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It’s World Shorebirds Day!

World Shorebirds Day occurs every September 6th to celebrate the world’s shorebirds and their conservation efforts. Shorebirds comprise a diverse group of birds that are commonly found along shorelines throughout North America. There are over 50
shorebird species in North America and 41 species have been documented in Virginia.


Least Sandpiper. Photo by Gregory Smith.

These birds vary in size and shape from the small 6″ Least Sandpiper to the large 23″ Long-billed Curlew. If you have visited Virginia’s beaches, you may already be familiar with the small Sanderlings that run along the waves probing for prey or the taller, more upright Willet. If you don’t make it to the beach much, you probably have still observed a shorebird! Contrary to what their name suggests, shorebirds are found in more than just coastal areas. The Killdeer, a shorebird that runs in spurts and calls “kill-deer” when excited, can be found on lawns in cities, agricultural areas, and even on golf courses.

Shorebirds are among the more difficult birds to identify. Some species are quite similar to others and require you to compare characteristics such as leg length and color, bill shape, length and color, feeding behavior, and to a lesser extent, vocalizations. Many will change from a bright plumage in the breeding season to dull grays and browns in the fall and winter months.


Long-billed Curlew foraging on a small crab. Photo by Matthew Paulson.

Shorebirds feed primarily on invertebrates found in or adjacent to intertidal habitats or shallow waters. Common prey items include marine worms, insects, small crabs, clams, and oysters. Often, the length and shape of a shorebird species’ bill dictates what type of prey it eats and its foraging techniques, while the length of its legs determines the water depths in which it feeds.

Many species of shorebirds are long distance migrants often crossing thousands of


Red Knots make one of the longest migrations of any bird species, approximately 9,300 miles. Photo by Ann Marie Morrison.

miles each year from arctic, boreal and temperate breeding grounds in Alaska and Canada to wintering grounds in the southern hemisphere. Amazingly, some of these world travelers weigh less than a cell phone! Annual round-trip migration usually entails a sequence of flights between two or more stopover sites that connect breeding and non-breeding habitats. Protecting these stopover links along the migratory pathway is a critical component of shorebird conservation.

Shorebird Conservation

About half of the world’s shorebird populations are in decline. Of the 30 or so shorebird species that commonly occur in Virginia during some portion of their lifecycle, 13 are PipingPlover_USFWSdesignated as Species of Greatest Conservation Need in Virginia’s Wildlife Action Plan because of local and/or rangewide population declines.

Shorebirds face a multitude of challenges during the annual cycle,  including finding sufficient food sources to fuel their long distant migrations, avoiding predators, competing for suitable breeding and non-breeding habitat that is under constant threat by human development and disturbance, sea level rise, and adapting to a changing climate. It is for these reasons numerous shorebird species are in decline.

The good news is Virginia’s protected barrier islands and adjacent saltmarshes located along the seaward fringe of the Eastern Shore are home to thousands of shorebirds year round! These islands and marshes are largely undeveloped and most are owned and managed by agencies and organizations like The Nature Conservancy – Virginia


American Oystercatchers. Photo by Peter Massas.

Coast Reserve (VCR), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS),  Virginia Department of Conservation & Recreation (VDCR), Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) and Virginia Marine Resources Commission.

Collectively, these coastal habitats represent key sites for breeding and non-breeding shorebirds. Many islands are open to visitors with seasonal restrictions in place to protect nesting birds while a few others are closed during the nesting season or year round.

Every year, biologists with the VCR, USFWS and VDGIF monitor the breeding success


Wilson’s Plover. Photo by Andy Morffew.

of the federally threatened Piping Plover, the state-endangered Wilson’s Plover and the American Oystercatcher. All three species are Species of Greatest Conservation Need in Virginia’s Wildlife Action Plan and serve as important environmental indicators for coastal ecosystems. This collaborative effort allows biologists to track each species’ breeding distribution, abundance and productivity over time and examine their responses to threats and management actions.

Simple Ways You Can Help Shorebirds

  • When visiting the beach, watch where you step. Beach-nesting birds lay their eggs directly on the sand and these eggs are very well camouflaged with their surroundings, making them difficult to see. To avoid areas where eggs are likely to occur, pay attention to signs, avoid entering roped off areas, and areas

    Sanderlings. Photo by Richard Towell.

    where large groups of birds occur. You’ll know if you’ve entered a nesting area if birds begin vocalizing loudly, dive-bombing you, or feign injury to lead you away from their nest. If any of those behaviors occur, it’s best to back away. Generally, if you stay closer to the water’s edge you’ll be okay; shorebirds tend to nest in the higher parts of the beach.

  • Don’t feed the gulls. Feeding just one gull may seem harmless, but it won’t be long before more predatory gulls are drawn in, which can beco
    me a nuisance for people and a danger to shorebird eggs and chicks.
  • Keep your dogs on leashes or at home. Free-roaming dogs at the beach can flush incubating adults off nests, eat shorebird eggs and chicks, and even kill adult birds.
  • Take all trash with you when you leave the beach or islands to avoid attracting predators such as gulls, raccoons and feral cats.
  • Donate to Virginia’s Non-game Fund to support research and conservation of shorebirds and Virginia’s other non-game wildlife. You can make a donation at GoOutdoorsVirginia.com.
  • Document your shorebird observations in eBird, especially during the Global Shorebird Counting weekend, which occurs each year around World Shorebirds Day.

Additional Resources

To learn more about World Shorebirds Day, please visit:

To learn about Virginia’s barrier island use policies, please visit:

For further information on Virginia’s beach nesting birds and island use policies, please contact:

  • The Nature Conservancy: (757) 442-3049
  • Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge: (757) 331-2760
  • Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge: (757) 336-6122
  • DCR Natural Heritage Program: (757) 787-5989
  • DGIF: (757) 709-0766

For information on public use policies on Virginia’s ungranted state lands such as sand spits, sand shoals and marshes, please contact:

  • Virginia Marine Resources Commission – (757)414-0710


    Willet. Photo by Anna Hesser.

  • September 6th, 2016

Restoring the Red-cockaded Woodpecker in Virginia


Under the still, blue skies of Sussex County on the morning of June 10, six pairs of boots strolled  through the open loblolly pine forests of Big Woods Wildlife Management Area (WMA). Faintly at first, then louder, the repeated call of a red-cockaded woodpecker was heard by six pairs of excited ears. This lone woodpecker’s call was evidence that birds from


Red-cockaded woodpecker with nestling. Photo by Kevin Rose (DGIF).

the bordering Piney Grove Nature Preserve, owned by The Nature Conservancy (TNC), are finding their way onto the WMA, owned by DGIF.  The boot-clad biologists from DGIF and TNC were thrilled, after all, they had met at the WMA specifically to discuss facilitating an expansion of the red-cockaded woodpecker population from Piney Grove onto Big Woods in the coming years.

Red-cockaded woodpeckers, affectionately known by the acronym RCW, are a federally endangered species that depend on mature, open pine savannas that once blanketed much of the southeastern United States, but have over time been reduced to a fragment of their former glory.  Despite this adversity, the birds persist on this remaining landscape and for decades, have been staging a recovery thanks to intensive habitat management and woodpecker monitoring by a variety of partners.


Open loblolly pine savanna at Big Woods WMA.

In Virginia, DGIF participates in a coalition working on RCW conservation that includes partners such as TNC, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Center for Conservation Biology at the College of William and Mary. DGIF has supported management and monitoring of RCWs at Piney Grove Preserve, Virginia’s only documented RCW population, as well as the recent reintroduction efforts of RCWs into Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge (which is hoped will result in the


Prescribed burn at Big Woods WMA. Photo by Matt Kline (DGIF).

Commonwealth’s second RCW population). DGIF’s purchase of Big Woods WMA in 2009 and habitat management efforts to restore its pine savanna habitat, including hundreds of acres of prescribed burns (980 acres in 2015; 1200 acres in 2016), underscores the Agency’s commitment to recovering RCW in Virginia.  The woodpecker population has thrived at Piney Grove, but is now pushing up against available habitat with little room left to expand.  With some additional thinning and continued prescribed burning to open the understory of its fire-adapted pine forests, areas of Big Woods should be suitable to welcome RCWs in the next year or two.  In order to encourage settlement and breeding by the RCWs, older mature pines will be provided with artificial cavities, a technique that has successfully been used to expand RCW populations into new areas of already-settled forest.


DGIF biologist takes a sample core from loblolly pine to evaluate its suitability for RCW cavities.

RCWs are unique among woodpeckers in that they excavate cavities exclusively in living pine trees, rather than in snags (dead trees).  RCWs are also unique in that they are cooperative breeders (only 3% of all bird species breed in this manner). They live in family groups whose offspring from previous years delay their own reproduction in order to help parents raise their future siblings.  The dynamics of this breeding system limit the number of birds that are nesting in any given year. This behavior, in conjunction with the mechanics of excavating cavities in living trees and the dependence on mature and open forest conditions, contributes to long recovery times for the RCW population as a whole.  Restoration of this unique species requires patience and a long-term view, but with continued collaboration among partners, is achievable within the Commonwealth.


Red-cockaded woodpecker approaching its tree cavity. Photo by Kevin Rose.

In the meantime, walking through Big Woods on that mild late-spring morning reminded the biologists that their conservation goals for RCW speak to the broader goal of restoring a southern pine ecosystem to the WMA, along with all of the species supported by this habitat-type.  They listened for bobwhite quail, watched red-headed and pileated woodpeckers fly from tree to tree, and heard the singing of yellow-breasted chats, prairie warblers, Eastern towhees and field sparrows. Experiences such as these, while planning future management strategies, help to keep spirits high and minds focused while moving forward on this conservation journey.

  • June 20th, 2016

Motorists, Give Turtles a Brake

Eastern Box Turtle #001Why did the turtle cross the road? Most likely to find a place to lay its eggs or to find a mate. May and June are peak months to see turtles attempting to cross Virginia’s highways and unfortunately, thousands are killed every year in the process. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries would like you to be “turtle aware” and encourage drivers to slow down and safely steer around them. If you do encounter a turtle in the middle of the road and would like to assist, be sure you can safely pull over and move the turtle off the road in the direction it was heading.

To learn more about Virginia’s turtles and their conservation, you can purchase A Guide to the Turtles of Virginia at our eStore.

  • May 23rd, 2016

Virginia’s Wildlife Action Plan


Red-cockaded woodpeckers are a federal and state endangered species in Virginia. They are a Tier I ranking in our Wildlife Action Plan. Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

For over 40 years, Virginians have worked to keep species from becoming extinct. We can be proud of some amazing achievements. Species like the bald eagle and the Dismal Swamp southeastern shrew are no longer endangered. Our population of red-cockaded woodpeckers is healthy and slowly growing. Shenandoah salamanders are as secure as we can make them on their ridgetops in Shenandoah National Park. Finally, despite overwhelming odds, we’ve been able to maintain many of our populations of wood turtles and freshwater mussels. Indeed, we can be proud of our many accomplishments.


The shenandoah salamander is listed as endangered at the federal and state level. It is a Tier I ranked species in the Virginia Wildlife Action Plan. Photo by Brian Gratwicke.

Unfortunately, the effort is far from over. Nationally, during the last decade, the number of species petitioned for protection under the Federal Endangered Species Act has increased by over 1000%, and over 12,000 species of conservation need have been identified. Almost 900 of these species occur in Virginia and are impacted by the loss of their habitats, the introduction of invasive species, exposure to new diseases, and changing climatic conditions. Since the Endangered Species Act was created in 1973, we’ve also learned that endangered species conservation is an expensive and contentious decades-long commitment that isn’t always successful. Despite our best efforts, some endangered species still become extinct. The green blossom pearly mussel was recently declared extinct in Virginia and surrounding states.


The wood turtle is a state threatened species in Virginia with a Tier I ranking in our Wildlife Action Plan. Photo by John White.

With these growing challenges in mind, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) is pursuing a different strategy—keeping species from becoming endangered in the first place. Working with numerous partners, DGIF has completed Virginia’s second Wildlife Action Plan. This document was created to help Virginians use known science and proven, cost effective techniques to keep species from becoming endangered. Many of these actions can be taken around our homes and communities. Check out the list below for some simple suggestions that can make a big difference for wildlife.

Simple Actions to Help Wildlife

  • Keep our Rivers Clean – Preventing erosion, planting trees and shrubs along shorelines, keeping dog waste out of ditches and storm drains, and not over applying fertilizers to lawns and gardens help conserve hundreds of our fish, crayfish, mussels, turtles, frogs, and insects.
  • Clean Outdoor Gear – Several invasive species and wildlife diseases are spread on boats, waders, boots, and other outdoor equipment. Clean these items to help keep our rivers and forests healthy.
  • Plant Native Plants – Many of the most harmful invasive species in Virginia were planted by unsuspecting gardeners. Avoid repeating these mistakes by incorporating native trees, shrubs, and flowers into you landscaping. Planting native plants will also provide sources of food and shelter to support our native birds, butterflies, and more! To learn more about planting with native plants to create Habitat at Home, visit our habitat webpage.
  • Find New Homes for Unwanted Pets – Remember that pets are a lifetime commitment. However, if you find yourself in a situation in which you can no longer take care of your pet, do not release them into the wild. This is often traumatic for your animal as well as a common way for invasive species and new diseases to be introduced into our ecosystems. Instead, work with shelters and rescue organizations to find new homes for your unwanted pets.

To learn more about Virginia’s Wildlife Action Plan and Virginia’s Species of Greatest Conservation Need, please visit bewildvirginia.org.

  • May 20th, 2016

Tracking the Golden-winged Warbler

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Male Golden-winged Warbler. USDA NRCS photo by Greg Lavaty.

A gorgeous splash of lemon yellow graces the cap and wings of the male Golden-winged Warbler, and pictures can’t do it justice – it has to be seen in the field to feel its full impact.  And by ‘the field’, we mean that literally, as this declining species is a bird of open habitats such as old fields and shrubby pastures; these are habitats that host a variety of other ‘young forest’ species that are also losing ground, including Field Sparrow, Brown Thrasher, Yellow-breasted Chat, and Bobwhite quail.  The golden-wings’ habitat requirements are very specific; the open lands in which it nests are found in heavily forested landscapes at mid- to high-elevations.  In Virginia, the bird’s range is restricted to the high valleys of the western, mountainous part of the state.


Golden-winged Warbler Habitat on Clinch Wildlife Management Area. Photo by Sergio Harding.

Golden-winged Warblers are already returning back to their Virginia breeding grounds, after spending their winter somewhere in Central or northern South America.  But exactly where do Virginia golden-wings winter?  This is the subject of an ongoing study that will have field technicians from Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) busy catching golden-wings at sites in Highland and Bath Counties for the next month.  The study is funded by Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries (DGIF) who, with VCU and other partners like The Nature Conservancy, is collaborating on a multi-state project to learn more about the migratory routes and wintering sites of Golden-winged Warblers.  While factors on the species’ breeding grounds are contributing to its wide-scale declines in the Appalachian region, better understanding the challenges that it faces across its full life cycle across two continents will help researchers to more effectively target the necessary conservation actions.


VCU Crew at Golden-winged Warbler Field Site. Photo by Jessie Reese.

At this same time last year, VCU techs caught 23 golden-wings (and 2 hybrid warblers) using mist nets, placed aluminum and colored plastic bands on their legs as identifiers, and outfitted them with a harness carrying a tiny geolocator.  This device records light levels (to determine timing of sunrise and sunset) that will allow researchers to roughly calculate the coordinates marking the daily location of each bird throughout its fall migration, the winter, and its subsequent spring migration back to Virginia.


Male Golden-winged Warbler with geolocator in 2015. Photo by Lesley Bulluck.

Geolocators are are a a low-tech substitute for the satellite transmitters that are used to track the movements of much larger bird species; this technology cannot currently be scaled-down to a small songbird such as the golden-wing, which weighs approximately 9 grams (0.3 ounces).  The challenge with geolocators is that the birds carrying them must be caught again in order for researchers to retrieve the devices and download the data for analysis.  They work well for a species, like the Golden-winged Warbler with high fidelity to their breeding sites; these birds have a good probability of being re-caught in the vicinity of where they were outfitted with the units last year (that is if they survive winter and the perils of migration). Just this past Saturday May 7, three birds with geolocators were observed in the exact same locations as where the units were deployed in 2015.  Two of the birds were recaptured, allowing retrieval of the geolocators.  After some data analysis, we will know where in Central or South America these birds spent their winter months!


Geolocator retrieved from re-captured male Golden-winged Warbler in 2016. Photo by Jessie Reese.

Over the past 10 years, DGIF has funded and collaborated on various Virginia projects aimed at better understanding the distribution and ecology of Golden-winged Warblers in western Virginia.  We currently lead a Virginia partners group working to further conservation of this declining species and to promote incentive programs for landowners to create and maintain quality habitat on their lands for the benefit of golden-wings and a host of other species.  To learn more more about the Golden-winged Warbler and the work that has been done to date in Virginia, please visit our Golden-winged Warbler webpage.

  • May 11th, 2016

Holly Flowers Attract Bees and Butterflies

by Carol A. Heiser, VDGIF Habitat Education Coordinator

Thousands of sweet-smelling, miniature white flowers on a holly tree in my yard have become a temporary magnet for bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. The tree is humming with honeybees, bumblebees, and flies that buzz from flower to flower, while over a dozen tiger swallowtails and black swallowtails flit about the entire tree, sampling nectar all around.

Virginia is home to several native species of holly (Ilex genus), including American holly (I. opaca), inkberry (I. glabra), yaupon (I. vomitoria), and the deciduous common winterberry (I. verticillata). The holly in my yard was planted by a previous owner and appears to be a cultivar, but each spring it teems with nectar-seeking insects that later disperse to other flowering plants.

Of course, Ilex is only one of dozens of tree species that provide significant forage for bees and other insects this time of year. Between late March to early June, pollinators rely heavily on the flowers of maples (Acer), redbud (Cercis), cherry (Prunus), sassafras (Sassafras) and willow (Salix). Later in June and into early summer, another “wave” of trees will come into flower, such as black locust (Robinia), honeylocust (Gledisia), sumac (Rhus), serviceberry (Amelanchier) and basswood (Tilia).

As the growing season progresses, each pollinated flower will give rise to a fruit, seed or berry, which in turn will provide food for birds and other wildlife. Trees and shrubs are high value plants in the landscape, providing not only nectar, pollen and fruit but also much-needed cover for a diversity of wildlife species.

See a listing of Native Trees and Shrubs for Pollinators (PDF) and be sure to visit the Digital Atlas of the Virginia Flora to check which of the species on this list are native to your part of Virginia.

  • April 11th, 2016

Frog Friday: How to Help Frogs in 2016 and Beyond

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Squirrel Treefrog. Photo by John White.

As 2015 winds to an end, so too must our Virginia is for Frogs campaign and Frog Friday. Throughout the course of the year, we profiled all 28 species of Virginia’s native frogs, showcasing the diversity of frogs inhabiting the Commonwealth. Not only are these frogs fascinating to observe, but we are very fortunate to have them living around us. Frogs provide valuable pest control services by consuming countless insects, they are an important food source for a variety of other wildlife, and they are excellent indicators of our environmental health and water quality. In this final Frog Friday article, we’ve summarized all of the many simple actions you can take to help Virginia’s frogs thrive in 2016 and beyond.

How to Help Frogs and other Amphibians

Protect Water Quality – Clean water is critically important to healthy frog populations.

  • Reduce your use of pesticides and fertilizers. – When it rains, these chemicals wash off of lawns and gardens and travel into waterways and wetlands where they can contaminate frog habitat even miles away from your home.
  • Responsibly dispose of unused medications. – Septic systems and most wastewater treatment plants can not remove pharmaceutical chemicals from the water, so eventually they enter aquatic habitats where they’ve been found to have adverse impacts on the health of frogs, fish and other aquatic wildlife. For safe disposal practices, refer to FDA.gov.
  • Avoid purchasing personal care products containing plastic microbeads. – Once these tiny beads wash down the drain, they eventually enter our waterways where they accumulate chemical pollutants on their surfaces and may be consumed by fish and other wildlife that mistake them for food.
  • Pick up pet waste. – Just as pesticides and fertilizers can wash away into streams and wetlands after it rains, so too can the bacteria and viruses found in pet waste.
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American Toad. Photo by John White.

Never Release Pet Frogs (or any other animal) Into the Wild – The release of a disease infected pet into the wild can have catastrophic impacts. The spread of the deadly fungus, “chytrid,” as well as ranavirus and other amphibian diseases, has largely been attributed to the international trade of amphibians as pets. While it hasn’t appeared to be a problem in Virginia, chytrid, is one of the primary causes of amphibian population declines worldwide.

Enhance Frog Habitat

  • Create a frog pond. – Most frog species are dependent upon some form of water to carry out their lifecycles. It’s where they lay their eggs and where their tadpoles develop into adults. Find out how to build your own frog pond here.
  • Create a rain garden, full of native plants. – Rain gardens provide habitat for frogs and other wildlife and keep local waterways healthy by filtering the chemical pollutants found in stormwater runoff. Find out how to build your own rain garden here.
  • Leave Your Leaves – Some species of terrestrial frogs seek out leaf litter as a place to hibernate over winter. By keeping fall leaves on the ground, instead of bagging them up and tossing them, you may be helping to provide local frogs a winter hibernating spot.
Green Treefrog (Hyla cinerea)-1-JW

Green Treefrog. Photo by John White.

Participate in Citizen Science. – Knowing where various species of frogs are found in Virginia can help guide conservation and land management decisions. You can contribute to this knowledge by volunteering for the Virginia Frog and Toad Calling Survey or FrogWatch USA. Or simply record your own frog observations into the Virginia Wildlife Mapping project.

Contribute to DGIF’s Non-Game Fund to support the conservation of frogs and other non-game wildlife in Virginia.

Purchase a “Virginia is for Frog Lovers” t-shirt at the DGIF e-store to share your love of frogs with others and to support conservation projects and programs in Virginia.

Continue Learning about Frogs and Sharing Your Knowledge with Others. – Find more information about frogs at our Virginia is for Frogs webpage. Lesson plans and activities for educators can be found in the Virginia is for Frogs Teacher’s Corner, which now features a new frog listening lesson plan!

A Look Back at Some Images from the Virginia is for Frogs Campaign

Virginia is for Frogs exhibit booth at the Virginia Living Museum. August 8, 2015. Virginia Master Naturalists who attended the April training assisted at the exhibit booth to share information about Virginia’s native frogs and the campaign. Children were also engaged in viewing live frogs and a frog coloring activity.

Members of the Historic Rivers Chapter of the Virginia Master Naturalists who attended the April Virginia is for Frogs training, worked with York County High School students to create this frog pond on the school’s grounds.

Virginia is for Frogs training for the Virginia Master Naturalists. April 1, 2015. Master Naturalists who attended the training later volunteered to educate others about frogs and the Virginia is for Frogs campaign or work on frog habitat projects.

Virginia is for Frogs exhibit booth at the Virginia Association of Science Teachers Professional Development Institute. In addition to the exhibit booth, a Virginia is for Frogs session was held where a presentation on Virginia’s native frogs and how schools can help them was delivered to approximately 45 teachers and a frog listening lesson plan was distributed.



This article is presented as part of our year-long Virginia is for Frogs campaign. Please visit the campaign webpage to learn more about Virginia’s 28 frog species and ways that you can become involved in their conservation. Are you an educator? Check out the Virginia is for Frogs Teacher’s Corner for frog-related lesson plans and activities.


  • December 18th, 2015

Frog Friday: Where Do Frogs Go in the Winter?


An example of “winter kill.” Photo by Julie Kacmarcik.

As the cold winter months approach, have you ever wondered how a “cold-blooded critter” like a frog can survive? Fortunately, they have evolved special behaviors and physical processes to survive winter. Aquatic frogs such as the Southern Leopard Frog (Lithobates sphenocephalus) and the American Bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus) typically hibernate underwater.

A common misconception is that they hibernate like an aquatic turtle and bury themselves into the mud at the bottom of a pond or stream. But unlike a hibernating turtle, a frog does not have the ability to slow down its metabolism so drastically that it can survive on the limited oxygen supply found in mud. Hibernating aquatic frogs must therefore be near oxygen-rich water and spend a good portion of the winter just lying on top of the mud or only partially buried. They may even occasionally slowly swim around. But if the frog emerges too soon, it can result in disaster. “Winter kill” occurs when a frog is lured out of its hibernating spot by an early warming period followed-up by a quick freezing drop in temperatures.

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Wood Frog. Photo by J.D. Willson.

Terrestrial frogs normally hibernate on land. American Toads (Anaxyrus americanus) and Eastern Spadefoots (Scaphiopus holbrookii) burrow deep into the soil, safely below the frost line. Some frogs, such as the Barking Treefrog (Hyla gratiosa) and the Mountain Chorus Frog (Pseudacris brachyophona), are not good diggers and instead seek out deep cracks and crevices in logs or rocks, or just dig down as far as they can in the leaf litter or under root mats. Frogs have also been known to use rodent burrows to hibernate.

Although these hibernating spots are not as well protected from freezing temperatures, frogs typically do not die. During this period, the liver produces large amounts of glucose to increase blood-sugar levels, which functions like an “antifreeze” by limiting the formation of ice crystals. Without this physical process, the ice lattice would damage tissue resulting in the frogs death. Wood Frogs (Lithobates sylvaticus)  best exemplify this phenomenon. They can almost be completely frozen with no brain activity or heartbeat. When outdoor temperatures begin to warm and their hibernating spot warms above freezing, the frog’s frozen portions will thaw, and its heart and lungs resume activity. Check out the following YouTube video to actually see a Wood Frog “thaw-out” and come back to life!

This article is presented as part of our year-long Virginia is for Frogs campaign. Please visit the campaign webpage to learn more about Virginia’s 28 frog species and ways that you can become involved in their conservation. Are you an educator? Check out the Virginia is for Frogs Teacher’s Corner for frog-related lesson plans and activities.


  • December 11th, 2015

Giving Tuesday

IMG_0047Today is #GivingTuesday, a global movement dedicated to giving back to local charities and to those in need.  In the spirit of Giving Tuesday we ask that you to consider supporting wildlife conservation in Virginia by giving to the Virginia Nongame Fund.  We hope that our Frog Friday campaign over the past year has provided some insight for you concerning the need for conservation of these important species as well as many others that are listed as species of greatest conservation need in Virginia’s Wildlife Action Plan.  For those still looking for holiday gifts and also interested in supporting conservation, you can check out the Virginia Wildlife eStore. There you will find some great items for outdoor enthusiasts including our Virginia is for Frog Lovers t-shirt. Proceeds from the Virginia Wildlife eStore go toward wildlife education and connecting people to the outdoors.

  • December 1st, 2015

Frog Friday: Leave Your Leaves


Fall leaves used as mulch in a planting bed.

Fall is arguably the most beautiful time of the year in Virginia. The leaves are changing and there’s a crisp feel in the air. This is also the time of the year when many species of frog begin to move away from aquatic habitats into the surrounding forested areas in preparation for winter. Leaf-litter is an important component of this habitat and it serves several purposes for frogs and a diversity of other amphibians. Some species even favor particular leaf-litter types as the decomposition process can influence the pH of the soil. Leaf-litter also provides shelter from predators, an abundance of insects for food, and thermal cover for hibernation. It’s not just frogs and other amphibians that benefit from leaf-litter; box turtles, butterflies, insect-eating birds, and many other wildlife all benefit from this mini-ecosystem.

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Weller’s Salamander prefers acidic soil. Photo by Kevin Hamed.

This fall, consider taking it easy with the rake and leave your leaves behind for wildlife. Still want a neat and tidy yard? Try using the leaves as mulch by raking them into your garden or landscaping beds to create rich soil for next spring. Another option is to rake a couple small leaf piles off into an out-of-the-way corner and allow them to decompose naturally and then re-use the compost as rich soil for planting in the spring. If you are one of those folks that enjoy burning your leaf piles, it is best to do so immediately upon creating them. Otherwise, you may accidentally kill some critters that crawled into the leaf pile seeking shelter, and never burn leaf piles in the spring that have sat over winter. By following these tips, you will create less yard work for yourself this fall while helping to make a difference for the frogs and other wildlife in your neighborhood.

This article is presented as part of our year-long Virginia is for Frogs campaign. Please visit the campaign webpage to learn more about Virginia’s 28 frog species and ways that you can become involved in their conservation. Are you an educator? Check out the Virginia is for Frogs Teacher’s Corner for frog-related lesson plans and activities.


  • November 6th, 2015