A Golf Enthusiast’s Guide to Protecting Wildlife

provided by Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife

Golf courses provide beautiful scenery, desirable conditions, and an incredible landscape to enjoy a favorite pastime. Golf courses are great for our recreational activity, but it is important to remember that those perfectly manicured greens were once dense with ungroomed vegetation. Before development, many different species may have occupied and created habitats in that area. The creation of a golf course will not necessarily dissuade wildlife from venturing there; in fact, golf courses maintain short grasses and open areas which are especially desirable to certain wildlife species.

There are a couple different ways that golf enthusiasts can get the most out of their game while remaining ecologically aware and environmentally responsible. Many different species of wildlife can be found on Florida golf courses including cranes, egrets, snakes, turtles, burrowing owls, foxes, alligators, and more. The short grasses and open landscape provide enticing habitat potential, but also fertile hunting ground. For example, burrowing owls will make their homes within golf courses where they can nest and forage comfortably.

One of the simplest actions that can be taken to protect wildlife while on the course is to find and retrieve stray golf balls. It does not sound like much to us, but taking the extra time to search for that lost golf ball could prevent potential encounters that are fatal to wildlife. Burrowing owls will collect abandoned golf balls, stash them in their burrows, and attempt to incubate them. This does not present as much of a problem for the burrowing owl as it does for wildlife who identify bird eggs as a source of food. It is quite common for a snake to venture out in search of delicious and nutritious bird or turtle eggs that are nearly idenitical to golf balls in appearance, size, and shape. Whether a snake finds a stray ball off the fairway in the rough or in a burrowing owl’s den, mistaking this man-made material for an egg has dire consequences. A golf ball can not break down in the digestive tract like an egg would which poses an overall health issue that can lead to death. Picking up stray golf balls benefits not only native wildlife, but also saves the player some money by delaying the need to purchase replacements!

Yelling ‘FORE!’ is an excellent way to alert others that a flying projectile object might enter their vicinity. When it comes to birds in flight and those foraging on the ground, it is crucial to be proactive in checking surroundings. A golf ball has the potential to travel at speeds of over 100 miles an hour which can do significant damage. So before teeing off, take a moment for a deep, relaxing breath and gaze into the sky. Look to see if any birds are flying over the fairway then thoroughly scan for any wildlife who might be using the fairway as a crossing or foraging ground that could be in danger. The odds of hitting a single bird on the course are pretty low, but the likelihood of hitting an individual amongst a flock is much higher.

White ibises forage in groups called ‘congregations’ usually in shallow waters, and sometimes in well-maintained parks or lawns. On January 14, an adult white ibis was admitted to CROW from the Sanctuary Golf Course on Sanibel after a golf ball struck its upper body. Upon examination, the ibis was found to have blood in the mouth, esophagus, and windpipe (trachea) indicating that the impact of the golf ball did damage to the mentioned areas. The patient exhibited lack of coordination and neurological inappropriateness that was consistent with head and spinal trauma from being hit with a hard, fast-flying projectile. The patient was closely monitored under supportive care both indoors and outdoors to reduce the high levels of stress the ibis was experiencing. The white ibis patient passed all the requirements on our successful recovery checklist and, after about two weeks in care, was cleared for release!

Even in our recreational activity, as humans, we are responsible for being good stewards of the land and native wildlife. When on the course, watch for wildlife during play and support the course’s efforts to provide habitat. Encourage golf courses to limit usage of harmful pesticides and herbicies and to be active participants in environmental programs. Finally, educate others about the benefits of environmentally responsible golf course management for the future of the game, the environment, and native wildlife species.

THIS WEEK AT CROW (1/27-2/3):
There were 89 new patients admitted to CROW’s Wildlife Hospital including 11 eastern cottontails, 11 double-crested cormorants, three brown pelicans, 11 royal terns, two mourning doves, a great horned owl, and a chicken turtle. Recent Releases include six royal terns, a gopher tortoise, an osprey, and an eastern box turtle. Check out a full list of CROW’s current patients and recent releases!

Wildlife doesn’t have health insurance! Your donations help cover the costs of medical and rehabilitative care for over 5,000 patients admitted to CROW’s Wildlife Hospital each year!

Want to learn more about wildlife rehabilitation? Stop by CROW’s Visitor Education Center at 3883 Sanibel Captiva Road.

About Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW)
Established in 1968, the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW) is a teaching hospital saving the sick, injured and orphaned native and migratory wildlife of Southwest Florida and beyond.  Through state-of-the-art veterinary care, public education programs and an engaging visitor center, CROW works to improve the health of the environment, humans and our animals through wildlife medicine. For more information, or to plan your visit, go to www.crowclinic.org. If you find an animal that is in need of help, call (239) 472-3644 ext. #222.

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