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Column: Helping, moving and taking photos of animals that make winter visits to our yard


The break in the weather coupled with the recent arrival of garden catalogs in the mail is always a boost to the spirit. Riffing the colorful pages awash with brilliant reds, shimmering greens and vivid yellows can make one long for sun-filled days and balmy nights which cannot arrive too soon.

I suppose the promise of spring is the same for the critters who paid a visit to our backyard the past week. We have an unwritten agreement with all four-footed animals who visit, offering them safe passage to someplace else.

A skunk sauntered past our rear window recently. It looked around and apparently did not see anything it liked. We also assume the footprints we saw in the snow belonged to a neighborhood cat which makes a nighttime appearance every so often. If it is vermin that it seeks, it should look someplace else.

A skunk made a midwinter visit to the Shnay backyard in Park Forest.Penny Shnay/for Daily Southtown, Feb. 2024, Park Forest, Illinois
A skunk made a midwinter through the Shnay backyard in Park Forest. (Penny Shnay/for Daily Southtown)

A young raccoon visited us last week, moving in a southwesterly path across the yard. It is hoped that this junior scavenger had other things in mind and was not looking for squatter’s rights to corners of our property.

Some friends of ours dealt with an invasion by a large family of raccoons a few years back. I was told they set a baited cage trap in their backyard which would usually clang shut in the middle of the night. Making the ultimate sacrifice (awakening before 6 a.m.), they put the cage in their car trunk and drove to a rural site, freed the raccoon then drove back home. Ultimately the entire raccoon clan was furtively taken to the same place around the same time.

The Woman of our house thinks they broke more than a few statutes concerning the trapping of animals.

Fearing charges of aiding and abetting, I will say no more.

Deer, on the other hand, believe their handsome appearance gives them squatter’s rights to anyone’s property. It seems especially true to homes adjacent to the forest preserve and, in some cases, the homes bordering Park Forest’s Central Park, where they are known to eat birdseed from the backyard of The Son and his wife.

Deer are also notorious jaywalkers. One collided with our car once. The animal loped away, but the vehicle was never the same, and was soon gone to an auto graveyard.

Requiescat in detritus.

A raccoon seen recently in backyards in Park Forest. Penny Shnay/for Daily Southtown, Feb. 2024, Park Forest, Illinois
Penny Shnay

A raccoon seen recently in backyards in Park Forest. (Penny Shnay/for Daily Southtown)

The first chore in life for the Woman in our house seems to be feeding the birds and she does this with gusto, devotion and money. She is also a devoted watcher of winged creatures. When we are in the car, she counts the number of hawks she spots in the trees or poles. It can be unnerving when she cries out “37,” and rouses the driver who, along with the car, is on cruise control.

Dreading the traffic cops, I will say no more.

What we have seen throughout the seasons are the large number of starlings. These, along with the grackles, are the bully birds of the avian world. They arrive in flocks and as soon as The Woman fills the feeders these avian pests take over. Even the squirrels, which tidy up the ground by consuming seeds dropped by smaller birds, seem to back away from seemingly starving starlings.

Most recently, The Woman photographed a yellowish something called a northern flicker, which swooped in unannounced. I was told this is a rare sight.

“You don’t see this bird around here,” she informed me. I could not argue the point.

The Woman’s camera is an extension of her hand and at least three times a week she roams the extended suburban area westward, past the Illinois River, or eastward to wherever it is she goes to in Indiana. Last week, she captured impressive photographs of both eagles and bison. However, to complete her wanderings, she was forced to put gas in the car three times.

For obvious reasons I will say no more.

Jerry Shnay, at [email protected], is a freelance columnist for the Daily Southtown.



Jerry Shnay , 2024-02-12 11:15:45

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