Tue 12 Jan 2010
Because they count rats and mice among their numbers, rodents often get a bad rap from humans. Yet rodents are part of a food chain that supports many of West Marin’s most colorful carnivores. With that thought in mind, here’s a gallery of rodents found around my cabin.
A brush rabbit, also known as a cottontail, near my woodshed. Along with mice — I’ve trapped a few but will spare you postmortem photos — rabbits have more predators than any other rodent-like creatures on this hill. (Scientifically speaking, rabbits are lagomorphs rather than rodents.)
They’re a main ingredient in fox diets. Hawks and owls eat them. So do bobcats and snakes, coyotes and cougars. Unfortunately for this hill’s rabbits, foxes and coyotes are becoming more common while a cougar has been seen more than once recently along nearby Tomasini Canyon Road.
Gophers, the bane of West Marin gardeners, in fact sustain a variety of predators. Having just caught a gopher outside my window, this bobcat — with the rodent in its jaws — trots off to dine. Also preying on gophers are creatures ranging from housecats, hawks and mountain lions to foxes and badgers.
A Sonoma chipmunk out my kitchen door. Also providing food for many of West Marin’s carnivores are chipmunks. Despite predation by bobcats, badgers, foxes, hawks and owls, chipmunks are rated a species of “least concern” on the Endangered Species List.
A roof rat eating birdseed on my deck. Roof rats can do damage — especially to dishwashers — when they get into a house. They’re prey for hawks and owls but less vulnerable to predators on the ground because the rats like to travel along branches, utility lines, and fence tops.
Roof rats originated in tropical Asia but spread through the Near East during the days of ancient Rome. They reached Europe by the 6th Century, and in the late 1340s, their fleas carried the bubonic plague that killed off half the population in some areas. Roof rats arrived in North America with the first ships to visit the New World.
A Western gray squirrel out my upstairs window. From what I can see, the main cause of gray squirrel mortality in West Marin is the motor vehicle. Their primary predators are red-tailed hawks, great horned owls, foxes, coyotes, dogs and cats.
So there you have it. Despite what the pest-control people say, having a few rodents around your house or rabbits around your garden makes for a healthy ecosystem. But guard your dishwasher.