Thu 15 Mar 2007
Life in the wild includes a fair amount of suffering, as this raccoon with a third its tail missing bears evidence.
A couple of raccoons cut across my upper deck almost night every night an hour or two apart. In fact, a fair number of nocturnal creatures take shortcuts across my deck to avoid having to go around my cabin, and I’ve also spotted a roof rat, numerous possums, and from time to time a family of foxes.
During the day, my deck gets an entirely different crowd of visitors — mostly birds on my upper deck, lizards and frogs on my lower deck.
Not surprisingly, I’ve come to recognize which raccoon is which and tell one crow from another. So a week ago I noticed when my 8:30 p.m. raccoon failed to show up for three nights. When it finally reappeared the fourth night, the raccoon seemed more skittish than usual as it passed by.
I threw several crackers on my deck, and the raccoon returned so I could give it a closer look.
What I saw was grim. At first glance, it appeared to have lost its left eye; the socket was filled with mucous.
I snapped a photo of it to study the injury further, hoping to determine if the raccoon had been in a fight.
From all appearances, it had not, for only tissue at the front corner of the eye was torn. There were no other injuries. I kept watching for the raccoon the next few nights, and Mac Guru Keith Mathews of Point Reyes Station happened to be visiting when it showed up the second night and by then was already starting to recover.
Keith’s guess was that the raccoon had poked herself in the eye — possibly while nosing around in a hole. Made sense to me although I wouldn’t rule out a fight. I’ve seen raccoons fight, and they are ferocious in battle.
About the time the 8:30 p.m. raccoon’s eye seemed to be almost back to normal (at left), former Point Reyes Station innkeeper Dee Goodman, who is visiting from Mexico, noticed something odd about the 10:30 p.m. raccoon. Its tail looked unusually short.
I agreed and snapped another photo. Horrified, I realized the 10:30 p.m. raccoon had lost a third of its tail. This time a fight definitely seemed the most probable cause.
Losing a third of its tail would be, of course, a painful injury, but naturalist Jules Evans of Point Reyes Station on Sunday told Dee the loss should not be a permanent problem for the raccoon. Still, I pitied both animals, and poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s description of “nature red in tooth and claw” kept coming to mind this week.
Having two injured raccoons around my cabin naturally made me wonder if they had gotten into a scrap with each other. At 1 a.m. this Thursday, however, both showed up on my deck together. While they growled at each other over crackers a few times, in general they tolerated each other, and neither appeared to fear a serious attack.
When it comes to birds, on the other hand, the casualties I see are less likely to result from the “law of the jungle” than the spread of civilization. Like most West Marin residents, I periodically flinch upon hearing a bird slam into a windowpane. Luckily at my cabin, birds usually survive their collisions unless they’ve taken off in desperation (e.g. to avoid a pouncing cat). Rather than breaking their necks by flying into the glass head-on, birds generally glance off my windows— perhaps stunned but at least able to fly.
Perhaps the oddest case of this I’ve ever seen involved a mourning dove, which glanced off an upstairs window and flew away.
What makes this incident particularly odd is that the bird left on the window not only a print of its body, wings, and head, the print included its eyeball and the ring around it. More amazing yet, the image reveals the dark feathers and light feathers on the dove’s upper wing, as well as a bit of its eyeball’s color.
So far, I have been unable to find any scientist who can explain the image on my window. The smudge is not mere dust because it could not be hosed off. If any of you know the answer, please send a comment. I’d be fascinated to learn the explanation.