Last month I wrote with some nostalgia about little rascals mounting expeditions to find some wildlife to hunt in town and finding relatively little. Part of this dearth of wildlife in town was due to the diligence of local Dutch residents in keeping things neat and tidy. Bushes were trimmed; trees had no lower branches. Shrubs were mostly bridal wreath (spirea) and ground-hugging junipers. The town was a very un-diversified, “clean” habitat devoid of most of the conspicuous prey we bloodthirsty children called “game animals” and sought earnestly to kill.
The cleanup crew
My, how things have changed. Recently, an episode of The Nature of Things highlighted some of today’s urban wildlife (vultures, ants, foxes, opossums) and made a pitch for the value of these creatures as “Nature’s Cleanup Crew.” Vultures in Ethiopia, foxes in Berlin and opossums in Toronto were hailed as important sanitary engineers. Toronto has a higher population density of raccoons than the wilds and farms of southern Ontario. Recent news stories reported on CBC have also noted the increasing numbers of wild turkeys in southeast B.C., jackrabbits and bobcats in Calgary, coyotes in Edmonton, black bears in Coquitlam, B.C., and cougars in North Vancouver, to name just a few.
I have no comprehensive explanation for the settlement of previously-termed “wild animals” into urban culture, but I suspect that part of it lies in the fact that all sorts of animals are simply learning how to live with people. Urban decay makes homes for some animals and suburban lots may feature more habitat than in that long-ago village life in Wisconsin.
And how are things working out back there in the almost-forgotten Eden of elms and carefully-mown lawns called Cedar Grove? To answer that I went to my brother, who has been a savvy fur trapper and hunter for many years as well as a promoter of native songbirds and a developer of river valley wildlife habitat. Jeff says this:
“Here is the trapping report for my yard. All critters were caught in live traps between Dec. 2018 and Dec. 2019. All traps were sprung [made inoperable] when I was gone for more than four hours. [Animals and birds can suffer and die from stress even in a live trap if left too long before release.]
- 32 gray squirrels
- 18 cottontail rabbits
- 7 opossums
- 6 chipmunks
- 3 cats
- 37 English sparrows [house sparrows]
- 6 white-crowned sparrows
- 3 song sparrows
- 3 cardinals
- 3 grackles
- 2 each robin, chipping sparrow, junco
- 1 each mourning dove, house finch, blue jay
- 1 pheasant rooster looked longingly into the trap but did not go in, instead opting to sleep in the neighbor’s flower box for an hour.
I did better in my yard than in the ‘wild.’”
Wild new neighbours
Cities and suburbs abound in wildlife today, and everyone loves them except when they are feeding in our gardens or on our kittens. Even the tenderer-than-thou PETA-folks probably do not hold a special place in their hearts for head lice. If it weren’t for the cuddle factor, residents of Canada might dream of an open season on squirrels. I suspect that the protein found in squirrels, rabbits and raccoons in Greater Hamilton could go a long way towards meeting the world’s shortage.
Whether we like it or not, cities, suburbs and villages are home to many more “wild” creatures than 50 years ago. What to do about animal-human conflict is the subject for another column. . . written by someone else. As for me, I fence the whole yard and garden to keep moose and deer out during the winter. And I fence the chickens in to protect them from goshawks, coyotes and foxes. Free-range poultry means free lunch for the predators here in the settled wilderness of Quick, B.C.