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Urban Food Chains

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Published on: May. 2, 2003

Last revision: Nov. 15, 2010

used black plastic to line the rock waterfall that aerates the pond. One day, among the goldfish I had rescued from the bait shop, I discovered an eastern garter snake. Not only do snakes love to hang out in rock gardens looking for insects, but they also like to lie under black plastic liners that absorb the sun's rays and allow them to warm up quickly.

Personally, I like snakes and would rather have them in my yard than the mice and crickets they eat. But people who are not enamored of reptiles should forgo building rock gardens, stacking firewood or placing black plastic near their homes.

Feeding dogs and cats outdoors is another way people start food chains. Bill Heatherly, a former urban wildlife specialist in Kansas City, received a call from a couple who regularly fed their pets in the backyard. Before long, a raccoon family moved into the couple's attic to be close to the steady supply of food.

Another Kansas City resident fed her cat indoors, but allowed the feline access to the house through a pet door, said Heatherly, who is now a wildlife programs supervisor. The woman wondered why her cat was suddenly eating more food and splashing water all over the floor. It remained a mystery until early one morning when the woman confronted a raccoon in the hallway of her home.

A single raccoon can be a nuisance, but imagine the man in Kansas City who started out with one raccoon eating his dog's food. It wasn't long before the food attracted more and more raccoons until 30 were scratching on his door demanding food each evening. The man and his small dog were afraid to go outside, and he was afraid to quit feeding them. Wendy Sangster, a wildlife damage biologist in Kansas City, suggested that the man move the food away from the house a little at a time until the raccoons stopped coming to his deck. Eventually, the man was able to stop feeding the horde altogether.

Not all stories turn out as well. At the Lake of the Ozarks, a man was intentionally feeding a pair of foxes from his back porch, said Jim Braithwait, a wildlife damage biologist in the southern part of the state. After the foxes had a litter of kits, the man fed them, too. As they grew older, the kits, which were not afraid of people, began chasing

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