Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Mouse Poop

We were hiking a remote trail in Iowa’s Loess Hills when we discovered something curious. Little white droppings, about the size of dog poop, dotted the trail nearly every twenty feet or so. Of course I picked one up.

Light as cotton candy, it appeared to be made of compressed fur which was nearly white. I gingerly picked up a second one. A third had tiny little bones in it.

Owl pellets, I guessed. But why only on the trail? Owls don’t hike.

All my sisters are geniuses. One is a special nerdist in all things outdoors. I asked her: Are there other animals that poop little furry, thumb-sized ex-rodents? And why was the hair almost always ash-white?

Her response:
Okey dokey, hmmm...let's examine the facts.
Owls tend to ralph over the edge of the branch they are sitting on, and pellets come from the uppy end of the owl and not the downy end. They are lovely, dry papery cocoons of fur and bone about the length of a thumb. Baby owls have smaller, marshmallow size pellets with whatever fragments of creature the mom owl rammed down their throat. As they get older, you can see the bones evolve from little mousy heads and toes to broken squirrel femurs and the partial skulls of very small children with buck teeth. Well, maybe they're rabbits, but we don't seem to have as many kids in the neighborhood as we used to, so I'm suspicious.

So what scatalagous treasure do YOU have? Since the evidence was on a trail, I'm guessing fox or coyote. They have territories with trails they follow habitually and while they're looking up into the trees trying to avoid owl vomit, some poop falls out their nether end. Around here, the coyote scat has a lot of either deer hair from scavenging carcasses or snowshoe hare hair, so they seem white. Older poop also appears white from the calcium, I'm guessing, not quite digested from the bones. I suppose it could also be powdered sugar, I'm not a wildlife expert.

The little bones are certainly fascinating. Last night I came across a partially dissolved owl pellet from the family of horned owls we had here last year and there was a perfect little mouse skull with all its microscopic teeth intact, packed gently in the dry fluff of intestinally compressed rabbit down. I have a bowl of owl pellets in my glass bookcase. Saving them for a special occasion, I suppose.

Are you enjoying the freedom of life after bar? I want you to be happy dearie, you're my favorite, after all.


Hmmm. I didn't pick at the poop too much, because I don't remember the last time I had a tetanus shot. Although we found a few bone bits, tiny and probably broken, I imaginethey had been chewed, so the fox theory makes sense. The hair could have been deer, or any of the rodents that hide in those ominous cliffside holes. I’m always afraid something will pop out at me. A fox probably ate one just on principle.

Owls don't really chew, no fault of their own that they don't have teeth, thank Heaven, so I would expect more complete skeletons, tails, toenails, and shirt buttons. Now that I have more information I want to go back and pick at more poop.

During a morel-hunting hike I came home with: 0 morels; 5 ticks; and 1 complete rabbit skull, it's bones fragile and tissue-thin. I bleached it and set it in the sun until it was white. I hung it on my kitchen wall. I hope it makes me king of the rabbits. I'd pet ’em and love ’em and squeeze ’em and—uh oh.

My girlfriend has no morels, coyotes, owls nor cats, so she has mice instead. She tried to be tolerant and generous, but due to lots of springtime mouse-panky, their numbers grew. It seems all forms of traps and poisons are stomach-churning, worse for mice even—so I wrote my sister again for advice.

She replied:

I LOVE mousies. However, when they start filling your oven with dog food copped out of the doggie dish in the dark of the night, it's time for disciplinary action.

Sticky traps are perverted versions of La Brea tar pits for mice. Horrible and traumatizing (at least to me).

I found some interesting little live traps that work on the principles of greed and balance. Mousie goes in and when he reaches that little blob of peanut caviar in the back, the assembly tilts and the door flops down. Works pretty darned good. Open the door and the mousie shoots out like a bottle rocket. Startling the first time, especially if you point it at your face. Wear safety glasses. 

However, I ended up laying awake at night waiting for that “click,” not wanting the little critter to linger in that claustrophobic environment for even a few minutes. Once I had a mousie trapped all night and when I dumped him out, he was soaking wet with the moisture escaping both ends. Also, if your mice are chubby from all the dog food, they may not fit. I had dainty little deer mice; I'm not sure some of those mongo Omaha honkers could even get their heads in.

Traps have to be set right at the edge of walls or cabinets, not in the middle of the room where you might catch a cat. Cats will sue your ass.

Peanut butter is the absolute best catching food, bar none. It's so sticky that by the time they've licked their chops and swallowed it, they're so exhausted they stagger into the tripping mechanism. Watch out for the Salmonella peanut butter, it might kill them.

Once you catch a mouse, empty its pockets. They carry maps. Doesn't matter how many times I've dumped one of those little dudes outside, they find their way back to my silverware drawer by the next day.


Okay. Anyone have an owl I can borrow?

5 comments:

  1. I don't know how far into the article I was before I got over the fact that OH MY GOD YOU PICKED UP POOP!!!!!!!

    That aside, I think your sister's explanations were really cute and displayed a kinship with critters that I wish I shared. I have baby birds nesting in my attic but try as I might I can't bring myself to give them personalities or any cute traits.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Goodness. After last winter's HouseMouse Invasion of Prodigious Proportions (during which time I unwitting shared most of a loaf of bread and all cabinets and drawers with said housemouses), I can't bring myself to be tolerant or generous of them. I commend your ladyfriend for her heart, however. To resolve my invasion, we used poisonless D-Con traps resembling hockey pucks, with snap trap doors and peanut buttery bait. Quick, humane, and permanently interfered with their prolific mouse-panky activities.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Your sister is hilarious and charming and talented. And so is the one who wrote these fantastic explanations!

    ReplyDelete
  4. wow, Michael! And thought MY siblings and I were over-analytical and egg-heady(sorry for the adjectival stretch). I note with a smile that the traits you ascribe to your sisters are full of brotherly affection.

    Like your girlfriend of the soft heart, my youngest sister has been known to trap and carry offending mousies out to the nearest field rather than slay them. Perhaps she hopes that they will invoke their meeps-- mousie/rodent peeps-- to bypass her home because of her kindness. I have even followed that example.... Cheers to my favorite Nebraskan troubadour!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Your sister is hilarious. Is she available for tea?

    ReplyDelete

What do you have to say for yourself?