Scavengers Among Us

A black crow

American crow finds a snack.

Scavengers are animals who eat carrion and decaying plant matter. They play an important ecological role by feeding on organic waste. Here are a few you might find in the watershed.

Scavengers in the sky

One of our most common year-round scavenging birds is the crow. They’re often seen roadside indulging in roadkill or organic waste, like apple cores and banana peels. Unfortunately, their roadside dining habit increases their risk of becoming roadkill themselves. Avoid tossing waste from your car to reduce fatalities.

Turkey vultures are also well-adapted to the scavenging lifestyle. They can smell decaying flesh up to a kilometer away! You’ve likely seen them circling the sky sniffing out a snack. If you’re lucky, you may also spot a bald eagle. While less common in Ontario, you may see one feeding on dead fish washed up along the shoreline.

Scavengers on the ground

Raccoons, skunks and opossums feed on any garbage they can get their paws on. Often thought of as pests, they’re actually more like nature’s cleanup crew. They eat rotting fruits and vegetables and even pesky insects and rodents. Opossums perform a significant civic duty by eating up to 4,000 ticks a week! But make sure garbage and compost lids are well-sealed, otherwise these scavengers may make a mess rather than clean one up.

Scavengers in the ground

When you dig beneath the leaves or soil in your garden, you may encounter some of our smaller and lesser-known scavengers. Millipedes, beetles, and slugs help create healthy soil by breaking down organic matter into smaller bits so decomposers like fungi and bacteria can work their magic. Healthy soil is an integral part of a healthy ecosystem and necessary for healthy, beautiful gardens.

You might be surprised to know that a more commonly seen underground scavenger, the earthworm, is an invasive species in Ontario. While they may benefit a vegetable garden, they can cause damage in natural areas by consuming too much leaf litter, altering the chemistry and structure of the soil.

Photo CC BY 2.0 Fyn Kind 

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