Roadkill Avoidance Tips

Compiled by Merritt Clifton, editor, Animal People

The Numbing Numbers

Every day in the U.S.A., 190 million motor vehicles hit the road, and as many as 1 million animals get hit by motor vehicles. That's counting cars, buses, motorbikes, and trucks, but not ATV's, snowmobiles, and other off-road vehicles. And that's counting mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians, but not insects and bugs with boneless backs, who somehow never count....Fauna fatalities peak along secondary roads through edge habitat where field meets forest or where meadow meets marsh. Add more during late summer and early fall, when springborn leave home to strike out on their own. And add more on new and full moons, when drivers seem more reckless and animals less reclusive. And more on Friday and Saturday nights, when celebratory drivers get "smashed" and when unsuspecting animals get smashed too.


More than 100 Americans are killed each year in deer/car collisions -- and 70% of the time the driver slowed down for one deer, then stepped on the gas and hit another. Deer babies are as big as their mamas in October and November, but they are still babies, and they still follow Mama. Mamas often have two fawns, so if you see one deer, slow down and look for two more.

In spring and summer, deer hide from danger. In fall, when the leaves are down, they run. More than half of all deer/car collisions occur in October and November. If you see hunters' vehicles parked by the road, watch for frightened deer running from gunfire, or hunters and/or dogs driving deer.


Many birds cannot rise fast enough to evade an oncoming car, unless they fly directly ahead of the car, using the air current it pushes to provide extra lift. If you brake for a bird flying straight ahead of you, you may take away the push he needs and send him crashing into your windshield. Lift your foot off the gas until the bird rises above your car or peels away to one side.


Cars killed 5.4 million cats last year, most of them at night. Typically cats know cars are dangerous, but confuse the beams from your headlights with your car itself. When the lights go by them, they think it's safe to dash out. Expect them to make that mistake and you'll be prepared to react if they do.


1.2 million dogs were killed on U.S. roads last year, and most of them were likely chasing something -- a ball, a child, a cat, a squirrel. When you see anything that a dog might chase enter the road, look for the dog.


Opossums feast on roadkill, a habit that gets about 8.3 million opossums a year roadkilled. A large object in the road at night may be roadkill and an opossum, who may either freeze in your headlights or try to run away. Opossums don't run very fast, so slow down until you've positively identified the situation.


Common in late spring, a rabbit scared out of the road by the car ahead of you might circle right back into the road. A quick tap of your horn as you approach where the rabbit went may freeze him out of harm's way.


In spring young beavers leave their parents to seek their own pond. They move slowly, usually at night, and can be hard to see -- but if you're driving near wetlands, expect them. They typically try to cross roads at culverts.


Raccoons often travel in family groups of up to seven members, so if one raccoon is hit, the rest may stay beside her and get hit, too. Raccoons also scavenge roadkills. They'll turn to face a sudden danger, often stepping into the path of a speeding car. Try to avoid getting their attention. Don't jam on the brakes, don't accelerate; just ease off the gas and cruise casually by.


In spring, so many turtles are hit by cars as they migrate between breeding ponds that many species have become regionally endangered. If you're near wetlands and see a rounded lump in the road, assume it's a turtle until you know otherwise.


Skunks newly awakened from winter hibernation are slow to recognize danger. When threatened, their defense is to turn their backs and spray. If you see a skunk beside the road, don't slow down abruptly. The skunk may think you've seen him and will attack. Act as if you're minding your own business and he'll go on about minding his.

In July and August, a skunk may be leading four to seven kittens across the road, and they may trail up to 20 feet behind her. If you see one skunk, look for more before assuming it's safe to pass.


Coldblooded snakes will warm themselves on pavement in late summer, but they often can't move away quickly when a car approaches. If you see a straight object that looks like a stick in the road, assume it's a snake until you know it isn't.


Woodchucks dart out on the road much like cats, hunched low to the ground to avoid being seen. Drivers who often mistake them for cats allow enough time for a cat to cross in front of them; but a woodchuck at best moves only half as fast, and 5 million woodchucks a year get hit by cars. That fat brown cat in the road ahead may be a woodchuck.


In wet weather, if you're near a pond or ditch and it's not yet fall, you'll likely be seeing frogs. They'll freeze in your headlights, so don't expect them to move. Slow down and try to drive around them.


In winter, moose will lick road salt and travel along ploughed roads. At night, moose are almost invisible because they are dark, don't make sudden moves, and are tall enough that your tired eyes fixed to the headlit roadway may not recognize them. Slow down in moose country, and keep your eyes moving up and to the sides.


Bears feast on roadside grass or berries, especially in remote country, so beware of thickets close to the road. When bears bolt across roads, they do it at a dead run, and babies follow Mama. If you see one bear, look for two more. And look out for bear-watchers who've stopped their cars in the roadway.

All Species

It's easier and safer to anticipate animals in the road than it is to miss them once they're in front of you. Watch for sudden movement in roadside grass and shrubbery. Remember that most lines in the woods are vertical -- if you see something horizontal, it may be an animal.

What to do if you hit an animal or find a wounded animal: Call the Marin Humane Society: 883-4621, or Wildcare: 456-SAVE.

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