Rumbling Anthropologie

Identifying your neighbors

Posted 3/22/23

There’s something living in my basement that wasn’t there before. 

I’ve always cohabited comfortably with mice and moles, voles too—with the caveat that I use traps to …

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Rumbling Anthropologie

Identifying your neighbors


There’s something living in my basement that wasn’t there before. 

I’ve always cohabited comfortably with mice and moles, voles too—with the caveat that I use traps to control their numbers. I’m not averse to the sight of a furry corpse clamped securely in a lethal plastic snare. What I do mind is nighttime scratching and scurrying behind my walls; that’s usually the work of red squirrels—I think.

This winter, my basement harvest of mice is noticeably low. I should welcome this. But I wonder: Has some natural predator taken care of my mice problem? And who or what would that be? Maybe something larger, smellier, even hazardous? 

I don’t like visitors I can’t identify.

The certainty of a newcomer was strengthened by my discovery of some decidedly not-mouse droppings. When a second fresh knot of these turds appeared, I decided to act. Whatever their source, it had to be contained. First though—what is it? 

 Living in the Catskills invariably means acquiring basic familiarity with local animals, seen and unseen. Anyone who settles into a country house after residing in a noisy city needs to learn more than how to feed a woodstove or attract orioles to a birdfeeder. 

Not all the animals we encounter are picturesque or endearing. Some carry harmful parasites that grab onto your skin; some burrow into roof soffits or rustic wood installations, weakening house beams. Some chew your electric wires; others devastate your lawn. 

An essential part of rural life is identifying the scat of local fauna—the agreeable and the yucky. We’ll come across shavings left by carpenter bees, snake molting, bat droppings stuck to upper windows, blobs of bear poop on the grass and gooey excretions of Canada geese. 

Deer droppings are easily recognized. Rabbit and squirrel scat litter the garden. But mice leavings are often indoors, in kitchen cupboards and garages, and wherever they find carpet trimmings and pillow-stuffing to line their nests. There’s new, unwelcome waste dropped by urban dogs parading along our country paths. Their owners, liberated from bagging poop left on city streets, blithely ignore cleaning up when walking their pets along our graveled lanes. 

Bear turds, though common, don’t alarm us long-term residents. We generally encounter their scat in the daytime, long after the animal has departed, sometimes carrying the bird feeder with it, but leaving behind a nasty stink.

I can handle mouse poop at home. But these droppings downstairs are a mystery. Moles or voles could be preying on my mice. I search their scat on the internet but nothing I find resembles the shiny black blobs on my basement shelves. I send out a photograph of them to neighbors. Being long-time county folk, they won’t be offended to find a photo of some gucky animal manure on their screen. 

Sharon responded immediately, concerned and curious. “It couldn’t be mice,” she advised. “More likely something that eats mice.” I didn’t fancy dissecting this scat to check. 

Steve, further along the road, wasted no time exploring animal scat sites. Coyote droppings appeared to be similar to my occupant’s. Too large, though. Steve continued his search and found one devoted exclusively to fox. Yes, a fox could be a candidate. (I sometimes see red foxes near the house, even in winter.) And they include mice in their diet. But how could a fox make its way indoors? Steve left a message at Cornell Cooperative Extension, a great resource for upstate New York communities. 

Waiting for a response from Cornell, I sent the turd photo to Jim who lives up the hill. “Jim works in transportation and is a longtime hunter; he should know,” said Sharon. 

Jim and his brother, also a hunter, together eliminated fox, squirrel, groundhog and muskrat, even opossum. “It must be a rat,” they advised. (I was almost disappointed, hoping for something more exotic.) “Yes, rats sometimes stay near rivers. And they consume mice,” added Jim.

I purchased the recommended poison and strategically laid handfuls of pellets. Jim advised that I shouldn’t have to probe through the basement for dead rats. “After chewing poison, they’ll head for water, and die near the riverbank.” 

A sign of my success with the rats will be an increase in the mice downstairs. I think I can live with this.

neighbors, anthropologist,


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