Wildlife on the City Homestead

When most people think about homesteading within the city limits, I often wonder what comes to mind. Is it a few backyard chickens and a row of green beans or is it more than that? I bet they don’t consider the tremendous amount of wildlife that comes into play. After all, it’s the city. How much can there be? A lot more than many folks would bargain for.

For example, we have a little warren of wild rabbits in a small grove of trees and bushes on the edge of our property. It’s completely protected despite being ten feet from a pretty busy road. They’ve been living there for at least three years. Once in a while one will join me in the garden. I don’t particularly mind sharing with this little warren. I’ve generally planted enough things for a few nibbles here and there, although I do plant my lettuce in windowboxes. So far that has kept them pretty well protected.

We also tend to get quite a bit of deer here. I think that has more to do with the fact that there is a large, wooded park within a few blocks than that we are deer magnets. We used to see them more often before people fenced off their yards in this neighborhood, but they still come around. The biggest telltale sign is when there it a large depression in the potato plants. For some reason they like bedding down in them more than any other place. On occasion I will see a young buck walking up the middle of the road. They don’t tend to be very skittish, even crossing to the appropriate side of the street to let cars pass.

We seem to be a Mecca for squirrels as well. At this time of year it’s tree squirrels, but in the warmer months the ground squirrels are out as well. They are always after the chicken feed that spills, or sometimes the seeds planted in the garden. I have seen gray squirrels, black squirrels, brown squirrels, and patchy looking ones that may have interbred. Mostly they stay in the neighbor’s hazelnut trees, but the moment enough of the chickens wander away from the scratch, they get on whatever their version of the squirrel internet is and send out a massive alert and then they descend like an avenging army, grab what they can, and get back out before the head chicken charges them.

We get chickadees nesting all around our property and they are funny to watch as they get down amongst the chickens and steal bits of scratch here and there. The chickens don’t seem to mind sharing at all. Perhaps because they are not so greedy as the squirrels. We often get crows as well, but Queen (the head hen) will chase them off if she sees them pulling worms from the dirt. Those are her worms and she’s not sharing. We do have a nesting pair of eagles that live two blocks away and a red-tailed hawk that I’ve seen at least three times during the last year. The chickens seem to instinctively know them as predators and will hide under the trees or hide in the coop if they see their shadows. We lost one duck to the eagles our first year raising them before they learned what those shadows meant.

Other wildlife I am not so fond of are coyotes, racoons, opposums, and skunks. It is rare to see a coyote in my part of town. They tend to hang out where there are a lot of dumpsters and are very roly poly and well fed. We did have one up here that killed a cat a few years ago, though. Opposums are mean and have had more than one hiss at me when I’ve taken things to the compost bin after dark. We have a local skunk that makes our property part of his rounds. He comes by about once a week in the spring and summer, usually on the hottest days we get, when all the windows are open to help cool the house down. And everyone wakes up at two a.m. and does a mad dash to shut them all before the smell permeates the house. This skunk has been doing this for years. I’m not sure how long lived skunks are, but I’m pretty sure it’s the same one.

The ones that I wish I never had to deal with are racoons. Racoons are viscious killers. We’ve lost several ducks to them and some of each batch of chickens we’ve raised except this last one. Racoons can open just about anything. They can pull out one inch staples and they can unscrew things not screwed down tight. We learned the hard way how to keep things locked up and tightly closed. They wouldn’t upset me so much if they would eat what they kill, but they will slaughter massively and then only eat partial bits of each bird. I know it’s the circle of life, but I wish they weren’t so wasteful with it. Still we’ve learned to live with them, using special locks on the chicken coop and the duck den and making sure everyone is locked up at dusk before they come out.

Still, I’d rather live with all of these creatures than walk out my front door and see a cougar like I did once when we lived in the mountains. It’s much easier to live and let live when you’re only worried for your livestock and not for your children. I’m not sure how things will change when we expand to a full size farm, but hopefully we’ll be able to live and let live for the most part there, as well. Except for the creatures that end up on the dinner table.

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