Friday, January 16, 2009

Green Living by Janet Marchant: Attracting Backyard Wildlife

This time of year, it seems like it will be forever before the next time we get to load up the car for a drive to Yosemite, and some close interaction with the great outdoors. But while you're dreaming about those summertime bear encounters, you could be enjoying the wonders of nature right here in Alameda. Did you know that wild animals can be found right here in our very own city? That's right. With a little planning and patience, you can see these adorable creatures in your own backyard.

Don't worry if you have no place to hang anything like a birdfeeder. Just scatter some seed on the ground, and you're sure to see a fluttering flock of pigeons descend in no time! These gentle, feathered friends are so trusting that you'd think they were domesticated. You can almost walk up and touch them. Don't actually touch them, however, especially if you are susceptible to Histoplasmosis.

If you are more fond of furry than feathered creatures in your backyard, try this simple trick: leave a 10-pound bag of dog food outside in a place that is easily accessible, but protected from rain. Sooner or later, some wily raccoons are sure to find the tasty treats, and thank you by spreading kibble (some of it digested) all over your yard. Raccoons are so spunky that they will even follow the scent of pet food right through a cat flap. Few things are more exciting for the backyard wildlife enthusiast than finding raccoons in the kitchen, although the hard part is getting them to leave again. Remember, raccoons are wild animals, so it can be harmful to them to become too dependent on using your microwave to thaw out the pizza pockets they take from your freezer. If that happens, they may lose their ability to hunt down their own pizza pockets in the wild.

What works for attracting raccoons is also likely to apeal to more diminutive visitors, such as Rattus norvegicus. You might think that these beady-eyed little fellows look like Squirrels without the bushy tails, but there's a world of difference between them. For example, trees are natural enemies of the poor little brown rat, since they serve as lookout towers for birds of prey in search of a rodent snack.

These are just a few examples of the fun you can have with Alameda wildlife. If you keep your eyes open, and your food sources replenished, you're likely to see even more exotic animals in your backyard!

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