When fruit in an orchard goes missing, what animal is the thief?

  • Animals
  • Sunday, 04 Nov 2018

As their name suggests, ground squirrels usually stay close to the ground, but they can and will climb trees to reach good food sources. Photo: TNS

Dear Joan: I’ve lived for decades near Paso Nogal open space park in California, the United States. We have always had tons of fruit every year with 40 fruit trees.

This summer was no different until about a month ago. Fruit, especially apples and pears, began disappearing off the trees. By early September, it was all gone. Who was the villain?

We’ve always had lots of wildlife – foxes, raccoons, skunks, opossums; lots of birds – from sparrows to owls and hawks. I would guess deer but they will leave poop, broken branches and eaten leaves, especially in the apple trees and roses. Not this time.

Whatever it is has cleaned me out. I have two mostly outdoor cats, so no rats. Any ideas?

– Ron, Pleasant Hill, California

Dear Ron: All the fruit taken from an orchard that large likely is not the work of one creature or type of creatures. I’m guessing you have many different animals feeding at what must seem like a buffet to them.

Raccoons, foxes, skunks and opossums will all raid fruit trees, some being more destructive than others. Squirrels also won’t pass up a chance to feed themselves and their families. And although you have mostly outdoor cats, that doesn’t mean you don’t have a few rats visiting.

Most of those animals are omnivores, which means they eat almost anything. The opossum, for example, prefers small rodents, insects, slugs and snails, but it will also eat fruit.

Some additions to the list are: coyotes, ground squirrels and humans.

Coyotes also are omnivores and, while rodents and cats are their primary food, they also like fruit.

Ground squirrels usually stay close to the ground, but they can and will climb to reach good food sources, and they love fruits and vegetables.

We can’t exclude humans from our suspect list, either. Some people see fruit trees as an open invitation to pick their fill, and they would be capable of very quickly stripping trees.

Until you know for sure what animals are after your fruit, it’s hard to devise a solution. I’d suggest buying an inexpensive field camera or a night-vision, motion-activated video recorder that will give you an excellent glimpse into what’s going on in your orchard. Then you can set to work protecting it. – Tribune News Service/The Mercury News/Joan Morris

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