Wildlife-Human Interactions in Manitoba

Manitobans coexist with an abundance of wildlife.  This provides opportunities for both positive and negative interactions between people and wildlife.  Positive interactions include the many wildlife viewing, photography, hunting and trapping opportunities that are available in Manitoba. Negative interactions (conflicts) can include threats to the safety and health of people, pets, livestock and wildlife; damage to property such as agricultural products, buildings, vehicles and infrastructure; and negative effects on wildlife populations, individual animals, habitat, and the public’s tolerance level for wildlife presence.

Wherever people may be living, working or pursuing recreational activities, they may interact with wildlife. Wild animals are found throughout Manitoba, which means that interactions can occur in urban, rural, or wilderness areas of the province. However, the risk of a dangerous encounter with wildlife generally increases with the distance from urban development and human activity.

If you encounter wild animals, always treat them with caution and respect. Learn to recognize the signs of wildlife presence and/or damage, and understand what actions you can take to reduce risks for people, property and wildlife.

Wildlife Smart

Manitobans and visitors to the province are encouraged to be Wildlife Smart. Wildlife Smart means understanding why we have conflicts with wildlife, taking action to reduce the risk of conflicts, and knowing how to respond appropriately when interacting with wildlife.

Why do we have conflicts?

There will always be some level of conflict between people and wildlife because humans share land, air and water resources with other species.  However, there are three major factors that can significantly increase the risk of wildlife-human conflict by bringing people and wildlife into closer physical proximity to one another.  These factors are:

  1. Attractants: Attractants include things that wild animals may consider to be potential food, cover, or water sources. Wildlife may be drawn into an area of human development/activity due to the presence of attractants. 
  2. Habituation: A habituated animal has learned through repeated positive or neutral encounters with people that there is little reason to fear people.  These animals grow tolerant to people being in closer proximity to them, and don’t avoid people like normal wild animals. 
  3. Food-conditioning: Wild animals become food-conditioned when they are attracted to human foods or garbage because previous food rewards have given them positive reinforcement for this behaviour.  These animals may actively seek out human foods.

People can take action to reduce attractants, habituation and food-conditioning and thereby reduce the risk of conflicts with wildlife.

What actions can people take to reduce the risk of conflict?

Wildlife Smart actions to reduce the risk of wildlife conflict primarily involve securing attractants, preventing wildlife from being surprised at close range, or becoming habituated or food-conditioned, as well as increasing knowledge and awareness about coexisting with wildlife.  Here are some general Wildlife Smart tips:

  • Be aware that wild animals are found throughout Manitoba, and a dangerous encounter can happen both near and far from human development and human activity.
  • Be aware that any wild animal may attack if it senses a threat to itself, its young, or its food source; predatory animals may consider a person, pet, or livestock to be prey.
  • Never feed or approach a wild animal; be aware that Manitoba regulations prohibit the feeding of wildlife along provincial roads and highways, and in other specified areas of the province.
  • When walking, be aware of your surroundings, watch for signs that wild animals may be nearby, and carry deterrents such as a walking stick and noise-maker.
  • Teach children how to recognize wildlife and how to respond appropriately in an encounter.  From a young age, children should learn not to approach an animal unless it is on a leash and the owner says it is okay to do so.
  • In wilderness or other high-risk areas, hike in a group, make noise, carry bear deterrent spray where it’s easily accessible and know how to use it.
  • Keep pets on a leash and under control; bring pets indoors at night, and don’t leave them outside unattended during the daytime.
  • Vaccinate pets and frequently clean up pet waste from your yard.
  • Secure all attractants so that wild animals can’t access human food, garbage, pet/livestock food, or composted food scraps.
  • Feeding birds can attract a wide variety of wildlife.  During the summer, use a birdbath to attract birds.  In winter (December to March), it is recommended that feeders should not hang below two metres, and that any spilled seed be cleaned up frequently.
  • Thoroughly clean barbecues after every use; don’t forget the grease trap.
  • Remove all fruit from your yard as it ripens.
  • Reduce cover and denning opportunities in your yard by removing any debris piles, trimming overgrown areas, removing tree branches overhanging your house, and sealing entry to your attic, chimney and underneath your shed and deck. 
  • Cover sandboxes when they’re not in use.
  • Visit the Publications and Links webpage to access fact sheets, posters, booklets and other Wildlife Smart information materials.

If you encounter wildlife that you believe could pose a risk to your safety:

  • Stop, remain calm and assess the situation.
  • If you are near a building or vehicle, get inside.
  • Pick up small children or pets; sudden movement or noise from them may attract the attention of the wild animal.
  • If you have a backpack on, keep it on; if you are attacked it may help to protect you.
  • If the animal is in a tree, leave it alone and leave the area; when it feels safe it will climb down.
  • Ensure the animal has an escape route; if you have cornered an animal, slowly move so that it is able to leave.
  • Never run, as this may provoke a chase and an attack.
  • Do not try to distract the animal with food as this will encourage the animal to continue approaching people and increase risk for other people it may encounter.

If the wildlife is unaware of you:

  • Move away quietly when the animal is not looking toward you. 
  • Keep your eye on the animal as you leave in case its behaviour changes, but do not make direct eye contact.
  • Do not crouch down.

If the wildlife is aware of you:

  • Respond appropriately based on the animal species and its behaviour; more information is available on the Publications and Links webpage.
Injured and Orphaned Wildlife

Wildlife encounters can take many forms. Sometimes, wildlife may seem to need our help. 

A young animal without a parent nearby may appear to be orphaned.  An animal that appears orphaned may actually have a parent nearby. Parents are typically very protective of their young and could become aggressive if they return and find you near their young.

An animal that appears wounded or behaving erratically might be injured or sick.  Injured or sick animals are stressed and may react aggressively to your presence.

When you encounter wildlife that appears sick, injured or orphaned, remember these points:

  • Do not attempt to approach or capture the wildlife. These animals are under stress and are more likely to bite, scratch, etc., which could put you at increased risk of injury and of contracting diseases from them.  Your approach could also jeopardize the animal’s well-being.
  • Note the animal’s exact location and the animal’s physical condition, if possible. Contact a conservation officer to provide this information by calling the local district office, or call the TIP Line at 1-800-782-0076. A conservation officer will determine the best course of action for the situation.
  • No, you can't keep it. It is illegal in Manitoba to possess or rehabilitate wildlife without the proper permits.

Young Mammals

Cottontail rabbits will frequently have three or more litters of young per summer.  Their nests can be found in shallow depressions on the ground and are lined with grasses and soft fur from the doe (mother rabbit).  The doe spends most of her time foraging for food away from the nest so that she does not draw predators to the nest.  She will typically return to feed her young twice a day – at dawn and dusk.  If you find a rabbit nest and are concerned that it may be abandoned, use a simple technique to check for nest activity.  Lay four pieces of string in a tic-tac-toe pattern over the nest.  Leave the area, and check back in twelve hours, after two feeding periods have been missed (dusk and dawn).  If the strings are out of place, this will indicate the doe has returned.  Be sure to protect an active nest from damage by lawn mowing activities.  Before mowing, place a plastic lattice laundry basket upside down over the nest.  Do not attempt to mow within three metres of the nest.  Remove the laundry basket after mowing.

A white-tailed deer doe (mother deer) will often leave her fawn lying curled up and hidden in vegetation for extended periods of time (up to eight hours) while she feeds. This behaviour assists in the fawn’s survival. The doe’s absence allows her to obtain nutrients that assist with nursing, and the doe’s activities can draw a predator’s attention away from her young. By interfering in this process, you reduce the chances for the fawn’s survival. 

Finding a black bear cub alone does not necessarily mean it has been orphaned or abandoned. Female bears haven been known to leave their young cubs in a large tree while they forage nearby, sometimes up to three kilometres away. The cubs may remain in the tree or play around its base, ready to climb up if they sense a potential threat.

If you encounter a rabbit, deer, bear or any other mammal that appears to be sick, injured or orphaned, make note of its location and physical condition, if possible. Contact a conservation officer to report the situation by calling the local district office or the TIP Line at 1-800-782-0076.

Young Birds

If you find a baby bird on the ground that appears to be alone and unable to fly well, do not assume that it requires your help.  First, determine if it is a nestling or fledgling.

If the baby bird is sparsely feathered, and unable to hop, walk, or flit about, it’s a nestling and the nest is likely nearby.  If you can find the nest, put the bird back as quickly as possible.  Don’t worry about your scent, the parents will not abandon their young if it has been touched by a person.  If the nestling feels cold to your touch, warm it in your hands before returning it to the nest.  Returning a cold bird to the nest could cause a parent to push it out in order to protect the other warm eggs and/or young.

Most of the baby birds found by people are fledglings.  Fledglings are fully feathered and capable of hopping, walking or flitting about.  These are young birds that have just left the nest, are still under the care of their parents, and do not need help from people. 

During early summer it is common to find a raptor (predatory bird)—especially Cooper's hawks and American kestrels—out of the nest on the ground. This is common and no cause for concern. Many young raptor fledglings, are old enough to learn to fly and are not in the danger people might assume. The practice of "nest jumping" is unique to birds of prey. Before taking first flight, younger raptors move onto branches around their nest and often fall. If they are on the ground, parents will continue to feed and protect the young raptors and even encourage them to climb back up the tree or fly.

If you encounter a fledging raptor or other fledgling bird on the ground, follows these tips to ensure you don’t do more harm than good:

  • DON'T pick up the bird and take it to a rehabilitation centre. Unless the bird is suffering from obvious injuries, it is a disservice to both the bird and rehab centres to "rescue" it. Raptors, in particular, need to be raised by their parents to learn how to fly and catch prey. Rehab centres are far less capable of doing this. By bringing a healthy bird to a rehab centre, you diminish its chances of survival and create an unnecessary burden on the centre, diverting limited resources away from wildlife truly in need.
  • DO call a conservation officer or a wildlife rehab centre and describe the situation. They can best advise you on how to respond.
  • DO try to move the bird away from an immediate danger (i.e. when in the path of vehicles or other traffic). Otherwise, the best thing to do is leave the bird in place.