At the Rocky Mountain National Park visitor center, which sits at at almost 12,000 feet, not much animal life thrives at that altitude: marmots, pikas, white-capped sparrows, that’s about it. Most animals seek a gentler climate down in the valleys, where there’s more food and shelter. But last June, a pair of mountain bluebirds had built a nest in a chink in the side of the wall by the women’s restroom. As they brought sticks and grasses to reline the nest, I could hear the young ones inside. Meanwhile women passed by on their way to the toilets, just inches from where the bluebird couple were raising their young.
If this artificial structure wasn't there, would the birds survive? Would they even be up at that altitude, but perhaps be lower down the mountain where there are more trees and possible cavities for nests?
While we have intruded into nature, we’ve also provided shelter for wild animals, at least the smaller ones. At the cabin, the ground squirrels, chipmunks and rabbits take advantage of the artificial spaces that humans have created in this landscape. They hide or live in the woodpiles and underneath the cement pad for the well pump.
I’ve seen them go under and into small holes in the roofline of my garage/woodshed and into the shed next door. When I step onto the porch, rabbits and chipmunks scoot under the cabin and under the garage. Nuthatches look for bugs in the debris that collects in the gutters, and woodpeckers have poked holes in the side of the cabin, searching for insects. They even drink my water (left), although fortunately not my wine.
A few years ago I had a packrat living in the garage/woodshed, as evidenced by missing paintbrushes, cans and other assorted stuff, as well as mysterious mounds of sticks. Several people advised me how to trap it and get rid of it, but as long as it wasn’t in the cabin helping itself to forks, pens or other possibly interesting and shiny things, I saw no reason I couldn’t share the space with it.
These artificial shelters also benefit predators. This week, I saw a short-tailed weasel (right) run across the front porch and then underneath. Shortly I heard a squeal, probably from a ground squirrel or chipmunk meeting its untimely end. The next morning, sitting on the back deck, I saw a whole family of weasels—five!—running around the yard. Though small and slim, these animals are ferocious killers and can bring down a rabbit three times as big as them. Now I know why I haven’t been seeing chipmunks and ground squirrels around recently.
Two of the weasels found a small hole in the garage, and soon I heard a chase ensuing from inside. Sometimes I feel very fortunate to be near the top of the food chain.
Weasel photo from Internet