Something's been getting into the vent for the downstairs bathroom fan. At first, we thought it was chipmunks (or "ground squirrels" as my father calls them). This weekend we learned otherwise.
The basement bathroom is on the far side of the house from the driveway and is partially underground, as our foundation is built into an embankment. Also on the far side of the house, upstairs, is my bedroom. Outside my bedroom window is where I thought I would place the bird feeders. My thinking was as follows: we won't be constantly disturbing them going in and out of the house (there are no doors on that side) and I will get to watch them from my bed. So up went the pole and three bird feeders--one suet cage, one feeder for wild bird seed, and one for sunflower seed.
Before long we started noticing hard black things collecting in the fan light fixture in the downstairs bathroom. Once they started spilling over onto the floor, we got a good look at them: sunflower seed shells. Something was stockpiling sunflower seeds in the vent pipe. As I said, we guessed the culprits to be chipmunks, a large family of whom seemed to be constantly working the ground around the feeder.
Seeing as it was probably a fire hazard to have dry husks piling up in an electrical fixture, we (well, Paul) decided to do something about it. He cut a hole in an old window screen and duct-taped it over the vent opening. Then he vacuumed the mess out of the bathroom vent. At the time, he noticed pieces of white cotton insulation torn loose, but he just cleaned it up and tucked the extra back in. Problem solved.
The next day, Paul decided to do some cleaning up around the outside of the house, where the builders had left some things. An old mailbox was left leaning by the HVAC unit, and Paul picked it up to get rid of it. A mouse came running out. Paul, startled, dropped the mailbox...on top of the mouse. A second mouse ran out and made a dash for the cover of the woods. Paul picked up the mailbox and looked inside. The mice had made themselves a happy little mailbox home--complete with sunflower seeds and white cotton insulation from our bathroom vent fan. We figure the vent pipe was their storehouse.
Until the big giant being destroyed it, that is.
The injured mouse was on the ground, not dead, but not moving away. Paul left him there and came to ask me what he should do. Kill it, assuming it was too injured to survive and sparing it a slow painful death? Or let it be, allowing it time to gather its wits and run for cover?
When he went back, the mouse as gone. I can only hope to a new home and not to the gullet of some other animal.
The whole thing reminded me of my mouse-killing dilemma in the first apartment I ever lived on my own.
The place was a bit of a dump--a cement block house chopped up into four studio (one room) apartments with tiny kitchens consisting of a stove, sink, and fridge, with two inches of counter space between the sink and stove. It also lacked a tub, and instead had a tiny bathroom with a toilet, wall-mounted sink, and a shower stall big enough for one person to stand in one position. But there was a skylight in the bathroom, and the one L-shaped room boasted tall windows along two walls, a paned glass door with a screen in the summer, and a small square deck, big enough for two chairs or a chair and a table. I actually kind of loved the place.
I had one closet, and that one closet held everything I needed to store out of sight. Needless to say, a person had to be very careful opening said closet, or the precarious pile of stuff may jostle out of its careful position and crash to the floor.
On night, talking to my boyfriend (now my hubby) on the phone, I saw something make a dash from the closet to underneath the couch, along the baseboard. I squealed like a girl. Moments later the mouse returned along the same route and I got a good look at him, before he disappeared into the closet. That just wouldn't do. There were things in that closet mice might like tear up for their own use: coats, old paper things, books.
I had to get rid of it. But I hated the idea of a traditional mouse trap. What if it didn't kill him, but just maimed him? So I went off the the hardware store and I allowed the guy there to talk me into a glue trap, a little tent of paper covered in glue. "You just set this thing up and you don't have to worry 'bout no mess like them other traps." Okay.
My only excuse is that I wasn't really thinking.
Noting some mouse droppings in the space beside the stove, I decided to place the trap along the wall just next to the stove, so that any mouse coming around the bend by the stove would not be able to avoid the trap.
I went to bed. Middle of the night I was awakened by a sound. I stayed still in the dark trying to figure out what it was and I heard a scoot, scoot, scooting sound, like paper being slid across the floor.
I got up, turned on the light, and went into the kitchen area. There I found the glue trap halfway across the room from where I had left it, and a panicky mouse with all four little mouse feet stuck firmly to the gluey paper. The mouse was so scared his whole body flexed with each heaving breath. He had, well, "messed himself" in fear. I felt terrible. I couldn't believe I had chosen such an inhumane method of pest control. But I didn't know what to do. It was, after all, the middle of the night.
So I got out a plastic grocery bag and I used a spatula to lift the whole apparatus into the bag (I threw the spatula away, lest you worry about Hunta virus and me). I tied up the bag, placed it outside the door, and went back to bed.
The next morning, I checked outside. The bag was still there, the mouse still alive. I had made the poor thing suffer all night. I felt awful. Don't get me wrong: I did NOT want to live with mice. I just didn't want some creature to have to suffer because of me.
In the end, I dropped a large rock on the bag and tossed it into the garbage can. I felt cowardly.
Of course, where there is one mouse there are probably many, but I didn't have to worry about that for long. A week or so later a new neighbor moved into the building--with his large orange tom cat. I didn't see any mice (or droppings) after that.
Maybe Paul and I need to let the natural order of things take care of the mice now. There are a couple of hawks living around here.