I had a usual visitor at an unusual time of day today: an opossum decided that the birdseed in one of my feeders was much too delicious to leave alone just because the sun was coming up.
I've had opossums at my feeders off and on over the years and I knew that I was hosting at least one this fall, since I would find the pellets in the feeder in the morning. (Also, when we were having skunks visit regularly in the evening, we would often see them while we were doing a skunk-check with a flashlight before letting the dogs out.)
This morning, when I somewhat blearily surveyed the backyard feeders, I suddenly woke up to the fact that the tree trunk hadn't, in fact, grown a burl overnight - there was a fairly small opossum on it, perched a few feet above the hanging platform feeder. It stayed there most of the morning, carefully watching my movements in the house. When I let the cat out, she noticed the opossum and climbed the tree (to investigate more closely?) but stayed at least 3' away at all times. The opossum simply kept quietly watching her and me.
I learned something new tonight: a "possum" is actually an animal
that lives in Australia or New Zealand. Our North American marsupials
are correctly called "opossums." There are apparently 103 species of opossums in the Western Hemisphere! The species we have here in Kansas is the Virginia opossum, Didelphis virginiana. It was originally confined to the East Coast, but was spread to the West Coast during the Depression, perhaps as a source of food.
Opossums have never concerned me too much. They are fairly resistant to rabies and thus are very uncommon carriers of it, perhaps because their body temperatures run low for mammals (94-97 degrees Fahrenheit). They are not really aggressive, hissing loudly when threatened but not likely to attack. And, of course, they are well known for their habit of falling over, as if dead, when really threatened.
As I did research this evening, I learned that opossums are occasionally called "Nature's Little Sanitation Engineers" for their eating habits: primarily animal material such as snails, slugs, insects, spiders, rats, mice, even snakes. They will also eat fruit (especially fruit drop on the ground), berries, nuts, and vegetables. And they eat carrion. As is typical of such omnivorous animals, they are easily attracted to yards with such attractions as pet food left out overnight, garbage cans without tight lids, and...full birdfeeders.
On the plus side, one source I read even suggested that opossums may help reduce the spread of
Lyme disease, since they "kill off" (eat?) almost all the ticks that feed on
Overall, I consider opossums to be benign yard guests - no more of a problem than squirrels, with a similar likelihood of getting into attics or sheds or garages if I'm lazy enough or silly enough to leave openings for them to do so. And if I really cared about keeping them out of the bird seed, I would simply pole mount all of my platform feeders.
In fact, having read the list of their preferred foods, I strongly
suspect that opossums provide me with a reasonable amount of pest
control for the relatively minor cost of a bit of bird seed.
So, until and unless one really causes me a problem, I'm going to relax and enjoy this neighbor with whom I'm sharing the yard and gardens. Diversity, after all, is the spice of life!