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Animal sightings are up amid stay-at-home restrictions, but they’ve always been there

Maggie Veith, a senior animal control officer with Humane Rescue Alliance, reunites baby ducks with their mother. (Humane Rescue Alliance)

Animal control agencies in the Washington region are fielding more calls about wildlife from residents who are under stay-at-home orders and encountering foxes, raccoons and other animals in their neighborhoods.

The increase in call volume is not because of more wildlife but rather more people at home amid the coronavirus outbreak and seeing the animals, wildlife experts said. The animals have always been there. The humans haven’t always noticed them.

In the District, officials at the Humane Rescue Alliance said they saw an 18 percent jump in calls last month about wildlife sightings or animal encounters compared with March 2019. Spring is typically the busiest time of year, officials said, as baby birds, rabbits and other animals emerge.

“With more people at home, we tend to get more calls because people are seeing animals like raccoons in their yards or birds fallen out of nests,” said Lauren Crossed, a Humane Rescue Alliance wildlife program manager.

She said people shouldn’t worry about animals acting naturally, even if their appearance in the neighborhood is rare. A raccoon out in the daytime isn’t necessarily rabid, she said, but if the raccoon appears drunk or is falling over, it should be reported to wildlife control.

While calls have generally been on the rise, that’s not the case across the board.

The calls from downtown Washington have been fewer, Crossed said. And the city’s duck watch program — which rescues mother ducks and ducklings that need assistance or get stuck in places such as courtyards or storm drains — has had an easier time helping ducks with fewer people and cars around.

With downtown less populated during the pandemic, Crossed said, ducks are able to lay their eggs without interruptions or human interactions.

“Usually we have to stop traffic,” Crossed said of efforts to move ducks from one place to another. Battling downtown traffic has become a simpler task with office buildings nearly empty.

She said rescuers also get calls to help ducks on the Mall, but that hasn’t been the case this spring as tourism to the city has plummeted.

“Wildlife is free to do what they do naturally,” Crossed said.

Wildlife groups and animal control officials also have received fewer calls about animals being struck by vehicles, probably stemming from fewer cars on the road. Crossed’s group usually receives many calls about geese or foxes being hit while looking for food or a mate in the spring, but that hasn’t been the case this year.

In Montgomery County, officials said they saw a “considerable uptick in wildlife calls” in recent weeks, increasing to 422 calls this year from mid-March to mid-April, up from 305 calls during that same period last year.

Rodney Taylor, chief of the Prince George’s County Animal Services division, said his office has received more calls than previous spring seasons from all parts of the county.

“We see more calls, and one reason is that people are shut in and they’ll see way more animals than they normally do when they’re not home,” Taylor said. “It’s part of nature. They’re out there, and unless they’re on your porch or deck, it’s best to leave them.”

In Virginia, Chris Brosan, head of Loudoun County’s Animal Services division, said his department has seen about a 4 percent rise in wildlife-related calls in the past month compared to recent years.

“With fewer cars and fewer people out, wildlife are opportunistic,” he said. “Animals are taking advantage and out there exploring.”

Still, a bear sighting in the suburbs almost always generates some excitement.

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams tweeted last week when he saw a bear in his Tysons Corner neighborhood. The post read, “Yesterday this guy was walking through my neighborhood.” It went on to say, “Perhaps one good thing to come from our #COVID19 tragedy is a pause for Mother Nature.”

Wildlife experts say bears are waking up from hibernation and that sightings are possible this time of year across much of the Washington region.

Katherine Edwards, a Fairfax County wildlife management specialist, said in an email that her department usually sees “an increase in wildlife-related calls during the spring because it’s baby animal season, but nothing above the norm” this year.

Officials said because it is spring, many animals are out and about searching food or caring for their young. What’s different this spring is that wildlife has more observers.

“People may come across them more because they are spending more time outdoors and gardening,” Edwards said.

She said the county has received reports of black bears “recently moving through the county” but cautioned that it “happens every year at this time.”

Coronavirus news in D.C., Virginia and Maryland

The latest: More than two years into the pandemic, covid cases in the D.C. region are rising again, , while liberal Montgomery County asks who deserves credit for its robust covid response. Meanwhile, Black funeral directors still face a daunting amount of deaths from covid and the omicron wave has had an unequal toll in the DMV.

At-home tests: Here’s how to use at-home covid tests, where to find them and how they differ from PCR tests.

Mapping the spread: Tens of thousands have died in the local region and nationwide cases number in the hundreds of thousands.

Omicron: Remaining covid restrictions in the D.C.-area, plus a breakdown of variant symptoms and mask recommendations.

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