Backyard Amphibian Safety Tips
By Kris Kendell, ACA
Mowing the lawn
There are a few approaches you can try to minimize amphibian casualties while mowing your lawn:
- Allocate certain parts of your lawn as “wild” areas and mow them infrequently or not at all (especially around garden ponds).
- Mow at a time when amphibians are less active such as during hot and dry weather.
- Mow any areas you want to keep as lawn regularly to discourage amphibians from finding refuge in patches of long grass.
- Begin mowing at the center of the area to be cut, progressively mowing outwards to allow amphibians the option to flee in all directions.
- Leave cover objects, logs, or other potential amphibian shelters in place and undisturbed while mowing.
- Pre-scout the area to be cut and gently capture any amphibians in harm’s way. Relocate them outside the cutting area—a good spot would be a moist flowerbed or area in your yard that has a lot of plant cover.
Window wells are no home for amphibians. Amphibians that fall into window wells usually become trapped and die soon after, usually from starvation or desiccation. You can easily rescue amphibians that fall into your window well by gently scooping them up into a large clean container, like an ice cream pail, or by gently scooping the animal into your hand. Release freed amphibians away from the window well—a good spot would be a moist flowerbed or area in your yard that has a lot of plant cover.
Clear plastic window well covers will help prevent amphibians from becoming trapped in your window well. These unobtrusive covers are designed to keep leaves and debris from falling into the well, and to some extent, rain and snow. Purchase them at most home improvement stores or at window well manufacturers. When fitting a window well cover, ensure that it fits tightly and flush against the house foundation or side of the house, as well as around the window well itself. A good fit is important—any gaps will allow amphibians to squeeze through and become trapped inside.
Check covered and open window wells regularly for trapped amphibians and other animals. Monitoring your window well is especially important during wet weather and in the spring and fall when large numbers of amphibians are moving about. Some animals, such as mice or voles, that become trapped in a window well will climb out if you place a rough board in the well that extends to the top.
In ground swimming pools
In-ground swimming pools in backyards can be a serious hazard for amphibians. Amphibians trapped in swimming pools soon become exhausted and drown as they try to stay afloat and find escape. Building a Froglog for your swimming pool will allow amphibians that fall into your pool to climb out. The Froglog is a simple device positioned along the edge of your pool and consists of a small floating platform with an attached fabric ramp. A sandbag weight is sewn into the fabric and holds the device in place on the pool deck.
Amphibians trapped in pools may also find themselves in the pool’s skimmer. The normal water circulation in a swimming pool will carry floating debris, including amphibians, into the skimmer. Devices like the Critter Skimmer replaces your regular skimmer cover with one that provides a spiral ramp that leads to a small opening in the skimmer cover. It allows the amphibians to escape from the skimmer. The skimmer should be checked regularly for animals that may be hesitant to use the spiral ramp.
Before handling any amphibian, be sure your hands are clean, moist and free of chemicals such as suntan lotion and bug repellent. It is also a good practice to wash your hands after handling any amphibian.
Do not relocate the amphibian from your yard unless you absolutely need to. If necessary, choose a nearby waterbody or natural area.
No matter where you encounter amphibians—from your backyard to the backcountry—we welcome your amphibian observations, which can be submitted to the Alberta Volunteer Amphibian Monitoring Program.