Wednesday, March 26th, 2003

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Progressive Animal
Welfare Society

PO Box 1037
Lynnwood, WA 98046

Kevin Mack
Nature Interpretation
by Kevin Mack, PAWS Wildlife Naturalist

Spring has arrived. I didn't come to this conclusion by looking at the date on a calendar, or by noticing a change in the weather. I decided that spring had arrived after observing the behavior of the wildlife around me. For several weeks now, the small plot of woods on PAWS' property has become increasingly filled with a rich variety of bird songs. The handful of species whose alarm calls had greeted me at 7 a. m. throughout the winter are now singing loudly when I arrive to start my day. Their voices have been joined by the voices of others who are eager to carve out their own little patch in the forest. A partially dead alder tree outside my office window has become a hub of activity in recent days.


This Red-Breasted Merganser is currently recovering from a fractured scapula at the PAWS Wildlife Center.

A squirrel was seen carrying a mouthful of leaves into an old flicker nest cavity even as a female flicker was beginning the excavation of a new cavity just a few feet higher on the trunk. Twenty feet away from the tree, three crows were observed picking through twigs and roots on the ground, and flying away with several that they deemed acceptable. After living through what turned out to be a very mild winter, it seems that some of our local residents are looking to get an early start on unleashing the next generation on the world. Whenever I start to hear the bird songs and see the nest and den preparation I always have the same thought…"uh-oh".

There are two seasons at the PAWS Wildlife Center: the busy season, and the insanely busy season. Birds singing and building nests, and mammals defending territories and seeking den sites herald the beginning of the latter. The "squirrel in my attic" calls have already started rolling in, soon to be joined by the "starling in my chimney", and "raccoon or opossum in my crawlspace" calls. Any day we'll begin to get the "woodpecker ruining my wood siding" and "house sparrows nesting in my dryer vent" calls. We get these and similar calls every year and they make it abundantly clear to me how differently than other animals we view our surroundings.

In the interest of decreasing the chances for interspecies conflict as the result of misunderstandings, I have compiled a short list of things that I feel are interpreted differently by different species. For each word or words I have included the human definition followed by the definition of one or more non-human animal species. Please note that the non-human definitions are pure speculation based on the behavior of the animals involved. As always, I don't pretend to truly know what goes on in the mind of another animal. I feel challenged enough trying to figure out what goes on in my own mind.

Attic: Human definition- A story or room directly below the roof of a building, especially a house. A good place to store infrequently used things.

Squirrel definition- A warm, dry, and safe place, like a tree cavity but much more spacious. A good place to store the kids.


This Great Blue Heron was brought to PAWS with a broken wing. Upon x-raying the bird it was discovered that his injuries were the result of a gunshot wound.

Crawlspace: Human definition- A low or narrow space, such as one beneath the upper or lower story of a building, that gives workers access to plumbing or wiring equipment.

Raccoon, opossum, skunk, rat, otter, etc. definition- A low, narrow space, much like a burrow but requiring no digging. A perfect place to get out of the rain or raise a family.

Stovepipe: Human definition- A pipe, usually of thin sheet iron, used to conduct smoke or fumes from a stove into a chimney flue. Exit only.

Starling definition- A large, hollow opening worth investigating as a possible nest site. Easily entered, but difficult to get out of without assistance due to the narrowness and slick sides.

Dryer Vent: Human definition- An opening permitting the escape of excess heat and water vapor from a dryer.

Starling, House Sparrow definition- A protected, warm and humid nest cavity. Practically incubates eggs itself.

Insulation: Human definition- A material or substance used to prevent the passage of heat out of your home.

Squirrel, rat, mouse, raccoon, etc. definition- A material or substance that can be shredded and added to a nest to prevent the passage of heat out of your young.

Wood Siding: Human definition- Attractive boards, often made of cedar, used for surfacing the outside walls of a frame building.

Woodpecker definition- The largest tree trunk ever encountered. Often has wonderful acoustics and abundant insects.

Bird Feeder: Human definition- An outdoor container for bird feed, used to attract wild birds.

Songbird, squirrel, mouse, rat, raccoon, opossum, bear, etc. definition- Free food! Free food!

Garbage Can: Human definition- A receptacle where rubbish is discarded.

Raccoon, bear, opossum, coyote, gull, crow, etc. definition- Free food! Free food!

Pet Food: Human definition- Food for a companion animal (such as a dog or cat). Often left outside in a pet food bowl.

Raccoon, opossum, etc. definition- Food for a raccoon, opossum, etc. Often appears magically every day in the same location at around the same time.

Window: Human definition- A pane of glass or similar material enclosed in a framework.

Bird definition- None. In most cases windows are completely undetectable or unrecognizable to birds.

So there you have it, my contribution to peaceful coexistence with the wildlife in your area. Please note that this is by no means a complete list of things that are open to multiple interpretations by different species. I encourage you to look around your property and try to pick out other subjects about which you and the wildlife around you might not see eye to eye. Just remember, when negative interactions happen, it's not due to any personal issues the animal may have with you. The problems simply arise due to the fact that, as two different species, you and the animal involved are working out of two different dictionaries. It is extremely unlikely that wild animals will ever be able to decipher our dictionary. If we wish to understand their motivations and find ways to avoid conflicts, it is up to us to try to decipher theirs.

Wildlife Release tally: March 5 to March 18, 2003

2 Rock Doves
1 Red-tailed Hawk

Wildlife Release tally: 2003
42 animals

All rights reserved. 2003 Progressive Animal Welfare Society