Thursday, June 4, 2009

Decisions, Decisions

I'm one of those who tend to feel extreme empathy for critters, especially if they happen to be cute.

Partly for that reason and also because I photograph the wild critters around here to use in paintings. As you can see from the attached pictures, bunnies and Gambels quail rank pretty highly on my scale of desirableness. (Is that a word?)

So to ensure I have a steady supply of critters around to photograph when I need more pix, I put food out for them every evening before sundown: rabbit pellets for the bunnies, and chicken scratch for the quail. I also have hummingbird feeders (two) for their namesake and a suet feeder, originally intended for woodpeckers. And I have containers of water outside -- I replace and refill them with fresh water every day. It all makes for happy critters.

But then there's this danged thing called the Law of Unintended Consequences. All of these types of food have been attracting more than the critters I wanted to attract -- some of these are OK, some are not.

Among the undesirable critters: ground squirrels. The worst ones are the species that look like tree squirrels (although their tails aren't quite as bushy), and they DIG HOLES!! Lots of them. They live to dig. Some holes would be okay--it does help aerate the soil. But it can be overdone.

It seems like these last few years, the squirrels have been cranking out LOTS of offspring. We have a lot of cholla cactus growing around here, so I suspect it's hard for predators to catch them and keep the numbers under control. And, of course, having food and pans of water so easily available to them isn't helping the situation, either.

Last year I bought a "catch-'em-alive" trap which I've used to capture and relocate squirrels, one at a time. But this year, I can't seem to catch up. It appears as I reduce the numbers of squirrels, other squirrel "families" move in to take their place. So I'll think: "Ah...only one more squirrel to catch and that's it." Nope--the next day, I see five new ground squirrels!

So, decisions decisions. Do I stop feeding and watering ALL of the wild critters in the hope the ground squirrels will go elsewhere, or at least not be encouraged to take up residence here? Maybe. I hate the thought of it, and I hope I don't put out enough food to the point where the bunnies and quail are entirely dependent on me to survive; otherwise, they could starve to death without me feeding them.

But the ground squirrels are slowly destroying this area--even the parts that are natural desert. They even eat the cactus, roots and all! How do they do that without embedding millions of stickers in their mouths and faces?

Maybe this is one of those cases where the few have ruined it for all. Let's just hope I have enough pictures. And let's pray for the bunnies and the quail. But not for the ground squirrels.

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