Kate Crowley

I should have listened to Poncho, but it was 12:30 a.m. and I didn’t want to be bothered. With his acute sense of smell and hearing, he knew there were marauders nearby. I got up and closed the window and reprimanded him for barking and disturbing my sleep. He continued to growl and rumble, until I banished him to his kennel. He was only trying to do his job and if I had paid attention, I could have stopped the intruders from destroying our suet feeders.

We have become complacent in recent times, since having a dog has been a great deterrent to the omnivores who raid bird feeders at night time. We feed the birds year-round and before we brought Poncho into our lives, we had to bring the hanging feeders indoors every night because both bears and raccoons had taught us the hard way not to leave them out.

We have heard reports of bears wandering in our area. With the drought we have been enduring, the availability of food (fruits mainly) has been greatly diminished, so birdfeeders become too tempting. We have had iron poles bent as a bear tries to reach a hanging feeder and wooden platform feeders broken. One year we decided to store the bird seed in a galvanized garbage can that we kept in the front yard. Bad idea. This was just too easy for the local black bear.

One afternoon we looked out the window and saw the bear reclining on the ground, leisurely munching the black sunflower seeds that had spilled from the inverted can. When we opened the sliding door and stepped out on the deck, it got up and ran part way down our front field, but stopped half way and seemed to consider whether we were a threat. After we yelled loudly, it turned and ambled across the road and disappeared into the neighbor’s woods. The garbage can went into the shed, where it has stayed ever since.

The suet feeders are very popular with many birds throughout the year because they provide so much protein and energy. We normally have three wire cage type feeders hanging on the branches of the maple tree that grows right next to our deck. Food sources must be getting scarce for the raccoons too with such dry conditions. They have such nimble paws that it is almost as easy for them to pop open the suet feeders as it is for us. But sometimes, they have more trouble and then they end up tearing them apart.

When Mike went out on the deck the morning after Poncho’s night time warning, he found only one of the suet feeders still intact. The other two were on the ground in pieces. If Poncho had been on the main floor the night before I’m sure he would have barked and jumped up against the sliding door and frightened the thieves away.

There are an estimated 800,000 to one million raccoons living in Minnesota according to the DNR. With those kinds of numbers, it’s surprising we don’t see them more often. They have adapted very well to urban and suburban areas and find garbage cans easy pickings. While it’s true that these masked bandits are cute to look at, they can be formidable if cornered or threatened. They have been known to kill dogs twice their weight (15 to 23 lbs.), so I would never knowingly let Poncho near one.

They are true omnivores with a diet that can include crayfish, corn on the cob, insects, fruit, and bird’s eggs. In fact, they can destroy bird’s nests and nestlings with great ease, since their ‘hands’ allow them to easily climb posts where nest boxes are situated. Which reminds me that I should check our bluebird nest boxes to see if they have done any damage. Some people have raised baby raccoons and tried to keep them as pets, but this is a very bad idea. Once they reach maturity they can become aggressive and they are known to carry rabies and a roundworm parasite that can be transferred to humans.

Raccoons are not often seen out in the daytime. They will usually spend it in a hollow log or other cavity, storing up their energy for nighttime raids. n

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