Jan. 28, 2011

Science Dad on Urban Wildlife

by Vince Harriman

Click to enlarge images

The fox that lives in our neighborhood

I don't know about you, but I am always surprised to see wildlife in the middle of towns and cities. The recent news from New York's Central Park about red tailed hawks Pale Male and Lola was fascinating, if not a little depressing -- Lola is thought to have eaten a poisoned rat or pigeon, and Pale Male has a new nesting mate. We occasionally see red tailed hawks here in Maryland, but lately my neighborhood has been all about foxes.

We've been seeing the foxes in our neighborhood for about a year now, and it has taken me that long to get a photo of one. I chased one up and down the neighborhood and he (or she) finally ran through our backyard and hopped a fence. Luckily, there was snow on the ground and he left a great set of tracks that happened to cross the tracks a rabbit had left earlier. I called our local Animal Control and Department of Natural Resources to find out about the fox -- they were mildly interested, but assured me that the foxes posed no threat to humans and were rarely carriers of rabies.

Tracks of the rabbit and fox that live in our neighborhood

When Beckett was much younger, he was sure there were owls living in our backyard since all day long we could hear what sounded like a soft "hoot hoot." I pointed out to Beckett that owls were nocturnal, and therefore what we were hearing was almost certainly not owls. But he was not convinced and remained unhappy. He did not like owls. Finally one Saturday we happened to see a pair of Mourning Doves sitting on the power line above our porch softly coo-cooing to each other. Beckett was very relieved to finally see the source of the owl hoots and we stopped worrying about them.

Coopers Hawk, image courtesy Dan Haas

Beckett's Aunt Melanie lives in Anchorage, Alaska, and when she visits she tells us stories of bears and moose that regularly wander through town. Beckett's Aunt Leota lives in New Mexico where coyote sightings are common. Bears are even known to live here in Maryland, in the western part of the state -- and Maryland is not a very big state. Beckett's school is on a golf course right on the edge of town on a small peninsula that hosts up to 300 deer at a time! My friend Dan Haas is an avid birder and he took a great photo of a Cooper's hawk on the bridge on the way to Beckett's school.


Animals are incredibly adaptive and resourceful. While many species are in danger due to loss of habitat, many more continue to live where they have always lived. Around the world, many species -- including large predatory animals, herd animals, and smaller animals -- live side by side in cities and towns with humans. In addition to foxes, rabbits, and deer, we also regularly see hawks, osprey, cormorants, raccoons, and the occasional opossum. What kinds of wildlife do you see in your neighborhood? What is the strangest animal you've seen in a city?

About Vince Harriman

Science Dad, AKA Vince Harriman, is a freelance writer living in Annapolis. His two sons, Beckett-6 and Rowan-2 1/2 ask him 'why' approximately 6,542 times a day.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Science Friday.

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