Thursday, November 30, 2006

More Pack Rats!

One more footnote from my trip west might be appropriate, given Querencia's recent pack rat-related posts, here and (Yum!) here. Reid reported on the value of the Neotoma as archeo-climate-geological index and even as a human food item. The natural history of the pack rats (or wood rats) deserves plenty of attention, and maybe we can get Darren to supply us with some cool data. That there is also a sporting angle to this silky-furred rodent shouldn't surprise any Q. readers...

Although we have a version of this animal here in the southeast, and sometimes encounter it hawking rabbits or squirrels in mixed woodland, I still think of the pack rat as a quintessential "western" critter. Their large dens, spiked with prickly pear and deep set into thick cholla cactus bushes make safe havens for rabbits, quail and small desert birds, in addition to the rodents who build them. My right hand (ungloved while hawking) has numerous embedded spines now from the painful but commonplace work of flushing game from pack rat mounds.

The funny thing is that we rarely catch the builder of the mound while trying to flush the rabbit or quail that took refuge in his home. There must be a cozy antechamber or two for the rats to bunker down in when under attack.

Nonetheless, in pursuit of a scaled quail with our friend's good goshawk, Vinney, we happened to flush both the quail and rat. Ordinarily, the hawk would only account for one quarry at a time (and this gos would probably choose to chase the bird). But on that day our efforts were bolstered by another falconer's gamehawking terrier, who leaped at the chance to do the job for which he was bred.

Here are a few pics from the hunt. In the first, you can see Jimmy holding the gos, who leans forward in anticipation of the flush, while we poke at the den with long-handled hoes (only partially effective at saving hands from spines). At some point the action gets a little more chaotic; there's a complicated reshuffling of the players in this drama, then the curtain closes for two of them.

Coincidentally, we caught another pack rat later in the week, this time with a Harris hawk, a bird with little preference for fur or feather and plenty happy with both. Though neither rodent made it into the "rat brine" recipe Reid shared with us, both made good meals for the hawks (served, rare).


Mary Strachan Scriver said...

A bit of a quibble. I see a smooth-tailed rat, but what I'm used to calling a packrat has a bushy tail, so I got out my mammal book. It identifies packrats as woodrats and says they are characterized by hairy tails. So are your rats just wannabe packrats inhabiting old nests, or are you just using "packrat" as a sort of vernacular? Not a big deal, but I once spent a lot of time trying to identify a carcass my cat (a mighty hunter) left in the driveway. She'd eaten the top half, so I had to go by the back half -- with a hairy tail. We decided it was a packrat. How many rats will a packrat pack if a packrat will pack rats?

Prairie Mary

Steve Bodio said...

Hi Mary. All packrats-- genus Neotoma-- have hair on their tales and build nests, unlike naked- tailed "Norway" rats. But only some have squirrel- bushy tails. This one looks like a true packrat-- a big white- footed mouse type. It has bigger eyes and ears than a house rat, a two- toned tail, and a white belly.

BTW I will not claim to have bought 12 Blackfoot tales yet but it is on my Amazon wish list!

Mary Strachan Scriver said...

All profits from sales of "Twelve Blackft Tales" go to me and NOT to the college educations of Blackft.

I really like that dog. Had one just like it once. It would have LOVED to hunt any sort of rat!

Prairie Mary