Two Unexpected Visitors

It’s a great way to wake up, really–stagger forth from confused dreams of orchid pirates* and wander into the living room, to spot a strange bird grazing soggily under the neighbor’s feeder. Much checking would indicate that it was an Eastern Towhee, a new addition to my lifelist and yet another bird that I can plot to find ways to attract.

I set up a platform feeder on the deck yesterday, which cardinals are said to favor. It’s basically a mesh-floored box with low sides, resting on little feet. Cardinals evidentally don’t like to perch to feed. We’ll see if it works.

The other visitor was rather less thrilling (although I do not suffer the same automatic horror that a lot of people probably would) when I saw movement under the platform feeder. Getting down on my knees, I discovered that a rat the size of a squirrel was sheltering under it–he was mostly out of the rain, and had food, making it a cozy spot for an enterprising rat.

I considered this.

Practically speaking, only an idiot would think that setting out assorted grains year-round wouldn’t net you the occasional rodent visitor–prior to this, he had probably simply been picking up food dropped on the ground next to the deck, like the doves and the cardinals, and probably at night. It’s a very dark morning, since it’s wet, and the platform on the deck means more spilled food up top, so it was probably a case of seeing somebody who’s been there all along. I’m backing onto a greenbelt, which is home to urban wildlife–families of red foxes near where James works, and there’s even a deer population in some of the thicker belts in town. We have mice in the house, squirrels in the trees, and possums in the trash. Had I ever bothered to think about it, of course there would be rats.

Other than keeping the deck swept off regularly to make sure that we’re not building up spilled birdseed–which I’d do anyway for aesthetic reasons!–I suppose there’s not much I can do about it. The rat doesn’t appear to be hurting anything–they may go after eggs in the right season, but that’s why birds build nests in trees–and we’ve certainly never encountered one in the house. This doesn’t actually mean they aren’t there, but since I’ve heard no squeaking in the walls, nor found rat-sized poo, I’m pretty mellow–if I don’t see it, I don’t need to know it’s there. And in more practical terms, I hardly think that I could banish the rat–there are large lawns and empty lots and the lush green belt, and a garbage can and bird feeder every house length. This is the very definition of rat -friendly territory. You couldn’t get these guys out with a crowbar.

And of course, as my brain traitorously points out, the rat and the squirrels differ only in terms of fluff, and I am grudgingly fond of my squirrel opera, and I even HAD a pet rat at one point, so begrudging the rat a bite of birdseed, when he hasn’t committed the cardinal sin of house invasion, seems a little extreme.

If we get a plague, I’ll change my mind, but I suppose for now all I can do is keep an eye out.

And having typed that last line, I look out onto the deck, and a female cardinal is sitting on the platform feeder. EUREKA!

*I just finished reading Orchid Fever which deals with the international orchid trade and bureaucracy run amok, so that explains that.

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