Oh ‘deer’….watch out for low-flying creatures

Published 4:14 pm Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

During my daily excursions to and from work, it’s not unusual to see wildlife scurrying about.

I’ve witnessed plenty of deer, possums, squirrels, and rabbits in addition to an occasional eagle, owl, skunk, beaver, raccoon, and snakes during my 20-minute drive from my home in Northampton County to Ahoskie (and the return trip in the late afternoon or early evening).

However, I’ve yet to see Big Foot and hope he (or she) never crosses my path, but I did see a bear cross the road  in the area of Menola Baptist Church.

In the early spring I’ve noted an increase in the number of turkeys in fields that I pass. I had a run-in with one about 10 years ago on the Menola-St. John Road. I learned a hard lesson that day….a turkey can fly, but not very high.

While en route home, I took note of a few turkeys in a field to my left. They were close to the road, but I didn’t bother to slow down because I thought they were a safe distance away. Wrong!

One of them got a running start and headed towards the road. That got my attention and I eased off the accelerator. My the time it reached the ditch, the turkey took flight. I breathed a sign of relief as I thought it was going to fly over my truck. Wrong again!

Unfortunately for me (as well as the turkey), its vertical climb reached less than five feet and it crashed into my windshield (driver’s side, of course). The impact pushed a portion of the windshield in over the dashboard. The windshield held intact, but was shattered and covered with feathers and blood.

I slowly made my way home, navigating my direction with my head leaned outside the driver’s side door window.

At least I was more fortunate that particular day than a truck driver in Oregon was last week.

According to news reports, Dave Duell was southbound on Interstate 5 when a large turkey flew into the path of his big rig, which traveled off the road and collided with a few trees.

Duell was hospitalized with a broken rib and tooth, a fractured jaw, and a fractured vertebra in his neck. The bone around one of his eyes was also shattered.

According to havahart.com, data kept by states and insurance companies show that in any given year there are over 260,000 vehicle crashes involving wild animals resulting in 12,000 human injuries. Some are so severe that they end with the death of a motorist.

Collisions with animals cause approximately $4 billion in damage per year to vehicles.

In over 70 percent of the 50 states, the most commonly hit animal on the road is the deer. From some of the most isolated states, like Alaska, to some of the sandiest, like Florida, deer lead as the top victim of motorists more than any other animal.

In five states – Hawaii, Arizona, Utah, Oklahoma, and Delaware – birds are the most struck creatures by motorists. In 2014, it was reported that over 340 million birds were killed on U.S. roadways each year. USA Today reports that higher speed limits and wider roads in rural areas have contributed to an uptick in bird fatalities.

Not all animals have to be on the ground to be hit; low-flying birds, even big ones like barn owls, are susceptible to being struck by a fast-moving vehicle.

The human toll in animal-related crashes can be bizarre at times.

Buzzfeed.com posted a video of a woman in Howell Township, New Jersey in 2016 getting attacked by a buck she’d just hit with her car. The woman pulled over to check on the status of the deer, and suffered a knee injury when the deer charged at her.

In 2021, a 21-year-old driver collided with an elk on I-25 near Castle Pines, Colorado. Unfortunately, the driver’s 18-year-old passenger was struck and killed by another vehicle after exiting the car to survey the damage.

In 2018, a woman swerved to avoid hitting a rabbit in Big Sur, California. She overcorrected her vehicle and plunged off a 200-foot cliff and went undetected for a week. She miraculously survived.

In 2021, in Hingham Massachusetts, a 19-year-old woman swerved to avoid hitting a squirrel and slammed into Abraham Lincoln’s ancestral home instead. While the driver escaped injury, her car was totaled, and the home suffered structural and cosmetic damage.

In November 2021, a tractor-trailer driver in Lynn, Massachusetts swerved to avoid hitting a raccoon. He crashed into several cars, homes, and a utility pole, and rendered one home uninhabitable.

Even though wild animals are unpredictable in their movements, there are ways for motorists to lower their risk of impacting such creatures.

First and foremost, slow down! Keeping your speed in check gives you a better chance of stopping in time if an animal darts into the road. Taking it slow makes the roads safer for other drivers and pedestrians, too.

Watch for wildlife in and near the road at dawn, dusk and in the first few hours after darkness.

Keep in mind that where there is one animal, there are probably others—young animals following their mother or male animals pursuing a female.

Be especially cautious on two-lane roads bordered by woods or fields, or where streams cross under roads. Most animal/vehicle collisions occur on these roads. Slow down to 45 mph or less.

Scan the road as you drive, watching the edges for wildlife about to cross. This will also make you more aware of other hazards such as bicyclists, children at play and slow-moving vehicles.

Don’t throw trash out car windows. Discarded food pollutes the environment and creates a hazard by attracting wildlife to the roads.

Use your high beams whenever possible.

Lower your dashboard lights slightly. You’ll be more likely to see your headlights reflected in the eyes of animals in time to brake.

And, finally, always remember that while a turkey can indeed fly, their flight path is extremely low!

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at cal.bryant@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

email author More by Cal