Squatter’s Rights

A raccoon sits on top of a broken tree that's become a nesting snag.

A dozen doors and a skylight.

That’s the approximate count of cavity entrances in the old, broken snag outside my window. I love that ugly remnant of a tree! It brings a daily wildlife show to my front-row seat.

The tree has been occupied by Pileated Woodpeckers, nesting squirrels, Wood Ducks, European Starlings, and Red-Bellied Woodpeckers—several of them simultaneously.

This nesting season, I watched Juliet Squirrel quiver from her balcony in this tree, as she was courted by a Romeo. Soon after, I watched Juliet pad the cavity with leaves, a sure sign she’s expecting. I was looking forward to watching Juliet’s kits take tentative (and comical) first steps outside the cavity.

And then another creature exercised squatter’s rights.

Here’s the raccoon that crawled into the snag one day last week.

I had to laugh at how the raccoon shook the rain off before entering the tree—as though that un-roofed cavity is going to keep its fur from a re-soaking!

I also enjoyed the White-Breasted Nuthatch as it worked its way up the tree, checking one hole after another–possibly looking for a suitable nest cavity. Then it reached the top, and you saw the bird’s response to its raccoon discovery. The speedy flier at the end is a Tufted Titmouse. I guess that bird didn’t care for the raccoon, either!

And then I began to wonder… I haven’t seen Juliet in more than a week. I used to notice her leaving the den for food, but not anymore. I can only conclude she was not happy with her raccoon neighbor.

Is the raccoon a nesting mama, in residence for a month or more? I don’t think so. Three years ago, a raccoon nested in another tree. That mama took great pains to avoid leaving a down-the-trunk scent trail. Instead, she traveled up and into the far, skinny reaches of her tree. Then she transferred to another tree’s thin branch, which bobbed under her weight, and she descended that tree in pursuit of food in the brushy woods below. You can read and see that story here. But last week’s soggy raccoon would have no choice but to descend directly from her cavity to the ground, which seems to be a predator-defense no-no.

So, I suspect the raccoon was just sheltering—well, more or less—from the rain. And perhaps it’s been sleeping there more than I’m aware of, which might explain Juliet’s absence.

Just for fun, here’s a short clip of Juliet and her Romeo, followed by her nesting behavior.

Juliet, oh Juliet…wherefore art thou? I suppose Juliet has moved to another cavity-riddled tree. There are plenty of them around here, but none so conveniently located for video snooping. Darn!

4 thoughts on “Squatter’s Rights”

  1. I am always so excited when I get a notice that you’ve posted another of these. Your camera work is amazing. Have you thought about putting programs together to show school children and other interested citizens? Maybe you’ve already done it. Anyways, thanks!

  2. Fascinating! A picture (or in this case a video) is worth a thousand words! I agree that your photography is amazing Carol.

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