Summer in the Valley means baby birds being blown from their nests by monsoon storms. It means young bobcats, coyotes, foxes and birds of prey striking out on their own for the first time, lacking experience to avoid the dangers of contact with the human world — especially speedy cars.
It means desert heat, drought and the continuing march of development into once-remote open places, making this the toughest season for wild animals to survive.
The toll taken by the harsh environment is reflected in rising numbers of animals straining the capacities of wildlife rescue facilities.
The Southwest Wildlife rehabilitation center near north Scottsdale expects to house as many as 350 mammals this summer. That's up about 100 from its average population of javelina, mountain lions, coyotes, foxes, bobcats, skunks and raccoons.
The Wild at Heart center for birds of prey in Cave Creek has given shelter to about 375 owls, hawks and falcons in recent months, more than all of last year.
Almost 60 percent of about 3,500 birds and small mammals treated at Liberty Wildlife in Scottsdale arrive during summer months.
Calls to East Valley Wildlife's network of rescuers double in summer, sometimes to 60 or more a day from Mesa, Tempe, Chandler, Gilbert, Queen Creek and Ahwatukee Foothills.
Other factors make it a difficult time of year for the volunteer, nonprofit operations.
The Valley's winter residents are gone and many full-time residents are on vacation, depleting volunteers and donors at a time when costs of running wildlife rescue facilities rise sharply, said Linda Searles, Southwest Wildlife director.
Searles' center spends more than $1,000 a week on food for the animals. Additional expenses for medical care raise overall costs about 40 percent over the rest of the year, Searles said.
Liberty Wildlife is treating 400 more animals than normal, including a “bumper crop” of about a dozen pelicans requiring at least 30 pounds of fish daily, said director Megan Mosby.
East Valley Wildlife director Nancy Eilertsen said that weekly animal food bills have as much as quadrupled in summer.
“It's just the time of year we have to struggle through” financially, Eilertsen said.
The season brings another challenge: Rehab centers have more animals ready to return to the wild at the least opportune time.
Successful reintroduction requires finding habitats with adequate food and water supplies where wildlife can roam without having to invade other animals' territories, said Bob Fox, who runs Wild at Heart with his wife, Sam.
“The drought makes it especially tough,” and it's getting harder to find places where animals can stay out of the path of development, Fox said.
Public awareness is key to a healthy balance between the interests of humans and wildlife, said Joe Yarchin, an urban wildlife specialist for the Arizona Game and Fish Department.
Authorities and rescue centers should be contacted when wild animals are found obviously injured, displaced or orphaned, he said.
But sometimes people “rescue” animals that don't need it. Animals often leave their young alone while hunting for food or more permanent shelter, Yarchin said.
He suggests waiting before doing anything. Usually, the parent will return in a day or two.
But troublesome wildlife, particularly predators, should not be made to feel welcome around people and their homes, Yarchin said.
“One of our biggest pushes is to get people to let wildlife stay wild. . . . Feeding them or being indifferent to their presence sends the wrong message, because predators are dangerous when they become comfortable around humans,” he said.