Raccoons, gray squirrels and house cats

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by Bob Mount

In a recent column, I came down pretty hard on gray squirrels. I accused them of destroying an expensive bird feeder I’d bought and gnawing holes in my plastic yellow jacket trap. Meanwhile, I purchased another bird feeder, filled it with six pounds of sunflower seeds, and hung it in a manner that I couldn’t believe a squirrel could possibly make it fall. The following day, it was lying on the floor of my deck, broken into pieces.
For quite a while I have been trapping and relocating squirrels to a remote area about six miles away. So far, I have reduced the population by 20, but there’s still about half a dozen remaining. But I was puzzled about how they were able to make the bird feeders fall and break.
The last time I set out my have-a-heart trap, I caught a critter, but it wasn’t a squirrel. It was a full-grown raccoon. That coon was obviously the culprit who had been destroying my bird feeders. One of my dogs, the large one, alerted me to the capture by barking loudly about daylight. I released the coon, and it ran across the deck, climbed over, jumped to the ground, and ran, with my dog hot on its trail. Coons are vicious fighters, and the dog is probably fortunate that the coon escaped. A day or two later, I was in my living room about five o’clock in the afternoon in broad daylight and through the glass door to the deck I saw the coon strolling across the deck floor. It obviously had a hankering for another bird-seed meal. I opened the deck door, and the coon took off. Healthy coons are ordinarily nocturnal, but this coon was exceptional.
In the days of yore, where I lived, many people ate coons and some ate possums. Nowadays, in these parts, I don’t know anyone who eats these critters (not even Husky Kirkwood.) If, however, anyone reading this column relishes coons as food, he or she can call me at 334-444-5393, and if I catch another coon, I’ll let them know.
On an entirely different subject, ticks and tick-borne diseases, I’ll share some observations I have made. Prior to the advent of “flea-and-tick collars,” nearly every day I would inspect my dogs and extract live ticks from their skin. The dogs spend much of their time in my tick-infested woods. Since they were fitted with the collars, I still find ticks on them, but they are invariably dead. And I never see a tick on me or on my clothing. Biological tick control? Perhaps.
Last week I was a guest at the noon meeting of the Opelika Kiwanis Club. Lee County veterinarian Buddy Bruce was the speaker. Dr. Bruce and I share an appreciation for our song birds and a dislike of free-ranging house cats, be they feral or family-owned. He told of cats being the most serious predators of song birds, killing upwards of a billion of them annually. House cats also carry several diseases transmissible to humans, including the dread disease toxoplasmosis. It defies my imagination that presumably enlightened cities, Auburn for example, have ordinances requiring owners of dogs to keep them inside, in enclosures, or on leashes, but ignore the problems posed by free-ranging house cats. Some cat owners contend that cats can’t be trained to be led on leashes, but that’s nonsense in light of the fact that they can be trained to defecate in commodes. The “trap, spay, and release” program as it pertains to colonies of feral cats is a waste of money and contributes to the decline of many of our birds.
Birders of the world unite and insist that feral house cats be trapped and euthanized and that owners of “pet cats” be required to keep them indoors or on leashes when outside.
Bob Mount is a Professor Emeritus with the Department of Zoology and Entomology at Auburn University. He is also chairman of the Opelika Order of Geezers, well-known local think tank and political clearing house. He writes about birds, snakes, turtles, bugs and assorted conservation topics.

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