MY SIDE OF THE STREET: Urban Wildlife

The local weather has been especially unpredictable this spring, and that has lots of consequences. The annual plague of ants seemed to start earlier and is lasting longer. They don’t seem as organized or as attracted to sweet substances as usual, MYSIDEOFSTREETbut any little bread crumb draws a bunch of hyperactive little crawlers.

Every time the temperatures rise and stay warm for a few days, some pollen producing plants and trees are faked into unloading an allergy inducing shower of particles into the air. Then it gets colder for a week or so, then warmer, and the cycle repeats. I don’t know what that means for the reproductive success of the involved species, but it means I sneeze and wheeze a lot.

I’m not the only one that suffers. Many of the patients seen in the Emergency Room are there for chronic breathing problems exacerbated by weather and pollen conditions. The vacillating temperature and atmospheric pressure are also hard on those with joint pain.

Swallows have taken over our porch this year. We mostly come and go through the garage, but my sister’s caregivers and visitors use the front door, and they were being dive bombed and spattered with excrement. A neighbor loaned us an owl replica, and that chilled them out for a few days, but apparently they figured out it wasn’t a live predator, and started attacking it.

Birds are adept at adapting to their environment. A study in Mexico City tracked house sparrows and house finches observed picking up discarded cigarette butts and carrying them back to their nests. After the reproductive season, researchers collected and examined nests.

The ones with torn up cigarette filters woven into the building materials had significantly fewer mites and lice, possibly a result of the anti-parasite qualities of nicotine. More study would be needed to determine if there are also negative impacts. At the least, the butts supply a building material which is easy for urban birds to exploit.

My sister has a bird feeder on her deck, and the little seed eating birds come by to score a free meal. One of the caregivers put out some dry bread and ravens started showing up. They try to cram as much bread into their beaks as possible on each trip.

So far the maximum seems to be three crouton-size pieces. One day there was some stale popcorn, and that was even more popular. There’s no word on whether ravens prefer extra salt and butter or original recipe.

The little birds steer clear when the big ones are there, and those waiting in line for the feeder seem to be standing guard for the ones who are eating. It’s one thing for birds to learn cooperative behavior, but some creatures actually seem to be able to achieve evolutionary changes quite rapidly. Some strains of cockroaches have modified their metabolisms to reject glucose, which they craved just a few generations ago.

Baits laced with glucose were initially effective, then the roaches started rejecting them. Researchers discovered those strains perceive glucose as a nasty, bitter taste. They won’t eat it, so traps baited with it are useless against them.

Pest control professionals have already moved on to other substances – they call them attractants – and keep them a closely held secret. But they have to work to stay one step ahead of the fast evolving roaches.

You might think everyone shares fear and loathing for the creepy insects, but they are mostly pests inside, where they can carry disease and trigger asthma and allergy problems. North Carolina State University Professor Cory Schal says some roaches serve useful lives in the outdoors. They are pollinators in tropical rain forests, and nourish scorpions and shrews in the desert.

Maybe someone could make money gathering them up from cities and shipping them to the desert. But that would probably just throw the balance there out of whack. It seems that whenever people try to meddle with nature, things get worse instead of better.

I’ll settle for the wildlife staying outside the house. We live near a creek, so our yard is popular with feral cats, skunks, raccoons, possums and foxes. They help control the gophers. We are also near the river, in great blue heron fly over territory; on a poor fishing day, they’ll settle for a rodent.

The diurnal creatures provide free entertainment, but we could do without the midnight rumbles, and especially the spraying. But when it comes to ants, spiders, fruit flies and other insects inside, it’s “Sayonara Dudes.” Like my sister says, until they make the mortgage payments, they’re out of here.

(Elizabeth Alves bought two rounds of ant traps this year. Comments and suggestions are welcome care of the Press or to mysidestreet@gmail.com