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Nature Notes: Wildlife Problems

By Ed Robinson

A few years ago, I wrote about wildlife mysteries, relating strange events that occurred when living in close proximity with various species. The star of that story was a female white-tailed deer who developed a habit of pulling up and eating the succulent cattails in the pond by our cabin. Because she carried out her raids mostly at night, it took more than a year for me to catch the culprit, spotting the hungry doe one summer morning wet-handed, so to speak.

If you are a regular reader of this column, you know that I am a keen observer of wildlife, taking great pleasure from sightings and goings-on that might leave others bored out of their minds. If, like me, you encourage wildlife to live, feed and breed near where you live, work or play you need a certain amount of patience for the niggling little problems that crop up on occasion. The purloined cattails were no big deal – the pond is large enough and held sufficient cattails to survive the deer’s need for tasty greens. Fortunately, the doe did not teach her offspring the cattail trick.

Since I enjoy feeding birds at home and the cabin, I have learned to accept some loss of food to creatures other than song birds. We all know that gray squirrels will go to great lengths to raid your feeders, showing a level of creativity and determination that is admirable, if you don’t mind their piggish manners. The trade off is the fun of watching them slide down a greased pole, or bouncing off the protective feeder covers designed to shed airborne squirrel attacks.

I’ll admit to being a little irritated last year when a scurry of nine chipmunks zeroed in on my suet feeders. The little devils chomped through one or two blocks of suet each night until I fought back. When I switched to suet treated with red hot pepper juice, the chipmunks were pretty put out with me but the birds were content to carry on. A few weeks ago, my seed feeder was emptied three nights in a row, with much of the seed lying on the deck each morning. Rising very early I discovered the masked raider at work, a fat raccoon using his front paw to rake the seed onto the deck for a leisurely breakfast. I chased him off with a few choice words and that seemed to dissuade him from further sorties.

During successive springtime visits to the cabin, I was treated to a show of aggression by a determined American robin. Several mornings in a row I was awakened before dawn by a male robin pecking at the sliding glass door leading to the deck. The infernal bird was clearly unable to recognize his own reflection and was convinced that a rival for his breeding territory was lurking just inside the door. When chased from his spot, the robin would be back within a few minutes to continue the battle. This behavior is common among quite a few species including Northern cardinals, sparrows, American goldfinches, ruffed grouse and wild turkeys. It wasn’t bad enough that the robin disturbed my sleep – he also deposited his droppings on my deck just to rub it in. Finally, I put a stop to his mindless pecking by putting a piece of cardboard along the bottom on the door.

Beaver photo by Ed Robinson

This April I had quite a surprise when I showed up at the cabin for my annual tree and shrub planting trip. I arrived in the dark so it was the next morning before I was greeted by a new arrival in the pond, a juvenile beaver. It is common for them to wander into new areas in the spring because their parents push them out of the family pond after the long winter. My pond is not really big enough for a permanent beaver residence but this little fellow decided he liked it well enough.

At first, I was fascinated to see my new neighbor so close at hand since I had never hosted a beaver. But my excitement soon faded when I realized that he had already begun excavating a hole in the bank of the pond, and he had chewed up several of the shrubs that I had nurtured around the pond for a number of years. Willow, buttonbush and others were planted to benefit pollinators, birds and brook trout, but the beaver clearly figured the feast had been laid out for his benefit. As much as I leaned toward tolerating this new inhabitant, I decided I could not risk him destabilizing the bank of the pond and stripping the area around the pond of saplings. I resorted to shouting at the beaver, chasing him around the pond and throwing rocks in the water until he finally decided to move on to more hospitable surroundings.

There is one remaining wildlife problem that I have not yet figured out, so perhaps one of our readers can solve the riddle. Last summer I removed a decrepit extension on the cabin and built a new one. It was nice to finally have a bedroom on the ground floor and a larger entry room for tools, boots and outerwear. Large new windows brought in more light and allowed great views of the area around the cabin. All was well until I returned to the cabin in November.
After a couple days I noticed that the weather stripping around one of the new windows had quite a bit of damage despite the window being located under a large overhang. I had never seen a new window suffer such damage in just three months. My brother is a contractor and he had no answer for me other than putting clear silicon caulk on the window to make sure it didn’t leak. I left for the winter hoping that the window damage had been a one-time aberration.

No such luck! When I returned in March, the window’s weather stripping was further damaged all along the bottom and the lower edges on both ends. The silicon caulk was also missing. Fortunately, the weather turned warm so I put more caulk on the window and planned on exchanging it during my April visit.

You guessed it. When I arrived in April, I found the silicon caulk was gone and the weather stripping was further damaged. I knew that there had been no big storms or weather events that might explain the damage, and I was really flummoxed about the problem until a couple days later….

While sitting at the table eating breakfast, a pair of crows flew into the clearing around the cabin. I’m used to them trying to steal suet or bird seed but they made no move to do so, landing in a tall maple just around the corner. I returned to my cereal and book, paying the crows no more attention. Suddenly I heard a loud banging noise at the back window of the cabin. That’s right, one of the crows was perched on the window trim pecking away at my darned window! Incensed, I went flying out the back door screaming at the blasted crow to leave my window alone!!

Crow photo by Ed Robinson.

The crow came back one more time two days later and I made quite a racket, chasing him off once again. After two more weeks in residence, I had not seen the crow again and there was no more damage to the window. I again caulked the window and certainly hope to find it in good shape when I next visit this summer, but you never know about crows.

Cornell’s Birds of the World website refers to the American crow as “…a cunning, inquisitive, vocal opportunist.” All of that is true but it doesn’t include being destructive to a guy who is trying to be a good neighbor! Crows have had more than 500,000 years since their first appearance in the Pleistocene period to sharpen their intelligence, and they are very clever in finding food and shelter in all kinds of places, whether stealing dog food or raiding your garbage bins. They are not considered particularly aggressive toward each other beyond the breeding season, and my crow troubles started after the breeding season ended last year.
So, what could explain the unprovoked assault on my cabin window? It’s not like I built the cabin next to a historic roost tree, and I have not been harassing crows or hunting them. I have silver/gray hair so perhaps the crow thinks I am a bald eagle, a larger bird that crows love to pester from the eagles’ favored hunting perches. Is it possible that the crow is in cahoots with the chipmunks denied unlimited suet rations, or the crows were buddies with the evicted beaver???

June 2021