The doe can lift her nose a gentle breeze and smell the scent of another upwind of her. Her sense of smell is keen and she instinctively tests the air for signs of danger. Her ability to do this is not unique in the animal world, where survival depends on the use of all senses.
The robin's nest is packed full of hungry baby robins. Their parents are busy searching through the short grass for worms and insects. With so many mouths to feed, it's a full-time job from sunrise to sunset. I've watched them closely as they hunt, and am amazed at how keen their eyesight is. They don't seem to miss a thing. The truth is, most birds have the ability to see extremely well, both near and far.
Many birds and other animals possess and depend on a sharp sense of hearing. For example, the fox has sharp eyes, and is quick to spot movement by snake, frog, or grasshopper. But when he hunts voles in a grassy field, the fox raises his ears. He depends on hearing the rodent scurrying under the grass. The fox will pounce at the sound and often catch a meal that he did not even see.
The woodchucks that I mentioned in last week's column were very cautious and alert, always testing the air with their noses. They were fun to watch, but I had to move them.
Early in the morning, I baited the live trap with wild parsnip leaves, and set it in the doorway to the shed. I hadn't even made it back to the porch before I heard the door on the cage slam shut, trapping a half-grown youngster inside. That was good news; I'd hoped to trap the young ones first. I can keep them in their new area until I can trap their mother.
I drove to an abandoned farm yard with falling-down sheds and a barn without a roof - good places for a family of woodchucks to hide. I thought that 3-1/2 miles away was far enough from my place, so I let the young chuck out in the tall grass near the barn.
I returned straight home and quickly set the trap in the same place. Five minutes later, I saw the remaining two young woodchucks snooping around, and before long one of them found himself inside the trap. While delivering woodchuck number two to the new home site, I noticed number one rustling the grass.
I wasted no time driving back to reset the trap. The third woodchuck was a little more cautious about the trap, but after about 15 minutes she gave in and went after the tempting food inside. Down the road again I drove, to the same place I left the other two. When I opened the trap door, woodchuck number three darted out into the tall, lush grass. Now the grass moved in three places.
Back at home, after setting the trap, I watched from the house for 20 minutes before I finally saw the mother emerge from the shed. She sniffed all around, seeking the scent of her children. I think she may have been asleep under the woodpile and did not realize they were gone until now. Their scent brought her to the trap; she followed her nose and was caught.
Perfect! I rushed her to a reunion with her kids. Off they went through the tall grass, disappearing near the old barn.
All the way home, I felt good about how well that worked out. A job I thought would take days, took only an hour and 15 minutes. Best of all, it had a happy ending. The trap sat untouched for two days, and I haven't seen the big male again. I think the mother kicked him out the day before I trapped the others.
Sometimes we go to great lengths to save our gardens. Nonetheless, I'll always have fond memories of that woodchuck family.
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