Rodent Council

I look out the back today and see what looks like a council of rodents–baby bunny, squirrel, and cotton rat, all sitting within a foot of each other, not bothering each other, just sitting. (Ironically, the cotton rat, half the size of either of the others, is the only adult of the bunch–the bunny is maybe a third the size of his parent, and the squirrel has the rangy, scrawny, large-headed look of this year’s juveniles.) (I know, I know, lagomorphs. Recent taxonomy studies place them as having split from rodents, however, so I’m allowed. Besides, who’d put “Member, Council of Lagomorphs” on their business cards?)

The young are out in force today. I went outside to read for a few minutes, and drink coffee. I didn’t get much reading done, although I did get a few bugs in my coffee. The wildlife scattered as soon as I came out, but returned almost immediately, except for the bunny, who’s a nervous little thing.

In the course of maybe twenty minutes, I watched the cotton rat wander around stuffing his face with seed, soon to be joined by a pint-sized miniature version. A hairy woodpecker came down and drove his wicked beak into the suet, then flew off. Four white-breasted nuthatches showed up, divided into pairs, and shoved suet down throats in a kind of upside-down rota. A young thrasher hopped around the base of the suet tree and began begging for food from anyone in the vicinity, which happened to be the cotton rat. The rat eyed the gaping beak of the thrasher looking faintly embarassed, the way any of us do when randomly approached by somebody else’s kids asking for something, and I must assume smiled and nodded and backed away slowly. Towhees kicked and scuffled under the cherry laurel, looking for food or pirate treasure or whatever. The squirrel undulated by, gripping an enormous bulb in his teeth. “My dahlias…!” Oh, well, easy come, easy go.

The thrashers were replaced by two red-bellied woodpeckers, a female and one with the moth-eaten noggin of the young. Young red-bellied woodpeckers are unbelievably obnoxious in their begging, with an ear-splitting yawp that goes right to your inner ear and boogies down. You begin to pray for the sweet release of death. You get the impression the other animals are, too.

So he sat next to the suet and yawped. Generally at this point, the adult stuffs food down that beak, probably in hopes of choking the yawp off at its source.

This time, however, his mother had Had Enough. A few yawps, and that was it. She charged him, tail spread, the way they do when they’re chasing off interlopers. The yawp of entitlement was replaced by the yawp of panic. He lumbered down the tree, then flew off. If the universe was really structured like it is in my head, a round of applause would have come from all corners of the garden, the cotton rat would have stood on his hind legs and clapped wildly, the blue jays would have erupted into Bronx cheers. Sadly, it isn’t, so they didn’t, but I was happy anyway.

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