Recent snowfall and freezing temperatures affected many fish and wildlife species throughout the state and now Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) is asking for the public’s help in reporting any animal mortality events they observe on their property, ranches, or in their neighborhoods through this project on the iNaturalist website. Citizens are encouraged to report observations so that biologists can better understand the impacts of Winter Storm Uri to natural resources.
The prolonged period of subfreezing temperatures, coupled with a limited availability of food resources due to snow and ice has had some impact on wildlife resources; however, given the secretive nature of most wildlife species, the full extent of the impact cannot yet be determined. Some of the wildlife species impacted by the storm include exotic, non-native ungulates like axis deer, blackbuck and nilgai antelope that originate in temperate climates, various bat species and multiple bird species.
While TPWD has no regulatory authority regarding the management of exotic species, the cold weather did have a significant impact on these species. Native species like white-tailed and mule deer are much more tolerant to these extreme cold weather events than the exotics.
TPWD does not foresee any significant losses of white-tailed or mule deer. Noticeable white-tailed deer mortalities, except for a few older deer, are not being reported. Some mortality of very old white-tailed deer, or those in poor body condition, is to be expected.
Despite the potential significant loss of axis and blackbuck, this mortality event may lower free-ranging exotic populations in areas of the Texas Hill Country where they were overpopulated, ultimately helping native habitats that benefit white-tailed deer and other wildlife.
At this time, the more pressing concern is possible impacts the cold weather had on the native deer habitat in some regions. In South Texas, some brush species still had green leaves prior to the freeze and snowfall. Now, however, TPWD staff are noticing many shrubs shedding leaves and turning brown. Additionally, the winter herbaceous vegetation, which are critical for deer this time of year and into the early spring, were impacted and burned by the freezing temperatures. TPWD is hopeful that, despite the cold temperatures, the moisture from the snow and ice was able to be absorbed by the soil and as temperatures warm up, the usual spring green-up will take place statewide.
Across the state, citizens, biologists, and park employees are reporting dead bats under bridges, along with finding live bats that were downed due to the freeze because of dehydration, starvation, and cold body temperatures. Currently, wildlife rehabilitators and other organizations are being inundated with the bats that survived the storm and doing everything they can to help.
Should citizens find dead or live bats, it’s extremely important that people do not handle bats. The best course of action is to record the observation via iNaturalist and then, if the downed bat is still alive, contact a rehabilitator. A list of wildlife rehabilitators can be found on the TPWD website as well as on the Bat World Sanctuary website.
TPWD staff continue to receive reports of dead birds, including waterfowl. Biologists have received reports of dead songbirds and woodpeckers, possibly resulting from poor body condition and lack of cover from ongoing drought conditions in certain habitats. Insectivorous and nectivorous bird species likely suffered greater losses than other bird species. Quail, however, fared well according to some reports. Richland Creek Wildlife Management Area (WMA), among other WMAs with wetland ecosystems, reported hundreds of dead coots and multiple dead Blue-winged Teal.
As staff are able to continue visiting field sites, along with reports from the public through iNaturalist, TPWD will be able to better analyze the long term Winter Storm Uri impacts on wildlife and other resources.