Once you go through the entrance gate, look at the tree on the right. Do you see that big pile of sticks in the tree, about three feet off the ground? It’s the home of a dusky-footed woodrat. These native rodents are known for building stick nests that reach up to five feet tall and eight feet wide. Woodrats like cool, sheltered places, so they often build their houses against the trunk of a shady tree trunk or log, or inside dense shrubs. Female woodrats build large nests to rear their young. When the mother dies, her daughters stay in the nest to raise their young. Males tend to build smaller nests, sometimes perched high in trees.
Just a pile of sticks? Nope! If you could crawl inside you’d discover that woodrats create rooms for separate uses, like food storage, sleeping, and going to the bathroom. You might also discover shiny items, like bottle caps and coins. That’s because woodrats, nicknamed packrats, are known for collecting shiny objects. So if you lose your keys at China Camp, they might end up in a woodrat’s nest.
Woodrats make their own bug repellent. Dusky-footed woodrats are known to line their nests with leaves of the California bay laurel, since the leaves’ oils naturally repel insects.
Watch out! At China Camp, woodrats have to be on the lookout for all kinds of predators—owls, coyotes, bobcats, hawks, snakes, and even skunks. Woodrats are generally nocturnal, and tend to be extremely shy and skittish. You would be too if you had that many predators interested in eating you!
(Woodrat image: Peterson B. Moose/USFWS)