The animals that enrich my life

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By Rachael Bale, ANIMALS Executive Editor

Happy Thanksgiving, readers. As we approach our ninth month of practicing social distancing, today I’m giving thanks for animal companions. I am grateful for the Zoom Thanksgiving dinner I’m about to share with my family, but screens are no replacement for the feeling of sharing space with other living beings. Genie, our family cat, keeps my lap warm while I’m watching TV. Our dog, Sherman, sleeps by my side while I write and edit at my desk in the guest bedroom (unless my husband’s cooking, at which time I cease to exist to Sherman). Petting the cat or walking the dog is an antidote when my anxiety about the state of the world starts to get out of control, and they make me laugh even when the news makes me want to cry. (Pictured above, a portrait of a part Basset hound, part blue heeler.)

I am also thankful to be surrounded by urban wildlife: for the cottontail rabbits nibbling our frosty lawn every morning and the bats flying over our neighborhood at dusk. For the black-capped chickadees and house sparrows that visit our bird feeder each day and the white-tailed deer we see on nearly every weekend hike.

Thanksgiving is a time even the most cynical of us can pause and look on the bright side. For me, a big part of that is the animals in my life.

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Today in a minute

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Discovering the spiders: Stuck at home during the pandemic, writer Sandy Hingston has discovered she is sharing space—with the spiders. One study says there are 131 of them every square meter. In recent months, bug-smashing Hingston has been on cobweb patrol, and is losing. To be fair, it’s not a united front. “When Doug [her husband] happens on a spider in our house, he does what the experts all suggest with such beneficial insects,” she writes in Philadelphia magazine. “He gently captures it and takes it outside and sets it free, like he’s Mahatma freaking Gandhi.”

Barry the barred owl: Ethereal and majestic, an owl is the new celebrity animal of New York’s Central Park. The hawk-wary, chipmunk-eating bird delights onlookers by staring, preening, swooping into a shallow stream, and flicking his feathers, the New York Times reports. Excited birders, who have made Barry famous on Instagram, say the owl is roosting and putting on weight. It’s not known whether Barry will stay the winter, but there are plenty of chipmunks and rats to munch on.

Coming attractions: Next week we’ll offer up a collection of wildlife victories of the year and our favorite animal photos of 2020. Can’t wait? OK, prepare by checking out the best wildlife news from last year and 2019’s top animal photos.

Your Instagram photo of the day

Apple-eating time: Most black bear cubs who lose their mothers do not survive. Luckily for these orphaned cubs, they were rescued and brought to the Kilham Bear Center in New Hampshire. The center has rehabilitated orphaned black bears for the past 25 years. Wildlife reintroduction—releasing wild animals reared in captivity into the wild—can be difficult and is not possible for all species. However, Ben Kilham, his wife, Deb, and his sister Phoebe have developed a successful method that has allowed hundreds of bears over the years to thrive in the wild—with very little human conflict. (Pictured above, the young cubs are eating apples within their 8.5-acre enclosure, putting on weight to gear up for winter. Cuteness alert: The accompanying video in this Instagram post is adorable.)

The big takeaway

Saving the chinook: In Northern California, the numbers of chinook salmon, considered sacred by Native Americans who have fished them for centuries, have been on the wane. But a new agreement will allow California and Oregon to take over dams on Klamath River, and remove some of them to restore the spring salmon run. That's is raising hope for the survival of the spring salmon, Nat Geo’s Alejandra Borunda reports. (Pictured above, an alternative: holding tanks at the Little White Salmon fish hatchery keep spring chinook salmon until their eggs mature.)

In a few words

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The last glimpse

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The revenge of the turkeys? Vanishing forests and unchecked hunting had wiped out New England’s wild turkeys before the Civil War. But in 1975, a New Hampshire biologist released 25 wild turkeys from the back of his truck. “I never thought it would get beyond a few thousand turkeys,” that state biologist, Ted Walski, told Nat Geo last November. Instead, New Hampshire’s turkey population has exploded to 40,000 animals—probably the most the state can handle. Reintroduction efforts in neighboring states and around the country have created a similar story—60,000 wild turkeys in Maine, 45,000 in Vermont, and 25,000 in Massachusetts. (Pictured above, a female turkey pausing at a doorway on Mount Auburn Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Note: Your curator lives near here and can attest to the turkeys’ bold and occasionally disruptive presence.)

Related: Why did these turkeys circle a dead cat?

This newsletter has been curated and edited by David Beard, with photo selections by Jen Tse. Kimberly Pecoraro and Gretchen Ortega helped produce this newsletter. Have an idea or a link? We’d love to hear from you at . And thanks for reading!