As part of its mission to “inspire the naturalist in all of us,” Hickory Knolls Discovery Center is home to a variety of mammals, reptiles, amphibians and insects. For most visitors, it’s easy to see how these wildlife ambassadors can entertain at a Hickory Knolls birthday bash or help educate a group of school children, but there’s a deeper message…
They inspire us to take action to protect engaged species. They empower us to fight climate change and preserve habitats. They encourage us to understand the needs of wild animals and how they differ from the pets we keep at home. Who knew a little turtle or a pet bunny could do so much?
For more information on the animals that live at Hickory Knolls click here.
Read on to find out more about our wildlife initiatives…
Blanding’s Turtle Recovery Program
Hickory Knolls is a proud participant in the Blanding’s Turtle Recovery Program, an initiative started in the 1990s and coordinated by the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County.
Blanding’s turtles have bright yellow chins and throats and smooth, helmet-shaped yellow-speckled shells. They live in quiet waters in wetlands; shallow, vegetated portions of lakes; and wet sedge meadows. They are chiefly carnivorous and eat snails, insects, crayfish and small vertebrates like frogs and fish. Due to habitat loss, combined with the turtle’s low reproduction rate and age at which breeding begins, the native Blanding’s turtle population is at risk.
The goal of our turtle exhibit is to not only educate the public on the plight of Blanding’s turtles, which are endangered in Illinois, but also to achieve indoor breeding success. An indoor pond is home to six turtles, two males and four females, and features 500 gallons of aquatic habitat, a basking area and a ‘sandy beach’ where the turtles will one day deposit their eggs. Through cooperative programs such as the one between the Park District and the Forest Preserve, it is hoped that more Blanding’s turtles can be bred in captivity.
Do Blanding’s turtles still live in the wild in Kane County?
They sure do! Although few and far between, several Blanding’s turtles are known to inhabit our area. In fact, thanks to the information on display here at Hickory Knolls, at least three previously undiscovered Blanding’s turtles have been documented. Vital statistics including location, gender, measurements and approximate age have been recorded and entered into the Blanding’s Recovery Program database.
What should I do if I spot a Blanding’s turtle?
Do not handle the animal*. Take a photo and, if possible, record the GPS coordinates of the location where the turtle was seen. Then call Hickory Knolls at 630-513-4399. We will relay your information to the appropriate Blanding’s Recovery Program authorities.
*Note: If the turtle is in a roadway, intervention may be necessary. Ask a Hickory Knolls naturalist for more advice.
Chimney Swift Tower Project
Chimney Swifts are small, dark birds that are cylindrical in shape. They historically used large, hollow trees for nests and roosts. As the ancient forests were cut down, they learned to use chimneys and other structures instead. Today chimney swifts rely almost entirely on man-made structures for nest sites. But the chimneys of old, without linings or caps, are disappearing—just as the forests did. Conservation groups throughout the eastern United States are building Chimney Swift Towers, hollow columns custom-made for swifts to roost and nest in. Hickory Knolls is home to one such tower, built by Veterans Conservation Corps of Chicagoland and installed in May 2014.
Each year, the Chimney Swifts winter in the Amazon Basin of Peru. They return every March to the continental United States to breed and raise their young. Many individual birds will use our tower to roost or rest, but each summer only one pair of swifts will build a nest and raise young there.
How can you help the chimney swifts?
If you have a masonry or clay tile chimney, keep the top open and the damper shut March thru October. Metal chimneys should be permanently capped.
Have your chimney cleaned in early March before the chimney swifts return for the summer.
Before hiring a chimney sweep, ask what action they take when they find birds in a chimney. Avoid companies that advertise “Bird Removal.”
Wild Vs. Pet Educational Initiative
Have you met Peter Rabbit?
Petey is Hickory Knolls’ friendly mascot and poster bunny for animal rescue. Once a stray rabbit, Petey now enjoys a comfortable life in his forever home. His daytime playpen is front and center in the lobby and he always appreciates a pat on the head or a scratch behind the ears.
Petey helps out with nature programs, but more importantly, he reminds visitors that if an animal is a pet, it should stay a pet and not be released into the wild. Domestic rabbits are a different species from our wild cottontails. Having been bred in captivity, they have little comprehension of the wild world; also their “pet” colors – black, white and tan, to name a few – afford little in the way of camouflage. Most domestic rabbits released into the wild are captured and killed by predators within a few days of being let go.
Pet rabbits are one example, but there are many others. Pet fish, snakes, turtles and frogs often find themselves being “set free,” even though they are no more wild than the bunny. Hickory Knolls naturalists have even found ferrets wandering in parks where they were let go. While some of these animals die because of weather elements or from a predator, many others survive. And then we face a whole other set of problems. Animals that have lived in captivity harbor different sorts of bacteria than animals that live in the wild; even if the released animals show no symptoms, they can still make other animals sick by bringing in germs the wild populations are not accustomed to.
For example, leopard frogs, those common classroom pets, can infect an entire pond with aeromonas hydrophila, a parasite that causes a deadly infection. And the red swamp crayfish, often used in school science projects, are vectors of a disease known as crayfish plague fungus; they also carry numerous viruses and parasites.
Simply said, pets should stay pets. If an animal is raised in captivity, it should stay in captivity, even if the owner has to put forth some effort to find the animal a new home. Likewise, if an animal is living in the wild, it should stay wild. This concept sounds simple too, until you’re faced with a plea from your favorite youngster who’s just found the cutest toad (or turtle or snake) ever.
But taking animals from the wild and keeping them in captivity usually ends up in a lose-lose situation. The park that lost the animal has one less creature for people to enjoy and the animal itself loses its freedom and sometimes its life when it ends up forgotten in a box or jar.
So, come out to Hickory Knolls and visit Peter Rabbit and all his wild friends! But when you leave, take home this important message – wildlife should stay wild and pets should stay pets.