Why did our Creator make gophers? Do they have any redeeming qualities that I should know about? I know they’re
cute in a furry, buck-tooth, smallish kinda way (well, maybe not…have you checked out those Wicked Witch of the West-type claws and those sharp yellow teeth? How about those squinty little eyes and their really long whiskers? No, not cute after all. I take that back. Retract that statement!). I guess they are probably the aerators of the animal kingdom, but seriously, what benefit are they?
The beautiful painting above is known as “Edward’s Dodo” because it was owned by George Edwards, a famous English naturalist and ornithologist, who died in 1773. It was painted by Roelant Savery in 1626 and is now housed in the British Museum. By the way, I think Dodo’s look like they were a magnificent bird: turkey-like in body structure (although much larger) with an quirky-bulbous beak. Unlike gophers who are, dare I say it, just plain ugly!
Above photo: Pocket Gopher. Source: Leonardo Weiss – Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution
Anyway, I have a large rose garden, courtesy of my aunt. That’s a whole other story for another time, but I have at least 50 rose bushes. Systematically, one-by-one, the gophers are destroying them. Apparently, rose roots are a much sought-after delicacy. Here’s a picture of my latest casualty:
My first encounter with these little demons was 23 years ago. I was a newlywed bride, a city girl transported to the country. Suddenly I had a limitless area that I could garden and landscape. Roses have always been one of my favorites, so one-by-one I planted 19 rose bushes, creating a rose garden on the west side of our house. They thrived for awhile, as they do in this part of the country, and then I started noticing that they weren’t doing so well. I thought maybe I wasn’t watering them enough, so I dragged the garden hose over and started drenching them.
One was looking particularly bad – brown leaves, no flowers – so I touched it intending to strip the dead leaves. Instead, it fell over! No roots! Not.A.One! And over the next several weeks, one-by-one, that gopher colony destroyed that rose garden.
Don’t get me started on ways to control gophers. With the exception of actually attempting to poison them, we have tried various remedies to eradicate them. For many years, I planted my roses only in pots. We had pots everywhere – pots on the front porch, pots by the front porch, pots by our storage shed, pots on our back patio, pots around our trees! Unfortunately, all of those were destroyed by the fire (see Any Way the Wind Blows). When we moved home, I started creating this new garden, mistakenly thinking that the gophers, too, had been wiped out by the fire. So, what to do? What to do?
We learned about three years ago that owls prey on gophers. How to get owls to our property became the challenge of the day. So, we bought an owl barn. Here’s a picture:
Sorry the next photo is kinda blurry – when I took that photo, I was still taking pictures with my iPhone and waiting for the day I could afford one of those fancy, dancy professional cameras with a telephoto lens (see Christmas Surprise).
Can you see the owl barn in our tree? This is a very large tree, one of the few that survived the fire (see Any Way the Wind Blows). The owl barn guy put it in this tree because our other trees are still too small. We’ve planted over 80 trees since the fire, but they have a long way to go before they will be as big as this one!
Within days of installing this owl barn in this tree, we had an owl. Proof came soaring out of the trees as dusk fell over our valley one night. The owl made a beeline for some prey, swooping low over our pool. This glorious (and quite large) creature skimmed our pool, talons poised for its prey, emanating a comforting “who, who” as it continued its flight path. Not a hoot, but a soft who. Illuminated by our pool lights, Hedwig’s enormous wingspan surprised and delighted me and our guests, who were also privileged to witness this amazing documentary of nature’s pest control services. The prey was probably a rat (and not a gopher!); we kept finding dead rats in our pool until we got Hedwig on the scene – now no more rats!
At some point in the future, I hope to capture Hedwig on my new fancy, dancy camera and share the picture with you. In the meantime, you’ll have to take my word for it – he’s a splendid bird!
Anyway, I’m sure Hedwig is doing his part on our gopher problem, but we have a couple of things going against us:
- We have a substantial gopher colony; more than Hedwig can eat (I’ve read that gopher colonies can be as high as 60 per acres; we have 8 acres – you do the math!). The good news is that I’m pretty sure Hedwig has a mate. Looking forward to seeing baby owls in our future.
- Hedwig doesn’t just hunt on our property. I’m sure he and his mate fly all over our entire valley looking for easier prey – like rats!
Do you know what Dodo birds are? They’re extinct! It wouldn’t break my heart if gophers became extinct. So how did Dodo’s become extinct? Flightless and twice the size of a Thanksgiving turkey, the Dodo was easy prey for the explorers of the island of Mauritius. Native to the island and restricted in its habitat (because they were flightless birds living on an island), Dodos became extinct 64 years after “discovery” (the first recorded mention of their existence). Here’s a collage of wonderful Dodo drawings that I sourced from Wikipedia. Here, too, is a link to the Dodo article in Wikipedia.
One day, Princess P and I were having a conversation about words that have the same letters in them, like my cat’s name, Coco. She was telling me about the words she learned at school and I said, “you mean like Dodo?” She looked at me skeptically and said “that’s not a word!” And I said, “yes, it is! It’s a bird! Let’s look in the dictionary!” Tiffany and her family have an old family dictionary that was published is 1913 (wow – 100 years old!). Anyway, here are pictures of what the Princess P and I found in their 100-year-old dictionary that day:
This strange bird was a fascinating curiosity for several hundreds of years and has been characterized in multiple tales and stories. Though it has fallen out of favor off-and-on over the years, I’m in favor of resurrecting the Dodo and eliminating the gopher By Way of the Dodo Bird.
Do you have any suggestions on how to accomplish this?
(other gardening posts)
- A Lovely Mess
- Gifts from the Garden Fairies
- Here Today, Gone Tomorrow
- Pretty in Pink
- Signs of Spring
- The Birds and the Bees