I was out late the other night, when I heard a rustling in the bushes behind the garage. I froze, not sure what I’d see, and found myself 10 feet away from a large, gray, moonlit opossum. We had an intense staring contest that lasted about 2 seconds before it turned and disappeared. I know there is a good number of opossums living in my neighborhood, but I’ve only seen 3 or 4 ever. They are so secretive, so shy, that they leave almost no trace of existing, and when you do see them they scurry away in a heartbeat. It also doesn’t help that they are nocturnal, and seem to avoid not only daylight, but street- and lamp-light as well. I don’t know much about these little guys, but they’re awfully exciting to see!
I’m Back, and better than ever!
This last month I was on vacation all over America. Here are a few pictures:
Recently an albino squirrel has shown up in the neighborhood. It’s exciting to watch these pure white, pink-eyed rodents scurry around with all the other ordinary gray ones. The other squirrels don’t treat it any differently, although it seems a little more shy than most. Albino animals generally don’t live very long, since not only are they easier to spot, but the same mutant gene that makes them white often comes with diseases. But when they’re around, they are definitely fun to have!
Yesterday I chanced upon a red squirrel, chattering angrily in a tree in it’s typical red squirrel way, infuriated by my intrusion upon it’s property. There aren’t a whole lot of reds around here – the forests are mostly deciduous, & they prefer pine & spruce forests to oaks, elms, & maples. But once in a while I see one, hiding in the forests by the river – they are shyer than their gray cousins. And while there is nothing new about seeing a gray squirrel searching for food under bird feeders, recently I have seen a couple of oddly colored ones. There is a resident albino squirrel, snowy white with bright pink eyes. I see her (or him) frequently enough, but a few days ago there was a black one hanging around, checking out the territory. So while it seems at times that the variety of squirrels near in my yard will never differ, the truth is that there are probably enough squirrel colors out there to create an entire rainbow.
Eastern cottontail rabbits are becoming much more common here. There are always a few around, but in the summer & winter they are usually much easier to find. They come & nibble on the plants & leaves on the ground, but they are more timid than squirrels, & they are quicker to run if they are startled. However, they will choose to forage for plants much closer to people than squirrels will, & if you do not move in their direction, you can pass by very close to them.
It’s been raining hard here for several days now, & the sun is rarely out for more than a few moments a day. It’s also very cold, although it’s mid-May. I noticed that the birds really don’t mind though. They’re hopping around on the ground (& trying to get under the roof of the birdfeeder) with their feathers all fluffed out, searching for the least soggy seeds. The squirrels also are out, but I see them less often. I think they are mostly all curled up in their holes staying dry.
Yesterday I saw a red squirrel running up & down a tree. I got pretty close to it, & it didn’t run away. Instead it looked at me & started shaking & chattering so loudly I started looking around to see if there were actually 2 squirrels – I couldn’t believe 1 tiny squirrel could make that much noise! Red squirrels are much tinier than gray squirrels, & less common. They mostly live in northern pine forests, although some live as far south as Iowa. They build their nests in the fork of a large tree, or if it’s available an empty tree cavity. Sometimes they will even occupy abandoned bird nests. Red squirrels do not hibernate, but they are less common in winter since they stay in their nests to conserve body heat.
Lately there’s been an Eastern Cottontail hanging around my neighborhood. These common rabbits like all the vegetation & the bird feeders that spill seeds around here. (But not so much the hawks.) By the way, I’ve figured out that birds, if you put out sunflower seeds still in the shell, will actually crack the shell, swallow the nut meat, & then they will lean over the edge of the feeder, & spit the shell onto the ground. Talk about bad manners! The rabbits show up early in the morning & in the early evening, but you can still see them in the day. It’s amazing how cottontails have adapted to city life. They are quite different from the eastern cottontails in the wild. They are hardly afraid of humans at all, & they eat from underneath bird feeders like they’ve been doing it forever. The rabbits probably all have nests by now, as they have kits from Feb. to Sept. The mother rabbit, also called a doe, spends very little time at her nest, instead she forages for food away from the nest to draw attention toward herself & not her young. Interestingly, it’s for the same reason that male birds are so brightly feathered & spend so much of their time away from their nest. They are so often accused of being lazy, when actually they are sitting in a nearby tree, boasting their brilliant colors to all hungry eyes, & singing their hearts out quite selflessly. This way they call attention to themselves & not their precious nest, with the female & young with their drab coats that blend in perfectly with the things around them. Rabbits work the same way. The doe comes home to feed her kits for only a short time each day; the rest of the time the brood must fend for themselves, which they do just fine. If you find rabbit kits alone, they probably are in good shape & are waiting for their mother to come home. Many people see a brood of young rabbits alone &, thinking they’ve been orphaned, take them home. This is a bad idea. If you are worried they’ve been orphaned, put some unscented dental floss around the nest and check to see if it is disturbed in 24 to 48 hours to show if the mother has been there. If not, call a wildlife rehab center.