Philadelphia Reflections

The musings of a physician who has served the community for over six decades

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Wildlife in Haddonfield

A local clinical psychologist once kept a very large pig in his basement which eventually grew to such a size that getting it out of the basement was an engineering problem. The animal was given to his daughter when it was a cute little piglet; it eventually became a family crisis when the little girl had a fit over the suggestion it should be evicted. From this family, we learn that Haddonfield still has laws on its books prohibiting pigs and roosters, for obvious reasons if anybody wanted to keep them. There are no known horses or cows, but an occasional deer wanders by to eat the shrubbery. Dogs and cats don't exactly count.

But there are plenty of red foxes, quite large and bold, who seem to make the golf course their home and sneak around town by way of the stream beds and creeks. As do opossums and raccoons, who also have the storm sewers at their disposal. Possums like to climb on the outside of screen doors and windows, so they frequently startle the householders. Raccoons are unbelievably cute, especially when a set of little coons follow their mother single file, usually at night. They have a habit of eating through the roof and nesting in the chimney, causing quite a ruckus the first time in the fall when a fireplace is lit. Raccoons will kill a dog, by lying on their backs and clawing out the dog's underbelly, so not everybody is fond of them. As far as mammals are concerned, grey squirrels simply overrun Haddonfield, and spend a lot of time scolding the cats and dogs.

{Japanese Beetles feasting}
Japanese Beetles feasting

Some years ago, Japanese beetles were introduced to America first in nearby Moorestown, and now devastate the rose bushes. Their grubs burrow under the lawns, quickly followed by moles who like to snack on them, and either way the lawns suffer. The cure is to spread around the spores of milky spore disease, their natural enemy, and eventually, the roses and lawns recover. It isn't enough to spread milky spore on your own property, because the beetles will fly in from neighboring properties. I must confess to sending my ten-year-old son out at night with a can of milky spore, dusting it for half a mile in every direction. It seems to have worked, but that ten-year-old is now in his fifties, so it doesn't work quickly. There may be snakes and alligators, but no one has demonstrated one lately. Snapping turtles abound in the creeks ten miles from Haddonfield, so it wouldn't be surprising if some of them became venturesome. The local creeks are stocked with trout every spring, but you had better get there quickly before they are all gone. Catfish persist, however.

Birds love Haddonfield, and many species migrate back and forth, landing here. Robins like the earthworms in lawns, cardinals, and crows make a lot of noise, swallows, sparrows and unidentified little black jobs are abundant. Blue Jays hate cats and vice versa. But the best part is the owls. You can live your whole life in Haddonfield without seeing an owl, but they are watching you from the treetops. Ornithologists say you can't estimate the owl population unless you put out tape recorders at night, and then you hear an amazing number of them. I've finally found a mating pair in the top of one of my trees, hiding among the branches. They are a lot bigger than most people expect. My personal pair are about three feet long. This past summer a park ranger in Jackson Hole, Wyoming made the disconcerting observation that the nests of eagles usually contain a couple dogs' collars. Since owls are at least as high up the food chain as eagles and lots more plentiful, it's something to worry about if you let your dogs and cats run loose in Haddonfield. The neighbors are pretty fierce about unleashed pets, too.


And this morning, March 31, I looked out the window and some passing workmen were chasing a beaver, trying to take its picture. That's right, a beaver, about three feet long, with a big flat tail. I meant to ask him where he came from, but he disappeared in the neighbor's bushes. In regions where there are a lot of beavers, people generally hate them. A pair of beavers can take down a big tree in half an hour, and a colony of beavers can turn a forest into a desert in a couple of seasons. But unless this fellow comes back, I'm not going to worry about it.

Originally published: Tuesday, October 21, 2008; most-recently modified: Wednesday, June 05, 2019