Noe Valley Voice September 2005

Noe Valley Kids Voice

By Laura McCloskey


Have you ever seen a wild mammal in Noe Valley? If so, you are not alone. Wild mammals live among us in many unexpected places.

The wild mammals that live in Noe Valley include skunks, raccoons, opossums, squirrels, gophers, moles, rats, mice, and even bats. Most of these mammals are nocturnal, which means they are awake at night while we are sleeping. But don't bother looking under your bed covers. These mammals avoid people and dogs or other animals that might disturb or kill them.

Because they like to be left alone, mammals often live in hard-to-reach places. Some live in trees, some burrow underground, and some seek cover in the bushes. Many mammals use the city's sewers to travel from one place to another.

Long ago, before Noe Valley had paved streets and houses covering its land, there were other mammals that lived here. The white deer might have grazed on sweet grasses. The gray fox would have set up its den in the surrounding hills. Coyotes would have roamed the brush looking for small prey, and a mountain lion might have been on the hunt for a deer. You also might have seen a golden bear munching on a fish from a local stream.

The mammals that still live in Noe Valley have adapted to the changes caused by the growth of the city. Some eat food and trash left over by people. Some live in garages, on rooftops, and in gardens and city parks.

Mammal vs. Animal-- Is There a Difference?

A mammal is a special kind of animal. What makes mammals different from other animals is that they produce milk to feed their babies in the beginning stages of life. Other animals, like birds or fish, don't make milk for their babies.

Mammal Name: Raccoon

City Habitat: Raccoons live in trees, but in the city they can be found nesting in attics or under houses. Raccoons are easy to spot because they look like they are wearing a black mask.

Food: Rodents, insects, grubs (beetle larvae), fruit, nuts, human food

Babies: Raccoons have babies in safe spaces on the ground, such as a hollow log, or in and around old buildings. At three months old, the babies can climb into trees with their parents.

Mammal Name: Opossum

City Habitat: Opossums live in underground dens where they can make a bed with twigs and leaves. They have pointy noses and are smaller than raccoons.

Food: Fallen fruit, insects, bird eggs, carrion (dead animals)

Babies: Opossums are marsupials, which means they carry their babies in a pouch on their stomach. The babies, when first born, are the size of a honeybee.

Mammal Name: Skunk

City Habitat: Skunks live on the ground--in blackberry bushes, hollow logs, or rock piles--or under buildings. They roam from place to place, so they sleep wherever they end up in daylight.

Food: Mice, grubs, insects, snails, fruit

Babies: Skunk babies stay with their mothers for three months. Mothers nest their young in their burrows or in the abandoned dens of other animals. Skunks are black with big white stripes.

Mammal Name: Squirrel

City Habitat: Squirrels, which are brown and bushy-tailed, live in trees. They often build their nests between two strong branches.

Food: Nuts, seeds, grains, fruit

Babies: Squirrels give birth to their babies, usually four at a time, in the nest. The mother squirrel nurses the babies until they are ready to be on their own, about 10 weeks.

Mammal Name: Bat

City Habitat: Bats live in trees, caves, and old buildings. Bats are migratory--they move when they need to find warmer weather.

Food: Insects such as mosquitoes. Bats feed at dusk.

Babies: Bats have one or two babies in early summer. The babies cling to their mother's stomach and drink milk. Bats can fly, and they live from 10 to 30 years.

Mammal Name: Moles and Gophers

City Habitat: Moles and gophers live in underground tunnels--in gardens, on hillsides, and in city parks.

Food: Insects, grubs, earthworms. Gophers also eat shoots and roots.

Babies: Moles and gophers have their babies in their burrows. They have three to six in a litter.

Mammal Name: Rats and Mice

City Habitat: Mice and rats are very adaptable and can live almost anywhere. They can squeeze through any opening they can fit their heads through.

Food: Seeds, grass, human food

Babies: They make nests for their babies out of leaves, paper, and rags.

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Here are some ways you can help a mammal that is in trouble:

1. If you see a mammal that is injured or in distress, do not touch it or go near it.

2. Watch the mammal from a distance.

3. Call Animal Care and Control at 415-554-6364. If you feel it is an emergency, call 415-554-9400.

4. An Animal Care and Control officer will come and help the injured animal by taking the animal to a wildlife shelter.

5. The San Francisco Rescued Orphaned Mammal Program (SFROMP), located in the Richmond District, has a wildlife hospital where volunteers take care of wild animals and set them free when well. You can contact the group's wildlife hotline at 415-350-WILD. Or go to the web site at

6. Grow plants in your garden that benefit wildlife. You can plant vines and shrubs for mammal nests, plants that produce fruit, or plants that attract insects such as buckwheat.

Have You Seen a Wild Animal in Noe Valley?

We surveyed some Noe Valley kids about what wild animals they'd come across in Noe Valley. Here are their descriptions of the animals they had seen.

Casey Blue (right) and his friend Daniel, both 5, have seen a hawk at Douglass Park. Says Casey: "It looked like an owl. It was yellow and gray. It sat on a really skinny branch, and we saw it poop!"

Maya Lackey, 3, saw the hawk in Douglass Park, too. "It was on a rock and in a tree. It was big and it was black."

Nathan Varnhagen, 8, said, "I haven't seen a skunk because they are sneaky, but I know what they look like. I saw them on TV." See Nathan's drawing of a skunk below.

Ethan Grossbach, 5, said, "I've seen a raccoon. It was black and white. It ran up a tree super-duper fast. I've seen an owl, too, flying from tree to tree. There were two of them and they were brown."

Quinn Akin, 4, said, "I've seen pigeons and bluebirds. The bluebirds are blue, and I saw them eating Cheerios."

Special Thanks to Jamie Ray of the city's Rescued Orphaned Mammal Program. ROMP is funded by donations only. To make a donation, go to Also, thank you to Suzanna Buehl with the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department's Natural Areas Program, and to Damien Raffa with the Presidio Trust.