A Wild Life

Editor Rebecca Martin shares thoughts and memories on wildlife and how they survive in an urban environment.

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My husband and I like to sleep with the bedroom windows open in the summer. Even though we live in a city, the morning “alarm” in our quiet neighborhood is usually birdsong.

Earlier this year, though, we were woken in the middle of the night by a wild cry, something between a bark and a scream. As I lay in bed, wondering drowsily what animal could be making those sounds, a notion popped into my head: fox! The next morning, I confirmed my suspicions by listening to recordings of fox warning calls online. But what truly sealed the deal was watching a red fox chase a local tomcat down the street a few nights later. The tom had gotten too close to the den.

These nighttime warning calls continued for weeks, and neighbors began talking. Some had seen one of the adults, or a kit, in their backyards. Others had been losing chickens and were seriously displeased about it. All of us were surprised by the presence of a fox den in our urban neighborhood. We reinforced our chicken coops and kept the tomcats locked up at night, and let the fox family live unmolested.

This experience has made me consider how some wildlife is resilient enough to survive (even thrive) under pressure, while other species suffer. When I was a kid growing up on a farm in Kansas, far away from city development, we rarely saw undomesticated animals other than pheasants and jackrabbits. Pheasants were so common that we had to dodge them while driving down country roads. At least once a week, we’d see two or three gangly, awkward jackrabbits loping across a dusty field. Pheasant calls can still be heard in the mornings, but not nearly as often. Jackrabbits are so rare that my parents can’t remember the last time they saw one.

But other wildlife is common. We almost never saw deer when I was a kid, but now they’re so plentiful and destructive that they’re a great nuisance. Turkeys, squirrels, raccoons, Canada geese: Where were these animals hiding four decades ago?

Last spring, just two days after I’d removed the row cover from my lettuce, I discovered it’d been eaten to the ground. Some of the plants were pulled up by the roots, so I knew the damage couldn’t have been done by rabbits. A neighbor soon confirmed my suspicions by sharing her cellphone video of five deer strolling down our sidewalk. A small herd of deer living in the city! How times have changed.

Do you have any stories about how wildlife populations have transformed in your lifetime? Email me at RMartin@Grit.com, and you may end up in the magazine.