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10 July 2009 @ 10:18 pm
Wildlife in Unexpected Places  

Last Monday morning, just as I was leaving for work, I looked outside and immediately forgot all about my job. Outside on my lawn was a large, furry, black and white mass which, upon closer inspection, turned out to be at least seven or eight skunks! I watched them scamper toward the road and back, and although I had a hard time counting them, I noticed that there appeared to be one adult surrounded by several smaller babies! They were so adorably kitten-like that I grabbed my camera, opened the door, and took a few photos until they disappeared under my next door neighbour's front step.

Striped Skunks

When I excitedly told my co-workers later that morning about the family of skunks, most of them looked less than thrilled at the idea of finding a group of skunks on their lawn. Most people's first reaction upon encountering a skunk (or even just imagining an encounter) seems to be one of dismay and fear of being sprayed. However, skunks only spray as a last desperate measure after repeated warning signals. They are not aggressive by nature and will always try to retreat from a human or other enemy first. Only when retreat is not possible will the skunk growl or hiss, stamp its front feet rapidly, or even walk a short distance on its front feet with its tail high in the air. The skunk cannot spray from this position, however; to perform that defence it usually humps its back and turns in a U-shaped position so that both the head and tail face the enemy.

As with most wildlife, skunks can be approached if you keep a respectful distance and make no threatening or aggressive movements. Respect is the key, however, and if an animal becomes agitated, slowly back away and leave it room to retreat.

Striped Skunk family

Skunks are omnivores, and it has been estimated that almost 70 percent of a skunk’s diet is beneficial to people and only five percent is harmful to human property. They eat insects, mice, shrews, ground squirrels, young rabbits, birds’ eggs, and various plants. During the summer, they eat mainly insects such as grasshoppers, crickets, insect larvae, white grubs, army worms, and cutworms. They will even eat wasps and bees, which they kill with their front feet. In fact, skunks proved such an efficient enemy of the hop grub in New York State that legislation was passed to protect the skunk.

Striped Skunks

When the young skunks are approximately seven weeks old the mother takes them out to search for food, although they are not weaned from their mother's milk until about two months of age. As they remain with their mother until autumn, and may join her in the winter den, it appears this family will remain together for quite some time.

Striped Skunks with Mamma

Eventually the family disappeared into a large hole in my next door neighbour's garden that leads under her front step. I took some video of the skunks which shows the mother attempting to drag one of her young to the den.

The family heads toward their den

Upon closer inspection I noticed a smaller hole in my own garden also leading beneath the step of our townhome. I looked for them later that evening around dusk and noticed at least three of them emerge. They snuffled about the lawn for a while before dispersing. Then, this evening I noticed six of them leaving the den!

I find the baby skunks adorable and fascinating to watch. I just worry that they will be hit by a car, run into another aggressive animal at night (such as a raccoon or cat), or be harrassed by people who fear rather than try to understand them. I wish that the mother had found a safer place to bear her young, but with all the trees being cut down in our area and new building going on, the wildlife is being pushed out of its natural habitat and has to make do with what it finds.

The other unexpected and interesting wildlife encounter I had this week was seeing a female White-tailed Deer in the field across from the transit station at Hurdman! I had gone there at lunch to look for butterflies and noticed a man standing a the edge of the field holding up his cell phone. Then I noticed the deer making her way through the grass! The man was taking pictures with his camera, so I pulled out my own camera and started shooting.

White-tailed Deer

I don't know what she was doing there, but I guess if Wild Turkeys can find their way there, so can other large animals!

(Anonymous) on July 15th, 2009 12:19 am (UTC)
Skunk photos
Ohhhhhh.... those skunks are ADORABLE!! I just love them! And you are absolutely right about them being non-aggressive and only spraying as a very last resort. Thanks for commenting on that. It is too bad people don't try to learn about wildlife rather than fearing it based on misconceptions. Your photos are just super!!! Thanks so much for sharing them. Cheers, Christine
Gillian: Butterflygillianm on July 15th, 2009 12:53 am (UTC)
Re: Skunk photos
Hi Christine,

Thanks for your comments! I want this blog to be educational as well as an account of what I see and where I go, and so I had to point out that skunks will spray only if left with no other choice.

Today I noticed that my neighbour has filled in the hole on her side of the garden. However, the hole on my side of the garden is a lot longer, so I am hoping the skunks can still get in and out. A chipmunk I was feeding a few years ago on my front step would run beneath it and come out on the neighbour's side, so hopefully the area is big enough for the skunks, too. I'm waiting for it to get darker so I can watch for them come out.

Regards, Gillian
Gillian: Butterflygillianm on July 15th, 2009 01:13 am (UTC)
Re: Skunk photos
Well, I'm happy to report that the skunks can get out through the hole on my side of the garden. I just saw two of them emerge and head around to the back of our townhouse row!
(Anonymous) on July 15th, 2009 05:41 pm (UTC)
Re: Skunk photos
Hi Gillian, Well that is a relief. I'm really glad to hear that they are able to take advantage of your side. Let's hope they realize where their friends are! Cheers, Christine
(Anonymous) on July 22nd, 2009 02:54 am (UTC)
What a great find. OK, so I'm one of those who would be thrilled to find a family of skunks. It's not something you get to see every day. It would be fascinating to observe their behaviour. - Wilson