Trappin' critters

By Kris Ferrazza | Nov 30, 2018

This fall, trapping critters has been fun for the whole family.

With the cold weather on its way and the pitter-patter of little feet already in the walls, we are trying to evict as many interlopers from our 1820 farmhouse as possible.

We talk tough, but truth be told, we haven’t yet resorted to poison or snap traps to kill the rodents invading our space. Our cat does a good job of deterring them, but this has been a banner year for vermin, so we’re lending a hand.

Everybody knows the rodent population exploded this year, with squirrels, chipmunks, woodchucks and flying squirrels running rampant in Maine. Things at our house are no different. We have seen more than our share of the usual suspects, as well as mice and maybe even a rat or two around the barn.

A bumper crop of acorns and pine cones is getting credit for the baby boom, possibly combined with milder winters, biologists say. For this reason, our Hav-A-Heart trap is getting a workout.

Each day my husband sets the trap, loading it up with peanut butter and granola bars, and every afternoon my daughter reports on the catch.

“It’s a squirrel and it’s scared!” she’ll say. Or, “I don’t know what it is ... but it’s scared!”

Sure enough, we’ll find a bushy-tailed bugger taking a time-out in the trap. They usually are wild-eyed and twitchy, all hopped up on organic peanut butter and granola, and ready to be sprung from the joint.

The trap was intended for a rat who was boldly eating the corn right off the cornstalks decorating our front porch. He was caught almost immediately and deposited down the road a piece, then the trap was set up again, in hopes of catching his mate. Now it seems to be a fool’s errand, as my husband has been catching only squirrels daily and depositing them down the road.

His patience takes me back to when I was a child, and our cat killed a mother red squirrel. My own mother immediately adopted the babies. She fed them with eye-droppers and showered them with love and encouragement until they grew healthy and strong. They lived in a birdcage until they could be released back into the wild.

On the day of their release, we all gathered around as the cage was hoisted into the backyard tree where they had been found. Finally, the moment of truth arrived and the cage door was opened. We all watched with bated breath as the baby squirrels ventured out, then raced around the tree like crazy, and returned to their cage, where they thought they belonged. They continued to sleep in the cage for a while, until they abandoned it and returned to the wild. My father jokes that the cat then continued to pick them off one by one.

In the farmhouse where I live now, we have experienced many close encounters of the critter kind. I once put a topiary on the front porch for a day or two and when I brought it back into the house, the cat went berserk. He caught and killed a mama mouse, and I found her babies in the houseplant. Unfortunately, I wasn’t as talented as my mom at rearing rodents, and they expired.

We also have caught many creatures in the fireplace with neither a trap nor bait. Anytime there is a commotion behind the glass, my husband dons his thickest work gloves and grabs a flashlight. Once he knows what he is dealing with, he makes a plan, which usually involves a nearby window or the front door as a path of release.

He once caught a small bat and set it free in the front yard. I was having a conniption fit, sure he would contract rabies. But he didn’t. Instead he simply released it, and watched it fly over our neighbor’s rooftop.

When he tells the story, however, he claims the bat circled the neighbor’s chimney, then flew straight back at him. It is at that point he claims he noticed the bat had the head of his mother-in-law. It’s always good for a laugh (and fortunately, he loves my mother).

Another day he nabbed a critter we couldn’t identify. This little guy was turned loose on the front porch. It ran up the side of the building, then glided away like 007, only revealing his true identity as a flying squirrel during his graceful getaway. Our jaws dropped, needless to say.

The most dramatic critter rescue had to be the falcon, however. A little spotted kestrel, which is the smallest of all falcons, had been chased down our chimney by a hawk.

Initially I mistook the spotted bird for an owl, and announced I would be keeping it as a pet. My husband dismissed me from the room and donned the gloves, calling out his standard, “Stand back. I'm going in."

He gently scooped up the bird, which hissed angrily in his face. I was taken aback. My husband thought it was adorable. Then he extended his arms out through a nearby open window and released the kestrel.

The little falcon flew to a nearby tree, prompting a chorus of cries from his feathered friends. It was magical.

I was telling my 89-year-old father about our trapping adventures, and he reminisced about trapping muskrats as a child. I love to hear tales from his childhood, growing up in the 1930s as one of six children.

My dad and uncles read in a magazine that a company was looking for animal pelts, and would pay cash, “so we decided to go into the fur business,” he said. They had a string of half a dozen traps and caught one muskrat. He said they skinned it, tacked it to a board, salted and dried it, and then decided trapping wasn’t for them.

“We turned it into a bicycle seat cover,” he said, bragging that it was the best bicycle seat cover in town.

And the beat goes on.

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