I don’t live in the country, but I don’t live in the city either. Our house is just about half a mile from the nearest freeway, so we have traffic noise. The housing in my neighborhood is mostly manufactured homes that were set here in the 1980s as winter homes for the snow birds from up north, so there’s a little space between us, but not as much as there would be if this were a rural area.
I’m on about a quarter of an acre on the corner. I feel like it was pure luck that this happened to be the one I qualified for when I purchased it in 2006. Since we moved in, there have been populations of various wild creatures living nearby or in the yard, while others have simply wandered through on their way to somewhere else.
Here’s a list of seven wild creatures I’ve seen since moving into this neighborhood
These canines range throughout Arizona and are just as comfortable in the urban areas as they are in the open desert. They are extremely agile. I once saw a coyote perched on a fencepost in my yard — with all four feet on the same post! I haven’t seen one near my house in a little bit, but out at my Renaissance Festival camp, we hear them howling in the night.
According to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, “Coyotes typically sing a “good morning” wake up song around dusk as they prepare for the night’s hunt. They also sing to communicate with neighbors, to keep track of family members, after summer rains, during the full moon, and it seems, just for fun.” It’s a plaintive yet happy yip that gives me a pleasant feeling when I hear it.
For the first five or six years after I moved into the house, there were rabbits living in our yard. Our rabbit neighbors were Desert Cottontails, which are true rabbits. Their species is Sylvilagus audubonii. Desert Cottontails look a lot like other cottontails, but their ears are much longer. In Arizona we also have two species of hares. One is the antelope jackrabbit (Lepus alleni) and the other is the black-tailed jackrabbit (Lepus californicus).
Jackrabbits prefer to live in open areas without cover, so we haven’t seen them in our yard. I have seen them when walking through the desert landscape, though. We haven’t had rabbits in our yard since a coyote family had a shelter on an open lot across the street. Now, they’ll never move back because in addition to our two cats who go in and out of the house, there are multiple feral cats living underneath the house.
There are two species of fox in Arizona, the gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) and the kit fox (Vulpes macrotis). The one I’ve seen in our neighborhood is the gray fox. I know this because this is the fox that climbs trees. The first time we saw a fox in the neighborhood, it was in our yard. We heard a strange sort of cry, and one of my daughters looked over into the dark at the side of the house, discovering two little foxes standing there.
Not expecting this, she was startled and screamed, so the foxes ran off. Every once in a while after that, I would see one or two foxes crossing a street in the evening. The one day, our neighbor discovered that a pair of the foxes were living in the crawl space above his mobile home! I haven’t heard the unique cry of the fox in the past couple of years.
About two years ago, a pair of Harris’s Hawks (Parabuteo unicinctus) moved into a tree in our neighbor’s yard. They stayed a while, likely until their nestlings grew independent. They are migratory birds, so it wasn’t unexpected that they would move on for a time. They have come back each year, and are here now. It’s fun to go outside and find that one or more of these beautiful birds are perched on a pole or sitting on top of a neighbor’s house or vehicle.
They tend to scream when we first walk outside when they are nearby. We’ve decided they are yelling at us to make sure we don’t bother their young. These are birds of prey, and hunt for small mammals. In our neighborhood, their main diet consists of doves. We don’t worry much about our cats, because they are bigger than the usual prey of these hawks. An interesting fact about Harris’s Hawks is that they are the only bird of prey that has been documented to hunt cooperatively in packs. They act like ‘wolves of the air’, taking turns harrassing a small mammal and chasing it out of cover towards other birds in the group. They practice a move called “back-standing,” where one stands on top of the other.
Scientists don’t know for certain why they do it, but I suspect it has something to do with providing a greater line of vision for the bird on top. Of course, this is one of the theories, and it makes sense to me. I’m not a scientist, though. I have seen this in action with our hawk neighbors. The Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum website also suggests the possibility that this might help to provide shade when each bird holds open its wings shading the one under it. I think it’s pretty interesting.
Contrary to the information gleaned from a certain cartoon, Roadrunners do not run around screeching “beep beep.” They do, however, run very fast. They can reach up to 15 miles per hour on whatever terrain they’re running on. Roadrunners can fly, but usually don’t. This interesting bird is a type of cuckoo, and like other cuckoos, has two toes pointing forward and two toes backward.
They mostly eat small small birds, lizards, and snakes. They will sometimes also eat fruits and seeds. I’ve seen a Roadrunner hunt once. It walked fast toward its prey, and when it caught it, it beat it to death by slamming it against the ground over and over. It’s not a pretty sight. Roadrunners can also jump straight up in the air for small birds or flying insects. Roadrunners often bond in permanent pairs and lay three to six eggs at different intervals.
When food is scarce the older hatchlings will take all the food from the parents, which causes the smaller ones to starve. The younger hatchlings will be fed to the stronger ones. Roadrunners are fascinating birds, interesting to watch, and a little goofy looking. The last time I saw a Roadrunner in this neighborhood was at least two years ago. They aren’t afraid of people, and will sometimes come fairly close to look at a human, but they prefer to live in more open desert.
Scorpions are one of those creatures that hasn’t changed much over the past 350 to 400 million years, according to the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum. These weird looking creatures are arachnids. They have segmented bodies and a long, pointed tail that curls up. The tail alone consists of five segments that get longer from the body to the tip, where the stinger is. The stinger is intended to subdue the scorpion’s prey, and must do a pretty good job, because a scorpion sting will cause numbing and stinging that can travel across the body.
There are more than thirty types of scorpions in Arizona, but the bark scorpion is the only one that is truly life threatening. Three species of scorpions are commonly seen here. The bark scorpion is one of them. The others are the stripe tailed scorpion and the giant hairy scorpion. The stripe tail is the most commonly encountered by humans, and the giant hairy is the least common of these top three. Scorpions eat insects and are food for other creatures themselves. Lizards, grasshopper mice, desert shrews, pallid bats, and Elf owls are some of the scorpions predators. We sometimes get scorpions in our house.
They like to seek out moisture, so once in a while one will be in a sink or a tub. I’ve found them climbing walls or on a ceiling. Once, my husband “found” one in a part of his blanket that had slipped to the floor in the night when he was stung on the foot. Some years we don’t see any of these scary little creatures and other years we’ve found up to seven in our house over a period of time. I once saw a female with babies all over her back, which is where the go right after they are born until they can survive on their own. It was a rather icky sight, yet at the same time fascinating.
Round-Tailed Ground Squirrels
I honestly didn’t know what these were really called until just now. I called them little gophers, but I just learned that these cute, small burrowing rodents are a type of squirrel. I know this because their holes don’t have little piles of dirt around them and the Pocket Gophers in Arizona do leave little piles of dirt when they burrow. Also, the hard caliche rock in our area is not conducive to the Pocket Gopher, apparently.
The little ground squirrels I used to see a lot of will eat succulent green vegetation like wildflowers, cactus flowers and fruit, mesquite leaves, grass, and ocotillo flowers. They also eat seeds. They don’t just stick to vegetation, either. According to the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum website, these little guys will eat carrion, including roadkill of its own species.
I recall a few of these in my yard early on, but their population was soon diminished for some reason. It may have been the coyotes. When I was living in a mobile home park about a mile away from here, there was a large open desert lot where hundreds of ground squirrels lived. I wonder if they are still there. People who want to grow lawns find them to be pests, just like all other burrowing creatures. There are lots of reasons not to grow a lush lawn like people from up north are used to, and the lives of the little creatures is one of the most compelling to me.
We have a lot of interesting creatures in Arizona. This is a small list of some of the ones I’ve seen in my neighborhood. I used to work in an area of Phoenix where there were many little holes in which tiny burrowing owls lived. There were coyote living there as well. That whole space has been replaced by an industrial park. I often wonder what happened to the most adorable owls I’ve ever seen.
The area I’m in has been growing rapidly. I’m afraid that the Wild Ones will soon stop wandering through the neighborhood. Many already have. That makes me sad. Except for the scorpions. I don’t want them to disappear completely, I just don’t want them in my house!
What unique creatures live where you are?
Versions of this story have appeared in In for a Penny on Medium and on Newsbreak.