2012: The Year in Rodents

When I first envisioned the results of wildlife gardening, I thought of clouds of butterflies, flocks of colorful songbirds, all punctuated by dragonflies and hummingbirds darting about. The thing is, wildlife gardening does not work like an exclusive country club, only letting in the most desirable sorts of critters. And so you also can end up with more than your share of more or less pestiferous rodents, namely squirrels, rabbits, skunks, possums, mice, and chipmunks.

Squirrels

Squirrels were certainly plentiful in the garden this year. They are not as much of a nuisance now that I’ve figured out how to keep them out of the bird feeders. I hang all the feeders from poles with squirrel baffles from Wild Birds Unlimited. These metal cylinders work pretty well, and they provide entertainment as you see the squirrels climbing into them, then come back out looking, well, baffled.

Luckily for the squirrels, the birds are extremely messy eaters, so there’s plenty of food dropped to the ground even if the baffle keeps them away from the feeders.

For a while, though, I did have a problem with Commando Squirrel. Commando Squirrel would climb out on a telephone wire, then drop down at least 8′ to the platform feeder attached to the pole below. I finally removed the platform feeder, thus depriving Commando Squirrel of his landing pad.

The other criminal activity of the squirrels this year consisted of biting the flower buds off the crocuses. I am convinced that this was their way of getting even for the squirrel baffle.

Rabbits

LOTS of rabbits this year. Also, they seem to be getting awfully unconcerned around people. Now it seems I have to shoo them, instead of having them hop away at my mere approach. I swear one of them looked right at me, yawning and looking nonchalantly at his paw as I neared. I blame the rabbits for chewing many of my woodland phlox plants (Phlox divaritica) down to the ground, as well as nearly nibbling my new black chokeberry bushes (Aronia melanocarpa) to death.

The rabbits are getting a little too comfortable, and much too numerous, around the garden.

Skunks

We had skunks living under our back porch landing this spring. Had to trap three of them before we could have the landing skunk-proofed. Enough said.

A fuzzy cell phone picture of a skunk in the backyard.

Possums

Now, I think of possums as beneficial rodents. If this is not an official ecological category, it should be. Mostly they come out only at night, they don’t smell bad if you don’t stick your nose right up to them, and – this is important – they eat other rodents, like mice and rats. Judy thinks they’re creepy, though. She used her cell phone to take a picture of the one below while drinking her early morning coffee. I’ll admit that albino thing they’ve got going  on with the naked tail is not exactly endearing.

Another fuzzy photo of our friendly neighborhood possum. They at least do something useful, yet chipmunks get all the love.

Mice and Chipmunks

The mice are pretty harmless until the weather turns cold, when they decide they’d rather move into our house. So far we’ve caught three of them inside. I am advocating for a new cat, or even better, two new cats, though these we would have to keep inside unlike our last cat, Phoebe, who passed on some time ago.

Chipmunks. They think they’re so cute.

Everybody thinks chipmunks are cute, but I don’t buy it. They seem to expect people to think they’re cute. Personally, I think the cuteness is just a cover, and I’m keeping an eye on them.

So there you are, my year of rodents. Could be worse, I suppose. I am profoundly grateful there are no deer in this area.

28 Comments on “2012: The Year in Rodents

  1. Hi Jason, Thanks for your comment on my last post, and the information about birds eating honeysuckle berries.

    I had to laugh about your post about the critters. We have lots of squirrels here, too, and they usually figure out how to get to the feeders, but we have some different ones this year, and I’m thinking they will have to eat what the birds drop, too. I think they’ve been burying things to eat this winter, too. I hope they remember their spots.

    The rabbits here are too tame, too. Yes, they love phlox pilosa and divaritica. They also eat my lead plants to the ground.

    We had an opossum living under our deck a few seasons, but it seems to be gone, as Heidi, our yellow lab does not hang out near their entrance like she used to.

    I’m glad we don’t have deer, skunks, or chipmunks here. There are deer that eat on certain plants at church, though.

  2. Rabbits taste just like chicken ;o) I didn’t know that possums ate other rodents. That’s way cool. We don’t have cute little chupmunks in our yard, they must be too busy making movies to bother hanging around these parts. Luckily, have never had skunks but racoons love visiting our garden and decided to take up residence in our garage for several years.

    • Oh, I know raccoons can be downright aggressive even though they look cute from a distance. I’ve eaten and enjoyed rabbit, maybe I should look into some traps … wonder if I would be violating any city ordinances?

  3. What, no woodchucks? Or raccoons? We have these but I don’t see them very often. Too many dogs in my area of the nabe, I guess. I have not seen a possum for a while, either. About twice a year I smell skunk, but they must be just passing through. Rabbits, squirrels, and chipmunks, though? Plenty! Rabbits are the worst in my book. They permanently stunted my serviceberry and chokeberry. I have a small fortune invested in chicken wire. Re Peter’s comment, I used to make a dish called “Chicken Surprise” – the surprise was it was not chicken. 😉

  4. We have no chipmunks here, so I think they’re cute. If they were in my garden, though, I wonder if I would have a different opinion! I have a lot of opossums in my garden. I hate them. It is impossible to scare them away! Thankfully, I don’t have skunks – although they are around this area. Poor things. I wonder if they’re such bad creatures, or if it’s their reputation that stinks! 😉

    • It’s not reputation, it’s THEM. Even if they don’t spray, you can smell them when they are around. Do possums actually do damage, or is it just the way they look?

  5. You sure do have a lot of wildlife. In suburbia ours has disappeared. Except for the odd blue tongue lizard, yellow bellied snake, a few rats and once a porcupine, how it ended up in our garage I will never know. A few years ago we had an owl for a little while, but mainly they just pass through.

    • Wow, blue tongued lizards and yellow bellied snakes sound pretty exotic, no lizards or snakes at all around here. If you go out into the country you will find the occasional newt or garter snake. No porcupines in the neighborhood, thank goodness.

  6. I suppose it’s a trade off, more rodents, and vermin for more nature…I am trying to get this garden in a more natural state, and then here I am freaking about the thought of raccoons visiting…lol.

    Jen

  7. What a great idea for a post!

    Round these parts, deer are known as 200 pound rats. They used to be problematic only at the western edges of town, but have now adapted well into the center. Heartbreakers.

    • They are a problem in the forest preserves and other natural areas around here, which are grossly overpopulated with deer. Attempts at population control are generally met with hysteria by animal-lovers who, in my opinion, are seriously misguided. Fortunately are not found in the residential area where I live.

  8. Thankfully no rabbits or skunks here, but we have plenty of opossums, raccoons, squirrels, and unfortunately, tree rats.

  9. I’m with Judy on the Possums! They really creep me out, and remind me of giant rats! [shiver] We have all those critters here, too, although I’ve never seen a skunk in our yard (thankfully). I highly recommend the cat(s). We have two, and have never had a mouse in this house. One other critter that creeps me out is like a mouse–the vole. They’re tiny, burrowing, blind creatures that creep under your feet when you’re out moving the hose around to water all your plants during the drought. 😉

  10. I’ve come to really like seeing possums around since I learned that they act as tick-mops. Apparently they are very good at keeping ticks groomed off themselves and thus keeping tick populations down – I’m wondering if our reasonable tick population (and thus much smaller chance of getting lyme disease) has to do with the possums that feed on my birdfeeders at night.

  11. Great post! Our most bothersome critters are raccoons, voles, and chipmunks. We once had many rabbits, until the foxes moved in. Now we have only an occasional rabbit, and the foxes have moved on too. We are pleased that the new cat, Autumn, is a great hunter. She presented a headless rat to our back door, and when Lou complained that he would like her to also catch some chipmunks, she promptly caught one of those and brought it to him!

  12. Jason, also thanks for your comment on my last post. You asked about my coralberry. When I purchased them, they were covered with gorgeous berries, and that is why I bought them. I also like their leaves. They have been in my garden one year, and they did not bloom or produce berries this year. I think they may have been in too much shade, which is why I moved them to a new, sunnier area. I am hopeful, but we shall see. I was unfamiliar with the plant before I purchased it.

    • I was told that genus would grow anywhere, though that doesn’t mean it will fruit, I guess. I’m tempted to replace with beautyberry, though those are marginally hardy here – also not sure how much shade they need.

  13. No possums in my garden…no deer, either, although they roam in the natural area just a few blocks away. Squirrels and rabbits are a huge problem, though – I’ve totally given up on planting a few types of plants because I know they’ll just get eaten the second I put them in the ground.

  14. Jason, My big rodent enemy is the woodchuck, followed by those d*!# mice who also like to move inside my house. I’m no fan of the chipmunks, but I don’t mind the skunks (who eat Japanese beetle grubs). No rabbits in my neck of the woods, but plenty of deer to munch on the plants.

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