Wildlife in the Southwest

As I post this, World Wildlife Day was this week = March 3. So let’s talk Southwest wildlife. I confess I have a love / hate relationship with the wildlife in my garden.

Yellow Month

Uam Masad” is the Tohono O’odham month that translates as “Yellow Month” since so many yellow desert flowers appear during this time of year.  The O’odham culture puts a positive spin on the hardest month for human desert dwellers to find food in.  Other native cultures are reputed to call this the month of the “Hunger Moon.”

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Centuries ago, this was the time of year that corn and bean supplies would be running low, and the wilderness yielded very little to eat.  In our modern age, humans reading this don’t need to harvest, hunt, or forage for food.  Yet we live surrounded by hundreds of thousands of living beings that do need to harvest, hunt, or forage for their food.   I’m speaking of the wildlife of our Southwest areas – deserts, canyons, mountains, and plateaus.

It’s A Hungry Time of Year

Pickings are slim in the wilderness right now, and the wildlife beings are hungry.    To top it off, there are many expectant mothers eating for two, or ten.    All too soon, those ten babies are out running around looking for food as well.    Formerly shy wildlife will become bolder about entering settled areas in search of food.    Many plants formerly considered unpalatable will be sampled.

The Search for Food

Southwest wildlife spreads into our neighborhoods in spring, bringing a number of problems to human homeowners.    Young bunnies taste everything in their path, even poisonous oleander.    Young javelina swell the ranks of the herds, putting pressure on the elders to find new and larger food sources.    Fledgling birds flutter out of the nest, only to drown themselves in pools and fountains.    Young lizards slip under the doors of the house and settle in a cozy dark closet, startling the living daylights out of humans when they scuttle out.

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Plus there are ground squirrels, rock squirrels, pack rats, mice, owls, quail, doves, snakes, kit foxes, gray foxes, coyotes, bobcats, and the occasional raccoon, deer, cougar, and great blue heron.    There are more animal mouths to feed in spring, and not quite enough food to go around.

My YouTube video about a rock squirrel that ate something he should not have (and “unalived” himself).

Gardens and Hungry Animals

Javelina eat cactus for a living. They may show up and wreak havoc on your yard.    For javelina, deer, and very persistent bunnies, there are repellents you can apply to your landscaping.    Many are based on garlic oil.    Very strongly scented when wet, but dries to odorless for humans.    Javelina and rabbits can still smell it however, and will learn to avoid your yard.    You must apply it a number of times to train them.    I wear disposable gloves because the odor can really cling to skin.

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Javelina, technically a collared peccary.

So how can you have a landscape – let alone a garden – garden with these hungry critters milling about?    It can be a tad difficult! That said, there are a number of pretty-looking thorn-free but yucky-tasting desert plants that are animal resistant, and can help create a lush looking yard.    Native plants.    And that is why you are reading this site.    Come back on a regular basis for more plant information.

Working on some wildlife-resistant plant lists for you. Those are under on this site under the “Resources” on the menu bar.

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Mule deer and faun.

Natural in Front – Oasis in Back

Plant your front yard with native Southwestern plants and make your backyard your dream oasis.    Unfortunately, even our desert plants will need water to become established, especially the pampered darlings you purchase from the nursery.    This makes the new plants lusher and more tempting than tough old wild plants.    You may need “exclusion” cages around newly planted plants until they are fully established and you are no longer watering them on a regular basis.

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Mexican ground squirrel, also called the thirteen-lined ground squirrel.

About Water

Water itself is a wonderful wildlife magnet.    That pretty Spanish-style fountain offers the alluring scent of water to any number of thirsty Southwest animals.    Young quail or ground squirrels may learn the hard way that their feet are not webbed.    If you have a fountain or pond, float a flat board left in the water gives the hapless baby animals a platform to crawl onto to save themselves.

gardening-with-soule-bird-native-growFor more tips for attracting wild native birds to your garden, I invite you to my class on the topic – hosted on my classes and Membership site.  Attract Native Birds to Your Yard

Human Neighbors

gardening-with-soule-wildlife-desert-nativeHuman neighbors often also figure into a local wildlife problem.    If they feed with bird seed, it will spill. Scattered seed will attract non-winged seed eaters, like pack rats or ground squirrels.    Small rodents are, in turn, an excellent food source for snakes.    A humane trap can help relocate rodents and reduce snake food in your yard.

We Moved into Their Neighborhood

A bumper sticker I saw the other day stated, “Sonoran Desert, love it and leave it alone.”    We do have to remember that we have built our homes, streets, and whole cities on top of what was, for aeons, native animals’ homes.    Let’s try to be good newcomers to the neighborhood.

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Sun shining thru and lighting up the blooms. Glorietta Canyon of the Anza Borrego Park. Image courtesy WJ Schrenk.

With some careful planning, and some wise planting, we can share the space with our native animal neighbors.   We can love this region – plus leave it alone as much as possible, and live in harmony with all its inhabitants.

Cover image = golden mantled ground squirrel and inhabitant of the Nevada, Arizona, and Utah mountains.

Legal Notes

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