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Tight Lines - City Critters Come To The Country

POSTED June 8, 2011 2:01 a.m.
During the past week, three separate incidents popped up that focused my attention on wild critters right in the middle of a city environment. First, I happened to be perusing the newspaper and came across an article about a rattlesnake being killed in someone’s garage right in the middle of town. Rattlers in town? The State Capitol maybe, but a small town in central California? Hooda thunk it?
A couple days after reading about a city rattler, I was getting out of my truck downtown to get a haircut and an odd sound caught my attention. Closing my eyes and concentrating, I could clearly hear the rat, tat, tat of a woodpecker trying to get his lunch. I guess that woodpecker didn’t know he wasn’t supposed to be in the middle of town. It was pretty cool.
Finally, a day or so ago, my son Bo and I were just pulling into the driveway at home and Bo exited the truck and walked around the corner toward the front door. He quickly reappeared and said in a quiet voice, “Hey Dad, check out the bushy tail Squirrel in our olive tree.” Sure enough there was a full-grown Grey Squirrel at about eye level perched ten feet from our front door and calmly chewing on an olive. Must have been a hungry squirrel, those untreated olives are terribly bitter. We walked quietly by and the squirrel wasn’t bothered by us at all.
Those incidents got me to thinking about the increase in urban wildlife that I have observed in the past several decades. Every once in a while, I spot a coyote early in the morning while I’m traveling about the area. Such a sight never fails to brighten my day. I guess I associate the wild critters with wild places, even when they’re practically within the city limits.
Whenever I see a coyote, I think not of the freeway I’m driving on, nor of the city I’m about to enter, but rather of warm summer nights around the campfire listening to the yip, yip, yip of the coyotes calling back and forth from one ridge to another. For a moment or two, I forget about the traffic, the smog and the hectic day ahead and think instead of open space, clean air and serenity. Who knows? Maybe coyotes are good therapy for stress, tension, and high blood pressure.
While most folks don’t give it a heck of a lot of thought, in almost every urban area there’s really an amazing array of what I like to refer to as urban wildlife. I’ve seen deer inside the city limits of Sacramento, waterfront residents in Stockton often have to protect their trees from marauding beavers and residents on the fringes of most of our cities occasionally get their garbage cans raided by hungry raccoons. Don McGeein regularly had a family of possums residing in an old boxcar on his ranch a couple miles outside of Tracy. He even adopted one and brought it home to live in town with him.
If, like me, you are fascinated by wild critters, you can encourage them to visit. Easiest of all wild creatures to entice into your yard are birds. Hummingbird feeders are very effective and easy to care for. Hang one outside your kitchen window and you’ll always have entertainment with your meals. Platform type bird feeders are great fun because they draw so many different kinds of birds. My parents probably go through 20 pounds of birdseed a month. One of their favorite tricks is to nail a marshmallow to the feeding platform. It drives the blue jays crazy when they can’t pick it up and fly off with it.
Plain old chicken feed is a great attractor not only for birds, but lots of other critters as well. In the 1980’s my office was located less than a hundred yards from the river, and I would buy chicken feed by the 20 pound sack and scatter it all around the grounds. Critters that frequented my place include quail, pheasants, cottontails, jackrabbits and ground squirrels. Of course, every once in a while I get an opportunistic predator who’d like to make a meal of my wild guests. Hawks are pretty common and occasionally I get a gopher snake, which I transplant away from the area. I’ve even seen a fox a couple times.
Naturally, where you live or work will determine to a large part what kind and how many critters you’ll be able to attract. Even if you live smack in the middle of the city, there’s still hope. Bird feeders will never fail to attract customers and, should you get other visitors, consider them a sort of wildlife bonus. My grandmother lived in the heart of Oakland and almost always had a squirrel raiding her birdfeeder. What the heck, buy a birdfeeder or two, get a sack of chicken feed and give it a try. Wild critters are fascinating, entertaining and almost as much fun as the gang at Rotary.
Until next time, Tight Lines!
Don Moyer is a longtime Central Valley resident and avid outdoorsman. He contributes occasional columns.
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