Richmond - like most cities on the edge of the wilderness - is host to a large number of non-human species, some of which were here before permanent human occupation, others that have actively been brought with us, and others that, once human activities had changed the environment to their liking, happily moved in. Many of us only become aware of these animals when they negatively affect our suburban lives, when a sidewalk is fouled, when a lawn is damaged or when there are unwelcome, non-human sounds coming from the attic or crawl space.
The ones that live among us, sharing city and neighbourhoods, can do so because they are very adaptable, and find our habits and the habitats we create—structures as well as green spaces—easy places to find food, shelter and in those that breed here, nurseries for their young. Another factor favouring their survival is the absence of natural predators such as wolves and cougars, which were eradicated from Richmond long ago.
The following information covers a number of species that are known to most of us and familiar to many. All have activities that can cause conflict with humans as they live their lives among ours; these species include:
The Barn Owl (Tyto fulcata) is one of Richmond’s most unusual and charismatic birds. Most active after sunset and often seen in flight, these pale, large-headed dark-eyed birds can appear moth-like or even ghostly. A bird of farmlands, Barn Owls were more common in Richmond when old-fields were widespread and wooden barns were numerous. As farmland gave way to urban development and agricultural practices modernized, the population of Barn Owls in Richmond declined, almost to the point of disappearing. In recent years this species has begun to bounce back, thanks largely to a carefully monitored nest-box program and the creation of habitat suitable for rodent prey species, and the City’s commitment to protecting and enhancing the islands natural environment.
B.C has the highest diversity of bats in Canada. Of the 18 species of bats found in Canada, 17 live in B.C and 10 can be found in Richmond such as the little Brown Bat (Myotis lucifungus). The diverse geography, climate and ecology of B.C provides varied habitat for feeding, roosting, reproduction and hibernation. Two of these 10 bat species migrate south for the winter, while the other eight hibernate from October through March. Bats become active in the spring when insect populations increase and are present in many cities (including Richmond) but most residents are unaware of them. Bats are mysterious animals, and hard to spot as they are nocturnal, but they can be seen nightly from April through October, from sunset to sunrise.
The beaver (Castor canadensis) is a large, aquatic mammal and a symbol of Canada, perhaps best known for its depiction on the nickel. In Richmond, beavers are found in areas near the Fraser River where natural habitat remains. Because they are mostly nocturnal, their presence may first be revealed by their modifications to our shared habitat, the felling of trees and damming of waterways with sticks and mud.
These birds typically nest in tree cavities where they can incubate eggs and raise their chicks protected from the elements and predators. As suitable trees vanish nesting boxes can substitute for a natural hole.
The coyote (Canis latrans) is a medium-sized, grey- brown dog with a pointed muzzle and large, pointed ears. It has slender legs and a long, bushy tail that is usually black-tipped. Coyotes are occasionally seen in daytime, standing in farm fields, or prowling amid the driftwood in the marshland beyond Richmond’s dykes, but are most active near dawn and dusk. In evenings, near natural areas you may hear their howling or yipping calls, one group of coyotes responding to another, or to the barking of neighbourhood domestic dogs, or even joining in chorus with the sirens of passing emergency vehicles. Coyotes hunt, breed and thrive in Richmond, generally undetected by its human residents.
The Eastern Grey Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) is the most common squirrel in Richmond. It is grey, brown or black with a broad, fluffy tail, and is often seen on trees, wires or lawns in parks and yards. It is not a native animal yet has thrived in urban environments throughout the Lower Mainland. Two native species of squirrel, Douglas’ Squirrel and the Northern Flying Squirrel, which formerly were widespread in Greater Vancouver, have diets and habits adapted to living in native coniferous forests, and rarely venture into developed areas. Douglas’ Squirrels may still be seen at the Richmond Nature Park.
Large, loud, and locally common, the Glaucous-winged Gull (Larus glaucescens) is the most numerous and conspicuous of several species of gull found in Richmond. It is the “seagull” encountered at marinas, schoolyards and parks, inserted within quotes because the correct term for any of the approximately 50 species of web-footed, usually grey-backed birds with white heads and undersides, typically found near coasts and large bodies of water, is simply “gull.”
The Great Blue Heron: No wild animal is more closely associated with the City of Richmond than the Great Blue Heron. Not only is this tall, long-legged bird a common sight along the dykes and ditches that characterize the city, but in stylized form it is found on City documents, signage, vehicles, and more.
Known to most simply as a “crow,” the Northwestern Crow (Corvus caurinus) is a conspicuous, mid-sized, black bird with black legs. The stout, black bill is partially covered by bristle-like feathers surrounding the nostrils. Males and females look similar, but males are slightly larger. Juvenile birds look like adults, but lack the bluish iridescence of adult feathers. Foraging on the ground, the Northwestern Crow can walk or hop.
Rabbits are a common sight in Richmond. They’re comfortable around people and favour residential neighbourhoods with well-established gardens as well as parks and landscaped business areas where they can find food and shelter from predators.
The raccoon (Procyon lotor) is a familiar animal, regarded fondly by some for its cuddly appearance, and less fondly by others for the problems it creates for gardeners, home owners, and farmers. It is the size of a small dog, with a stocky, hunch-backed appearance, and is known for its distinctive black mask and bushy tail with alternating dark and pale rings. Its fur is thick, black, and white-tipped, which gives it a frosted, grey appearance. The muzzle is pointed and the ears are prominent and rounded. The front paws are hand-like, and the rear paws are elongate with long toes, producing flat-footed tracks.
The Lesser Snow Goose (Chen caerulescens) breeds in Wrangel Island, Siberia, and in fall migrates down the Pacific Coast of North America to spend the winter in food-rich river estuaries in southern British Columbia, Washington and northern California. It is a large, long-lived bird, weighing 2.5 to 2.7 kg and living 10-20 years in the wild. Adults have snow-white bodies, black–tipped wings, a pink bill with black markings and pink feet. Juveniles have a grey wash to the feathers, grey bills and grey feet. The birds that we see in Richmond from October to April are a subgroup of the Wrangel Island breeding population known as the Fraser-Skagit flock.
The striped skunk, (Mephitis mephitis) is cat-sized, short-legged and stocky. It has a tapered muzzle, small eyes and small ears. It is mostly black, with a narrow white stripe from nose to forehead, and white cap on the top of the head that extends as two broad stripes down either side of the body to the plume-like tail, which is slightly shorter than the length of the body and contains variable amounts of white and black hairs. It is shy, slow-moving, has limited climbing ability, and poor eyesight. The natural diet of skunks consists mostly of insects such as grasshoppers, crickets, beetle larvae and moths, but also includes small mammals, birds, birds’ eggs, frogs, snakes, slugs and snails, and carrion. Some fruits are also eaten. In urban areas, skunks will eat garden fruits, grain crops such as corn, and human food scraps.
The sections above provide information on why and how these animals are here, what they do here, how we encourage their presence and what we can do to discourage them from damaging our homes and gardens.
Common “pest” species not included are rats and house mice. Call Environmental Health (Richmond Health Services) at 604-233-3147 for rodent issues.