About the Species
Flemish Giant Rabbit
Great horned owl
Western Gray Squirrel
BALL PYTHON (Python regius)
Ball pythons are found at the edges of the forest lands of Central and Western Africa. These non-venomous snakes are the smallest of the African pythons and are popular in the pet trade. They are equally comfortable on the ground and in trees. They are crepuscular, active around dawn and dusk. Called royal pythons in Europe, we call them "balls" in the United States because of their habit of curling themselves up into a tight ball, their heads pulled firmly into the center, when they are nervous. Like most pythons, ball pythons are curious and gentle snakes.
These snakes typically reach four feet (1.2 m) in length. Occasionally there are specimens that reach 5 feet (1.5 m). When properly fed, their bodies become nicely rounded. Like all pythons and boas, ball pythons have anal spurs. These single claws appearing on either side of the vent are the vestigial remains of the hind legs snakes lost during their evolution from lizard to snake millions of years ago. Males have longer spurs and smaller heads than females.
Ball pythons are reputed to be able to go for extended periods of time without food; wild-caught ball pythons have gone for a year or more without eating. In captivity, young ball pythons will grow about a foot a year during the first three years. They will reach sexual maturity in three to five years. The longest living ball python on record was over 48 years old when it died.
BOBCAT (Felis rufus)
The red lynx of North America is known as the bobcat. Bobcat coat colors vary, but most are reddish above and pale underneath with some patterned dark stripes or spots. They weigh 15 to 35 pounds and have a short bobbed tail with a black tip. Their ears are long with 1/2-inch black tufts at the end, and their large noses resemble rubber erasers. They have a life span of 15 to 20 years.
These medium-sized carnivores live in varied habitats including rocks, brush, and dense vegetation. They are found below 8,000 feet in all of the western United States and Canada. Although bobcats prefer rimrocks and gullies in the West, they also roam swamps and woodlands in other areas. They den in rock crevices and hollow logs. Their territories (small compared to those of mountain lions) vary with the food supply, averaging four to fifteen square miles. Their scent-marked territories are traveled daily.
Bobcats eat a varied diet, including rats, mice, rabbits, squirrels, carrion, and insects, so they rarely encounter food shortages. Like mountain lions, bobcats use stealth in hunting their quarry, often waiting for hours near a game trail for prey to come within their 10-foot springing range.
These cats are solitary and are active both day and night. They see well in darkness because their eyes have a special light reflector behind the retina. They also have extremely well developed hearing for locating prey. They are expert tree-climbers and swimmers and are powerful fighters. Bobcats are most likely to be observed in remote, rugged country during early morning or late afternoon feeding times. Because of their elusive nature and cautious behavior around humans, however, they are rarely seen.
Bobcats have few natural enemies. They are the most common wild felid in the US and Canada, but their numbers are decreasing due to hunting and habitat loss. The bobcat’s biggest predator is humans. People have been hunting and trapping them for pelts for profit since 1730. In 1977-1978, more than 85,000 bobcat skins were harvested. Hunting is still permitted in some parts of the country, despite the fact that bobcats are valuable to farmers because they eat many rodents. The use of poison to kill rodents moves up the food chain, and many bobcats die as a result of secondary poisoning after ingesting their poisoned prey.
Their current status is controversial. Some experts believe that they have adapted well to habitat loss, human hunting, and intrusion; others assert that their populations are still in danger.
COYOTE (Canis Latrans)
Coyotes, one of three types of wild canines found in North America, are sometimes known as prairie wolves although they are smaller than wolves. Their name comes from the Aztec word for the species, “coyotl.” The scientific name, Canis latrans, literally means "barking dog."
The males are typically heavier than females. Their coloration is gray, brown, or tan above and whitish underneath. The reddish, bushy tail, tipped in black, is usually carried low, held straight out behind or between the legs. The muzzle is long, slender, and pointed. The eyes are yellow with round pupils. The ears are large and erect. The lips are black-pigmented. Females bear an average of five to ten pups annually. Coyotes have exceptional senses of smell, vision, and hearing.
The ubiquitous coyote is found throughout North America from eastern Alaska to New England and south through Mexico to Panama. It originally ranged primarily in the southwest corner of the United States but it has adapted readily to the changes caused by human occupation and in the past 200 years has been steadily extending its range.
The of the most adaptable animals in the world, coyotes can change their breeding habits, diet, and social dynamics to survive in a wide variety of habitats, climates, and conditions from the wilderness to suburbia. They favor brushy areas and the edges of fields near forests, but because of the rapid loss of habitat and readily available options for food, water, and shelter as a result of development, many coyotes now frequent human habitats.
Coyotes are omnivorous and eat whatever is handy, including insects, rodents, birds, deer, cats, small dogs, garbage, and carrion. Fruits and berries can also play a large part in their diet. Normally solitary hunters, they sometimes hunt in pairs and, rarely, in packs to bring down larger prey. Coyotes can run up to 45 mph for short distances and they swim well. They are active both day and night, although they are chiefly nocturnal. They have a life span of 10 to 15 years in captivity and 8 to 10 years in the wild. Coyotes have been known to interbreed with domestic dogs.
The coyote's most characteristic vocalizations are shrill yips and howls. Howling is often a group effort and may function as greetings between individuals or as territorial claims. American Indians called coyotes the “song dog.”
Humans are the coyote's chief enemy. It has been estimated that 30 to 50 percent of all adult coyotes die each year from human-related causes. The coyote's reproduction level appears to be directly correlated to attempts to control its population. If coyotes in a certain area are killed, die, or are relocated, the remaining ones will fill the vacancies, either by having larger litters or by allowing outsiders to move into the area. This species has survived hunting, trapping, shooting, poisoning, and other attempts of eradication and remains a strong link in the ecological cycle.
Coyotes are actually helpful to ranchers and farmers because they kill destructive, vegetation-eating rodents whose burrowing holes have injured many cows and horses. Eighty percent of their diet consists of rabbits, squirrels, gophers, mice, and rats. They also love insects and have saved many a farm from massive large insect invasions, particularly grasshoppers. Coyotes help keep the balance of nature in order.
DESERT TORTOISE (Gopherus agassizii)
According to the fossil record, the desert tortoise has lived in the arid regions of southwestern North America for the last ten to twelve thousand years. Its range extends from the Mojave and Sonoran deserts of the United States through most of Sonora, Mexico, including Isla Tiburón in the Gulf of California, and southward into northwestern Sinaloa.
Desert tortoises have a high-domed shell and elephant-like legs that make them easily distinguishable from their turtle cousins. Their top shell is brown, gray, or black, often with distinctive growth lines, while the shell underneath is lighter. They range in size from two inches up to fifteen inches for a mature male. Because their growth rate varies with food availability and other conditions and tortoises grow faster in captivity, it is impossible to determine the exact age of an adult.
These timid reptiles are most active during the day or in the morning and evening, depending on the temperature. They are able to live where the ground temperature may exceed 140 degrees F because of their ability to dig underground burrows and escape the heat. There, they are also protected from freezing while they are dormant, from November through February or March. At least 95% of the desert tortoise’s life is spent in burrows. It can live from 50 to 80 years.
Healthy tortoises have enormous appetites. Their diet is comprised mainly of grasses, weeds, dandelions, alfalfa, leafy greens, and nopales (Opuntia cactus) as well as rose and hibiscus flowers and small amounts of hard vegetables and moist fruits. They produce a variety of sounds, including hisses and grunts. When in danger, tortoises can withdraw their head, legs, and tail into the shell.
Adult desert tortoises can survive for about a year without water. They derive almost all their water intake from the plants they eat. A large urinary bladder can store over forty percent of the tortoise's body weight in water, urea, uric acid, and nitrogenous wastes.
Although the tortoise has survived for thousands of years, many new challenges threaten its existence. Rapid urbanization and the subsequent loss of habitat, people collecting tortoises for pets, highway road kills, vandalism, off-roading, livestock grazing, increased predation, and drought have all impacted their numbers. The desert tortoise is now listed as a threatened species.
Domestic Goat (Capra aegagrus hircus)
The Domestic Goat is a subspecies of goat domesticated from the wild goat of southwest Asia and Eastern Europe, and are one of the oldest domesticated species. Goats, along with sheep, were among the earliest domesticated animals. Goat remains have been found at archaeological sites in western Asia, which allows domestication of the goats to be dated at between 6000 and 7000 B.C. Merry is thought to be a mix of several breeds of goat, most primarily Toggenburg. The Toggenburg is a Swiss dairy goat which is credited as being the oldest known dairy goad breed.
The goat is a member of the Bovidae family and is closely related to the sheep. There are over three hundred distinct breeds of goat, most of which naturally have two horns. Goats are ruminants, and have a four-chambered stomach. They also have horizontal slit-shaped pupils, an adaptation which increases peripheral depth perception. Both male and female goats have beards, and many types of goat have wattles, one dangling from each side of the neck. The life expectancy for goats is between 15 and 18 years.
Goats are reputed to be willing to eat almost anything, except tin cans, and cardboard boxes. While goats will not actually eat inedible material, they are browsing animals, not grazers like cattle and sheep, and (coupled with their natural curiosity) will chew on and taste just about anything resembling plant matter in order to decide whether it is good to eat, including cardboard and paper labels from tin cans. Aside from sampling many things, goats are quite particular in what they actually consume, preferring to browse on the tips of woody shrubs and trees, as well as the occasional broad-leaved plant. They will seldom consume soiled food or contaminated water unless facing starvation. Goats prefer to browse on shrubbery and weeds, more like deer than sheep, preferring them to grasses. Alfalfa is their favorite hay.
Goats are extremely curious and intelligent. They are easily trained to pull carts and walk on leads. They are also known for escaping their pens. Goats will test fences, either intentionally or simply because they are handy to climb on. If any of the fencing can be spread, pushed over or down, or otherwise be overcome, the goats will escape. Goats are very coordinated and can climb and hold their balance in the most precarious places. They are also widely known for their ability to climb trees, although the tree generally has to be on somewhat of an angle. Goats have an intensely inquisitive and intelligent nature: they will explore anything new or unfamiliar in their surroundings. They do so primarily with their prehensile upper lip and tongue. This is why they investigate items such as buttons, camera cases or clothing (and many other things besides) by nibbling at them, occasionally even eating them.
Goats produce approximately 2% of the world's total annual milk supply. Their milk differs from cow or human milk by having higher digestibility, distinct alkalinity, higher buffering capacity, and certain therapeutic values in human medicine and nutrition. Unlike sheep, goats easily revert to feral or wild condition given a chance. In fact, the only domestic species which will return to a wild state as rapidly as a goat is the domestic cat.
GOPHER SNAKE(Pituophis melanoleucus)
This is one of the most widespread snakes in North America. Its range extends from the Atlantic to Pacific oceans, as far north as southern Canada, and as far south as Veracruz and southern Sinaloa, Mexico. A habitat generalist, the gopher snake is found in deserts, prairies, woodlands, brushlands, coniferous forests, and even cultivated lands. These biomes can be rocky, sandy, sparsely or heavily vegetated, and range from below sea level to over 9000 feet.
Large and heavy-bodied, the gopher snake is reported to reach 9 feet (275 cm) in length, but 4 feet (120 cm) is more common. On its back are 33 to 66 light- to dark-brown or reddish blotches on a ground color of yellow, straw, tan or cream. Smaller blotches are located on the animal’s sides. A dark stripe runs from in front of the eye to the angle of the jaw. The underside is creamy or yellow, often with dark spots. Often there is a reddish color on the top, especially near the tail. The scales on the back are strongly keeled, becoming smoother on the sides. Hatchlings are fairly long, and may exceed 20 inches in length (51 cm.)
A powerful constrictor; gopher snakes kill prey by suffocating them in body coils or by pressing the animal against the walls of their underground burrows. They consume mostly mammals, especially pocket gophers, although birds and their eggs are also eaten. During the summer 2 to 24 eggs are laid which will hatch in the fall.
Gopher snakes are active in the daytime and at night in hot weather, and are one of the most commonly seen snakes on roads and trails, especially in the spring when males are actively seeking a mate, and in the fall when hatchlings emerge. These snakes are good burrowers, climbers, and swimmers. When threatened, a gopher snake will elevate and inflate its body, flatten its head into a triangular shape, hiss loudly, and quickly shake its tail back and forth to make a buzzing sound which may be a mimic of a rattlesnake rattle. Therefore, the harmless gopher snakes are often mistaken for dangerous rattlesnakes and killed unnecessarily.
CALIFORNIA KINGSNAKE (Lampropeltis getulus californiae)
California Kingsnakes have a range from Oregon to the tip of Baja California. They can be found throughout the Sonoran, Mojave and Chichuahuan Deserts. Common Kingsnakes thrive in a variety of habitats, from coniferous forest, woodlands, marshes, grassland and chaparral or desert environments. It is frequently found near rocky outcrops and clumps of vegetation, as well as under rocks, logs and debris from sea level to 7,000 feet.
The Kingsnake is a non-venomous member of the “harmless” Colubrid family which also includes such common snakes as Garter snakes, Gopher snakes, and Whip snakes. Adults may measure from 30 to 85 inches in length, although 3 to 4 feet is the size more commonly seen. California kingsnakes have the greatest color variation of all the subspecies of Common Kingsnakes. California kingsnakes come in black or brown banded versions with white, cream, or yellow alternating bands. These colors also appear in the striped morph of California kingsnakes.
In the California Kingsnake the most typical pattern is black or brown bands alternating with white or cream bands which do not go all the way around the body. It can be found with stripes of yellow or white on a brown or black background, partially striped and partially banded with the pattern depending upon where the snake was found, and many so-called aberrants which fit into no particular pattern class.
The Kingsnake derives its name from its habit of eating other snakes. It is most famous for eating rattlesnakes and copperheads and for being immune to viper venom. The Kingsnake is actually a diet generalist and will eat small rodents, snakes, lizards, birds and their eggs and even turtles and frogs. It is usually active in the morning and late afternoon but in extremely hot conditions will be found abroad at night. The Kingsnake locates and identifies its prey at night by using its sense of smell. If the prey item is a rattlesnake, the Kingsnake, being a constrictor, will bite the snake and immediately throw several coils around it and constrict it until it is disabled and exhausted and it will then be eaten, whether still alive or dead.
Although considered a gentle snake, when a Kingsnake is threatened, it may hiss, strike and vibrate the tail as do many harmless Colubrid snakes. When attacked, or picked up by a human, Kingsnakes will roll up into a ball with the head in the center and smear the offender with musk, a strong smelling substance, and feces. Kingsnakes are oviparous, laying up to fifteen eggs. Hatchlings emerge from the eggs anywhere from six to ten weeks after being laid, and range in size from eight to thirteen inches long.
DOMESTIC FERRET (Mustela Putorius Furo)
The name “ferret” is derived from the Latin word furonem, which means "thief." Ferret owners can attest that this is a well deserved name, as they will happily steal anything they can get their paws on and hide it in their house. The scientific name for ferrets is a somewhat controversial area - Mustela putorius furo is traditionally used, although recent scientific evidence has suggested they should have a name of their own, Mustela furo.
They live 6-8 years on average (sometimes up to 11 or 12 years.) Females are called jills, and males are hobs. Baby ferrets are called kits. A group of ferrets is a "business of ferrets."
Ferrets are not rodents; taxonomically they're in between cats and dogs, a little closer to dogs. They have relatively poor eyesight but a keen sense of smell and hearing. Males tend to be larger than females in length and weight. Females are 13-14 inches long and weigh anywhere from 0.75 to 2.5 lbs, whereas males are on average 15-16 inches long and weigh 2-3.5 lbs if neutered and are even larger (4 or more lbs) if not neutered. Most ferrets obtained in North America are spayed or neutered and descented at a very young age before being sold.
There are often misconceptions and debate about whether ferrets are domesticated animals, and the short answer is yes, they are domesticated. They have been domesticated for probably 2,000 years or more, and were brought to America as pets as long as 300 years ago. Nevertheless, in many places they are still not recognized as a domestic animal for the purposes of laws pertaining to animals kept in captivity. The domestic ferret is also sometimes confused with its wild cousin, the black footed ferret.
All ferrets are illegal to be kept as pets in California and Hawaii. In states where ferret keeping is generally allowed, many cities and counties restrict or prohibit them. Their population may be under-estimated in the two nationwide pet surveys if significant numbers of survey participants who own ferrets in areas where they are illegal choose not report having them. California animals that would be vulnerable to ferret predation are mainly rabbit-size and smaller ground-dwelling mammals, birds, amphibians, and reptiles, especially those inhabiting natural areas adjacent to developed areas, "islands" of remnant natural environments in the sea of human-modified landscapes, and offshore islands. Among these are state- or federally-listed threatened or endangered species. Indigenous species evolved as part of ecosystems that did not include introduced predators, and these imported sources of competition, predation, and disease seriously add to the habitat degradation and other human impacts in natural areas. In some areas, the number of non-native predatory animals may far outnumber those of native predator species.
Ferrets, like cats, are obligate carnivores. They cannot survive without meat, although meat is only part of a natural diet: predators eat not only the muscle meat of their prey but also the liver, kidneys, and intestinal tract, and crunch up bones as well. A diet limited to meat alone would cause harmful and eventually fatal nutritional imbalances. Feeding a proper diet is extremely important. Ferrets must be given a high protein (at least 34%), high fat (at least 20%) diet of high quality chicken- or lamb-based dry ferret food.
Ferrets are very playful and entertaining to watch, but they sleep a large part of the day, commonly around 18 hours. They naturally tend to be active at dawn and dusk, but usually adapt their sleeping and active times to fit the schedules of their owners. Some are cuddly, others are more independent; they vary a lot, just like other pets. Sometimes ferrets sleep so soundly that they seem to be dead. You can pick them up, shake them, pinch their toes, or thump them on the chest, and they hang from your hand as limp as rags, with their eyes closed. Some ferrets do this quite commonly and their owners get used to it. Others just do it occasionally, and each time their person of significance panics because they are afraid their pet is in a coma or has died. If the ferret is warm, has a moist pink mouth, and is breathing regularly but slowly, it is not dead, it is just sleeping soundly.
Flemish Giant Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus)
Rabbits, commonly mistaken for members of the rodent family, belong to a group known as the lagomorphs. Both orders have characteristic ever-growing teeth, however lagomorphs are almost entirely herbivorous where as rodents will sometimes also eat meat. As hindgut fermentors, rabbits actually share more in common digestively with horses than they do with rodents.Rabbits come in a variety of colors ranging from browns, whites, and blacks. They also have long ears they use as a means of dispersing heat through a series of intricate veins in the appendages. Their large hind feet are used mainly for running while their forefeet are equipped for digging and burrowing to escape from predators. As prey animals, their eyes are located on the side of their head so that they have a better sense of peripheral vision and are partially able to see behind them so that predators rarely have a chance to sneak up on them. Flemish giant rabbits are one of the largest breeds of domestic rabbit and can grow to be upwards of 20 to 50 pounds! They have thick, silky fur and the females have large fluffy dewlaps below their chins. The Flemish giants are believed to have descended from rabbit breeds used for meat and fur. Now, the Flemish giants are gaining popularity as pets due to their large size and docile personalities. If handled correctly, they can be very tolerant of human interactions and will make great pets for the home or classroom. However, because of their larger size, they require more expansive room for exercise, more food to sustain their larger weight, and more consistent waste removal. .
FOXES (Fennec fox, Gray fox, Red fox)
FENNEC FOX (Fennecus zerda aka Vulpes zerda)
The word “fennec” comes from the Arabic word "fanak," which means fox. The species name, zerda, comes from the Greek "xeros," which means dry, describing their habitat. The fennec fox was formerly placed in the genus Fennecus, but has since been reclassified in the genus Vulpes.
The fennec fox is the smallest of all the world's foxes, but its large ears, measuring six inches, appear to be on loan from a bigger relative. Its head and body length ranges from 9.5 to 16 inches; its tail varies from 7 to 12.2 inches. It weighs between 2.2 and 3.3 pounds. It is cream-colored with a black-tipped tail.
Fennec foxes dwell in the sandy Sahara desert and elsewhere in North Africa. Their nocturnal habits help them deal with the searing heat of the desert environment, and some physical adaptations help as well. Their distinctive, bat-like ears radiate body heat and help keep them cool. They also have long, thick hair that insulates them during cold nights and protects them from the hot sun during the day. Even the fox's feet are hairy, which helps them perform like snowshoes to protect the animals from extremely hot sand. The fox's feet are also effective shovels that help them dig their underground dens.
Fennec foxes are opportunistic eaters. They forage for plants but also eat rodents, eggs, reptiles, and insects. Like most desert dwellers, the fennec fox has developed the ability to go for long periods without water.
These foxes live in small communities, each inhabited by perhaps ten individuals. Like other canids, male fennecs mark their territory with urine and become aggressive competitors when mating season arrives each year.
Their adorable appearance makes fennec foxes favorites of the captive pet trade, and local people also hunt them for their fur. Little is known about their population status.
GRAY FOX (Urocyon cineroargenteus)
Gray foxes range from southern Canada to northern Venezuela and Colombia, although they do not occur in portions of the mountainous northwestern United States, the Great Plains, or eastern Central America. They can be found in deciduous woodlands but are occasionally seen in old fields foraging for fruits and insects. Unlike red foxes (Vulpes vulpes), they do not prefer agricultural habitats.
Their basic color is grizzled gray with a distinctive black streak along the top of their back to the tip of their tail. They are rusty yellowish on the feet, legs, sides, neck, and back of the ears. Gray foxes are distinguished from most other canids by their grizzled upperparts, buff neck, and black-tipped tail. The skull can be distinguished from all other North American canids by its widely separated temporal ridges that form a U-shape. Males are slightly larger than females.
Gray foxes have well-developed teeth; strong, non-retractable claws; and acute senses of smell, sight, and hearing. They have long bodies, relatively short legs, pointed noses, bushy tails, and large, pointed ears. They average three to four feet in length, including the tail, and weigh 7 to 13 pounds. Their strong, hooked claws allow them to scramble up trees to avoid predators or to get fruit. This ability to climb trees makes them unique among canids. They are also good swimmers and can run up to 20 mph. Gray foxes are nocturnal or crepuscular and den during the day in hollow trees, stumps, or old woodchuck burrows.
Gray foxes are omnivorous, solitary hunters that eat a wide variety of food. Their most important food sources are probably the eastern cottontail, but moles, gophers, field mice, rats, shrews, and birds are also frequently captured and eaten. They will not harm a domestic adult cat or small dog. Gray foxes supplement their diet with whatever fruits are readily available and generally eat more vegetable matter than red foxes.
Territories can vary from 100 to 2,000 acres, depending on habitat quality, food availability, population density, and competition with other species. Gray foxes can live to be six to eight years old, but most die within the first year from disease, predation, accidents, trapping, or hunting. They have a loud bark and also squeal and growl. Their anal scent glands give off a powerful odor.
Gray foxes mate for life. Both parents share the duties of hunting and caring for their young. Oftentimes one of the parents will do the hunting while the other stays near the den to protect their young from any potential danger. The male will not den with the female and their young, but he is always somewhere close by.
Gray foxes will try to find the safest place they can to have their young: natural rock and tree cavities, and sometimes under decks, sheds, or small outbuildings. They usually return to the same den site each year.
The gray fox’s primary enemies are large predators including eagles, large owls, bobcats, domestic dogs, coyotes, and humans. Their defenses include elusiveness; when threatened, they climb trees. Many foxes are shot or poisoned by farmers concerned about their livestock or are hunted or trapped for their fur. Because of dwindling natural habitat, foxes have adapted to living more closely with people. Gray foxes in the wild normally do not kill more than they need to eat. Moreover, they perform a valuable service to humans by controlling the small rodent population, so they should be viewed by humans as an ally. Usually this benefit far outweighs the occasional damage they may cause.
RED FOX (Vulpes vulpes)
Red foxes have the widest distribution of any canid. They are found throughout much of the northern hemisphere from the Arctic Circle to Central America, the steppes of central Asia, and northern Africa. They have also been introduced to Australia and the Falkland Islands. Red foxes can be found in many diverse habitats including forests, grasslands, mountains, and deserts. They also adapt well to human environments such as farms, suburban areas, and even large towns. The red fox's resourcefulness has earned it a legendary reputation for intelligence and cunning. Actually, its well developed senses of sight, smell, and hearing are responsible for much of this reputation.
Red foxes are omnivorous, solitary hunters who feed primarily on rodents, rabbits, birds, and other small game, but their diet can be as flexible as their habitat. They will eat fruits and vegetables, fish, frogs, and even insects and worms. If living among humans, red foxes will dine opportunistically on garbage and pet food. They cache excess food when the hunting is good. They return to these storage sites regularly and have been observed digging up a cache, inspecting it, and reburying it in the same spot. Apparently, they want to be sure that their food is still there.
Like a cat's, the red fox's thick tail aids its balance, but it has other uses as well. It uses its tail, or "brush," as a warm cover in cold weather and as a signal flag to communicate with other foxes. Red foxes also signal each other by making scent posts, urinating on trees or rocks to announce their presence.
FALCONS AND HAWKS (American kestrel, Red-tailed hawk, Sharp-shinned hawk)
AMERICAN KESTREL (Falco sparverius)
The American kestrel is the smallest falcon in North America, about the size of an American robin. This bird was formerly known in North America as the sparrow hawk. The name was misleading because it implied a connection with the Eurasian sparrow hawk, which is unrelated; the latter is an accipiter hawk rather than a falcon. American kestrels are widely distributed across the Americas. Their breeding range extends from central and western Alaska across northern Canada to Nova Scotia, and south throughout the United States into central Mexico, Baja California, and the Caribbean. They breed locally in Central America and are widely distributed throughout South America.
American kestrels are found in a variety of habitats including parks, suburbs, open fields, forest edges and openings, alpine zones, grasslands, marshes, open areas on mountainsides, prairies, plains, deserts with giant cacti, and along highway corridors. In addition to requiring open space for hunting, they need perches to hunt from, cavities for nesting (either natural or man-made), and sufficient food supplies.
Like all raptors, the American kestrel is sexually dimorphic, although there is some overlap within the species. The female ranges in length from 9 to11 inches with a wingspan of 21 to24 inches and weighs an average of 4.2 ounces. The length of the male varies from 8 to10 inches with a wingspan ranging from 20 to 22 inches and weighs an average of 3.9 ounces. These subtle differences are often difficult to discern in the field. The coloration of the feathers, however, varies greatly between the sexes. Males have blue-grey secondary feathers on their wings, while the undersides are white with black barring. The back is rusty brown with barring on the lower half. The back of the female American kestrel is rusty brown with dark brown barring. The wings exhibit similar coloration and patterning to the back. The undersides of the females are white with rusty brown streaking. The tail of the female is noticeably different from the male, being rusty brown in color with numerous narrow dark brown or black bars.
In both sexes, the head is white with a bluish-grey top. There are also two narrow, vertical black facial markings on each side of the head; one below the eyes and one on the rear portion of the auriculars. Two black spots (ocelli) can be found on each side of the white or orangeish nape. The wings are moderately long, fairly narrow, and taper to a point. When kestrels are perched, the wingtips are noticeably shorter than the tail tip.
The American kestrel is the only North American falcon to habitually hover with rapid wing beats, keeping its head motionless while scanning the ground for prey. It glides with flat wings and wingtips curved upward, occasionally soaring in circles with its tail spread and its wings flat. It commonly perches along fences and power lines.
In summer, kestrels feed largely on grasshoppers, dragonflies, lizards, mice, and voles. They will also eat other small birds. Wintering kestrels feed primarily on rodents and birds. They are also occasional bat catchers, taking bats from their tree roosts or striking them in flight from above or as they leave or enter caves. Because kestrels feed on both insects and vertebrates and are known to cache food items for later need, they maintain fairly high population densities. They have a small breeding home range, from 1.75 to 2 square miles. Territory size has been estimated at 269 to 321 acres. Wintering home ranges are much larger.
This falcon species is not long-lived. Major causes of death include collision with traffic, illegal shooting, and predation by other raptors including the red-tailed hawk, northern goshawk, Cooper’s hawk, peregrine falcon, barn owl, and great horned owl.
RED-TAILED HAWK (Buteo jamaicensis)
The red tail is the most common and widespread hawk in the western hemisphere. It ranges throughout the United States, into northern Canada and central Alaska, and south as far as the mountains of Panama. Although not truly migratory, it does adjust seasonally to areas where prey is most abundant. In winter, many of the northern birds move south. It is a bird of the open country and is frequently seen sitting on utility poles, where it watches for rodents in the grass along the roadside
The red-tail shares the title of largest North American hawk with the ferruginous hawk. It usually weighs between two and four pounds. The female is nearly 1/3 larger than the male and may have a wing span of 56 inches.
Hawks are carnivores, belonging to the category of birds known as “raptors.” They have strong, hooked beaks; their feet have three toes pointed forward and one turned back; and their claws, or talons, are long, curved, and very sharp. Prey is killed with the talons and, if it is too large to swallow whole, it is torn to bite-sized pieces with the hawk's beak. The red-tailed hawk is an opportunistic hunter. Its diet is varied, but there is conclusive evidence now that 85 to 90 percent of it is comprised of small rodents, including rabbits, as well as snakes and lizards. Where there are large numbers of pheasant, these become the food of choice in spring and summer.
The raspy cry of the red-tailed hawk is used in movies to represent any eagle or hawk anywhere in the world. The eyesight of a hawk is eight times as powerful as a human's.
HARRIS HAWK (Parabuteo unicinctus)
The Harris Hawk, or Harris’s Hawk, formerly known as the Bay-winged Hawk or Dusky Hawk, is a medium-large bird of prey which breeds from the southwestern United States south to Chile and central Argentina. It is the only member of the genus Parabuteo. The name is derived from the Greek para, meaning beside, near or like, and the Latin buteo, referring to a kind of buzzard; uni meaning once; and cinctus meaning girdled, referring to the white band at the base of the tail. John James Audubon gave this bird its English name in honor of his ornithological companion, financial supporter, and friend Edward Harris.
These hawks are found in semiarid habitats such as chaparrals, scrub prairies, and mesquite and saguaro deserts. They range from the southwestern United States through Central America and into much of the drier habitats in South America. Harris's Hawks are permanent residents and do not migrate.
The diet consists of small creatures including birds, lizards, mammals, and large insects. Because of its “pack” hunting abilities the Harris hawk may also take down larger prey, such as jackrabbits.
Harris Hawks are social birds that are known to practice simultaneous polyandry. Most commonly these groups are trios consisting of two males and a female; both males help with obtaining food and feeding the nestlings and provide nest protection and cooperative feeding is also practiced. These raptors build stick nests in trees, bushes, cacti, and on man-made structures. The female lays 2 - 4 eggs that are incubated for 33 - 36 days. The young hawks fledge at nearly 6 weeks, but stay close to the nest for an additional 3 - 4 months. Some of the young will stay with the family unit up to 3 years and help raise subsequent broods.
While most raptors are solitary hunters, only coming together for breeding and migration, the Harris Hawk is famous for its remarkable behavior of hunting cooperatively in "packs", consisting of family groups of 2 to 6 members. In fact, Harris Hawks display one of the most advanced group hunting tactics among birds. In one hunting technique, a small group flies ahead and scouts, then another group member flies ahead and scouts, and this continues until prey is bagged and shared. In another, all the hawks spread around the prey and one individual flushes it. This aspect of group hunting and food sharing increases survival rates for birds as individuals and is an adaptation to the desert environment in which they live.
While maximum longevity in the wild is close to 15 years, the Harris hawk can live up to 40 years in a protected, captive environment.
GRAY WOLF (Canis lupus)
The wolf is the largest member of the canine family. Gray wolves range in color from grizzled gray or black to all-white. As the ancestor of the domestic dog, the gray wolf resembles German shepherds or malamutes. Wolves are making a comeback in the Great Lakes, Northern Rockies, and Southwestern United States. Second only to humans in adapting to climate extremes, gray wolves once ranged from coast to coast and from Alaska to Mexico in North America. In fact, the rainforest and true desert environments are the only places the wolf has not adapted to.
Wolves live, travel, and hunt in packs of four to seven animals on average. Packs include the mother and father wolves, called the alphas, their pups, and several other subordinate or young animals. The alpha female and male are the pack leaders that track and hunt prey, choose den sites, and establish the pack's territory. Wolves develop close relationships and strong social bonds. They often demonstrate deep affection for their family and may even sacrifice themselves to protect the family unit.
Wolves have a complex communication system that ranges from barks and whines to growls and howls. While they don’t howl at the moon, they do howl more when it’s lighter at night, which occurs more often when the moon is full.
Wolves are a great help in building a strong ecosystem. They seek out weak animals and prey on them. After they have caught an animal, other animals such as bears and foxes use the remains. Wolves hunt by scent. Packs hunt larger game such as moose, elk, bison, or deer; loners hunt smaller animals such as hare or beavers. They may travel 30 miles a day searching for weaker prey. Wolves are also scavengers and often eat animals that have died due to other causes, such as starvation or disease.
The most common cause of death for wolves is conflict with people over livestock losses. While wolf predation on livestock is fairly uncommon, wolves that do prey on them are often killed to protect the livestock. Some livestock owners are, however, developing non-lethal methods to reduce the chances of a wolf attacking their animals. These methods include fencing, lighting, alarm systems, and removing dead or dying livestock that may attract carnivores.
Another serious threat to wolves is human encroachment into their territory, which leads to habitat loss for both the wolves and their prey. Overall, the greatest threat to wolves is people’s fear and misunderstanding about the species based on myths and fairy tales that tend to misrepresent wolves as villainous, dangerous creatures.
KINKAJOU (Potos flavus)
The kinkajou, known as the “night walker” in Belize, is a nocturnal, arboreal animal. Kinkajous are found from Mexico to Brazil and tolerate a variety of habitats, from mature tropical forests to heavily disturbed and secondary forests.
Living in the upper canopy of the forest, kinkajous feed mainly on fruit and insects. In the dry season they often eat flowers and nectar. Kinkajous are active seed dispersers and possible pollinators as well. Their frugivorous diet means they consume large quantities of seeds, and most seeds seem to pass through their digestive system intact. They occasionally feed on nectar using their long tongues and in the process collect a face-load of pollen that they disburse to other plants.
The kinkajou is related to the raccoon. It has a long, slender body with soft, short, woolly hair colored in a variety of shades of brown or yellow. Agile and fast, it uses its long, prehensile tail to grasp branches when it climbs and to balance and hold on while it travels among the tree tops. Kinkajous are able to turn their feet backwards (like raccoons) to run easily in either direction along branches or up and down tree trunks. They are sometimes called honey bears (a name also applied to a true bear of Southeast Asia) because they raid bees’ nests. They use their long, skinny tongues to slurp honey from a hive and also to remove insects, such as termites, from their nests.
A major method of communication between kinkajous is by scent. They have scent glands near the mouth, on the throat, and on the belly. They also communicate by vocalizing with grunts, growls, and squeaks.
Predation threats for kinkajous are relatively low because of their arboreal habitat and nocturnal feeding strategy. Most predation probably occurs during the day when they are sleeping in their dens. Aerial raptors such as Isidor’s eagles and harpy eagles have been observed consuming kinkajous. Jaguars are also known to eat them occasionally. The primary kinkajou predator, however, is humans, who sometimes hunt them for their meat and fur.
MACAW (Ara ararauna)
Macaws are beautiful, brilliantly colored members of the parrot family. Their coloring, which seems bold and conspicuous to us, is well suited to their life in the Central and South American rain forests, where it blends in with the green leaves, red and yellow fruits, and bluish shadows of their environment. Macaws live high in trees, especially along swamps and rivers. They have a well-adapted, streamlined body and tail shape and wings that don’t flap deeply.
Macaws boast large, powerful curved beaks that easily crack nuts and seeds, while their dry, scaly tongues have a bone inside them that is an effective tool for tapping into fruits. Macaws also have strong, agile toes that are used like hands to grasp things. Their loud screeching and squawking voices help make their presence known in the dense rain forests.
Although their diet consists mainly of fruits, vegetable matter, seeds, nuts, leaves, and bark, blue and gold macaws also feed on small animal life. They use clay licks as a mineral supplement and to detoxify seeds.
It is a common myth that macaws will live 75 to 100 years. In reality, their lifespan is typically up to 50 years with a breeding age of approximately 30-35 years. A 40-year-old macaw shows definite signs of aging, and a 50-year-old macaw is very old.
MOUNTAIN LION (Puma concolor)
The "Cat of One Color" is called by many names: cougar, puma, mountain lion, catamount, and even panther. Mountain lions are large cats, ranging from seven to eight feet in length (including the tail) and weighing 90 to 300 pounds. Their body coloration varies from tan to gray as adults and is spotted when young. They have clear yellow or green eyes, a pink nose, and well-muscled, strong legs. The feet (four toed in back and five toed in front) have strong, hooked claws that retract into their paws. Young are born in a den in litters ranging from one to six, averaging two to three.
This powerful predator roams the Americas in many habitats, from Florida swamps to Canadian forests. Its territory ranges from sea level to 10,000 feet. Its typical habitat is steep, rocky canyon country or mountainous terrain. Mountain lions require a lot of room; only a few cats can survive in a 30-square-mile (78-square-kilometer) range. Their territory, however, is sometimes not one large area but rather several separate ones connected by pathways. Mountain lions mark their territory and pathways with visible spots of feces and urine.
Territorial pathways may overlap, but if the animals meet, one will always defer to the other rather than risk injury by fighting. Shy and solitary hunters, mountain lions spend most of their lives alone. They are primarily nocturnal, secretive, and rarely seen.
Mountain lions are carnivorous. They have specialized teeth for killing and eating prey and, like many members of the cat family, enlarged and rough taste buds on their tongues to aid in scraping meat from bones. Individuals develop a preference for one type of prey (one may prefer hares, another deer), which limits competition among them. They hunt by stalking, getting to within a few yards of their prey before lunging in for the kill. They have great speed for short distances and can leap more than twenty feet from a standstill. They climb well and take to trees if pursued.
Mountain lions have some color vision and highly developed mental faculties to aid their acute senses in the hunt. In dim light, most cats see up to six times better than humans. They are generally quiet, although their vocalizations include meowing and purring, growls and hisses, as well as high-pitched screams. Mountain lions in the wild live approximately ten years.
Mountain lions prey on most other animals in their habitat, including pronghorn, hares, badgers, porcupines, skunks, coyotes, deer, bighorn sheep, fish, and rodents. When their wild food source is limited, they may prey on livestock, and their natural instinct is to kill many animals when the panic behavior of the prey provokes them. They rarely ever harm humans, although they will attack in self-defense or to protect their cubs. Because they are territorial, mountain lions will also defend their established ranges, particularly at courtship time. Statistics show that attacks on humans—usually children or solitary adults—average only four assaults and one fatality each year in all of the US and Canada.
The mountain lion's chief enemy is humans, with whom they compete for food and territory. Once roaming over all of North America, the mountain lion, like the wolf, has been persecuted by those who believe myths about the damage they have caused people and livestock. They have also been bounty hunted for sport and for their pelts. Their numbers are further diminished by the loss of habitat large enough to support them.
Mountain lions are an important predator at the top of the food chain, focusing on deer and elk and thereby helping to keep these populations healthy and the habitat from being overgrazed. But the more specialized a species, the less adaptable it is to change, and the mountain lion has proven relatively unable to adapt to habitat loss and competition with humans for large ungulate prey. They have been hunted almost to extinction in the eastern United States.
OWLS (Barn owl, Barred owl, Great horned owl)
BARN OWL (Tyto alba)
The barn owl is one of the most widely distributed birds in the world, found on all continents except Antarctica and on many oceanic islands as well. It has been introduced by people to some of the few places it did not already occur, namely Hawaii, the Seychelles Islands, and Lord Howe Island. The barn owl occurs in great numbers in Southern California.
The barn owl is North America's only member of the "monkey-faced" owl family, Tytonidae (all other North American owls are from the family Strigidae). This distinctive, medium-sized owl grows to 15 to 20 inches in height. It has long, feathered legs. Its coloration is primarily white with buff, yellow, and tawny shadings. The female barn owl tends to be more spotted on the breast than the male and is slightly darker overall. It is delicately freckled with dark specks, and the blending of colors in daylight has led some to call it the "golden owl." Other common names are the "white owl" and "monkey-faced owl." The white breast and heart shaped face distinguish this owl from all others. The eyes are dark umber and the bill is straw colored. The call is not a hoot, as is expected with most owls; it is more of a hiss or screech.
The barn owl lacks ear tufts, which are feathers that stand straight up and appear to be horns or ears. Its real ears are behind its round facial disk, which helps direct sound. Barn owls' ears are also asymmetrical. They are different sizes and one is located higher on the head than the other. This enables the bird to sense direction and distance by differences in the intensity of the sound that reaches each ear. Barn owls use their ears to locate food. They are very accurate hunters, even in the pitch black. Barn owls also have special feathers on the front edges of their wings that reduce the amount of noise they make when flying. Their “silent flight” prevents prey from hearing them approach. The eyes of owls look forward in a fixed position and cannot move to the side the way the human eye can. Therefore, to see to the side or back, the owl must turn its whole head.
Barn owls are more nocturnal than other owls. They wait until dark before starting out to hunt, except when the demands of their young may start them hunting at twilight. Normally, before daylight, they retire to some shadowed or enclosed area in an old building, a hollow tree, or a hole in a rocky cliff and remain there drowsily inactive all day. When hunting at night, the barn owl sweeps the fields on silent wings, catching its prey with its long, slender claws. It prefers small mammals but occasionally in winter, when mice and gophers are scarce, it will take small birds. The prey is torn apart and swallowed--bones, skull, and all. The indigestible parts are formed into pellets and disgorged at the roosting area or about the nest.
BARRED OWL ( Strix varia)
The barred owl is a large, typical owl with a round head and no ear tufts. These birds have a special inner eyelid that blocks bright sunlight and allows them to retain good diurnal vision. Their calls sound like "who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?" The barred owl is also known as the northern barred owl, swamp owl, striped owl, eight hooter, round-headed owl, “le chat-huant du nord” (French for "the hooting cat of the north"), wood owl, and rain owl, but is probably best known as the hoot owl.
These large owls prefer deep moist forests, wooded swamps, and woodlands near waterways. Territories are 85-365 hectares (213-903 acres). They will occasionally wade into water in order to capture fish or terrapins. Of the North American owls, the barred owl is the species most likely to be active during the day, especially when raising chicks.
Barred owls are widespread in North America, occurring across most of the eastern half of the continent from Florida northward to southern Canada. Northern populations may be partially migratory, depending on food resources. Barred owls are also spreading westward in the northern part of their range. This is causing concern, since they may compete with the endangered spotted owl.
Barred owls have been known to live up to 23 years in captivity and 10 years in the wild. Most deaths are likely to be related to people: shootings, road kills, and secondary poisoning. Great horned owls are their only natural enemy.
GREAT HORNED OWL (Bubo Virginians)
Great horned owls are one of the most widespread species of owls. They occur all over the United States and most of Canada and southward from Central America to the Straits of Magellan. Found in woods, mountain forests, desert canyons, marshes, and city parks, these owls prefer open areas to dense woodlands or nest in sites close to the edge of a forest where they can hunt. They generally reside year round in their territories, but ones from the far north move southward in fall or winter. Great horned owls are related to the eagle owl of Eurasia. They can live in the wild for more than twelve years; some captive birds have lived 29 years.
Great horned owls are big and bulky (3-4 pounds), standing 18-25 inches tall with a wingspan of 36-60 inches. Males and females are similar in appearance, but the female is larger. The plumage varies regionally from pale to dark. In general, they have brown body plumage covered with darker brown spots and white throat feathers that contrast with dark cross-barred underparts. The facial disk may have orangeish or grayish feathers; whiter feathers form a V between yellow eyes with black pupils.
Owls have four toes on each foot, like most birds. Instead of having three toes in front and one in back, however, an owl’s outer toe is reversible; it can rotate so that there are two toes in front and two in back. This helps it grip a perch and also creates a bigger "mitt" when it swoops down to catch prey.
The owl’s facial disk is shaped like a shallow bowl, which acts like a parabolic dish to help funnel sound into the ear openings. Its ear tufts, which look like ears, are large and set far apart on the head. Just like a dog, great horned owls use these tufts of feathers to convey body language. When they are irritated, the tufts lie flat; when they are inquisitive, the ears stand upright.
Owls have an incredible sense of hearing, a trait that allows them to hunt at night. Their ears are located on the sides of the head but are offset, not symmetrical like human ears. The openings of the ears are slightly tilted in different directions; often the right ear is longer and set higher up on the skull. In addition, great horned owls have soft feathers that surround the ear openings and can be spread to make a funnel for sound to enter. By tilting or moving its head until the sound is of equal volume in each ear the owl is able to use triangulation to pinpoint the direction and distance of a sound when the quarry cannot be seen.
When owls are awake, they use their hearing and eyesight to alert them of danger or possible prey. Great horned owls’ eyes, which are almost as big as a human’s, allow a large amount of light to pass through the pupil, enabling them to see in dark conditions. The eyes are fixed in their sockets, however, preventing the owl from moving them up or down or side to side. In order to see in all directions the owl has to move its whole head. This is facilitated by extra vertebra in its neck that enables it to rotate the head 270 degrees.
Owl feathers are soft, almost like polar fleece to the touch. In addition, the front edge of the wing feather is toothed like a hand saw. Together, these features deaden the sound of wind passing over the wings and helps keep the bird's flight noiseless.
Like a coyote’s howl, the call of the great horned owl is a classic sound of the wild and can be heard a long way off. When nesting pairs of great horned owls call, the female has the higher pitched voice. Young great horned owls have a screeching hunger call that is also very loud and sounds like short blasts of escaping steam through metal pipes.
Great horned owls eat a wide variety of prey, both small and large. Cottontail rabbits seem to be a favorite food, but they will also take squirrels, shrews, jackrabbits, muskrats, mice, weasels, skunks, pocket gophers, domestic cats, snakes, bats, beetles, scorpions, frogs, grasshoppers, and many kinds of birds, from small passerines such as juncos and sparrows to wild ducks, grouse, pheasants, and even other owls.
Great horned owls tend to perch during the daylight hours in a protected rocky alcove or on a tree limb. They mainly hunt at night, listening for sounds that betray a creature's presence. Once the sound is pinpointed, the owl silently swoops in, spreads its talons wide, and pounces on its prey. This is known as the "perch and pounce" hunting method. Smaller prey is swallowed whole; larger animals are torn into pieces.
Several hours after an owl has eaten, its stomach forms a pellet of fur, feathers, exoskeletons, and bones—the indigestible parts of its meal. The owl then "upchucks" this pellet, which is cast out around its roost or nest. Scientists collect the pellets and gently pull them apart in their laboratories to see what the owl has been eating.
RACCOON (Procyon lotor)
Raccoons belong to the Procyonidae (those who came before dogs) family. This highly intelligent mammal has a rounded head with a short nose, small ears, and a sturdy body with minimum-length, thick, grayish brown fur. Raccoons are easily identified by (1) a distinctive pattern of alternating black and yellowish-white rings around a large, bushy tail and (2) a unique narrow black face mask with two white patches above the eyes. They average two to three feet long (including the tail) and 12 inches high. They weigh 8 to 22 pounds (heaviest in autumn) and live for 10 to 13 years. Females produce one litter a year, numbering from one to six kits and averaging four or five.
Raccoons are found throughout most of the United States and southern Canada except in the western mountain ranges. They occupy many different habitats but are often found near streams, ponds, and marshes in mature wooded areas. Their range is expanding farther north into Canada because of habitat lost to agriculture.
As humans have moved into their habitats, raccoons have proven to be extremely adaptable. For nesting sites they prefer warm, dry, dark, easily protected areas. In the wild they den in tree hollows, hollow logs, or sometimes rocky caverns and have also been known to use underground burrows. In urban areas they may nest in abandoned buildings and vehicles, drainpipes, basements, crawl spaces, or attics. Raccoon populations are actually densest now in suburban and urban areas.
Raccoons will eat whatever their environment provides. In rural areas they eat insects, nuts, worms, frogs, shellfish, fish, mammals, birds, eggs, grubs, snakes, and fruits. In agricultural regions they may feed on corn crops, poultry, and garden and orchard vegetables and fruits. In urban settings an easily opened garbage can is hard for them to resist. They are primarily nocturnal but are occasionally active in daytime.
The species’ scientific name, lotor, means the washer, because raccoons have been observed dunking their food in water before eating it. They look like they are washing the food, but they aren’t. They are actually softening the food and looking for foreign objects on it.
Raccoons are curious animals with keen senses of smell and hearing. They are strong and agile, hence good tree and fence climbers. Each foot has five long, slender digits that operate with remarkable dexterity. They use their front feet for finding food in water, opening shellfish, and conveying food to the mouth. Like their relative the kinkajou, raccoons can descend a tree headfirst by rotating their hind feet 180 degrees. Their tracks are easily identifiable, looking much like a human handprint.
Raccoons are fairly sociable and often den with other raccoons. In colder regions they may sleep for a good portion of the winter; in the summer they find shady, cool places to rest. They are territorial, having limited private ranges of approximately one mile in diameter. Their territories often overlap with those of other raccoons, but boundary clashes are rare. When confronting each other, they often grunt threateningly but seldom fight.
The raccoon’s primary enemies are humans, dog packs, traps, and automobiles. If threatened, raccoons will often try a counter threat, fluffing out their fur so that they appear larger and uttering a throaty growl or cry. They may appear bold but are not usually aggressive except during mating season or when defending their young. However, their strength, teeth, and sharp claws equip them to defend themselves effectively. Many would-be larger predators know better than to take on an adult raccoon.
RAVEN (Corvus corax)
The common raven is found in a variety of habitats, from treeless tundra to coastal sea banks, rocky cliffs, mountain forests, desert canyons, and open plains. Ravens are a common sight in countries around the globe and can survive in many different climates. They range from islands in the northern Arctic to the deserts of North Africa, and from the Pacific to the Atlantic coasts of North America.
The largest member of the crow family, ravens average 24 inches tall, with a wingspan of 46-56 inches. Their coloration is all-black with a metallic shine of purple or violet that is noticeable in certain lighting conditions. The bill is large and stout. Ravens are often confused with crows, but there are major differences between the two species that are apparent when crows and ravens are seen together. Ravens are more solitary than crows, which often assemble in large flocks. Moreover, in flight, the raven’s tail appears wedge-shaped, whereas crows have a fan-shaped tail.
A raven is every bit as alert as a crow and possesses sharp eyesight and hearing. Ravens are considered among the most intelligent of all birds. Like crows, they can learn to imitate a variety of sounds, including the human voice. Their calls include guttural croaks, gurgling noises, and a sharp, metallic "tock.”
Ravens are strong fliers that can hover in place like the American kestrel or soar like a hawk. They may mimic stunt pilots at times, doing partial barrel-rolls in flight.
Ravens are scavengers. When approaching dead animals, the raven will often land a short distance away, then hop forward or sideways to the carcass. Often seen in the company of magpies, eagles, vultures, or seagulls (where appropriate), ravens will eat just about anything that is dead, including leftover human food, but they will also hunt for live mice, lizards, small birds, snakes, and insects.
SERVAL (Leptailurus serval)
Servals are widely distributed throughout all of Africa south of the Sahara except for rainforests and semi-desert or desert areas. They prefer well-watered grasslands and require adequate shelter. The most dense serval populations occur in the Ngorongoro crater in Tanzania. They are quite common in rural areas and seem to be able to coexist with humans.
Servals have relatively the largest ears and the longest legs in the cat family, although it is actually their feet that are elongated rather than their legs. They have long necks and small, slim heads. Populations show considerable color variation, with ground colors varying from pale yellowish to buffy-red, but typically a tawny gold. The fur is marked with round black spots. Generally, the spots are large and tend to merge into longitudinal stripes on the neck and back. Sometimes there are numerous small spots, giving a speckled appearance. In general, the spots are bolder in the drier parts of the serval’s range. Melanistic or all-black forms have been reported to live in some mountainous areas. The tail of the serval is short, extending only down to the hocks. The tail is tipped with black, is spotted, and ringed in females. A serval’s ears are black with central white bars.
Servals are highly specialized rodent predators, and it is estimated that 89 percent of their kills are mammalian. They prey primarily on hares, ground squirrels, hyraxes, and rats but will pursue larger animals, such small antelopes, if they can be easily taken. They are opportunistic hunters, however, and will also eat snakes, lizards, frogs, insects, and birds (quails, flamingoes, and teal). They have been known to take domestic poultry as well.
Servals hunt exclusively on the ground. They walk slowly through tall grass and listen for movement. If it is windy they wait. Using their relatively tall vantage point, they rely on their hearing to fix the position of their potential victims then pounce, leaping high, with all four feet off the ground. The prey is stunned or killed as the cat hits them with its forefeet. If the serval misses, it will make a series of swift, successive, stiff-legged jumps in an attempt to remedy the situation. Servals also use a high, bouncing pounce to flush animals from cover, leaping in a zig-zag fashion through the grass. Nearly one in every two pounces results in food for a serval, making it one of the most effective feline hunters. For most species of cats, one success in every ten attempts is a good average.
Servals can also detect prey underground. They dig for the animals and hook them out with their claws. They have been observed digging holes in mole rat tunnels, then sitting and waiting until a rat comes to repair the damage, at which time the cat fishes it out. Often said to hunt in shallow water, servals will stalk wading birds, frogs, and fish.
Servals in the Ngorongoro are mainly nocturnal. This reflects the activity peaks of their main prey species: vlei rats and frogs. In the Serengeti they tend to be more diurnal since their basic prey is Nile rats, which are active during the day.
Servals are losing their fight for survival in the wild. Their numbers are dwindling as a result of humans taking over their habitat and hunting them for their attractive coats, and in some areas for their meat, as well as for the exotic pet trade. They are also preyed upon by larger cats, such as leopards and lions, and by spotted hyenas with which they are in direct competition. Nile crocodiles and African rock pythons pose a further threat to adult servals, while the young are most at risk to martial eagles and other large birds of prey.
STRIPED SKUNK (Mephitis mephitis)
Skunks are members of the weasel family (Mustelidae). There are four species of skunk in North America: striped skunks (Mephitis mephitis), hooded skunks (M. macroura), spotted skunks (Spilogale putorius), and scarce hognosed skunks (Conepatus mesoleucus).
Striped skunks are native only to the Neartic region. They are found throughout much of North America, ranging from central Canada, throughout the United States, and south into northern Mexico. They measure from 20 to 30 inches long (including the wide, bushy tail) and weigh 6 to 10 pounds (about the size of a house cat) and have two wide, white stripes on their backs that meet on the head. Spotted skunks are about half that size with white spots instead of stripes. Skunks have small heads and eyes, pointed snouts, and short legs that make them seem to waddle. Their strong forefeet and long nails make them excellent diggers. They tend to be slow-moving animals, never in much of a hurry, and are generally poor climbers.
An individual's territory may span 30 to 40 acres. In the wild, skunks tend to den in shallow burrows or hollow logs. They are hardly ever found more than two miles from a water source. In urban territories, skunks den beneath buildings, decks, dumps, and woodpiles. They are capable of burrowing a den a foot or so underground, with well-hidden entrances. They like warm, dry, dark, and defensible areas; most house basements and crawl spaces qualify.
Skunks are generally nocturnal and begin foraging at sunset. Skunks are omnivorous and help keep the rodent population in check. They often travel five to ten miles within their territory at night looking for field mice and other small rodents as well as lizards, frogs, birds, eggs, garbage, acorns, and fallen fruit. They also dig for insects, especially beetles, larvae, and earthworms. Their diet includes black widow spiders and scorpions. Being carrion eaters, they help keep roadways and neighborhoods clean. An estimated 70% of a skunk’s diet consists of insects considered harmful to humans.
The skunk's chief enemies are automobiles and great horned owls, both of which kill skunks in large numbers. Skunks rarely attack unless cornered or defending their young. If approached by an intruder and unable to flee, a skunk will usually fluff its fur, shake its tail, stamp the ground with its front feet, growl, stand on its hind legs, turn its head and spit to scare the potential attacker. If those techniques do not work, it will lift up its tail and spray. The chemical skunks spray at their enemies is a sulfur compound called N- bulymercaptan. It is ejected in a fanlike pattern from two small openings near the animal's rectum. The glands that produce the chemical hold enough for five or six full-powered sprays, but skunks seldom spray without warning or cause. Although they have sharp teeth, they rarely use them in defense, because their spray is most accurate and effective at a range of up to 15 feet.
Having adapted well to neighborhoods, it's not uncommon to find skunks and domestic cats dining peacefully together. There have been cases of skunks entering homes through pet doors, dining with the family cat and finding a quiet closet or empty bed to spend the night. As long as the skunk does not feel threatened, it won't spray.
With their slow, waddling gait and bushy tail, these gentle mammals are delightful to see from a distance, and play an important role in keeping nature in balance -- the natural way.
TURKEY VULTURE (Cathartes aura meridionalis)
The turkey vulture is one of North America's largest birds of prey. Turkey vultures exist in a wide range of habitats from deserts to savannas and grasslands to temperate and tropical forests. Their range extends across much of the continental United States and south throughout most of Central and South America.
The turkey vulture reaches a length of 32 inches with a wing span of six feet. The overall color of mature adults is brown-black with a featherless red head, white bill, and yellow feet. Immature birds have a darker face. Although usually silent, it will occasionally emit a soft hiss or groan.
In flight, the turkey vulture rocks from side to side, rarely flapping its wings, which are held at a V-angle called a dihedral. Silver-gray flight feathers look lighter than the black lining feathers of the under wing. Its long tail extends beyond its legs and feet in flight.
Vultures are best known for their practice of feeding on dead animal carcasses but will occasionally attack young and helpless animals as well. They obtain much of their water from the moisture in carrion, and their powerful kidneys enable them to excrete less water when expelling waste products. Like its stork relatives, the turkey vulture often defecates on its own legs, using the evaporation of the water in the feces to cool itself down.
Unlike most birds, turkey vultures have a keen sense of smell. Their olfactory sense is estimated to be three times that of the smaller black vulture, which is also found in North American deserts. They use this sense of smell to locate carrion, flying low to the ground to pick up the scent of dead animals.
Turkey vultures, like other carrion birds, are protected from disease associated with decaying animals by a very sophisticated immune system. Their unfeathered "bald" head, characteristic of vultures and condors throughout the world, is easy to keep clean.
The turkey vulture usually forages alone, unlike its smaller, more social relative, the black vulture. Although one turkey vulture can dominate a single black vulture at a carcass, a large flock of black vultures can overwhelm a solitary turkey vulture and take most of the food.
VIRGINIA OPOSSUM (Didelphis virginiana)
The opossum is the only marsupial found north of Mexico. One of the most primitive mammals, its fossil ancestry goes back 70 million years. Opossums are found throughout much of the United States and north into parts of southeastern Canada. Common in urban and suburban areas, they have survived (like raccoons and coyotes) by adapting to the human landscape and being able to eat just about anything. Opossums are nocturnal. They spend much of the day in their dens and forage for food at night.
The opossum is a medium-sized mammal about the size of a house cat, with long guard hairs that give its fur a very coarse appearance. Its coat color varies from light—almost white—to almost black, but usually looks gray. Opossums have fifty teeth—more than any other North American land mammal. They have naked ears and a long, almost hairless, prehensile tail, which is capable of grasping and holding objects. While the tail might support the opossum's full weight for brief periods, the animal usually uses at least one foot as well as the tail when dangling from a tree limb. Perhaps because of their naked tails, opossums are often mistaken for rats.
Opossums are not aggressive toward humans or pets, but they will attempt to defend themselves if cornered, displaying their teeth and perhaps even hissing. Although this appears to signal a fierce opponent, these animals are actually shy and inoffensive. Rather than fight, they will climb a tree or slip into a state of apparent death, a reaction celebrated in our colloquial expression, "playing ‘possum." This state of catatonia can last a minute or two, or even as long as two hours, before the "dead" opossum revives and moves on once the danger has passed.
Opossums are relatively disease-free: they do not carry the parvo virus, distemper, or rabies. They are actually an excellent animal to have around your property because they eat rats, mice, snails, slugs, and insects. They also eat overripe fruit that has fallen to the ground.
If you don't want opossums around your house:
· Pick up all pet food.
· Keep a tight lid on all garbage cans.
· Pick fruit as soon as it is ripe or pick it up soon after it falls to the ground.
· Block holes in fences and buildings with wire or wood.
· Soak rags in ammonia and strategically place them around the area you are trying to keep opossums from entering. The smell of ammonia is annoying to opossums and will usually drive them away.
WESTERN GRAY SQUIRREL (Sciurus griseus)
The Western gray squirrel (also known as the California gray squirrel) is a large tree squirrel that is native to the states of Washington, Oregon, and California and occurs primarily in wooded areas near, and in, the local mountain ranges. This species, while still being fairly abundant within the state of California, is listed as a threatened species in the state of Washington. This means there is a concern of possible extinction of the species within the state of Washington. The Western gray squirrel is listed as a sensitive species in the state of Oregon, which means it is declining in population size in that state. The species is also listed as a Federal Species of Concern.
In California, western gray squirrels are not as abundant as they were in the past. This decrease in abundance is due to loss of habitat and competition with other species. Development of land for residential and commercial use has decreased the amount of natural habitat available for the species and interaction with the introduced fox squirrel has resulted in the disappearance of gray squirrels from certain areas.
Western gray squirrels are diurnal and are inactive at night. The best time to see western gray squirrels is in the early morning hours as they retreat to their nests during the hotter portion of the day.
The Western Gray Squirrel is about 22 inches in length with a large bushy tail edged in white. The coat can run from a “salt and pepper” to a silvery gray above to white below. They weigh in at between 1.5-2 pounds and lack any stripes, spotting, or flecking common to ground squirrels.
Western Gray Squirrels eat primarily acorns and supplement their diet with pine and other nuts, mushrooms, tender twigs and shoots, and grain.
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