Mammals in our yard

Squirrel in birdfeeder  ©Janet AllenA squirrel finishing off the seeds INSIDE the birdfeeder he dislodged

We try to provide habitat for creatures "smaller than a breadbox": pollinators, birds, butterflies, and amphibians, along with all the littlest creatures we hardly ever notice, such as those found in healthy soil or in the compost pile.

Not only do we find the smaller creatures more interesting, but we believe they're more suitable inhabitants of urban/suburban areas like ours.

Not many mammals fall into this category.

Squirrel in window feeder  ©Janet AllenEven the feeder attached to the window is not immune

Conversely, we believe that humans need to be smarter about how and where we build our communities so that we leave more areas wild for larger creatures—and for people to enjoy wildlife in more appropriate settings.

Below are a few "smaller than a breadbox" mammals that we do welcome to our yard—bats, chipmunks, and shrews— and a few that we accept as urban animals—skunks and raccoons (below).

And then there are the squirrels and deer.


Bat house ©Janet AllenOur as-yet-unoccupied bat house

We really would like to have bats in our yard. We put up this bat house a number of years ago, painting it black as is necessary for our region. However, we haven't had any luck.

It could be that we have it mounted too low. It needs to be high enough so bats can drop out of the bottom of the house and have enough room to start flying. We initially had mounted it higher, but it swayed too much in the wind. We should see how we could mount it differently.

Or, more likely, is that the bat population in the Northeast has been so devastated by White-Nose Syndrome that there just aren't any bats around. This is a real loss.

Still, we'll keep our bat house up and hope a few bats find us.


Chipmunk ©Janet AllenChipmunk arranging peanuts in his cheeks

We do enjoy chipmunks, whom we indulge with many, many peanuts. They're just too cute.

It's hard to believe such a small creature could really eat as many peanuts as they cart away in their little cheeks, but I guess it's better to provision your warren with too much than with too little.

Chipmunk climbing screen ©Janet AllenChipmunk climbing screen

Indulging our chipmunk with peanuts has the unfortunate side effect that he now expects peanuts, climbing the sliding door screen to get my attention when I haven't put enough out.

At least he doesn't require peanuts all winter, though he sometimes makes a brief appearance during a January thaw.

Entrance to chipmunk burrow ©Janet AllenEntrance to chipmunk burrow

We realize some people regard chipmunks as pests, but we haven't had any problems, perhaps because we have many acceptable areas for them to live.

I guess one reason people might not appreciate chipmunks is that they create holes in the lawn as entrances to their burrows or perhaps because they eat their tulip bulbs.

Since we worship neither lawns nor tulip bulbs, it's not a problem for us. When we find a hole (such as the one in the photo) that's in a path where people could conceivably trip, we simply put one of our plastic tables over the hole to protect both the hole and people. Live and let live!

Chipmunk eating melon seeds ©Janet AllenChipmunk eating cantaloupe seeds

Chipmunks also like cantaloupe seeds, which we put out on the composter. Cardinals—and unfortunately squirrels— also like them.


Shrew ©Janet AllenA Northern short-tailed shrew

Shrews seem to be benign creatures (though it wouldn't be a good idea to handle them).

We haven't noticed any damage, and we don't consider them to be a problem. In fact, this mostly carnivorous mammal may reduce our population of snails and even mice.

Shrew ©Janet AllenA Northern short-tailed shrew

This little creature and his cohorts scurried around in established paths in the yard.

We especially enjoyed watching them scurry across the path between the meadow and the native grass area.

We suspect that previous shrew homes in this native grass area were subsequently used by bumblebees, which often nest where rodents had been.

Larger urban mammals

Skunk  ©Janet Allen
A skunk, sauntering out through our back gate in the early morning

Raccoons and skunks can just be considered typical urban animals, I guess. They're not something we actively encourage, but we have a live and let live philosophy.

We rarely see them since they're nocturnal, but we know they're around. They don't seem to cause any harm. In fact, the skunk's small diggings indicate it's looking for grubs, which helps keep Japanese beetles under control.

One thing we've done, though, is to have a hardward cloth barrier installed around the bottoms of our porches and shed so they aren't nesting too close for comfort.

Woodchuck  ©Janet Allen
A woodchuck heading toward our vegetable garden

Groundhogs/woodchucks are a different story. Although the generally beneficial skunks (at least in the wild) depend on woodchuck holes for living quarters, woodchucks in our yard are a problem.

It's hard to coexist with them because they can quickly lay waste to our edible garden, totally wiping out the food we worked so hard to grow for ourselves.

We've found a partial solution.

Cat  ©Janet Allen
A common non-native invasive mammal

This cat is my nemesis, killing our birds and our other small mammals.

Domestic cats belong in the non-native invasive animals section!

On the other hand, at least in our community, dogs—another urban mammal—are kept on a leash and owners pick up their poops, so they haven't been a problem. We used to have a dog ourselves, but she never chased anything and didn't cause a problem.