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  • Valerie Brooke, MD

Wildhorses, coyotes, and raptors in Reno

The day after we got the keys to our new home last year, we drove up to greet a large horse on our front lawn. Just chillin’. He stood up for a long time, munched on some brown grass, then just lay down for a long rest. Like it was no big deal for a wild horse to relax on a lawn in a suburban neighborhood. I took a picture to send to my friends in Portland, who quickly advised me to call an animal rescue line because, obviously, someone’s horse had got loose.


Nope. Not in Reno. I finally understood the significance of these yellow signs I had seen for years by the shopping center, with blinking lights surrounding a black trotting horse in the middle. When we first moved here I had absolutely no idea what these signs were trying to convey to me. There’s a horse farm nearby and they cross over by the grocery store; or there’s a horse-back-riding business right here, so come and get your horse for rent; or look out! you are in the wild, wild west.


Turns out the last one is correct. When I called a friend who lives in my neighborhood and told her about the horse, she chuckled and said, “Welcome to South Reno. Oh, and by the way, you might have to put up some motion-detection sprinklers on your lawn to keep the horses from destroying your grass from their eating and peeing.” Great. I was then thinking but too embarrassed to say out loud “But can I use their manure for my garden?”


Two days after we officially moved into our new home, I woke up to the eerie sounds of a pack of coyotes, high pitched yipping and howling, and I was sure they were right outside our back-patio door. The hairs on the back of my neck prickled; and even though I knew there was nothing to be afraid of (and how COOL! a pack of coyotes!), I was so relieved as the sound slowly receded and my adrenaline pump turned off.


Several times since then when out on my morning run around the wetland, I have seen a single coyote. At dawn one morning a male jumped out right in front of me (scared the bejesus out of me), and another time during a later morning run, I saw the glimpse of eyes between the brown wetland reed grasses.


In the last year we have made some changes to our landscape, which has changed the nature of the wildlife. Gone is the grass (switched to xeriscaping to avoid high water bills), so no more wild horses on the lawn. Bummer. We added chicken wire to our back fence, so no chance of coyotes slipping through; and much more importantly, no chance the slew of bunnies will get in to eat my future vegetables. Unless I didn’t dig down far enough to place the wire, as I’ve heard the Peter Rabbits are quite determined to get some free food.


We have hung up several bird feeders and because we are right next to a wetland, have an abundance of birds all around us. Songbirds come in to our feeders; waterbirds dip their beaks into the pools of water, looking for food; and birds of prey soar over the reeds, carefully looking from their tree perches for the next meal. Several weeks ago, I was sitting at the kitchen table, admiring all the birds in our backyard, including the gorgeous little quails with their distinctive head plume. I had looked down for just a second when my husband yelled out “Whoa! did you see that?!!!” after which there was a fierce scattering of all the birds in our yard. Apparently, a red tail hawk had successfully caught himself a quail for dinner. It made me think twice about whether or not we should be assisting the predators.


Along with many types of birds of prey – hawks, harriers, kestrels - I have also had the magical pleasure of watching great white egrets, pelicans (yup, on their way to breeding grounds at Pyramid Lake), many breeds of ducks, stilts, and killdeers. Every month we live here I see something new, some new creature shows up, reminding me of how blessed I am to live here, a place that still has wildness and wonder. Whenever I am having a stressful day or am feeling depressed, or just out of sorts, all it takes is a walk around the wetlands to reset my mood and focus.


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