The Mystery of the Moving Straw

by Em
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I’ve lost all control in my backyard (not that I ever truly had any). Everywhere I look there are animals running amuck. As I write this there are 4 rabbits, 3 squirrels and at least a half-dozen chipmunks in view. And they are all up to no good.

I recently reseeded some dead patches in my yard and covered the new grass seed with chopped straw. Little did I know it would become the hit of the neighborhood. Several mornings ago, I pulled open the shade to find an adult rabbit rustling through the straw. I ran outside to stop her and was amazed to watch her run off with a baseball-sized clump of straw in her mouth.

After breakfast I went outside to sprinkle more straw over the now-naked seed and I found a cardinal male and female sitting in the middle of the patch also collecting straw. I don’t know what the fascination is with this particular patch of ground. I’ve mulched every flowerbed in my backyard with straw this summer. There’s plenty of straw for one and all, but they all seem to favor this area of newly-seeded grass.

The last few nights, something has been digging small craters into my reseeded areas. I’ve been watering the seed religiously, so I assumed it was just chipmunks or squirrels taking advantage of the moist ground to bury/unbury seeds and nuts. Right idea, wrong animal.

While outside taking pictures of daylily blooms, I noticed that my straw was moving. Perhaps it was tired of being hauled away by animals and was making a run for it. Okay, maybe not.

I snuck over for a closer look and saw something furry borrowing around under there. It saw me and made a mad dash for a gap in my raised bed pavers. I stood still (as still as one can be with a million mosquitoes flying around one’s head) and pointed my camera toward the hole. After about 15 seconds, the creature reappeared (handsome fellah, isn’t he?):

The little beast darted out of the hole, dove under the straw and began digging vigorously. It wasn’t long before he uncovered a big, fat earthworm which he proceeded to eat.

I thought I was watching a vole, but I got out my Mammals of Wisconsin Field Guide as I was downloading my photos. This was no vole. In fact my critter eats voles on occasion.

My 4-inch-long digger is a Northern Short-tailed Shrew. They are insectivores and carnivores that eat beetles, spiders, snails, worms, mice, voles and toads. While digging he was very oblivious to my presence. I even picked up a long piece of straw and poked him with it to see what would happen. Nothing. I probably could’ve easily threw a bucket on top of him and moved him elsewhere, but any time I upset the balance of nature in my backyard, I end up paying for it tenfold.

He’s not doing any damage anywhere else, so for now I will “live and let live.” Perhaps he will eat all my Japanese Beetle larvae and slugs. And he’s welcome to all the spiders and mice he can get his little pink mitts on!

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