Saturday, February 6, 2010

Woodshed Resident

We went out to the woodshed a few days ago to haul some wood to the front porch rack. I like to keep it nice and full...then when a cold or a cold day sneaks up on us, we don't have to venture out too far to keep the house warm.

I noticed a few elm twigs on top of the wood piled in one end of the shed. Didn't think much of it until I started taking some of the wood out. Each piece I took off, I found more "evidence" of a guest, probably a hispid cotton rat (commonly known as a "pack rat"). We've found them on the farm before, but don't see their nests as distinctly as I used to find them out in the Flint Hills. Typical pack rat nests are several feet in diameter and about as tall, dense piles of sticks forming an elaborate hut over their stashes of food and trinkets. In a nest on a farmstead where there were children, I found a toy soldier, buttons, marbles, bottle caps...pretty much what you'd find in an 8-year-old boy's pockets.
This critter has put together a pretty good stash for the winter, using our handy pre-fab stick pile (a cord of mixed hardwood for the woodstove). There was lots of bright green, crispy leaf "hay" (American elm, as near as I could tell), and a pile of twigs that had been stripped of their bark. Then we looked up and realized that the critter had also been dining al fresco on the roof-top...chewing the bark off of a thankfully unwanted elm behind the shed.

A pile of poop solidified my suspicions as to the creature's identity, though since I don't know what woodchuck poop looks like, I have retain a shadow of a doubt. I DID once see a woodchuck sitting on the roof of the woodshed, chewing on a branch. But then the squirrels do the same. Popular dining spot. I've also seen a hawk perched there....Possibly why no one seemed to be home in the woodshed hideaway.
I am quite satisfied to have a packrat in the woodshed. If I am going to be host to packrats, I certainly don't want them in the barn, or under the hood of the truck making a nest among the wires.
When I mention pack rats, many people go, "ew, rats!" thinking of that vicious scaly-tailed vector of bubonic plague and scourge of sailing ships, the Norway rat. But hispid cotton rats are a bit smaller than a pet domestic rat, often a bit fuzzier, a pleasant grayish-tannish in color, with fur on their tails. Not so scary at all.
And obviously pretty clever at setting up house.

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