As depressing as the environmental news is from day-to-day, one thing never fails to amaze me: how well certain animals manage to adapt to the presence of man. I thought of this the other day I stepped out on the porch. I caught sight of a squirrel ambling across the yard.
I should tell you that we don’t have a lot of big trees on our property, and the ones we do have are spaced out along the length of the back. As I was watching this squirrel I thought perhaps this might be a touch inconvenient. I was wrong.
We do have a fence around one part of our property. A five foot wooden one, which this squirrel uses as a sort of rodent freeway. He (or she, I wasn’t close enough to ask) hopped on the post, and was able to walk all the way from one side of the yard to the other. The fence is apparently just the right height from which a squirrel can safely tease our dogs. I know this because it stopped, several times, tail flicking, while the dogs had fits. I reckon tail flicking must be the squirrel equivalent of: neener neener.
From the fence he then hurled himself onto our neighbour’s fence. When that didn’t take him as far as he wanted to go, he yeeted himself onto a clothesline, and from there to someone’s roof. It was then that I realized that the little runt could travel all over town without setting so much as a paw on a tree trunk, if necessary.
Birds are incredibly adaptable too. Pigeons, a prime example, know exactly how to suck up to older ladies with bags of bread crumbs. And who needs trees when there are so many statues around?
We have a lot of mourning doves around here — possibly because of the grain mills and farms in the area. I’m especially fond of mourning doves. They’re so adaptable, they can build nests smack in the middle of my narrow window ledge. Did you know they start cooing at four in the morning? They’ll start even earlier than that if they know you crawled into bed at two. Cute little things, doves.
Hummingbirds have become pretty dependent on people too. I don’t know what the hummer population would do if there was a sudden shortage of those plastic flower thingies that are always filled up with sugar water. Or for that matter, how the finches would fare without their feeder, or what the sparrows would do without suet balls . . .
And how about dogs? We own a pair of [deep breath] Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers, a breed renowned for their keen hunting ability. Part retriever, part pointer, they’ll track down anything. Just one tiny genetic step away from the vicious, ruthless, wild wolf. Grrr.
Okay, look, I’m not saying our pooches aren’t keen hunters. Heck, they can smell a cupcake at fifty metres. They’ll point at anything with gravy on it, and they’ll retrieve anything from the supper table. Including your fingers, if you’re not careful.
Put them out in the wild though, and I’m not so sure. Pheasants don’t come wrapped in cellophane, and rabbits don’t require can openers, so I doubt our dogs could find them. And certainly the idea of actually sleeping on the ground would confuse them. Their version of “roughing it” involves barking softly.
Cats would not be dining on such delicacies as “Italian Style Fish Fantastico” in the wild. Neither would they find many balls of yarn, wind-up mousies, or fuzzy scratching posts. And there would be no one around to get rid of their fleas.
Bears have been known to clamber into hot tubs for a soak, moose love water sprinklers, and if you search for Stoat Kit Goes Wild On Trampoline, you will not be disappointed.
My point is, for all our very evident faults, humanity is not especially soft, weak, or hedonistic compared to the rest of the animal kingdom. We just figured out how to build sofas first.
What’s your favourite example of critter adaptation to modern life? Answer in the comments.