Heard Around the West: When wildlife rules

Betsy Marston
Heard Around the West


Recreationists in inner tubes were happily floating the Missouri River when a mischievous sharp-toothed otter came barreling toward them through the water.

“The animal punctured the tube and then bit the swimmer in the water,” the Missoulian reported. Though the wound was minor, signs telling recreationists of “an aggressive otter” were posted in the area. The ornery animal might be a repeat offender; last summer a group of tubers also was targeted by an otter with big teeth.


A man walked outside his Marietta, Texas, home at 3 a.m., saw an armadillo, took out his .38 revolver and shot at it three times.

Not smart: “The animal’s hard shell deflected at least one of the bullets, which then struck the man’s jaw,” CBC News reported.

The unidentified man was airlifted to a hospital, where his jaw was wired shut. As for the well-armored armadillo, it could not be found and probably never noticed the commotion. Talk about successfully standing your ground.


Stubbs the cat, lifetime mayor of Talkeetna, Alaska, has died at age 20, CNN reported. Running successfully as a write-in in 1997, because no humans in the town of 800 wanted the job, Stubbs was usually found asleep at Nagley’s Store. “He was a trouper until the very last day of his life,” said his owner. A kitten named Denali, after the mountain, is rumored to be next in line for the job.


Thanks largely to their jaunty appearance — they wear tiny backpacks and are buff in a birdy way — 10 homing pigeons still have jobs in Fort Collins flying digital photos of rafters ripping through rapids back to the home office. Ryan Barwick, owner of the rafting company Rocky Mountain Adventures, keeps the birds on the wing because customers enjoy taking pictures of the “Pigeon Express, Fastest Delivery in the West.” Occasionally, the Coloradoan reported, the pigeons dawdle in the trees. That’s when technology saves the day: Barwick carries backup copies of the photos for those times when the birds slack off.


Leath Tonino writes in Camas, the University of Montana’s environmental magazine, that whenever he goes outdoors into the “condo-sprawl” of Palm Springs, California, “I am buckling up for some kind of borderline hallucinatory experience.”

Not the experience you might think; he spends a half-hour watching a long-eared owl, entranced by its every feature: “Dinosaur feet. Shaggy sheep legs … the face is part human, part cat, part seal and affixed to a head that twists 360 degrees.”

And then: The surprising liftoff “on 40 inches of wing!”

Unfortunately, long-eared owls and other cavity-nesting birds like kestrels and woodpeckers face dangers too awful to contemplate. They like nesting in tight places, and when they find open ventilation pipes on vault toilets in the outback, they fly in “and then continue down the pipe to the opening they see ahead, only to find themselves stuck in the toilet’s bowels.” Wyoming Wildlife magazine said it’s a terrible way to die, covered in muck. In one case, more than 200 dead birds were discovered in a California vault toilet. In 2010, after the Forest Service drew attention to the issue, the Teton Raptor Center in Jackson, Wyoming, rose to the challenge with what it calls the “Poo-Poo Project,” which started in Wyoming and now has spread across the country. It’s a simple solution: Just install $30 screens on top of the open vault pipes. This saves untold numbers of birds and small mammals, coordinator David Watson said. The project hopes to screen vault toilet pipes throughout all 50 states, and eventually tackle open pipes in general, including uncapped PVC and mining claim pipes.

If you have ever contemplated owning an owl, perhaps inspired by Harry Potter and his elegant snowy owl Hedwig, think again, warns the International Owl Center. The Houston, Minnesota-based group lists “Top 10 Reasons You Don’t Want an Owl for a Pet.” One is that “a Great Horned Owl could live 30 or more years,” which might test your relationship with your human significant other. Owls don’t like to be cuddled, so no petting, but they do like to hoot and holler at night, especially during mating season. Moreover, “keeping owls involves non-stop cleaning” of bird poop and molting feathers, not to mention the towels or blankets the birds love to shred. But the No. 1 reason you don’t want an owl in your household — something that’s illegal without special permits in most countries anyway — is their high-end diet of whole foods. That’s “whole foods” from tip to tail: For proper health in captivity, owls need to eat entire gophers, rats, rabbits and mice.

“If you’re not prepared to thaw and cut up dead animals every night of your life for 10 years or more, you aren’t up for having an owl.”

Betsy Marston is the editor of Writers on the Range the opinion service of High Country News ( Photos and tips of Western oddities are appreciated and often shared,


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