Our Most Popular Four-Legged Friends
Some of our backyards are veritable zoos. Which animals are we more likely to spot munching on our hedges?
Adam Zorn, a naturalist at the Westmoreland Sanctuary in Bedford Corners, reports on the 10 most common critters living in the county.
The only species native to the county. “white-tails are abundant and are best observed during early morning and early evening hours,” Zorn says. Thanks to few predators, and a favorable topography (the white-tail favor the county’s many forest edges), there are now too many white-tails. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has issued deer management permits to hunters to regulate the population.
|Eastern Gray Squirrel |
The region’s most common squirrel (it also can be found in the Midwest), the Eastern Gray—yes, a rodent!—can be spotted just about everywhere. It lives for approximately 12 years and females have two to eight babies several times a year, making squirrel populations consistently large. Unlike mice and rats, who dine on garbage, squirrels prefer acorns, berries, nuts, flowers, birdfeeder seeds, bark, and birds’ eggs.
Cottontails may be timid and may startle easily, but what they do to gardens is hardly cute. They live on lettuce, flower buds, and herbs. How to stop their pilfering: 1) sprinkle fox urine (available on amazon.com), egg- or pepper-based sprays, or human hair around your garden’s border; 2) construct a two-foot-high poultry wire fence around your garden; 3) plant clover (it’s like foie gras to cottontails); 4) plant marigolds or other malodorous flowers—this makes them hopping mad.
Opossums don’t like to put down roots. These furry animals are nomadic, staying in one place for up to three days before moving on. They can be seen in hollow trees and logs. Their bugaboos: coyotes, foxes, hawks, and large owls. Their favorite meal: fruit, nuts, and insects. “They are adept climbers, able to elude predators such as coyotes and foxes by climbing up trees. If you happen upon one, odds are it will be more scared of you than vice versa and play dead or ‘play ’possum.’”
|Groundhog (aka woodchuck)|
Yes, they really do hide. “Their home consists of a large burrow, which may extend as much as five feet underground,” Zorn says. Groundhogs are one of the only true hibernators in New York that actually sleep all winter long, fattening up from March through October. When hibernating, their body temperature drops to between six and nine degrees above freezing and their heartbeat slows to four to five beats per minute, Zorn reports. Their enemies? Coyotes, dogs, foxes, and large owls.
We’ve heard much about coyotes lately. “Coyotes are best observed at a distance,” Zorn warns. They are wild canines, one of three wild canine species living in the county (gray fox and red fox are the two others). While they usually feast on berries, insects, rodents, rabbits, deer, cats, and small dogs, occasionally they will go after small children. If you see a coyote, clap your hands, wave your arms, and make loud, scary sounds.
The suburbs are ideal for skunks. “They prefer open areas with very little tree canopy,” Zorn says. However, skunks are not nimble on their feet, making escape from danger difficult, ergo their pungent musk spray. Skunks have five to six sprays in two scent glands. Once used up, it takes about 10 days to replenish the supply. If sprayed, try bathing in tomato juice or using skunk spray soap (sold at pet stores).
Although adorable, the chipmunk is a rodent, one that loves to burrow underground, building tunnels and chambers to store food and hibernate during the cold months. And it isn’t silent. Chip- munks, Zorn says, make a number of sounds, many of which are often “mistaken as birdcalls.”
A common nighttime visitor (knocked-over garbage cans are proof), the nocturnal raccoon is about as common in the county as snow is in Antarctica. They are champion tree climbers, spending their days catching zzz’s in tree hollows or…attics.
|Little Brown Bat|
“Bats are the only mammals that can actively fly,” Zorn notes. “To catch their prey at night, bats use echolocation, that is reflected sound, to locate objects. Look to the sky as it turns dark to see the silhouettes of bats flying overhead, chasing after their insect meals anywhere in the county.” Bats’ idea of a good meal? Moths, wasps, beetles, gnats, and mosquitoes.