What Is That … Predator?

2
Waddells

Following the glorious summer weather we experienced in late September and October, we turned our attention to preparing the cottage for winter.  As we busied ourselves bringing in the dock and storing the deck furniture we noticed lots of feverish food harvesting and the collection of dried leaves and grass for nesting material by the many rodents living around our cottage.  The rodents at the cottage, which include mice, chipmunks, red squirrels and eastern grey squirrels, are numerous but not overwhelming or damaging.  This is in part a result of the effective rodent predators we have at White Lake.  These predators are active year round, as are most of the rodents.  In this article we review those rodent predators that we have managed to photograph around our cottage … there are others, not yet photographed.

Two of these predators are birds of prey or raptors, including an owl and a hawk.   As we are headed to bed and sometimes throughout the night at the cottage we are entertained by the calls of different owls.  One we hear regularly very close by, we have identified as the barred owl. Bruce even built a barred owl nesting box last winter and installed it near the cottage last spring. The barred owl is a solitary, nocturnal hunter that preys primarily on small mammals, including a variety of rodents.  They are a medium-sized owl that can weigh up to 720 grams.  These owls are often found in densely wooded areas, as we have at the cottage.  Their most distinctive feature is their dark eyes.  This October our cottage neighbours were able to photograph an individual who was perched on a white pine just outside the living room window at their cottage.

The second raptor is the broad-winged hawk, a member of the buteo family which are known for their robust bodies and broad wings.  This daytime hunter relies on a variety of prey, including small rodents, young birds, insects, as well as frogs and toads.  These crow-sized birds are the smallest members of the buteo family, weighing up to 400 grams.  They are usually solitary hunters found along the edges of woods.  Adults are distinguishable from other buteos by their small size, a single broad white band across their tail and very pale under wings.  This individual was perched in a tree beside the road near our cottage.

The next three resident rodent predators are mammals that are considered to be carnivores, members of the raccoon, canine and mink families.  The raccoon is a medium-sized omnivore, weighing from five to 14 kilograms.  It feeds on fruits, nuts, berries, insects, clams, frogs, fish, eggs, young birds and rodents.  They do not hibernate in winter but they are less active and may sleep for extended periods during the coldest parts of winter when available sources of food are reduced.  Raccoons are often found near streams, lakes and ponds in woodlands, and are most active from dusk to dawn.  This individual was foraging along our shoreline early in the morning.

A rodent-eating member of the canine family that we have often photographed at the cottage in recent years is the red fox.  This opportunistic carnivore weighs between 3.6 and 6.8 kilograms. Winter is one of the best times to spot red foxes when they are active during daylight, stalking and pouncing on prey.  During the winter their main sources of food are rodents, small birds and rabbits.  In warmer months they supplement this diet with invertebrates, eggs, fruits, and berries. This red fox was munching on a rodent along the roadside near our cottage.

The last rodent-eating carnivore in this article is a member of the weasel family, the mink.  These tenacious hunters are relatively small, weighing from 0.6 to 1.4 kilograms.  They are always found close to water where they hunt their favourite prey which is the muskrat.  That said, they will eat almost any type of meat and so hunt for small rodents, rabbits, fish, amphibians, water fowl , snakes and crayfish. This mink was photographed foraging along the shoreline of one of our neighbours cottages.

Rodents are known for their high reproductive rates.  Courtesy of the above predators, as well as other predators we have yet to photograph, the prolific rodents at our cottage are kept in balance.  Now, if only we could encourage one of these predators to patrol the periphery of our cottage and boathouse regularly to discourage the mice from taking up winter residence.

We relied on information from the following in the preparation of this article: Chris G. Early’s Hawks & Owls of Eastern North America;  David Allen Sibley`s The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America;  Tamara Eder’s Mammals of Ontario; and Peter Alden’s Peterson First Guides – Mammals.   Should you be interested in plans to build nesting boxes we would recommend Cornell’s nestwatch.org/learn/all-about-birdhouses.