What animals live in South Burlington? Where do they live? Are they in town for the entire year, or only part of it? How do they move around, and where do they go?
Our local wildlife population invites so many questions, yet many of us don’t stop to think about them very often. We see the songbirds at our backyard feeders, hear the occasional night-time howl of a coyote or the chorus of spring peepers, smell the clear sign that a striped skunk has been nearby, and go on with our lives. If we stop to look around us we find that South Burlington contains a complex mix of wetlands and waterways as well as residential, agricultural, and forested land; each of these areas provides habitat for a variety of animal species.
South Burlington is bordered by water on two sides: Lake Champlain on the west and Muddy Brook to the east. Other rivers and streams crisscross the town, along with their associated wetlands such as the Great Swamp. These water-dominated areas offer valuable habitat for wildlife, including beavers, mink, great blue herons, and many amphibian species.
The forests of South Burlington support a diverse mammal population, from deer, coyotes and fishers to chipmunks and red squirrels. Even specialized hunters like bobcat have left their tracks across the landscape. Long paths of connected wild habitat are key to helping these predators travel between hunting grounds. Great horned owls, the rarer long-eared owl, and other forest birds use South Burlington’s woods. Amphibians such as the wood frog and spotted salamander breed in vernal pools supported by the region’s slow-draining clay soils.
The agricultural parts of the town are also vital for wildlife, especially fallow or abandoned fields that have not yet re-forested. These fields are of particular importance to grassland birds, many of which are seeing population declines throughout Vermont. The loss of field habitat in the years since Vermont’s agricultural peak back in the late 1800’s has meant a decline in birds such as the bobolink and the eastern meadowlark, both of which are known to inhabit South Burlington. Agricultural fields also provide a home for many small rodents such as short-tailed shrews and meadow voles, which are important prey for owls, hawks, coyotes and many other species.
Even the residential and business areas of South Burlington offer habitat for many species, particularly the “generalists,” those with a wider possible range of diet and habitat. Many of us have seen deer nibbling the tender shoots of our own or our neighbors’ gardens. We’ve caught a quick glimpse of a fox darting across the road in the broad beam of the car headlights, and we’ve heard of raccoons getting into garbage cans that had been set out for early morning trash removal. We’re also familiar with the backyard birds — American robins, mourning doves, northern cardinals and many others.
South Burlington has a diverse wildlife population, from typical urban species to creatures of deeper forests. Care should be taken to maintain this wonderful diversity, so that future generations can still spot fisher tracks, hear the calls of spring peepers in the spring, or even catch a glimpse of a bobcat disappearing into the woods.