Friday, March 20, 2009

Whose Cat Is THAT?

We are a Certified Monarch Waystation. This means that we grow plants that are good host plants for the Monarch caterpillar and good food sources for the Monarch butterfly. Even before I started gardening with a purpose, Our Little Acre was a haven for the Monarchs. We'd see them all the time in our meager flower beds and once saw a flock of them spend the night during migration. But now we're official.

We're also a Certified Wildlife Habitat. We provide food, water, places for cover, places to raise young, and practice sustainable gardening. This is the National Wildlife Foundation's way of promoting preservation of what has already been here for thousands of years. We can cohabitate with the birds and the bunnies and the frogs and all be happy together. Okay, so the bunnies can be a problem sometimes, but still.

It's no secret, too, that this is the place that furry fuzzballs, otherwise known as cats, seem to magically appear from time to time. We don't really do anything special to promote this, at least not with the intent of attracting them. But eventually, the word gets out in the cat world and one by one they meander into the garage and many times, into our hearts.

Just last week, we shared one of our "hang-arounds" with some friends. The most adorable brown tabby to ever roam these parts had been winding her tail around our legs for about two months and a search in the area failed to find an owner. If we hadn't already had nine of our own, she would definitely had been a keeper.

We've found cute little mice nesting in the garden ...

...and there was the snake that spent the winter in our compost bin...

So, with all this nature love floating around here, it should come as no big surprise that we got a wildlife visitor late last night. I'd already gone upstairs to bed when sometime around midnight, Romie came running up the stairs. Romie almost never runs up the stairs, so I knew something was up. He poked his head in the door and asked, "Want to take a picture of a skunk?"

Now I think skunks are cute. They're fluffy and they have an adorable waddle as they move from point A to point B. But they are best admired from a distance. If they feel like it, they can spray their musk quite accurately up to 15 feet away.

My first concern was for any of our cats that might still be outside. Romie informed me that Jack, Boo, and Sunny were still out. Oh dear. I'd just given Luna and Simon water baths earlier in the evening, and I didn't want to try to find enough tomatoes for a skunk bath.

We watched Mr. Skunk from the kitchen window as he scrounged around for sunflower seeds. There are two bird feeders just outside the window and there was plenty of seed on the ground, since the birds tend to be messy with their eating habits.

In order to get a good picture of him in the dark, I needed to use a flash. In order to use the flash, I needed to have the window open so the flash wouldn't glare off the glass. Romie tried to open the window as quietly as he could, but still the window creaked from having been closed all winter. The skunk gave a little startle, but didn't look up. He must have been really hungry.

I snapped a few pictures and the flash didn't bother him either. And then the cats appeared. They merely sat and watched from a distance (although within that 15-foot danger zone) and the skunk paid them no mind. Minutes later, the skunk - his appetite satiated - waddled away and Romie let the cats in.

Whew. Drama averted.

All the stink on skunks:

  • Mephitis mephitis
  • Peak breeding activity is late February through March
  • Gestation period is 63 days
  • Litter size of 2-10 offspring
  • Adult weighs 2.5 - 11.5 pounds
  • Adult length is 22.5 - 31.5 inches
  • Typical foods include insects, small mammals, fish, crustaceans, fruits, grasses, leaves, buds, grains, nuts, and carrion.

The striped skunk is about the size of a house cat, with a large deep body, small head, and short legs. The hair is long and black, with a broad patch of white on its head and shoulders. Two white lines forming a “V” from the shoulder area may extend part way or all of the way to the base of the bushy tail. Color variations include brown, white, cream, black, and, occasionally, albino. Males and females are colored alike with males being slightly larger in size.

Each foot has five slightly webbed toes with the forefeet having long, curved claws designed for digging. The rear feet have shorter, straighter claws.

Habitat and Habits
Striped skunks are highly adaptable and occupy a wide variety of habitats in Ohio from rural areas to the suburbs. It is this adaptability which accounts for their numbers growing stronger as civilization and humans encroached.

Although not true hibernators, skunks store quantities of body fat in the fall. When the weather gets cold they will retreat to protective dens where they might remain for several weeks or a month at a time.

Skunks are primarily nocturnal animals and very seldom do they wander around during the daytime. They will occupy dens that they have dug or in dens that have been used previously by groundhogs or foxes. These dens may be located beneath buildings, in open fields, on hillsides, or under logs in the woods.

Reproduction and Care of the Young
Skunks mate in Ohio in late February and continue through March. Females are in heat for four to five days and will typically mate several times during this period. Males tend to be a bit promiscuous and will move from den to den mating with females.

Litters tend to be from 2 to 10 young which are born pink-skinned and blind. By the second week they are furred and by the third week their eyes have opened. By the sixth week they are weaned and will be out and about with their mother on nightly hunting forays. This family will stay together until the next spring when the young will go off on their own.

Information about skunks from Ohio Department of Natural Resources.


Victoria Williams said...

Pretty brave of you to open the window for a pic, but I know I couldn't have resisted either. Those night time visitors can be very pushy.

Laura said...

I used to work with a woman who had a skunk as a pet; It was very friendly, but I wouldn't want to meet one out in the wild!

I just wish that the Mom & Dad skunks would teach their kids to look both ways before crossing the street!

bg_garden said...

Wonderful Entry as always. I need to look into this 'Certified Monarch Waystation' and Certified Wildlife Habitat'. We have 20 acres out here along a branch of the river that we try to keep as natural as possible.

I don't know what the deal is lately with stray cats. We own 8 on our property that all have their shots and neutered. Lately we have had quit a few strays wander onto our property. I wonder if someone is dropping them off down our lane or something??? Hmmm......

Happy Spring!

Benjamin Vogt said...

We saw our first raccoon not long ago, but I hope to never has a skunk. I was watching some PBD special or something on them, and they apaprently really like cat food that people leave out for strays and ferals. Won't be doing that here!

Kylee Baumle said...

Kim and Victoria ~ Well, we figured we could slam that window shut in a hurry if we had to! I was really worried about the cats!

Laura ~ Yeah, I've heard of having a skunk as a pet. Not sure I'd want one though. I also read that even if they've had their scent glands removed, they still have a faint skunk smell to them. They are so cute though!'re right! They need to put the fear of cars into them!

Bren ~ I'm sure you're already qualified for both certifications. Even applying makes you more aware though.
Absolutely that's likely what's happening. We know that people drop them off here. Our neighbors found a carrier on the side of the road by the wood nearby and when they looked inside it, there was a litter of kittens - dead. Now honestly people, there has got to be a better way. :-(
We have nine cats, two of them inside only. All of ours are spayed or neutered and have their shots too. That's so important to us for a couple of reasons. The cats are healthier, no kittens from our cats, and it protects them from the majority of things out there.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful entry for the first day of spring, Kylee. You're a brave woman to get such great photos of the skunk...or 'stunk', as my older daughter used to call them when she was little. :)

Gail said...

Hello! You were a lucky owner indeed that the skunk was in a good mood and the cats were being respectful! My son's dog was recently sprayed and he has an interesting shampoo recipe the vet gave him (should you need it).

Kylee, that's good news about being a certified Monarch Waystation. We have The Backyard Habitat Certification but I didn't know anything about becoming a waystation...I know you'll keep us updated! Gail

Lisa at Greenbow said...

We get skunks every once in a while. Kinda scary but they are cute creatures.

Kylee Baumle said...

Ben ~ Raccoons are plentiful here, too. I think they're cute, too, but they can keep their distance, just like the skunks. LOL. Cat food...well, sure! We talked about whether it would return or not. We've started being very discretionary about feeding our own cats, more than we used to, to try and keep the stray cat population at a minimum.

Nancy ~ We had a beautiful first spring day here! "Stunk" is a perfect name for them! Love it!

Gail ~ Yes, I think we were lucky indeed. I hope he doesn't come back, but if he found food here, he just might. I'll keep in mind the recipe, but I hope I never need it!

We've been a waystation for more than two years and I've mentioned the Monarch Waystation in eight other posts besides this one. I didn't go back and read each one, I just did a search and here's the result, just in case you want to check them out. It's not all that difficult, but as I said in a previous comment, just filling out the application is a lesson in awareness! Go for it!

Catherine@AGardenerinProgress said...

The wildlife seems to really like your garden! The skunk pictures are great. I've never seen skunks around here, just raccoons.

Robin's Nesting Place said...

I think I'd rather have my ugly possum than your cute skunk!

I'd love to one day be a certified wildlife habitat.

The tabby cat reminds me of my sweet Libby.

F Cameron said...

Great story!

When I lived in the middle of the woods away from anyone else, there was a skunk pair who would be in my garden, yard and woods quite often. Sometimes, I had to drive slowly past them on the driveway. They never did threaten or spray me, the dog or the cats. But, we never threatened them either. I think skunks are fairly tolerant as long as they aren't harassed.

Monarch Waystation
Backyard Habitat

Unknown said...

I was thinking that the tabby looks like Libby too, Robin and Kylee! (how bizarre that pictures of cats now remind me of other people's cats). Love skunks. Just love them, and feel very badly when I see one smashed on the road. Never mind the smell. I just think they're charming and interesting, I like them aerating the grass in our yard as they dig for grubs, and the cats have never, ever been sprayed. Unlike my sister's idiot dogs who get doused on a regular basis. Not that all dogs are idiots, but my sister's sure are!

Donna at Suburban Sanctum said...

Great shots, Kylee--I've never seen a skunk's front toenails up close like that. No wonder they're such terrific grub diggers (and garden messer-uppers!). You didn't want to go for an even 10 cats, eh? :)

JulenaJo said...

Kylee, I love your photos and post for today. Reminds me of a skunk story or two of my own. I guess I'll be posting them on my blog one day. I recently attended a wildlife habitat program and wonder what if anything can be done on a property as small as ours? We live on 5 acres.

Cintia Midori said...

Wonderful blog!
You have a award in my blog!
Cintia - Brazil

WiseAcre said...

Those look exactly like my cats. Black Jax and Stinky. Either that or they're clones.

We had a skunk that would eat with the cats in the breezeway. One night there was a scratching at the door so I opened it to let whatever cat it was in. Guess what waddled in instead?

Van said...

Entertained myself readying about your garden and its visitors. I absolutley am fascinated by wildlife!

Unknown said...

I do so much enjoy your posts. Thanks!

Mr. McGregor's Daughter said...

Eww to the mouse; yay to the snake. I agree with you that skunks are cute, but they are not exactly welcome in my yard or garden. We had one trapped once, & it was fascinating to watch the critter removal guy give it a sedative with a hypo-needle on a pole. You got some great shots of the skunk, but I definitely don't envy you the opportunity.

Bob said...

Love the idea about the butterflies. I'll have to investigate and see if there is something in my neck of the woods.

All the best, Bob

MyMaracas said...

Cats and skunks, eh? Pepe Le Pew springs to mind.

You're a braver photographer than I will ever be. We have skunks around; we catch a whiff of "perfume" from time to time. I haven't seen one here yet, though, and don't really mind if I never do. They are kinda cute, though

Nutty Gnome said...

Great photos - well done on your bravery! The skunk looks really cute - but I'm very glad we don't have them in England!

I worked in Indiana years ago and someone got skunk sprayed - yeurk! I NEVER want to be that close to that stink again!!!

Brenda Pruitt said...

I too have a certified backyard wild life habitat. I love the creatures I find. I don't think I'd want the skunk, however. I admire your taking in all the cats. I wish I could have acres of land and take in lots of pets in need of homes.

EAL said...

We don't have many here, but in Stonington, CT, where my husband's family lived, they had a real epidemic. I think the innovation of the tightly closed blue garbage totes helps with them Cute snake.

Sylvana said...

When I was very young, we were in a pet store when my dad asked me, "If you could have any of the pets in this store as a pet, what would you pick?" I looked around at all the wiggly puppies, furry kitties, colorful fish, and beautiful birds, and replied, "I want that skunk!" It was at that moment I feel my dad realized I was very odd child. And you know, I still think skunks are adorable!

Rob (ourfrenchgarden) said...

Hi Kylee

I loved reading this. How bad is skunk stink, or is it simply indescribable?

Nine cats!

I've got three.


Muum said...

'All the stink about skunks' !!!! LOL .. made my morning :)

Roses and Lilacs said...

All my dogs have had one encounter with a skunk. None of my cats has ever been foolish enough to go near them.

Kerri said...

Romie sounds like my hubby, always aiding and abetting my photo 'habit' :)
Yes, skunks are very cute, but we're not usually happy to see them around. You were lucky to get such good pics and have no nasty incidents with the cats. Jasmine got sprayed last summer, and oh, what a horrible job that bathing is. The peroxide/baking soda recipe worked great BTW.
If they spray near the house it permeates right through into, the lot! Very nasty indeed!
Be careful out there! :)
Can't wait to see the butterflies again!
Happy spring!

Kerri said...

P.S. The tabby is gorgeous! What a beautiful photo that is.
Mice and snakes being held in the're a funny one, Kylee :)
I could probably hold a cute little mouse, but a, probably not. I like to see the little ones in the garden though.

Kris said...

A wonderful post! I enjoy my skunks as well. I love to watch them at night when they waddle along the flowerbeds under my bedroom window, especially when 3-4 kittens are in tow. They eat grubs in the lawn and I much prefer that to chemical control. ;-D

Anonymous said...

There was a little bit of almost everything in this post Kylee! Snakes, mice, cats, butterflies and skunks! Wow. That covers a lot of ground and is proof you live in a certified wildlife habitat right there. I hope to apply for the wildlife habitat certification myself this year. Just laziness that has kept me from doing it before now. I'll have to check your other posts about being a waystation. I wasn't aware of those either.

Cindy Garber Iverson said...

Now that is a very pretty skunk you had come to visit you! So much white in its fur. One night I heard commotion out on the front porch and look out to find a bunch of raccoons out there with one black and white tail sticking up in the middle of them. They were all peacefully foraging for spilled cat food. I never thought I'd see a skunk and raccoons hanging out together. But I did!


TC said...

I don't think I would've chanced opening that window. Y'all are very brave (either that or you all had stuffy noses then and weren't concerned about what that skunk might do).

(Can you email me directions on how I can put the "My Camera" widget on my blog please? Thanks!

Shady Gardener said...

Kylee, I really did discover a cat in our front yard today. And it ducked under the front steps (wooden to the deckway). It's a beautiful, long-haired, tan and brown cat. We can't keep it... besides, it's very healthy looking. However, if it's a "mouser," it can help itself to the little ground squirrels that reside here! :-) Happy, Happy Spring!

Anonymous said...

So cool. Some of my mother's cousins had a pet skunk when they were all kids - she said it was like a big cat.

I really want that NWF certification, but have to plant a few more things first! My backyard is too clean a slate to be much of a habitat.

Corner Gardener Sue said...

I was thinking about checking into that certification. Does that mean I have to hold mice? I'm thinking I'd rather take pictures of a skunk than hold a mouse. LOL

Great pics!

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