Sunday, August 2, 2009

Thoughts on raising a prey species

© 2009, Joshua Stark

My ducks represent the first time I've ever tried to raise anything other than a cat or dog, and the biggest difference I've noticed is the predator-prey relationship concept, and more specifically, I am learning what the world looks like through the eyes of prey.

When I step outside, for example, and my dog comes up to greet me, she walks straight at me, or at a slight angle, looking at me and wagging her tail. The ducks look at me sideways, and if I move straight towards them, they cock their bodies away from me, while keeping an eye glued to me.

In the yard, they always keep watch. Irma does, too, but more in a manner befitting a creature who knows its territory and wants to know who else is here. The ducks are keeping guard to prepare to flee from something trying to eat them.

Last night, I accidentally shined a flashlight into their pen. Don't do that. You'd have thought I threw a live - and angry - wildcat in there: much flapping and flinging into the wire, and very 'every duck for yourself!'

And as a prey-owner, I now start looking at things in a different light, too. Those rats that thwarted my trap? They may steal from my ducks, or hurt them. They are no longer a mere nuisance. And opossums and raccoons are downright threats to life and limb.

But yesterday took the cake.

Out in the morning, my eyes wildly scanning the walnut tree for signs of squirrels or starlings, I saw what I first thought to be my resident Nuttall's woodpecker, with its familiar stripes... he sure is bobbing funny, and kinda hanging in the air... I followed his 'back' up, and found he wasn't a woodpecker, but the tail of a hawk! I peered around the other side of the trunk, and there she sat, in the upper third of the canopy, watching my ducks like a... well, a hawk. She was also watching the squirrels, and I pushed them up into the tree a bit more by flinging some walnuts they'd dropped. Before I could get my camera, she flew off.

I have never seen a hawk like that. By this, I don't mean the species (it was probably a juvenile red-shouldered hawk), I mean the perspective.

Now, when Irma barks, I go look, I don't just yell out the window. When the scrub jays chatter, I hear the urgency in their voices when they are concerned, and I peer through the canopy, too. I see with different eyes. I hear with different ears.


Albert A Rasch said...

Fascinating perspective isn't it.

Raccoons are by far the worse, and they are ruthless. Make sure your pen is iron tight. I ave lost whole flocks to the thieving SOBs!

Best regards,
Trophy Merriam’s Turkey
Fallow Deer: Hints and Tips

Josh said...

I've yet to see raccoons in our yard, but I know it's only a matter of time. We do get some monster opossums, which my faithful dog has dispatched on occasion.

City code (and our 'acreage') restricts us to four small animals as pets, our flock of three is our limit, so losing a flock would be relatively easy.

Anonymous said...

I'm a volunteer wildlife rehabilitator and I can double check with my co-volunteers who specialize in caring for opossums. But opossums are not -- as a rule -- known to kill. They will scavenge for feed or eggs, yes, but opossums are often horribly misunderstood because of their appearance and teeth. They are generally gentle creatures, believe it or not.

It's been speculated that opossums will sometimes be found on the site of a kill, cleaning up what another predator may have killed. I would caution against having an anti-opossum bias without more research. They're beneficial animals to have around and North America's only marsupial, carrying their young in a pouch. Working with these very misunderstood animals has been a great privilege. They suffer much at our hands, from my perspective, undeservedly.

I like raccoons and work with them as well. But I do agree with Albert that all coops and pens need to be very, very raccoon-secure. They are brilliant, agile animals can open latches and other perform amazing feats to get them some sustenance.

Josh said...

I meant no disrespect to opossums, and my ducks are of a size now that they probably won't be a threat, but they will eat eggs, and they are large enough that, if they find themselves in a small pen with three ducks, they could wreck havoc trying to get away.

I've saved two opossums in our backyard, who also saved themselves by playing possum to ward off my dog. It is still disconcerting to have one you know is alive on the end of your shovel while you walk it out to the front yard. I won't kill them if I don't have to, but neither will I teach my dog to back off a smaller wild animal.

Humans' ecological footprint on this continent is such that animals like opossums (omnivores who thrive on the margins) have succeeded as a species, though it does mean we get more human-opossum interactions.

Thanks, anon., for defending the little fellers! Also, let us know who you are! You are welcome here anytime.

Dad said...


Anonymous said...

What a well written... (what is it called in the blog world... "post?")
post! I have often tried to articulate my own thoughts about how I look at things since I have had ducks and geese, you have done a much better job than the jumble that runs around my head :)

~rainplace - byc

Josh said...

Thanks, anonymous! Welcome to my blog, I hope you stick around. I've been a bit slow to post the past couple weeks, but I'll get back on it.

They are amazing little critters, aren't they?