- Written by Clyde McMillan-Gamber Clyde McMillan-Gamber
Risking death, several kinds of common wildlife in southeastern Pennsylvania, as elsewhere, are adaptable enough to get food off country roads through the year. Some of the more common foods on rural roads include earthworms, dead animals, spilled grain, and road apples.
Thousands of earthworms emerge at night from the ground in fields along rural byways any time rain falls heavily or for a length of time during warmer seasons. Some of those worms blunder onto country roads.
Many of them are up to a foot long, and several get squashed on the roads, though many others make it to safety.
Striped skunks and opossums eat some of those worms on roads at night most of the year around. And on summer nights, American and common toads consume some of those worms off the roads.
American crows, American robins, American kestrels, and purple grackles ingest many smashed worms off blacktop lanes the next morning. The robins, in keeping with their custom, run and stop, run and stop on the roads to pick up and ingest worms until they are full.
Several kinds of animals are killed on rural roads, providing food for scavengers bold enough to ingest it there and quick enough to escape traffic when it comes. Turkey vultures, black vultures, crows, red-tailed hawks, and starlings are all devout scavengers and the birds most likely seen feeding on dead critters on country byways.
All these birds usually are quick enough to rise off the roads before approaching vehicles and drop to the blacktop again after the traffic has passed. Skunks, opossums, red foxes, coyotes, and other mammals also feed on dead creatures on the roads, mostly at night.
At any time of year, sometimes corn, or some other grain, spills on a roadway. Rock pigeons, mourning doves, house sparrows, and horned larks are quick to consume that grain from the roads. Those birds also ingest tiny stones to help grind those seeds in their stomachs.
But road apples, also known as horse droppings, are the most interesting food source on country lanes. Those “apples” are from horses pulling buggies along rural roads.
Road apples have chewed, but undigested, bits of corn in them that house sparrows, horned larks, starlings, pigeons, doves, and other kinds of birds scratch from that manure to eat.
These are the more common kinds of wildlife foods that are found on farmland blacktop throughout the year. Those foods are easy to ingest, if wildlife that consumes them stays out of traffic’s way.
Clyde McMillan-Gamber is a retired Lancaster County Parks naturalist.