We like opossums and are always happy to see one shuffling off when we startle it after dark. This amazing animal gets too little respect and appreciation by people who consider them dirty, stupid, and ugly. They are just the opposite!
Opossums are doing something right. They’re survivors who have been on the planet far longer that humans. Often called ‘possums, they were once common only in southern states. Their fur is sparse and doesn’t cover tails or ears, so winter is rough on them. Warming temperatures are helping this animal move north, and they’re now common in Maine, Minnesota and other more northern states where they once were absent.
‘Possums are our only native marsupial. Like kangaroos, female opossums have a pouch to nourish their young. Born after only a 13-day pregnancy tiny babies make their way into her pouch where they remain for about 100 days feeding on mom’s milk. Once they leave the pouch they follow her around learning how to fend for themselves.
Mostly nocturnal, possums aren’t choosy eaters. They love over ripe fruit, especially persimmons but they’ll also snack on insects, worms, dead animals, and nearly any other animal they can catch or find. Think of them as a gardener’s assistant because they gravitate to decaying material.
New research reveals an important diet item. They enjoy eating ticks! ‘Possums groom often and any tick that climbs aboard one and attempts to bite is in for a surprise. The grooming animal is likely to find the tick and quickly devour it. Fewer than 4% of ticks that climb on a O’possum successfully enjoy a blood meal. The rest become a meal themselves.
We’re lucky to have opossums in our yard. We enjoy sharing space with these ancient, clean, and useful animals. We hope you also have a neighborhood ‘possum. Be sure to share a photo of your ‘possum with us. For information on the opossum/tick relationship go to Cary Institute.
A guest blog by Susan Fehsinger, New Hampshire
“I’ve spent most of my life in southern New Hampshire. Growing up, we never heard of bears being anywhere near our area, but their population has been growing rapidly. Now, we hear of them regularly. Our first live rural sighting was about 15 years ago. Since then, we either have seen them or evidence of them at least once a year.
“We live in the country on 16 acres and the nearest house is about 300 feet away across the road. There is plenty of bear habitat and they are becoming very common. Last year I was taking a walk along a class 6 road (a road that is not maintained any longer but is often used) when a black bear strolled up from the river and across the road about 30 yards ahead. I froze. S/he turned and looked at me for a long 10 or 15 seconds before continuing into the woods. Did I have my phone? Yes. Did I think to snap a photo? Nope.
“One morning this spring about 6:45, when the sky was fully light, I began to hear noises and thought our cat was running around upstairs. After a while, though, I looked out the window which opens onto our screen porch. Two bears were tearing into the stone retaining wall at its foundation. They were pulling out the seeds that the chipmunks had stored there. Both were fully grown and one of them was the largest I have ever seen in this area. The strangest part of this experience was that they didn’t spook at all. I called my husband and we both stood at the glass door taking pictures and talking.
“The population of our small town is growing, yet we are seeing more wildlife that used to be rare. I saw my first bobcat a year or so ago, also. It’s great to know that wildlife is doing well and large predators are around. We humans just need to be aware of potential danger — for us in case of a confrontation, and for them, if our behavior causes them to habituate to people. Fish and Game does not want to have to kill an animal that’s only crime is looking for food that we provide them.
“Beginning in early spring we are told to bring in bird feeders (and in my case stop using the screen porch as an extra refrigerator!) It’s definitely good advice because bears are excellent at finding any and all available food. Usually, the ones we see in early spring are females with cubs, and they can be very dangerous if a human gets between “mom” and her little ones. The fact that “my” bears were digging into a stonewall to get at seeds stored by chipmunks underlies how good they are at their job — feeding themselves and their cubs. We can learn to outsmart them, but they’ve been perfecting their food-finding skills for a long time and their senses are much better than ours. We have to become aware and vigilant so we can enjoy the fact that they’re here among us — just not too close.”
Check out these links below about bears, habitat and behaviors
. Many of these sites refer to “wild” places like parks and the North Woods. And, remember that the advice on respecting bears, keeping your distance
, and storing food all to avoid bear encounters is similar and are great tips for suburban and urban dwellers.
Bear Standing Up
Bear moving off to the bird feeder.
Our dining room table overlooks a tiny pond circled with large stones. Many wild animals come to drink or bathe. One of our favorites is the sleek Eastern Chipmunk. Often, chipmunks fill their cheeks with seeds that fall from our bird feeders and carry them off to a stash.
This chipmunk figured out how to tunnel under the trap to get the seeds.
One summer we watched a clever chipmunk problem-solve how to access seeds from a live trap without getting trapped itself. The ingenious chipmunk tunneled under the trap and up through the wire, helped itself to the food and returned back out the tunnel to store its treasure for later eating.
We love chipmunks but many people utterly hate them and ask us how to rid their yard of the tiny mammals. Although they can undermine rock walls by tunneling otherwise chipmunks do slight damage. They are most commonly found in shady yards with woodpiles or rock walls.
Chipmunks may be unusually numerous in suburban yards because people discourage their predators. Bull snakes love dining on tasty chipmunk dinners but few homeowners want a six or eight-foot-long snake sharing their yard. Many hawks also devour chipmunks but, like snakes, they aren’t common in town. So, these small rodents have few predators to fear other than marauding house cats.
An effective way to keep chipmunk numbers in control is to encourage predators. If snakes can’t be tolerated, removing woodpiles and rocks will eliminate chipmunk homes.
Occasionally chipmunks and white footed mice climb into vent pipes plumbing or clothes dryers. An easy way to discourage them is to buy a few stainless-steel scrub pads sold in most grocery stores. These are balls of coarse, somewhat sharp metal. Put the pad in the pipe in a way that fills the void but doesn’t cause the pad to compress much. It acts like a filter, allowing air to move through it but not letting rodents pass.
But, mostly just enjoy your chipmunks.
These big cats have over 40 names. (Courtesy NYPL free digital file.)
Early one December evening a neighbor was driving home near our home when she spotted movement out of the corner of her eye. Thinking a deer was about to dart in front of her car, she immediately stopped to prevent a collision. She was astounded when a mountain lion crossed about ten feet in front of her illuminated by headlights.
A mountain lion………in Iowa! Perhaps that’s not so farfetched. Our neighbor would know one when she saw it.
Mountain lions (Puma concolor) are spreading out from their traditional home in western mountains. A couple of decades ago the only known eastern population of the big cats was in Florida, where they are extremely rare and are usually called panthers. These big cats were once common throughout North America except for the far north. They also ranged throughout all of Central and most of South America. As big predators they were heavily persecuted by humans, and their habitat was devastated by settlement. A big blow to cougars was the elimination of deer from much of their range in the late 1800’s.
Much has changed to give lions, or cougars as they are sometimes called, an opportunity to expand.
Most people now appreciate them as beautiful animals and don’t shoot them on sight. Many states protect them from shooting. Also, the woods and deer have returned. In 1900 most of what today is a vast hardwood forest that stretches from the Mississippi River to the Atlantic Ocean was farmed. Many of those farms went out of business and trees move in. Today, there’s near continuous forest for hundreds of miles and much of it is filled with deer, a favorite food of mountain lions.
A few years ago a male cougar walked from his Black Hills home to Connecticut, where he was hit and killed by a car. Most Midwest states have documented the presence of cougars. A few have been hit by cars. More have been photographed by trail cameras put out by hunters to track deer movement. Some have been shot. Seeing a live one is very rare.
So, a cougar sighting near Winding Pathways in Iowa is neither impossible nor surprising. It was probably a young male cat seeking a mate and place to live.
Do mountain lions pose a threat to people, livestock, or pets? Not really. There have been documented cougar attacks on people, mostly in California where they are not hunted and have lost fear of people, but the risk in most places is trivial. Cougars are shy animals that choose to stay out of sight and prefer eating deer to dogs, sheep, cattle, and cats.
We wish we’d seen the mountain lion that passed through our neighborhood but he’s probably miles away by now.
This is an independently researched column. No money or goods have been exchanged for this information.
A variety of fencing keeps deer and rabbits out of the garden.
Like millions of American homeowners we at Winding Pathways have a love/hate relationship with deer. Few animals are as beautiful as a peaceful doe nursing her fawns or as majestic as a powerful buck sporting husky fall antlers. But a love of deer only goes so far. Anger mounts quickly when they devour flowers and vegetables, girdle valuable trees, or dart in front of the car on a dark night. Last year we planted a small river birch that was growing well until a buck utterly destroyed it while rubbing his antlers on it. Frustrating!
Until about 25 years ago deer mostly lived in large forests and rarely ventured into town or suburbia, but as their rural population grew they moved right into town. Most suburbs have plenty of wooded pockets where deer can hide and nutritious forage in parks, gardens, and yards. Today deer are amazingly abundant in suburbia, where they prance up and down streets and dine on valued vegetation.
Deer generally do two types of vegetation damage. One’s relatively easy to prevent, while the other is more challenging.
RUBS: Antlers form during warm months as a blood rich skin, called velvet, nourishes fast growing bone like antlers that are mostly calcium. By September, antlers have reached full growth. Velvet dies and dries, and bucks remove it by rubbing antlers against small trees. They prefer saplings a few inches in diameter. Rubbing often girdles and kills the tree, and deer always seem to attack the most valuable tree in the yard. It’s infuriating and costly. Although velvet is mostly gone by early October deer continue to bang and rub their antlers against trees throughout the fall.
The Cure: Fortunately there’s an easy way to prevent rubbing.
At Winding Pathways we use heavy wire in 2” X 4” mesh that we buy in 50 foot rolls. It’s relatively easy to cut an eight foot length of fencing using wire cutting pliers. Once we have the section cut we ring it around the tree and hold the ends closed with cable ties. Usually one metal fence post driven 18” into the ground will hold the wire in place. Sometimes two posts placed on opposite sides of the tree are needed. We attach the wire mesh to the post using big cable ties. The wire stays in place year round until the tree is at least 4 inches in diameter and no longer threatened by rubbing.
Attache zip ties firmly to a post.
What You Need to Make a Wire Ring
- Wire: We buy rolls of 2”X4” four foot tall galvanized wire mesh from a farm or building supply store. Many brands and types of wire mesh are for sale but we prefer Red Brand. It is stiff and strong and we usually only need one fence post to hold it up. Red Brand fencing is made in the US. Less sturdy wire mesh is cheaper but bends easily, rusts more quickly, and usually requires a few fence posts to hold it in place.
- Pliers: We unroll about eight feet of the wire roll on the driveway for cutting. Any type of cutting pliers will work to cut off a section but we find “Bernard” pliers perfect for the task. These are usually made for anglers and have a wire cutter and spring that automatically opens the pliers after a cut. They make slicing off a section easy and fast.
- Fence Post: With stiff wire mesh one fence post will hold a ring of wire in place around a tree. Wire mesh that readily bends may need two or three posts. We buy 6 foot posts, called T posts, at farm or building supply stores and pound them 18 inches into the ground 12” to 20” out from the tree’s trunk. A small sledge hammer makes a handy pounding tool. We then form a circle of the wire panel around the tree and fasten the ends together.
- Cable ties, sometimes called nylon zip ties, make joining the ends of the wire mesh and attaching the wire to the fence post easy. The ties come in various sizes. It takes big ones to run through the wire mesh and secure around the post. Twist wire also works to hold the ends together or attach the wire mesh to the post.
Putting a ring of wire around valuable young trees is almost certain to protect them from rubbing and browsing. Just be sure to do it before damage starts.
At Winding Pathways deer come into the yard. We protect young trees with fencing as seen in the back to the right.
LUNCH AND DINNER WITH BREAKFAST TOSSED IN: Deer love eating many landscape and vegetable plants. Although they have preferences, the hungrier the deer, the more likely they are to even eat plants they generally dislike. Garden books often list species of plants that deer do and don’t like to eat but beware, like humans, individual deer have food preferences. Although most deer may not like a particular plant species, others may consider it a dining delight. Deer seem to have regional tastes, so the plants they don’t like in Connecticut may be gourmet fare in Alabama or Iowa. Unfortunately, many plants that deer relish are the same ones homeowners like to plant, so protecting them is vital to success.
Damage to trees by rubbing is seasonal and normally only happens in the fall. In contrast browsing damage happens all year with deer generally eating softer vegetation during warm months and twigs during winter.
The Cure: Preventing deer from eating valued vegetation is difficult but here are some ways to either eliminate or stop it:
No doubt about it. A sturdy fence keeps deer away from plants and prevents damage. Fencing has downsides. It’s expensive, often unsightly, and it requires maintenance. A fence can ring an entire property or just an area that needs protection, such as around the vegetable garden. Generally there are two types of fence used to prevent browsing.
- Electric fences work well. Many newer ones are moveable and easy to install. Electric fences don’t need to be very tall. They are relatively expensive but their biggest disadvantage is that they sometimes give a shock to a careless homeowner or even a child. Many towns ban electric fences, so be sure one is legal before you buy one. We like fences made by Premier.
- Nonelectric fences work well to exclude deer but also have disadvantages. They are laborious to install and are relatively expensive. They can be made of heavy duty nylon or wire mesh. Deer are amazing high jumpers and can clear a six foot fence, so a deer proof fence should be eight feet tall!
A good fence will prevent deer damage by keeping hungry animals away from desirable plants. Repellents are less certain but can help reduce damage. Repellents are most helpful when temporary protection is needed or where fences won’t work and they are less expensive. They have these disadvantages:
- Need to be reapplied often and always after a rain.
- Sometimes smell strongly.
- May not be suitable for use on vegetables.
- Only somewhat deter deer from snacking.
Our good friends Dave and Sue Kramer own Kramer’s Flower Farm and produce thousands of varied colored day lilies every year. Visit their farm in mid-summer and it is a sea of blooms. People love looking at colorful flowers but deer consider them lunch. Kramer’s farm is surrounded by woods, so they have to be vigilant in keeping deer way from their crop. Dave uses a home-made spray that keep deer at bay.
Kramer’s Deer Repellent Recipe
One gallon of water.
Three egg yolks
One teaspoon garlic powder.
One teaspoon cayenne pepper finely ground
Add ingredients and shake well. Leave in the sun for a couple of days. Shake again and filter through an old nylon stocking to remove lumps or they will clog the sprayer. Put in a standard sprayer and spray plants. Treatment needs to be repeated often and after every rain.
Deer don’t like the smell or taste of rotten eggs. Who would? Anyone who would rather not make their own egg based spray can buy commercial mixes. The one we use is called Deer Stopper and is made by the Messinas Company. The label says it’s made of putrescent whole egg solids, rosemary oil, mint oil and several inert ingredients.
After buying several inexpensive sprayers that clogged we bought a Stihl brand sprayer that works well and seems less likely to clog.
Whether using a home-made or commercial repellent remember it needs to be reapplied relatively often and always after a rain.
Winding Pathways is near Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Several years ago the City Council approved allowing citizens to hunt deer using archery equipment. Hunters need to prove proficiency with their equipment and special rules are in place to ensure safety. Each year hunters convert several hundred suburban and urban deer into chops and steaks. Deer meat is “free ranging, local, organic” and delicious.
Each year we harvest a deer from our property. This doesn’t stop deer damage but does provide us with food, and if enough people each take a deer, their population density and, thus, damage will decline. So, if it’s legal in your area, consider converting a deer to food. Normally a state and sometimes a local permit is needed. Look for a future Winding Pathways blog on how to harvest and dress a deer.
A long-ago children’s story began something like this, “There is a mouse in my house. It is a very nice mouse. It has a long, long tail and shiny eyes. It pops out of its hole and runs. My mother likes the mouse, but she says, ‘A mouse does not belong in a house.’”
Well, guess what, a sure sign that fall is approaching is “a mouse in the house.” These tiny mammals realize that shorter days and cooler temperatures beckon winter. Finding a safe warm place to live with an abundance of food helps them survive the tough season.
At Winding Pathways we expect mice to appear with the first cool weather in late August or September. Once in a while we have seen one scurrying across the floor, but more often we have found their tiny black droppings on counters. Sometimes we have heard them scurrying about an upstairs closet.
Two types of mice inhabit houses. Both gobble birdseed and will eat nearly anything people do. They capable of doing damage and possibly spreading disease.
The common house mouse is a gray mammal native to the Old World that is now found everywhere people live. They like houses, barns, garages, and sheds but are rarely found far from buildings and live indoors all year round.
Several species of native mice live outdoors most of the year but move inside each fall. These are normally called deer or field mice and are beautiful tiny mammals with shiny eyes and white feet.
They store food, while house mice don’t. Find a pile of sunflower seeds in a shoe and the culprit is a native mouse.
We love wildlife but don’t tolerate mice in the house. So, each fall we plan an eviction campaign.
Here’s how we reduce mouse problems at Winding Pathways:
- Tighten up cracks and holes. Every fall we arm ourselves with a caulking gun and can of expanding foam and inspect the house from the outside and inside. We fill in any likely entryway for mice, which can squeeze through tiny spaces. Caulking also helps keep insects and cold air out of the house.
- Set up a trap line. Old fashioned mouse traps efficiently catch and instantly kill mice if set properly. Here are some effective trapping tips:
- Buy many traps and set them all at once. Try to catch all or most mice in one night, rather than just setting a few traps.
- Bait traps with peanut butter and set them with the trigger side against the wall where mouse evidence is noticed. Mice tend to run along walls, rather than across the interior of a room, so trapping success is usually best near a wall.
- Set traps in tandem. Instead of just setting one trap here and there along a wall double or triple them up side by side, again with the trigger side facing the wall.
- We don’t use poison. It seems cruel and inhumane and poisoned mice tend to die in inaccessible places and stink to high heavens.
- Encourage predators. We don’t have a cat but encourage raptors to visit our yard. They work year round reducing rodent numbers.
- Mice are encouraged by food. We keep all food in sealed metal containers or in the refrigerator and wipe up any spilled food. Wild bird and pet foods are loved by mice. Keep them in a metal can with a tight lid and dump out the dog or cat’s food dish in the evening so there’s nothing for nocturnal mice to eat.
Mice are fascinating animals that play an important role in nature, but they belong outside. It’s probably not possible to entirely eliminate them from a house but simple techniques will encourage them to stay outdoors.