Tag Archives: nest boxes

The trouble with possums

This is a female. See the pouch under her belly?

It’s been quite the saga with our local possums lately. For my non-Australian readers, possums are native Australian marsupials about the size of a cat. They are mainly vegetarian, eating leaves, fruit, flowers and grass. But they’re not averse to insects and bird’s eggs, and have become opportunistic foragers in towns. They’re nocturnal and sleep away the daylight hours in a dark place such as a hollow log.

And that has become an issue. With increasing urban sprawl, trees are being cut down in record numbers. This has led to a serious shortage of hollow branches for parrots, cockatoos, kookaburras and the like, which use them for nesting, and for possums and other nocturnal creatures who need them as homes.

When we arrived in Hervey Bay we found a large hollow log in one of the out-buildings. It seems a previous owner of the property had been a wildlife carer and I think the log had been used as a nesting box for something like a sulphur-crested cockatoo. We like birds, so we put a lid on the log, fitted a perch, and hoisted it up onto a palm tree near the house.

What are you doing in our house? Note the board to try to limit the size. And the chewed edge.

All was well. The nest box received almost immediate interest and a couple of lorikeets moved in. But after some time this up-market accommodation attracted the attention of a possum, which moved in and has been there ever since, despite our attempts to discourage it by reducing the size of the opening. The tenant just chewed the edges to fit. So we gave up and constructed bird boxes. They were never as popular as the real thing, though. And I confess I enjoy watching the possums in the evening. One regular visitor was a female who brought her latest baby on her back to see if there was anything on the bird table. I often put a mandarin or a piece of orange out for them.

Mum and Bub

A few months ago we returned from a trip to find the possum peering at us in daylight, from inside the log. That’s unusual because they’re nocturnal, and also, they attract the fury of many of the small birds – butcher birds, noisy miners, magpie larks and the like, who gather around the box and yell. The reason for the possum’s appearance became apparent when we noticed the base had fallen from its house. So Pete took the log down (sans possum), fixed it, and put it back.

All was well.

As I sat in my office some weeks later, I heard a very loud crash from outside. It was unusual enough to cause me to check on the reason. The whole possum house had fallen to the ground – with the possum inside. I saw a little pink nose and a swarm of mosquitoes which must also have had their slumber (or their dinner) interrupted. Pete and I looked up the tree and decided we weren’t going to try to get the log back up there. After some discussion we closed the hole with a piece of tied-on wood (keeping poss inside) and took the whole shebang to a different tree in a more heavily wooded part of the garden and hoisted the log up there. Not as high, but safe and sound within the large pool enclosure.

All was well

Not long after that we noticed thumps and noises from the ceiling just before dawn, and again after nightfall. Possums have learned to live in suburbia. They had to. Ceilings are a popular housing site, and a homeless possum had found its way into ours. There are two problems with that. Possums are not house-trained, and they have been known to cause electrical fires (by damaging wires etc). So, much as I like wildlife, poss had to be evicted.

But before we got around to arranging that, we had a truly memorable morning. I was awake early, jolted out of snoozing by a loud thump from the direction of the kitchen. I didn’t bother investigating because it was probably some critter on the window ledge. Around 5am, with light graying the sky, Pete got up for a pee. He saw an animal dart into our bedroom and under the bed. “There’s a cat in here. Or a possum.”

That was that for an early morning snooze. Picture this, if you will. A couple of people well past their best years, dressed in their night attire, chasing a small furry animal around the house. The possum bolted out of the bedroom and into the lounge. We both followed, closing doors as we went. We opened the front door and the back sliding glass door, then we played sheep dogs, gently herding the little creature out into the garden. It immediately charged up the nearest fence, up onto the roof and dived into the ceiling cavity.

It’s not the same possum as the one in the log. Like I said, there’s a housing crisis for possums. This might have been a juvenile, no longer wanted by mum and looking for its own abode. We several times had junior possums using the nest boxes we’d built for the birds, but they soon outgrow them.

The obvious question was how did it get in? There’s a cat flap in the laundry door, set up so a cat can go out, but not come back in. We don’t have a cat so tended to ignore its existence. We think the possum levered a corner of the flap up. They have long, powerful claws for climbing, and they don’t need much wriggle room. Judging by the paw prints, it wandered around the kitchen, jumping up on benches and fridge magnets to get on the little ledge which was the protruding part of the fridge, just outside the cupboards around it. The thump I heard from the kitchen was the possum jumping down. I suspect it came to the bedroom because it occupied the upstairs apartment and was looking for the stairs.

Pete taped up the cat flap to prevent further visits.

We had one more bit of morning excitement before we got our act together. One morning after I’d brought him his cup of tea (yes, I do), Pete said, “Have a look in the en suite.”

Okay. I did as I was told. There was a reddish mess dripping down the cistern. Thinking Pete must have hurt himself, I asked, “What’s that?”

“Possum shit.”

I looked up at the vent for the exhaust fan which is above the toilet and saw some remnants up there, too.

That, dear reader, was the final straw.

I cleaned the mess up. It wasn’t poo. Possums do little pellets like rats and rabbits, and there was nothing like that in sight. I *think* the possum must have cut itself or something. Either way, it had outstayed its welcome.

Like all native species, possums are protected, so we could evict, but not harm. We borrowed a cage trap from a friend and baited it with an apple. But it turned out to be unnecessary. Pete went up on the roof and put wire mesh over all the gaps into the roof cavity – except the one we knew the possum used. By this time, we had decided there was more than one possum up there. The poss(es) went out foraging after nightfall, and Pete went up and plugged the last hole.

There are no more night time noises in the ceiling.

 

 

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The perils of house-hunting

It was a long, hot, dry summer in Hervey Bay this year. In some respects the arrival of Cyclone Debbie was a blessing. Don’t misunderstand, I have the deepest sympathy for all those people who endured the lady’s fury. But Hervey Bay is too far south to feel the full fury of a tropical cyclone, and when Debbie became a deep low, bringing high winds and flooding rains to the Sunshine and Gold Coasts and into NSW, we were protected by Fraser Island. We didn’t mind the rain, though. We had just had the driest summer since we’ve lived here, and summer is supposed to be our wet season.

Be that as it may, the weather has cleared, all the plants heaved a huge sigh of relief, and the birds abandoned us. If you’re one of those people who think feeding birds is a bad thing, rest assured they still prefer their natural food. The callistemons are in bloom, and we hear the birds; we just don’t see them. When the flowers die off they’ll come back for a spot of apple juice, or a nibble at an apple, or some multi-grain bread.

One thing about an absence of lorikeets is that we can be visited by some of the shyer species. We have nesting boxes in our trees, and although one is a long-time abode of a possum, one is empty. A pair of pale-headed rosellas have been eyeing it off. She goes for a look, while he waits below, giving advice.

There has been a pair of rosellas around as long as we’ve lived here, and every few years they’ll be looking for a nest. The first year we lived here was interesting. The house had one of those pot-bellied space heaters, with a round metal chimney up through the roof, fitted with a raised cap like a Chinaman’s hat. That sort of arrangement was perfect for birds who nest in hollowed-out branches in trees. The female bird slipped under the gap between the raised ‘hat’ and into what she would have thought was a log – and slid right down to the bottom. We couldn’t reach her in the stove – she was above a flue. What to do? Pete got up on the roof and took off the cap, but the bird had nothing to climb up, and of course couldn’t fly. So we lowered down a thick rope with a knot on the end, hoping she would cling to it and we could draw her up. The male bird was watching all this from a nearby vantage point, no doubt worried out of his little bird brain.

It took a couple of goes. She caught on quite quickly, and Pete drew her up almost to the top. But she let go too soon. The next attempt was a success. As soon as she could spread her wings she and the hubby were off.

We always thought the heater was a waste of space. I think we lit it twice in all the years before we got rid of it when we replaced the roof. The nesting boxes are much safer, of course, designed specially for birds of that size. Lorikeets have used this one in the past. I’d love it if the rosellas took up the tenancy – but lorikeets are aggressive little shits, so I doubt if it will work out.

In other news I had a brush with melanoma. Like most Australians my age who grew up in the surf and the sand, spraying our bodies with coconut oil to work up a lovely golden tan, I’ve got plenty of age spots and moles. One large spot on the side of my jaw appeared to be falling apart, so I went to see the doctor. He said it was a squamous something-or-other and not to worry. But since I was there, he checked the collection on my back. Nothing nasty. Then (as a bit of a joke) I pointed at a tiny spot on my left arm just above my wrist. It was circular, not lumpy or misshapen, about the size of a pin head, but it was black – therefore unlike any of the other blemishes on my skin. The doc’s body language changed remarkably. “I think we should take that out,” he said. Who was I to argue? So we made a time and he punched this thing out, so small it didn’t need stitches, and sent it off for pathology.

The wound required 8 stitches. It has healed nicely

You know it’s not a good result when the surgery rings you to make an appointment. I was told that tiny spot would have become a melanoma, which is the most dangerous form of skin cancer. He thought he’d got the lot, but he suggested he remove a bit more skin to be certain. There would be a scar. So now I have a scar above my left wrist. But I don’t have a melanoma. Fair trade if you ask me.

And I wrote a review of the latest Star Wars novel, Thrawn. It’s over on my other blog if you’re interested. Here’s the link.

 

The mystery of the nest box

Loss of old trees has meant a loss of nesting hollows for many Australian animals. My husband and I have tried to do our bit by putting up nest boxes in a few places. We’re still waiting for the microbats to find their little house, high up in the eaves. The other boxes were built for medium sized birds, like lorikeets and rosellas. One nest box with a larger opening has been occupied by the local possum, but we have two up-market apartments still vacant. One is next to where the possum lives, so I expect that’s ruined the neighbourhood. But the one on the other side of the pool, attached to a palm tree, is a mystery.

A pair of rosellas showed some interest, then the box was ignored. Until recently. One day, I thought something had moved in, but I checked with binoculars and it was just the light striking the inside of the box. But wait a minute – the entrance hole had been chewed. It wasn’t flaking paint and if you looked closely, you could almost see claw marks.picture of nest box

What was it?

Not parrots or day birds. They went up there, for sure, because the palm was in flower, and everyone loves palm nectar. The birds would sit on top of the box, but I never saw anything going in, or coming out, and there was no wear on the perch. Sure, the possum went up there to feed at night, but she wouldn’t fit in that hole. Besides, there was no sign of hair on the wood.

An owl? Microbats? I’ve looked for droppings, but there’s nothing. Besides, the box doesn’t bother the birds at all. They’ll sit on top to take nectar from the palm flowers.

picture of 2 parrots looking at nest boxThis morning, a pair of lorikeets showed some interest. Here they are, inspecting the premises. One bird spent a lot of time actually putting his head in there. One picture seems to show he was unimpressed and maybe a bit fearful – but he put his head in, again.

picture of Lorikeets inspecting nest boxpicture of bird reacting to next boxpicture of bird with head in nest boxIt’s absolutely intriguing. Sure, we could get a ladder and look in through the top, but that’s not very neighbourly, is it? And who knows? Maybe we’ll get to hear the clitter-clatter of tiny claws some time. Wouldn’t that be nice?

By the way, any suggestions regarding the tenants would be welcome.