Taking inventory of the backyard animal population
October 4, 2007
Every morning, I look out the back window and count up the quail foraging in the yard. The most I’ve counted at one time was 42, but there’s usually a dozen or so pecking away at the ground, and at each other when one violates the quail code of conduct.
This morning, there were no quail, and I wondered why until I saw the hawk on the back fence, the stiff morning breeze rustling its feathers. It was resting and waiting patiently. As were the quail, I suspected, from deep inside the spruce tree next to the house. I went into the kitchen to make coffee and the hawk was gone when I looked again.
It’s a tough life for these quail. If it’s not a hawk, it’s the neighbor cats prowling. Once I looked out and saw a black cat stalking the quail in yard. I looked down at my dog, Ranger, and calmly said that magic three-letter word. In a blink, his ears were pinned back and he was chasing the feline to the back fence. Ranger is not a cat person. He never catches them. He just makes sure they get the message.
But he tolerates the quail, which surprises me because he was trained as a hunting dog and he’s retrieved plenty of grouse, ducks and pheasant. Never a quail, though, which is, I suspect, why the backyard has become a demilitarized zone, at least until the cats come calling.
The quail are the most populous resident of the back yard, but they’re certainly not alone. I’ve yet to see the skunk that passes through every few weeks, but evidence of his presence is always heavy on the morning air. As long as he continues to pass through, we’ll have no issues.
Rabbits visit sometimes, but they haven’t set up a home back there yet.
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And there are birds at the feeder of all colors, including red winged and yellow headed blackbirds, which surprises me because I’m not aware of any bodies of water, which they gravitate to, for a half-mile around. The quail, far too clumsy to perch on the feeder, rely on them to knock seed onto the ground. And for some reason my yard is of great importance to hummingbirds, which visit often.
All of this wildlife might be a curse to a meticulous gardener – the quail can scratch up gardens and flowers – but to me it’s firmly in the blessing category, just another benefit of living in Carson City.
That wouldn’t be a unanimous sentiment in Carson City. I know people who are in a constant battle with raccoons that rummage through their trash and, of course, bears have been frequent visitors to the capital city this year. They’re going to have a tough go of it this winter; the drought has had a direct effect on their food supply, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see one at the birdfeeder some morning. Well, actually I would, since I’m not living on the edge of town. But, like so many people have already done this year, I’d grab my camera on my way to the phone to call the bear police.
Bears are second nature at the lake and people … at least the locals, know enough to bear-proof their homes and garbage. The bears probably view Carson City and all its overflowing and unprotected garbage cans as a growth market. I suspect a few sympathetic souls will look for ways to feed the bears nearby, but it’s probably best to let nature have its way. As people at the lake have learned about bears and residents of Nevada’s sagebrush country have learned about wild horses, big wild things are best not lured out of wild places.
There have been several hundred nuisance bear calls this year in the region, but maybe we should be glad we’re not braking for moose. I once worked for a paper in Idaho and recall one of my first evenings there hearing the scanner come to life, dispatching officers to deal with a family of moose hanging out in someone’s front yard. That’s not something you hear every day, I thought, rushing back to the photo department to dispatch them to the scene. I guess I expected them to sprint to their cars at the news, but they regarded the new guy with about as much interest as if I’d said there were a cloud in the sky. But there’s a moose in town, I emphasized in a voice that could only be transcribed with multiple exclamation points.
They were patient, explaining to me this might be my first moose, but it certainly wouldn’t be my last. They came to town often and local officers were well versed in shooing them away or tranquilizing them. It wasn’t long before it was me regarding excited newcomers with a look of boredom after they heard the scanner announce the latest moose sighting.
In light of that, I’m not sure why I’ve taken such an interest in the quail. It’s probably just that I admire how these defenseless, chubby balls of feathers can prosper with so many hungry predators nearby, and then outlast the worst that winter can throw at them. Kind of makes my day seem like a picnic.
• Barry Ginter is editor of the Appeal. You can reach him at 881-1221, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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