Thursday, July 19 , 2018, 11:02 am | Partly Cloudy 69º


Captain’s Log: Wildlife Interdependencies in Your Backyard

Look at this from a critter’s perspective…where would you find water around your yard? What about food? Let’s face a fact, we’ve got wildlife living with us even in standard-issue tract homes with relatively small yards.

You might be able to find ways to make life more difficult for the critters, thereby tempting them to leave for easier pickings, but that decision has consequences that bring us right to the realities of interdependencies. 

The first fact of life is that we have coyotes — and worse — prowling our streets and yards nightly, looking for house cats or small yard pets (including small dogs) that they can quickly and savagely dispatch and carry off for a secluded meal or share with their own families.

I’ll never forget driving down a Santa Barbara road one morning and watching four coyotes trotting in single file from a street up into a little draw, each one with a house cat in its jaws. That was a good pack hunt for them! It was a nightmare for the felines and the families who kept them. 

Many people leave a water bowl out overnight for their outdoor pet. That’s fine, but understand that every wild critter is going to take advantage of a fresh local supply of clean water. Leaving that bowl of water out invites the critters to stay.

An alternative could be to give your pet a drink of water just before your bedtime and then first thing in the morning, so that the bowl isn’t out there luring in critters.

The consequences still may be startling.

Here’s an example: My neighbor has a large pine tree right next to our fence. He wanted something like a little hill around it, so he asked the gardener we both use to dump the lawn trimmings at the base of the tree. (The gardener isn’t very careful about it and now the piled up stuff is pushing the fence over, but that’s another story.)

What he has created is prime burrowing habitat, and there are lots and lots of critters that use it. One is a huge raccoon that towers over the dogs in both yards and intimidates them, causing long fits of barking. He also helps himself to the water bowls left out at night.

Without the steady water source, would the big critter relocate? Perhaps, but that would give us a problem. 

That pile of yard trimmings and the lower part of the pine tree is also prime habitat for rats. I doubt the neighbor really understands what he has created. Those rats and other burrowing critters provide plenty of protein for predators including our big (and growing) raccoon.

In fact, that raccoon may be big enough to keep smaller coyotes away from his food source, so what the raccoon gives back in return for his home and water is an ongoing reduction in the rat population.

At this point, I don’t think I want that big critter to leave, because I might be inundated with rats if he were gone. 

On the other side of the property, we have a skunk that hangs out regularly. He is actually pretty easy to get along with as long as we don’t make any threatening moves towards him. Sometimes we’ll both be in the garage together and it is all good.

The skunk and the raccoon have an understanding and somewhat of a truce.

So why am I okay with the skunk hanging out? The answer is very similar to the reasons for putting up with the raccoon. That skunk eats bugs and mice that I don’t want to have around. 

Our neighborhood wildlife definitely bring something to the table in our interdependencies. They can be very handy to have around, and they are welcome to a bowl of water.

— Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need. Visit to learn more about the organization and how you can help. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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