Twenty years ago when my husband and I bought the property where we still live, one of the first things we did was try to rid the 40-by-40-foot, three-story barn of a very large bat colony. The key thing we had against them was the colony’s copious amount of guano.
Blasting acid rock nonstop, flooding the upstairs with bright lights for several days 24/7, or hanging alcohol-soaked rags in their roosting area — all recommended by various bat-ridding sources — did nothing. So not only did we learn to live with them, I came to like them. Sadly the colony has dwindled all on its own in timing with the reduction of the overall New Hampshire bat population caused by the “white-nose syndrome” fungus epidemic (check N.H. Fish & Game’s website at wildlife.state.nh.us for an update on NH bat colonies and the fungus). A few remain, but after all our early attempts to rid the barn of the bats, I now wish they were all still here.
Bats are just one of the wildlife that a barn attracts both summer and winter. Any moment swallows will start swooping in and out of the open back door with typically at least three pair building nests on the purlins. Several weeks from now every time I walk in the barn I will be greeted by a loud chorus of swallow nestlings peering over the edge awaiting the next feeding visit from mom or dad.
Porcupines love our barn, living under one side that is accessible (to humans) only through a small trap door. One porky used to sit on a rafter at the back door and watch me feed the horses — if you have never seen a porcupine close up, their faces are quite sweet.
One evening a couple years back I went out to feed the horses some late night hay and there were four porkies, aka “quill pigs,” enjoying the green grass directly out the back door. That was when I felt it was time to relocate one or two. Trapping was unsuccessful until I called the Center for Wildlife in Cape Neddick (yorkcenterforwildlife.org), Maine, to solicit their advice. Porcupines love sweet potato, I was told. Bingo! One porky took perhaps his or her first truck ride ever and hopefully has lived happily on conserved land a few miles away.
I’ve encountered a young fox snoozing in the corner of a small mostly unused stall and a not-easily-deterred opossum in my grain room sitting on the shelf enjoying the dry cat food I feed my two black barn cats, Etch and Sketch.
I watch for deer surrounding the barn area every morning and evening and see the glowing eyes of numerous deer in the garden area reflected in my head lamp each night when I hand out that last hay feeding to the horses.
In 20 years feeding horses three and four times a day, I have encountered only one raccoon. I heard it rattling through junk piled around the work bench and making strange noises. The raccoon ended up coming out in the open and sounding and acting very strangely. I watched it pull down the cats’ bed and fluff it up — which made me suspect maybe it wasn’t rabid but was looking for a place to have baby raccoons. I was leaving for a conference for the day and made note to look out for it when I got home. I never saw it again.
A few weeks later I met up with my neighbor riding her horse through our woods and as we rode along together she told me the story of having a strange-acting raccoon in her garage recently and that her husband had disposed of it.
Occasional turkeys make their way to the barn area but not often. One day my husband came in to inform me that my 3,000-pound horses were snorting and racing around afraid of a few 20-pound turkeys walking by.
I often wonder what the horses see for wildlife, which is surely a lot more than I do! Sometime soon I’ll talk about the things I’ve captured on my woods/night cam which I move around the property every few days.
In the meantime, do what you can to keep those old — and new — barns standing and enjoy the fleeting interactions they provide with wildlife with which we are fortunate enough to share this planet.
Cheryl Kimball is a freelance writer who lives north of Rochester. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.