Mariposa Life

It’s roadkill season on our lonely highways

I never thought of myself as a killer until I moved to the country.

Driving these rural stretches of pavement cutting through rangeland proves to be an obstacle course. There’s always some species of wildlife in my way, making my heart jump and my foot slam on the brake.

Most of the time I’m successful in missing the unintended target. But some critters aren’t so lucky. Vultures know to get out of the way when I come speeding toward them. But ground squirrels are clueless. And baby woodpeckers.

It’s roadkill season in the Central Valley.

Adult birds feel the ground rumbling beneath their tiny feet, and fly away before a car gets too close. But baby woodpeckers don’t realize the danger until it’s too late. By the time they lift off the ground, the vehicle is over them. Flying into the chassis of my car, they bonk their little heads – making me cry and ruining my day.

Snakes are different. Although I don’t intentionally run over them, I don’t cry when I do. My husband is better at recognizing the markings, and can usually tell before we’re right over the thing whether it’s a rattlesnake – which in my opinion doesn’t deserve to live – or a gopher snake. (It’s sort of hard in a moving vehicle to get a good look at the eyes, to see whether they’re rounded or slit.)

I don’t feel bad about the 100-plus bugs I hit driving from one county to another. This world has way too many bugs, and I’m happy to help reduce the population. With the exception of dragonflies and butterflies.

As much as I hate to see a deer or large animal hit on a highway, the worst scenario is a stray dog on the freeway. But I won’t elaborate. Much too depressing.

Although my natural response is to swerve when an animal gets in my way, if the safety of my family and/or myself is in question, it’s better to hit the animal than to hit a tree or land in a ditch.

According to State Farm estimates, over 1 million collisions took place between vehicles and deer in the United States between July 1, 2012, and June 30, 2013. State Farm also says the values in vehicle damage are close to $4 billion a year.

Certain times of the year roadkill numbers increase: During the spring and fall, when animals are mating or migrating, and near the beginning/end of daylight saving time. Scientists believe this is due to animals not having adjusted to the change in our commute times.

Of course, roadkill incidents began rising in the early 1900s when vehicles with engines and increased road construction disturbed the natural environment and habitats across our country. This happened in other industrialized nations, too. It’s just one of the unfortunate results of progress.

Some states and countries have constructed wildlife bridges or wildlife crossings near roadways to allow a natural flow of movement for the animals without the risk of getting hit by traffic.

The National Park Service asks travelers to drive slower, especially at night, to avoid hitting and possibly killing the animals our preserved lands strive to protect. Caution signs are posted for the safety of the resident wildlife.

When driving through rural areas, it’s always better to assume you will see wildlife. Prepare accordingly by driving slower and staying alert.

Help us reduce roadkill – and tearful drivers.

Debbie Croft writes about life in the foothill communities. Follow her on Twitter @ghostowngal or email her at