Eye on Wildlife: Trail cams help explore urban ecosystem

A screen capture of a skunk on a trail camera
A trail camera revealed not only that a skunk is living under this urban shed, but that an entire ecosystem visits the yard at night.

By Michael Howie

One doesn’t expect to see a lot of wildlife in most cities. One certainly doesn’t expect to see much in an urban centre nicknamed ‘Steel City.’

Trail cameras, however, can give us a glimpse into an ecosystem we rarely get to see.

Hamilton, Ontario, is a city situated on Lake Ontario, about one hour southwest of Toronto and about 45 minutes from the international border at Niagara Falls. It was developed on the traditional territories of the Erie, Neutral, Huron-Wendat, Haudenosaunee and Mississaugas. Over 500,000 people call Hamilton home, as do numerous industries including the city’s namesake: steel. The ‘Lower City’ is the most densely populated urban area, stretching from the Westdale community (McMaster University) to the more suburban Stoney Creek.

Setting up my trail camera for the first time during the winter was meant more to determine who was living under the backyard shed. Loose garden stones, layered around the shed, acted more as a cardiovascular exercise for whomever was finding shelter beneath the metal structure. The yard is always welcome to visitors, but having a permanent resident under a high-traffic shed wouldn’t do well for my family, including my rescue dog, or the visitor(s).

The camera yielded results quickly: a skunk poked their head out of the hole. Skunks. And a mouse. Possibly a possum. Did the rabbit stick their head in? That’s a raccoon butt.

Many months (and many images and videos) later, I can surmise that this urban visitor was a single (or possibly two) skunk who either didn’t have any kits, or at least didn’t have kits at this den site. But this little quest with a trail camera didn’t end there; I have counted several species who routinely visit the yard not as a place to feed, but simply because it’s on the way to where they’re going. More on that soon.

The skunk(s) has (have) remained under the shed as temporary lodgers without issue through the winter; however, this summer, simple fencing will be put in place to prevent future denning. This will also allow for repair to (and prevention of future) damage to the plywood floor of the shed, as it was impacted by the condensation and potential chewing from animals spending a winter below it.

Fortunately, there are many places nearby – and clearly already multiple other den sites – available for this skunk, including other areas of the same yard. The trail camera allowed me to understand who was visiting, how long to leave them in place so as to not interrupt their natural life, and create a solution that won’t cause harm to anyone in this diverse urban ecosystem.

More stories from my urban yard and trail cameras will be coming soon, and we’d love to share your stories, too! Contact us at info@TheFurBearers.com (please don’t send large media files directly) and tell us your story to see if it’s a fit for sharing in our Eye on Wildlife series.

Michael Howie is the Director of Communications for The Fur-Bearers and host of the Defender Radio and The Switch podcasts.

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