Pests: Of Squirrels and Deer and Other Beasts of Burden

Yves here. Urban dwellers due to their limited contact with nature, are less afflicted by animal nuisances, with rats and pigeons as exceptions. However, given that focus, this post omits some favorites, like geese and invasive species such as rabbits in Australia.

Animals routinely try to steal food from their fellows or other species; it’s easier to pilfer than forage. But some of the beastly offenses have nothing to do with our survival but our sense of order, like pigeons pooping and deer eating flower gardens. The author argues for accommodation strategies but she seems to overestimate the effectiveness of some of them. For instance, the only time I was in a car that nearly hit a deer, we were driving at dusk and only 25 miles an hour; a doe and two fawns bounded across a narrow country road at dusk. Similarly, my brother was not driving quickly when he just missed an unfortunate encounter with a moose.

By Rachel Nuwer, a science journalist whose writing has appeared in The New York Times, National Geographic, Scientific American, BBC Future, and elsewhere. She is the author of “Poached: Inside the Dark World of Wildlife Trafficking.” Originally published at Undark

Lots of people find squirrels to be charming and adorable. Science journalist Bethany Brookshire is not one of them. For her, squirrels — in particular, one exceptionally wily individual she calls Kevin — are the bane of her gardening endeavors. Chicken wire, pepper spray, and cats have all proven to be no match for Kevin, who always finds a way to outmaneuver Brookshire’s futile attempts to keep him away from her cherry tomatoes.

Google the definition of a pest, and Kevin fits the bill: “a destructive insect or animal that attacks crops, food, livestock, etc.” But Brookshire acknowledges that not everyone shares her views on Kevin and his kind. Whether or not squirrels are regarded as “cute or a curse” is in the eye of the beholder, Brookshire writes in “Pests: How Humans Create Animal Villains.” “Pest is all about perspective,” she says.

BOOK REVIEW“Pests: How Humans Create Animal Villains,” by Bethany Brookshire (Ecco, 384 pages).

Brookshire unpacks our complex relationships with some of the world’s most irksome and irritating creatures: Those that usually do not directly harm us, but that invade our space and “harm our stuff,” as she puts it. Inspired by encounters with Kevin and other animals —­­ from aggressive turkeys to Froot Loop-loving lab mice — “Pests” is Brookshire’s attempt to “find out why we call some animals pests, and some not.”

Brookshire focuses on 10 vertebrate species that are generally regarded as pests, including deer in suburban backyards in Georgia, pythons in wetlands in Florida, and sparrows in crop fields in China. In case after case, she finds the reasoning behind the “pest” label to be wildly subjective, determined by culture, context, and personal preference.

Most important, Brookshire found that no matter the animal in question, pests are of our own making. This is because humanity’s vast impact on the planet has left many species with two choices, she writes: “adjust or die.” Pests, oftentimes, are simply the species that have managed to adapt and “piggyback on our successes to thrive,” as one of Brookshire’s sources told her. In some cases, Brookshire writes, the “sheer adaptability and persistence” demonstrated by these creatures — especially in light of all we do to try to eradicate them — is worthy of awe.

Take rats. While “it often seems as though wherever people are, rats are too,” Brookshire writes, that was not always the case. Black rats began hitching rides with people out of their native India about 5,000 years ago, spreading to Mesopotamia, on to the Mediterranean, and then around the Roman Empire. Human infrastructure was key to the rats’ eventual global domination, especially the endless spew of sewage and garbage that people produce wherever we settle down, Brookshire writes. Thousands of years later, this is still the case in cities around the world. New York City, for example, has tried everything from poison to carbon dioxide gas to rid itself of rats, but to no avail. Until the city changes the way it manages its waste, “the rats will come back, again and again,” Brookshire writes. Any disgust we feel for rats, then, is just a reflection of our own disgusting ways.

While rats have always been unwelcome urban guests, pigeons — derisively referred to by today’s city dwellers as rats with wings — were actually originally brought to people’s homes (usually on their roofs, that is) on purpose. Pigeons were one of the first birds to be domesticated around 5,000 years ago, and they were valued for millennia for their meat and their ability to carry messages. Europeans brought pigeons with them to North America, where they bred the birds for fanciful looks, competed them in races, and hunted them for sport.

Some pigeons inevitably escaped their coops, however, and as their urban populations began to build, enthusiasm for them (and their ever-present poop) began to wane. Pigeon intolerance accelerated as farm-raised chicken replaced home-harvested squab in kitchens, removing the need for people to raise pigeons themselves for food. Telegraphs and telephones supplanted messenger pigeons as well, further accelerating the bird’s fall from favor.

By the 1940s, pigeons in New York City were being poisoned and accused of spreading disease. But like rats, they proved impossible to eradicate. The skills people had purposefully cultivated in the pigeons they formerly bred — the ability to forage on their own and a strong tolerance of humans — permitted the birds’ survival in cities, as did the ready availability of discarded human food. Some people today also purposefully feed and befriend pigeons — an affinity that harkens back to the fact that the birds “strutting the streets today” are descendants of cherished individuals that “people valued very much,” Brookshire points out.

Before the convenience of farm-raised chicken, pigeons were raised at home for food. Visual: Nathan Dumlao/Unsplash

Cats are also considered to be pests in certain circumstances. “As humans wreak their own havoc on local biodiversity, the cats associated with them do the same,” Brookshire writes. “Invasive pest? Or homeless pet?” Brookshire muses. “Both of these can be true, at the same time and even in the same place.”

By one estimate, feral, stray, and outdoor cats kill up to 4 billion birds and as many as 22 billion mammals each year in the United States alone, Brookshire reports. In some locations — especially islands like Australia with vulnerable wildlife — feral cats, originally brought to the island by colonists, are regularly shot, poisoned, or trapped for euthanasia. Other humanely intentioned efforts, like reintroducing sterilized feral cats into the wild, have also proven by-and-large ineffective and impractical on a large scale. (Brookshire points out that such efforts may be enough to protect wildlife in some specific circumstances.)

There is no simple solution to the problem of how to limit the impact of feral cats, nor is there agreement about whether pet cats should be allowed to roam free. What is certain is that cat-related wildlife killings and extinctions “are really our fault,” Brookshire writes. Engaging cat owners in conversation about the problem rather than lecturing them, and giving them scientifically proven tips for reducing cat predation — things as simple as playing with a cat for 10 minutes a day and feeding them a high-protein diet — could go a long way toward reducing cat predation, Brookshire writes.

Across these and other case studies, Brookshire confirms her original hypothesis that what makes a pest is essentially a reflection of our own biases, preferences, and insecurities. By the end of the book, she argues that we should get rid of the “pest” label entirely. “Our reactions to the animals in our lives are often a wild seesaw of deadly conflict and cooing compassion,” she points out.

So Brookshire calls for readers to “escape this mental mousetrap” by learning a bit about the animals they encounter in places they’d rather not see them (like a basement, cupboard, trash can, or garden), and considering what factors lead them to being there in the first place. This includes understanding, for example, the differences between mice and rats, coyotes and bears, or pigeons and sparrows, including what each species likes to eat and where they like to live, and how our human habits and habitats might compel them to establish their lives in parallel to our own. “Only by understanding the animals around us, by learning what attracts them and what repels them, can we live with them, instead of against them,” Brookshire concludes.

And we might consider strategies like better trash cans to keep bears, coyotes, and rodents out; driving slower at night to prevent slamming into deer; and even adding invasive and “pest” species to our diet.

Regardless of the solutions, though, respecting animals is a first step toward building tolerance and moving toward coexistence. While this is not a new idea — Brookshire points out that many Indigenous groups have adhered to principles of coexistence with wildlife for millennia, and continue to view their interactions with nature and other species through this lens — it’s one that Westerners are, fortunately, increasingly coming around to. As Brookshire writes: “People are realizing that the way we view ourselves, and our relationship to where we live, isn’t the only way — or the best one.”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

53 comments

  1. Noor Safi

    Rampant overfeeding of pigeons in my part of London, counting three separate instances of flocks feasting on bread on my walk back from the gym this morning, has turned me against them somewhat. Pigeons are an inevitability, but the population being artificially inflated along with the complete absence of enforcement has pushed me to take action. I’m waging war on pigeons via watergun, spraying any of them that congregate in front of my flat. I admit its rather nimbyish, they’ll just settle elsewhere, but when the council tells me they can’t actually do anything if the feeder refuses to share their details, my quixotic crusade will have to do.

    Reply
  2. Hayek's Heelbiter

    With the reduction of deer hunting in my brother’s neck of the woods (literally!) in the Shenandoah Valley, his stepson and a huge number of people in the area can no longer eat mammal meat due to severe allergic reaction due to lyme disease, caused by a ricksettia carried by deer ticks.

    Reply
    1. LY

      That’s not usually Lyme disease (which is usually spread by deer ticks aka black legged tick), that’s usually an allergic or immune reaction to a lone star tick bite. The lone star tick has started showing up more in the Northeast, possibly due to global warming.

      Another major tick born disease is Babesiosis. And there’s more listed at https://www.cdc.gov/ticks/tickbornediseases/index.html As far as I know, there’s no nationwide systematic field monitoring where people go out, collect ticks and analyze them, so all of these diseases are probably under reported.

      The role of deer seems to be in spreading the tricks, but the disease reservoirs are mice and other mammals. So getting deer populations under control won’t help that much.

      Reply
  3. JohnA

    The foxhunting fraternity in Britain ‘justify’ their blood sport by labelling foxes as pests and they are doing everyone a favour by reducing fox populations. That foxhunting has a closed season that coincides with the time foxes breed is conveniently ignored. Not to mention the fact that far more foxes are killed by cars than packs of foxhounds.

    Reply
    1. Revenant

      The Reverend Jack Russell, breeder of the eponymous terrier and the “Hunting Parson”, lived at my cousin’s farm, which was the parsonage farm (the incumbent of a Church of England parish received his living from the land the church owned in the parish, usually the best land; the Church would also receive rents and other perquisites, like a tithe on the parishioners’ income, from which it funded other expenses and clergy etc.).

      When he arrived in our (very!) rural parish, he found the local fox control methods most regrettable. When a fox was seen, the villagers rang the church bells and made a general hue and cry, ran it to ground however possible and beat it to death with farm implements. It was far too efficient and there were no foxes to hunt! He forbade them from doing this and insisted foxes should be left to hunting with horses and hounds. Which, as you point out, has a closed season so the foxes can regenerate….

      Slightly off topic, there was a room that was sealed up since his time when my cousins bought the farm from the Church. There was great excitement as to what might be in it. When opened, there was only a table and a single chair and an empty bottle of whisky! The life of a rural parson with a hunting obsession did not admit many diversions….

      Reply
  4. Lexx

    Decided to accompany my husband on one of his several-a-day walks with the dog around the neighborhood. It had been a while. Marveled at the sheer number and variety of bird feeders. We’ve lived here twenty years and I can’t recall there were ever this many feeders. So points to the author, we are creating a problem for ourselves. The birds and the squirrels watch each other to see where they’re scoring a meal. A meal is easily had on this block. Don’t like the seed in one, just glide on down one house to the next buffet.

    Yesterday my husband opened the garage door to find the intestinal remains of a bunny on top of the snow. A little fur and the large intestine only, nothing else not even a drop of blood. We were kind of impressed; the extraction seemed surgical. The predator was careful not to tear or nick the viscera and spill any of the contents. It’s really the survival skills of predators that I marvel at, not prey.

    My money is on it being one of the Great Horned owls we’ve been hearing at dusk every day. The hooting of that pair begins even before the sun sets, somewhere up in the cottonwoods. Husband thinks the kill was consumed on the spot, but I think the intestines were dumped to lighten the load of flying the carcass up into a tree to enjoy. The bird would be too vulnerable on the ground at night and the smell would attract a scavenger. I can’t see that a fox or coyote would bother to be that tidy…. but then I don’t know that much about owls as birds of prey. Maybe the scene of the crime was a hot mess and in Phase 2 (food prep) we got to take out the garbage.

    Reply
  5. Henry Moon Pie

    “Urban dwellers due to their limited contact with nature”

    I have to differ with you here, Yves. Here on the East Side of Cleveland, we have quite a bit of contact. Since beginning our rehab project a dozen years ago, this is some of what we’ve encountered:

    1) Raccoons living in our attic when we arrived. Thanks to epigenetics I guess, we have to fight to keep them out every year. Our most recent attempt is a little battery-powered box with a strobe light.

    2) Multiple times of dogs getting skunked.

    3) Ground hogs eating the garden on a regular basis.

    4) Possums living in the basement.

    5) Starlings and sparrows trying to nest in the house.

    We don’t have deer at least. There are just too many freeways and busy streets around us for them to make their way here.

    And not all of our contact is bad. We’ve had a hawk fledgling in the back yard along with various songbirds. We have lots of bumble and honey bees because we have lots of flowers spread over the season. There’s milkweed around, so we get some Monarchs.

    Now part of the reason for this return of the wild is the depopulation happening on the east side. Just like our once-vacant house was a home to raccoons, so the many vacant houses and vacant lots where houses were demolished are home to lots of wildlife.

    Reply
      1. CanCyn

        My cousin lives in house on a street full of houses in Toronto. They are a 3 minute walk from the main subway line, very urban I’d say.

        Reply
      2. Henry Moon Pie

        True enough as I described it. I should have mentioned that we’re in the shadow of a 10-story Section 8 high rise. At the end of the block on the other side are still-operating factories clustered around the main rail line less than a mile from downtown. And nearly all the residential buildings are 2- and 3-family. Our married kids live in 60s split levels in the ‘burbs. This ain’t the ‘burbs. LOL.

        But there have been lots of demos. It’s not like Detroit with block after block emptied, but there are multiple houses missing on most blocks.

        Reply
    1. juno mas

      Most of those animals are scavengers. Wherever there are people and scraps you find them. And the comment at the top about pigeons applies to crows and seagulls, too. Scavenger populations explode with an abundance of “free stuff” requiring no hunt. (Your attic is likely a warm, safe haven for racoons.)

      Reply
  6. KLG

    White tail deer. Reintroduced into Georgia in the 1930s IIRC. With no natural predators except for the occasional bobcat, they have become a very large pest, in individual size and population. In the past two years I have “been hit” by two of them, as an insurance agent friend put it. One older car totaled (the only car I’ve ever had that was fun to drive) and the new one repaired for a total cost of about $26,000. Driving at night is dangerous. Maybe we should reintroduce cougars, feline version.

    Reply
    1. MT_Wild

      Coyotes and feral pigs do a pretty good job of eating fawns. But fawns are only vulnerable to predation a few weeks of the year right after birth. After that it’s mostly human or disease caused mortality.

      Reply
    2. juno mas

      Years ago I was riding in Park Ranger truck going slowly along a park road at dusk. A pack of elk appeared alongside, exceeding our pace. The last large one actually hip-checked the front side of the truck and continued on. Thousands of dollars damage to that truck. If you hit an elk that size head-on you’re likely dead—it will fly through your windshield and crush you.

      Reply
    3. PDH

      Lots deer in our bit of rural Ohio. Also several auto collisions & uncounted near misses in the 40+ years years we’ve been living here. When a deer jumped off a roadside bank to a point in the road just in front of the car that I had purchased the week before, that was unfortunate for me — but even worse for the deer.

      Our vegetable garden requires welded wire fencing to protect it from miscellaneous varmints such as rabbits, groundhogs, possums, etc. The deer could jump over the 5-foot high fence, but so far have not done so. That may be because they have sufficient browse in the surrounding woodland & are not especially hungry. There was a racoon that apparently climbed the wire & seemed especially fond of cantaloupes. If that continues, it will be time to try electrifying the fence. As for unfenced flowers & shrubs, we just satisfy ourselves with plants that the deer & groundhogs don’t much like.

      We try to keep in mind that the wildlife were here in this spot before we moved in. But be that as it may, we have established our own bit of space. In fact, one of the reasons we settled here was because it was semi-wild. This spot has also not been primitive wilderness for centuries, & has been subject to European-stock settlement since the early 1800s. We & the deer have no choice but to fit in with what has gone before.

      Reply
      1. cocomaan

        It’s true that these species were here before humans (even Native Americans) ever arrived.

        However white tail deer populations have exploded and they now are probably greater in number than they ever were during previous epochs.

        I love them as an animal, but I also hunt them and it’s something I remember when out there afield.

        Reply
      2. notabanker

        NEO here, had two deer accidents in the last three years, both times the deer barrelling into the side of the car, head first. They are not very intelligent creatures when it comes to navigating cars. In both circumstances, the only way to have avoided the accident was to just not be there. If it wasn’t for the poor creatures face hitting my driver side window, I would not have had a clue what hit us.

        Reply
    4. CanCyn

      Lots of deer in my neck of the woods in eastern Ontario. We see them pretty much every day, out in the farmer’s field behind us. On walks. We have a pretty well worn trail that they use not too far from the house. Funny, we see their tracks but rarely see them on that trail. The veggie gardeners around here indeed consider them pests. We have neighbours with a huge vegetable garden, they guard their produce with an electric fence. Deer can apparently jump wide or high but not both. You don’t need a really tall fence if you plant some low growing shrubby stuff on either side so that they can’t get footing to take off or see where to land on the other side. People around here also use flags and strips of fabric to confuse deer. They can’t see very well and they can’t always find their way around the ‘flags’. Our vegetable plot is small and they don’t seem to bother it. I don’t know why. Other than some lavender plants which they apparently don’t like, I don’t do anything to deter them. Lot’s of hunters around. I understand there is a lot of disease in the meat these days. I did try some venison sausage at a neighbours recently, it wasn’t bad but not something I’d seek out to eat regularly.

      Reply
    5. thousand points of green

      Neighborhoods or multi-neighborhood zones could establish annual deer roundups with a sustainable number of deer killed each fall and processed for the meat, thereby turning the deer from “pest” into “food resource”.

      Reply
  7. Aleric

    What has worked for me to reduce squirrels in the garden is to leave water out for them. A few turned up frisbees weighted with rocks (which also gives the drunk bumblebees and wasps a way to climb out) cut about 75% of the tomato and squash nibbling. It also turned paper wasps from a menace to aphid-devouring allies. Left a nest up all summer and no human or hound was bothered.

    Reply
    1. lyman alpha blob

      That sounds like a really good idea. We had extremely high temps and dry conditions last summer when my tomatoes and squash were fruiting, and there were a lot more bites taken out of my crops than I’d ever seen before. I figured the varmints were just looking for a drink.

      That does not explain all the chewed strawberries with one bite taken out much earlier in the season when it was a lot wetter though. You’d think they’d figure out whether they actually like them or not after one or two bites without having to taste test every damn berry…

      Reply
    2. Copeland

      All of my neighbors spray paper wasp nests with something toxic as soon as they’re noticed. We’ve had them under the overhangs the last two summers as well, and I was going to spray with something non-toxic, perhaps mint oil based. Then one day I was dead-heading one of my Salvias while also picking off bud worms* if I spotted any, when I noticed a paper wasp methodically hovering through the plant, searching, searching. Eventually it found what it was looking for, a bud worm, grabbed it and flew off. I’m happy to leave their nests alone now.

      *Bud worms are very tiny (at first) and chew into unopened flower buds, which ends the flower. They can effectively eliminate all flowers on petunias, for example.

      Reply
  8. Samuel Conner

    At the request of friends who live in or near wooded areas overrun with deer, my plant propagation efforts have been trending in the direction of “deer-resistant” (i.e. “bad-tasting”) decorative perennials.

    It also appears that many herbs are too strong smelling or tasting to be appealing to deer and rabbits. Some, like Lavender and Chamomile, are reputed to repel deer from approaching them due to their strong scent.

    I’m curious whether any readers have experience with protecting vegetables by densely interplanting them with “smelly” herbs. Perhaps a garden bed that was hedged around with Lavender or Rosemary and “green-mulched” with perennial Chamomile would smell so unappetizing that deer would not approach close enough to notice appealing vegetables planted in the middle of it.

    Reply
    1. Discouraged in WI

      Rodents dislike mint; and deer never eat our monarda,(in the mint family) in spite of standing right next to the plants. Nepeta (catmint) also survives untouched. I am thinking about watering my front planters, which are always dug up by the chipmunks, with mint tea. Leaving water out for them is a good idea – I’ll try that too.

      Reply
      1. thousand points of green

        If one made a monarda/catmint tea and sprayed it on deer-eaten plants, would that deter the deer from eating those plants?

        Reply
    1. Michael Fiorillo

      Entertaining, and the squirrel’s skills are very impressive, but that doesn’t change the fact that they’re rats with bushy tails and good PR.

      Reply
    2. Mildred Montana

      After all their high-energy acrobatics, those squirrels should have quite the appetites. ;)
      ————

      Here in my urban coastal area, seagulls are the most common pests (if I can use that word to describe them). I don’t consider them attractive birds, with their ear-grating squawking, large size, and nasty-looking beaks, but they are protected by law and therefore proliferate. It is illegal to kill one—not that I ever would.

      They have found a niche in the downtown and perform the useful role of keeping the sidewalks clean. If you drop your hamburger or slice of pizza, don’t worry about picking it up. The gulls are always on duty and they arrive promptly.

      Reply
      1. juno mas

        Many urban seagulls have never seen the ocean. Some migrate from inland nesting areas (Mono Lake, CA) to dumps in the interior where sufficient food scraps makes the coast optional.

        Reply
        1. Mildred Montana

          Perhaps someone should suggest to them that they add some fish to their diet. And I don’t mean “Filet-O-Fish”. ;)

          Reply
    3. jrkrideau

      The story of the squirrel-proof bird-feeder reminded me of Toronto’s mayor rolling out the new, high-tech, racoon-proof, garbage bin. IIRC, about a week later someone posted a rather blurry night-time video of a racoon teaching another racoon how to open the bin.

      Reply
  9. .Tom

    Bunny rabbits have become a problem here in Boston in the last 10 years. I remember the first time we spotted one in a nearby parking lot. I couldn’t believe it. Now they hang out in the park right by the foot paths or in the little gardens adjacent to sidewalks, sitting there looking overfed and lazy, taunting dogs on leashes and bumming smokes off people. They’re almost as bad as the squirrels on the common who come right up to you with outstretched palms demanding food.

    Reply
  10. MT_Wild

    The implications of chronic-wasting disease in cervids (deer and elk) and it’s impact on hunting as a herd management tool will be interesting to watch.

    I personally change where I hunt based on the CWD testing maps to avoid areas of high prevalence. Other hunters apparently do the same. This is without a single case of CWD detected in humans. Once we find the first human case, things will get interesting.

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7071074/#:~:text=Hunter%20behavior%20varies%20in%20relation,changes%20in%20behavior%20over%20time.

    Reply
  11. Arizona Slim

    From the original post: Engaging cat owners in conversation about the problem rather than lecturing them, and giving them scientifically proven tips for reducing cat predation — things as simple as playing with a cat for 10 minutes a day and feeding them a high-protein diet — could go a long way toward reducing cat predation, Brookshire writes.

    To which I say: Good luck with that.

    Personally, I have found roaming/outdoor cat owners to be impervious to any attempt at conversation. Their cats are outdoor cats, and that’s that. The fact that they’re wreaking havoc on neighborhood bird populations has zero effect on them.

    Me? I run cats off this property on the regular. I use an electronic pitch emitter, and believe me, when the cats hear it, they run. Here’s the brand that I use:

    https://ultimatebarkcontrol.com/products/onguard

    It’s also good for silencing barking dogs when I’m out for a walk.

    Reply
    1. tevhatch

      A friend in the USA told me providing a harbored site for a coyote den will do a great deal of good in reducing outdoor cat population, and then once that’s down he said it keeps the rabbits and to a lesser extent the squirrels in a more appropriate population level. Here we find having a few cobras and pythons do much the same, and they are good at avoiding human contact, but just for the barking dogs I’m quite interested to see if your device can be legal here and will report back later.

      Reply
      1. Arizona Slim

        I’m in central Tucson, and there are plenty of coyotes here. Periodically, they make a meal of someone’s pets or chicken flock.

        Reply
  12. Louiedog14

    Henry Mitchell was the garden columnist at the Washington Post many years ago. I have a couple of collections of his work which I highly recommend – they are often less about plants and more about Life, and there is a gentle optimism which can be a balm in troubled times. But he was a pretty damned serious gardener. And yet he admits that even the commonest of squirrels is far more entertaining than the most exotic of plants, and so he suggests you learn to appreciate them.

    I grew up on the South Shore of Boston and now live in Metrowest PMC hell. So slightly different environment but not much. As a kid in the 70’s I never saw any of today’s common “pests”. No coyotes, deer or turkeys. Rabbits and foxes were extremely rare (plenty of squirrels though). And of course I see so many new birds (eagles, osprey, blue herons) and stuff like river otters and beavers. I find it rather remarkable that all these critters have adapted and made a comeback. So even though I spend a lot of time imploring the bunnies to stop eating my purple coneflowers, and to at least pretend to be a little afraid of me, I generally welcome our new varmint overlords and hope they continue to thrive.

    Reply
    1. afreeman

      Ditto on no critters except birds (not even squirrels) in West Seattle where I grew up in the 50s— a suicide or two in the adjacent public woods for excitement was all. Today, throughout Seattle, first came squirrels (60s) and, of a sudden, red foxes (at night), now rabbits and coyotes (day and night). The latter playing havoc with outside-cat owners! Not to mention, last year, a record breaking 300 human homeless deaths (another story).
      My cat owning days over, the only critter adjustment I have needed to make was to move on from winter vegetable gardening—I tell friends “the rabbits came” then explain how for the first time damn rabbits ate every bit to the ground of anything green and remotely tender, even kale, all but green onions, even squeezing under the holddowns of the plastic tunnel. First they ate all the starts I set out late summer. Red pepper worked on the few left till it rained— so not just winter gardening of greens over, I realized—took two whole months to learn to love grocery greens and “all the time saved.” Onward and upward as the gardeners say.

      Reply
  13. Susan the other

    We just met White Elk. A monster of a bull with 5-point antlers who has a large herd of at least 45 other individuals following him. They dropped by on Christmas day to introduce themselves, ate lichen and grass, and then they all laid down and took a nap in the sun. Their behavior was fascinating and I sat here with my coffee for a good 2 hours just observing them. I still say that the word “wild” is misleading. Wildlife is cautious and considerate and civilized.

    Reply
  14. Wukchumni

    We had a mountain lion here in the ‘hood about 5 years ago and it was doing a bang up job of killing goats & chickens, maybe 30 or so altogether, but its real meal is usually deer and it probably took down a few there too.

    A fellow suffering grievous losses put poultry into motion and got a depredation order and a neighbor who is a professional hunting guide pulled the trigger, and the perfect killing machine was no more. The hunter is 6 foot 3 and when he held up the lion for a photo-op it was nearly as long as the hunter was tall.

    I only ever heard the cougar and the catamount was tantamount to a 1950’s horror film soundtrack, blood curdling stuff from afar.

    I’ve got nothing but problems with deer here, in that my fruit trees are about the only thing with any greenery on them come the fall, and aside from building 9 foot tall fences around the perimeter, I don’t see a way out, but if that mountain lion had been allowed to go about its business and cleaned house, it’d be a different story.

    Wild turkeys kinda took over here from what used to be the California Quail’s natural habitat.

    My theory is you remember certain animals or birds that do something odd, such as the Douglas Squirrel which has a voice say 5x as large as it should for its size, or in the case of California Quail, their suicidal tendencies displayed as you drive by, with them darting towards your wheelwells in a jiffy, but somehow never going through with it, their equivalent of playing chicken-if you will.

    Another thing you never saw any other bird do was have say 16 progeny marching behind them in a straight line as you do with quail, its quite a sight.

    And then as the bird reich ascended into power, all of the sudden the quail were seldom seen attempting hairy-kari, nor was the conga line running.

    Both quail and turkeys are birds that can fly but would rather walk, and quail lay their eggs in a nest on the ground, carefully hidden away, but easy pickins for the likes of gobbles and followers bent on gaining new lands in the turk reich.

    We must have a thousand wild turkeys around here, seriously.

    Reply
    1. heresey101

      Our new property has two acres of low frenced orchard (unfortunately the trees no longer bear nuts) where we introduced three alpacas. We haven’t seen any deer since we introduced them because they are territorial. They like to chase the chickens back to the chicken coop. I probably won’t have to mow the orchard this year because what grass the chickens don’t dig up, the alpaca eat, including fallen leaves from the trees. If your fruit trees are big enough so the alpacas can’t eat them, then a couple of alpacas may keep the deer away.

      Reply
  15. Jeremy Grimm

    I believe that many animals are much more intelligent than what we credit them. This notion leads me to wonder whether Humankind might discover some accord with some of the other creatures with whom we share the Earth. The labors many creatures make in gathering and consuming their food both help and hinder our own labors and intents. Many creatures would not accept becoming our pets, like Aesop’s wolf rejecting the dog’s arrangement with Humankind, and many are ill-suited to become our pets regardless of their inclinations. But we may not be the only creatures possessed of a sense of what is right and wrong in our dealings with others. We may be able to communicate with others not of our kind and through cooperation arrive at a shared Ethics that benefits all. I am not religious, but I do believe Humankind would have to accept the responsibility that comes with husbanding the life on this planet so that no creature over populates what the Earth can support.

    Clearly there are many conundrums and difficulties in my strange notion. Humankind has not been adept at communicating with or understanding other intelligences. Humankind has a long history of bad behaviors toward Humankind and other creatures, though fortunately most, and perhaps all, seldom remember history past one or two of their generations. The complexities and Ethics of husbanding other life is beyond my abilities to speculate.

    Reply
  16. flora

    A word quibble: beasts of burden are animals like horses, donkeys, mules, oxen, musk ox, sled dogs, herding dogs, camels, elephants, etc. They are animals domesticated to carry some of the physical burden for people: plowing, hauling, pulling, guarding, herding, carrying. etc.

    Squirrels, deer, slugs, etc are simply wild animals. Pesky wild animals. / ;)

    Reply
  17. tevhatch

    “Squirrels, deer, (rabbits?) … some Americans still consider them their primary source of proteins. My roommate at U.S.A. was Porch Tribe scholarship student who was put with the Asian. Besides similar skin tone, I guess the admin thought we two were the mostly likely to view anything with 4 legs (other than tables and chairs) as a potential meal.

    Reply
  18. thousand points of green

    Here is an example of a group of people turning a native species into a pest-species by planting enough grain in one time and place so as to be pestogenic. So they now have the pests they created the conditions to foster. And they plan to use “pesticides” on this pest which will collaterally damage as in kill off all the raptors which will set the rodents free to become pests in their own right.

    Here is the link.
    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2023/jan/17/kenya-birds-raid-crops-pesticides-quelea-raptors-aoe

    Reply
    1. tevhatch

      The people who did it are not even mentioned in the article. It’s the World Bank and IMF who are driving Kenya to mono-culture crops to service debt.

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *