Motorists: give animals a brake this spring

It's spring and animals - wild and alas, domestic - are on the move again.

Some mornings, like today, the roadway on my 25-mile commute is awash in blood and fur.

Travelling tens of thousands of miles a year across wildlife-filled areas of Pennsylvania has taught me a few things about avoiding animals.

First, tap your brakes for robins.

Many people don't slow down for birds, thinking they will swoop past and miss their bumper. Robins often take off from a berm and swoop low and slow to the other side. So don't presume they have calculated your car's speed in their flight pattern. It pains me deeply to see dead robins in the road when I know so many collisions are avoidable.

Hawks follow the same trajectory when they hunt in the highway median. Usually they fly above the height of an average vehicle and are much faster than robins, but piles of hawk feathers on the shoulder are sure signs that raptor was so focused on that vole in the grassy median that they didn't see the tractor trailer barreling along in their path.

A few weeks ago though, I had to hit my brakes to avoid a hawk lifting off after snatching a field rodent in a median and heading back to a tree across a four-lane highway.

Most road-crossing animals follow a straight path. Foxes, dogs, cats, raccoons, groundhogs go from point A to point B in a straight line. Rabbits, and particularly squirrels, often change direction midway across. So just when you think they have safely passed in front of your car they may well turn back right into your path. I've found a quick honk can speed up their decision making.

Deer often travel at dusk and dawn, Watch for the shining eyes by the side of the road. Remember if one safely crosses in front of you doesn't mean that's it. Deer often travel in herds and soon does will be crossing with their fawns.

That thing that looks like a rock? It may well be a turtle heading to or from a wetland, particularly after a rain.

That thing that looks like a snake? It may well be a snake heading for a spot of sun. 

That glistening silver thing that looks like a hopping hailstone in your headlights in a rainstorm. It's probably a frog.

Sadly, Pennsylvania unlike neighboring states, New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia, which have built wildlife-crossing overpasses and underpasses, has done nothing to reduce car-animal collisions, despite having one of the highest rates of deer-car collisions in the nation.