People are surrounded by synanthropes. It’s a long and obscure word that is descriptive of hundreds of wild plants and animals.
A synanthropic species is one that benefits from and lives close to people. Essentially, if people disappeared these plants and animals would struggle to survive and, perhaps, disappear themselves. They need us! Other species are semi-synanthropic and live close to people or benefit from human action but might live in lower numbers in wild places.
At Winding Pathways, we strive to restore species native to our area of Iowa. We’ve had success, but we’re still surrounded by synanthropes that require our presence. Fortunately, we don’t have Norway rats or rock pigeons but these and other species are common in the biggest cities worldwide. They are wildly successful in the grittiest urban areas.
House mouse and Norway rat
House Sparrow, American Robin, House Finch, House Wren, Rock Pigeon, Canada Goose, and Ringneck Pheasant
Raccoon, Opossum, Woodchuck
Dandelion, Purslane, Lambs quarters, Kentucky bluegrass, And many common weeds.
We encourage everyone to look around and notice plants and animals in their homes and yards and learn whether they’d be there without human presence. Expand our list! If they would disappear should the yard be a virgin wilderness and people were absent, then they are synanthropes.
At 2 a.m. one frigid February night we were startled awake by coyotes yipping and yapping right behind our house at Winding Pathways. The next morning, we discovered their tracks all around our snowy yard. It explains why we haven’t seen many cottontail rabbits in recent months.
The amazingly adaptable coyote has spread to many parts of the United States. Most Americans might not realize it, but they live close to these efficient predators. In towns and cities, coyotes are most active at night, stay out of sight and are usually quiet. In rural areas they’re more likely spotted in the daylight and often vocalize at night.
Coyotes are amazingly successful predators. Adaptable and intelligent, they are common in Los Angeles and have been spotted in New York’s Central Park. A pair successfully raised young in a culvert near Chicago’s Soldier Field. Once only found in the rural West they are now common all the way to the Atlantic Ocean and thrive in deserts, forests, farmland, towns, and cities.
Coyotes prefer dining on mammals and specialize in eating mice, voles, cottontails, and other small furry creatures. They’ll also eat carrion and sometimes scrounge food from dumpsters.
Although coyotes will eat birds, they don’t target them and consume few. Numerous studies have shown that when coyotes increase foxes and raccoons decrease. Since these two smaller animals are the major bird and egg predators, an increase in coyote density often means more birds in the area. Anyone who likes pheasants should appreciate coyotes.
Coyotes pose no threat to humans. They thrive on a continent where people have eradicated mountain lions and wolves from most places where they once lived.
After a newly fallen snow do some backyard tracking. Wherever someone lives there is a chance of finding the doglike tracks of coyotes that worked the neighborhood the previous night.
This blog is similar to one that Winding Pathways wrote for the Cedar Rapids GAZETTE.
Nancy Garberson shares these observations and photos with Winding Pathways.
This time of year, we call it “wild kingdom” in our backyard because we see deer every day. All kinds of birds and tracks in the snow from the nocturnal creatures dot the snow as well. Our dog is fascinated by the steady entertainment. It’s funny but she never chases them, she respects them as if they were family.
Watching deer roam in our yard can make us feel as if we are living in a natural paradise. Our neighbor has a pond and we have connecting woods. We think that’s what attracts the deer to our area. The deer feel safe and they have lots of water and natural food, as well as our feeder supply, to keep them happy. Another neighbor has an apple tree, which appears to be another draw for the deer. Even the bucks walk in nonchalantly to feed.
So, not only are we enjoying the winter wonderland, but we also have a steady showing of wildlife to enjoy on winter days.
Abby takes in the scenery.
The deer come to the feeder in the late afternoon.
Mice got into the hybrid system of my Prius and destroyed it. They also got into our greenhouse and ate some important seeds my husband Bob was growing. These critters are a common problem, but we have always used live traps; after all, they were here first and are just doing what they need to do to survive. That is until they crossed the line and, reluctantly, we declared war and the snap traps and peanut butter came out.
Once a nature lover, always a nature lover, though, and hoping that some good can result, Bob puts the dead mice out in places where they will be found by “someone” looking for an easy meal.
Yesterday he had an amazing experience. He had caught a couple of mice and put them out but yesterday afternoon no one had taken them, so he moved them to a more open place. As he was crouching down, he felt something soft. An owl swooped down and took the mouse while Bob still had the tail in his hand. The owl remained still in a nearby tree, for the rest of the afternoon while the second mouse stayed on the ground and we waited to see what would happen next, but nothing happened before dark. This morning both are gone.
We have hosted at least one pair of Barred Owls for many years. We rarely see them, so yesterday was a real treat, but we regularly hear them (“Who cooks for you?”) Since mice are the secondary host for deer ticks (those are the ticks that carry Lyme disease) these owls and the yearly expanding family of hawks which also lives here are very welcome.
Be sure to take in the International Owl Center in Houston, MN, this winter. Their Owl Festival is scheduled for March 1-3, 2019. Whooo’s up for it?
After a balmy fall, the television weather report promised near record cold and snow in three or four days. Mice don’t have televisions but somehow, they knew this because several of the tiny mammals successfully entered our house just before cold arrived. One scurried across the floor as we were reading the morning newspaper.
Years ago we read our then young children a delightful book about a mouse in the house. The story goes: “There is a mouse in the house. It is a very nice mouse. It has a long, long tail and shiny eyes. My mother likes the mouse. But, she says, ‘A mouse does not belong in a house.’”
We agree and have developed a strategy to keep them out – at least most of them.
One tactic we do not do is poison. Karla Bloem of the International Owl Center in Houston, MN, reminds us that poison spreads. When a predator eats a poisoned mouse, it absorbs the poison. Over time, the poison builds up and kills the predator. People end up with more mice that can cause problems.
Here’s what we do at Winding Pathways:
Encourage predators. We love to hear the barred owls call on dark evenings, and occasionally we spot a red-tailed hawk in a tree out the window. Both are outstanding mouse catchers. Owls work the night shift and hawks the day.
Keep food secure. If mice smell dinner they’ll come right in uninvited and help themselves. It’s important to never leave food out unprotected. We store grain, flour, pasta, cookies and other foods in metal or stout plastic containers with tight-fitting lids. We don’t leave fruits and vegetables on countertops.
Tighten up the house. Before it gets cold, we check our house over carefully. Any narrow cracks get filled with caulk. If we find a wider crack, we fill it with expanding foam. Often entry points for mice and insects are around pipes and wires leading into the home. Caulk and expanding foam help seal off the entry. Drain pipes sometimes are entry points. “Chore Girl” type metal cleaning pads work great for filling pipes where liquids or air needs to come and go. Wad up the metal pads and jam them into the pipe. Spaces in the cleaning pads let air and moisture enter or leave but keep mice out.
Bring out the traps. Despite our best efforts, some mice make it into the house. Usually, we don’t see them but do see their calling cards – their tiny black droppings.
Effectively setting traps
Old fashioned mouse traps still catch mice efficiently, but a few tricks make success more likely. (With the exception of the poison information in this website, we have found this information to be appropriate.)
Bait. Probably the best bait is peanut butter. It just takes a tiny dab on the trigger to work.
Placement. Where you set traps is important. Mice naturally run along walls and dart under counters if they can. Traps set in the middle of a room are less likely to catch mice than those set along a wall with the trigger on the wall side.
Place several mouse traps where mice tend to enter.
Double up. It’s usually most effective to set several traps in the same spot. So, set two or three touching each other. The first trap or two might not catch the mouse. Usually one will
Keep setting the traps until you catch no more mice. Often people assume they have one mouse, but likely, there are more. Keep trapping until they’re all gone. We dispose of dead mice by simply tossing them outside for our local opossum to eat. They can be flushed down the toilet. Always be sure to wash your hands after handling mice or traps.
We are fortunate to live at the end of a channel on a small lake. Our north facing windows face our backyard and the channel. One of our friends, who knows very little about nature, does not understand that after living here for 18 years, we still get excited when we see any wildlife in our yard and in the channel. Most of my photos are taken from windows inside the house, hoping to not spook my photo subjects. We frequently have deer coming through and we can tell which paths are being worn into the ground. During the winter we’ve taken photos of deer amidst the falling snowflakes. And, on our trail cam, we have “caught” coyotes, fox, raccoons, opossums, and neighborhood kitties.
This spring we have had a special bonus of occasionally watching a male turkey strut between our and the neighbors’ yards. Usually, he is skittish and if he spots me looking out a window, he quickly moves out of sight. One morning he must have felt like he was “king of the hill” and actually posed for photos about 20 feet from where I was watching him. I have also watched him fly over the channel near dusk and find a tree to roost in for the night. It always amazes me to watch these big birds fly through the trees, as normally you only see them walking and running on the ground.
Lounging on a log
Last summer when the water level was high, an oak tree uprooted and fell into the channel, covering both sides of the channel, and completely blocking our water access to the main lake. Because the channel is narrow, there is little clear land on either side. The oak landed at the bottom of a steep hill, so removing it was quite a process. It took a bucket truck on top of the hill, a small boat in the channel, lots of ropes, and a very talented arborist to take care of the problem. This spring the water is lower and that downed tree is now a horizontal stump about four feet long partially submerged from where it fell.
The turtles love this new sunning perch! We have never seen so many turtles at one time. So far, our biggest count has been nine painted turtles on the log. In spring we sometimes get lucky to see a large soft-shell turtle swimming in the channel and climbing out onto the shore. The females are much larger than the males.
Wood Duck- Goose Dustoff
On a recent rainy day, we spotted a pair of wood ducks. They are also very skittish and do not like to pose for photos. We watched as they flew up into a large basswood tree and perched on the branch. I think that is the first time I have ever seen ducks sitting in the trees. It was not a great day for photos, but I tried anyway.
The ducks flew to another tree, rested for a while, and then flew down to the water. Mr. Wood Duck and Mr. (Canada) Goose then had an altercation on the grass with much hissing, honking, flapping of wings, and chasing.
Male wood duck
Mr. Wood Duck was very proud of himself for chasing the goose parents and two goslings of out “his” channel. Mrs. Wood Duck cheered him on while sitting on top of our boat motor. My husband, John, had the fun of watching the goose and duck stand-off. I was trying to get to a different window without all the raindrops obscuring my view. That did not work, but it made me smile to hear John laughing and enjoying the whole spectacle.
Loving Our Wildlife
Even after nearly two decades, we still so enjoy our yard and sharing our stories about animals and plants.