Every gardener I know has a story about gophers. The destruction to choice plants, the frustration of limited deterrents, the wiliness of avoiding traps… it goes on. Only hungry ground squirrels can top these rodents for causing so much garden angst.

The annoying thing is, gophers are very important to gardens and the food web. They aerate soils by tunneling and bring up sub soils that mix with topsoil that – over time – create better soil. They add manure underground right where plants can utilize. Gophers are food for many raptors, herons, egrets, owls, bobcats, cougars, coyotes, badgers, and snakes. Our pets find them tasty too.

That said, most do not want to share their gardens with gophers. So what should one do about this unwelcome resident?

The first line of defense is use of barriers. Raised beds with gopher wire bottoms will keep most gophers out of edibles. A gopher is not likely to get into a potted plant. Using gopher baskets with newly planted trees and shrubs can keep gophers off as roots get established. I lay down bird wire when setting up new straw bales for straw bale gardening. Concrete footings of good depth will keep gophers out. All of these methods must be done BEFORE planting.

There are many too-good-to-be-true solutions on the market and some are down right ludicrous. Deterrents such as ground pulsing rods and toxic plants are neatly avoided by gophers. Gases and smokers such as Gopher flares and flame throwers might kill a gopher on occasion, but wreak chemical damages to the soil and microbial food web. Nitrogen dioxide gas is effective but should only be applied by licensed pest control. There are horror stories about those that do not follow this wisdom and employ creative and dangerous DIY solutions.

Poison has too many unintended consequences and there is growing evidence that even the newer class of poisons are delivering sub lethal doses to non-target animals such as hawks, owls, coyotes, neighbor dogs and cats. There is evidence of chemical persistence in soils that impacts the microbes and the rest of the food chain and ultimately – people. I do not recommend using poisons. Read this article about bird deaths caused from rodenticides by the Audobon Society.

The University of California Integrated Pest Management website has great information about gopher biology, behavior, control and provides solid information about the many options in the market that work. I recommend spending a little time to read through this website. Pocket Gophers – Management

As for my garden, I use lethal Macabee and cinch traps. They are a tried and true method that works. The Black Hole and the Victor Black Box are also very effective but need a much larger hole which can be a problem when the gopher is in the vegetable bed. Some gardeners may not be keen on killing the gopher, but there are not too many scenarios where the gopher lives and the garden remains unscathed. Keep that in mind when wrestling with your choices.

The cinch traps will provide a very quick and accurate kill

Bewick’s Wren

Inviting the Small Folk

Once upon a time there was California coastal chaparral habitat that extended from the end of the Marina Beach dunes to what was once Fort Ord. It was a paradise for chaparral birds. The housing tracts built in the 60’s quickly erased coyote brush, coast live oaks, manzanita, black sage, coffeeberry, toyon, poison oak and many other native plants that once prevailed. The little birds had to work harder to find habitat. Perhaps they moved away to better feeding grounds.

In the 20 plus years I have embraced restoring native species to the backyard, the birds have returned. They returned with a vengeance. This tiny plot with its native plantings now offered cover, protection, food and prime nesting spots. Every spring offered incredible bird watching opportunities as the birds vied for food in the intensive search to feed hungry brood. This is no joke. Last year this garden supported Mockingbirds, Blue Jays, California Towhees, Hooded Orioles, Hummingbirds, and the Bewick’s wrens. This is not an exaggeration – all of these birds had nests in the garden or within striking distance. There were several other birds that visited as well, but I could never confirm that they had nests locally.

Bewick’s wren nest box
Here the Cornell birdhouse plan was modified to incorporate an interesting piece of curved eucalyptus bark for the roof

Wildness had returned to the suburban cul-de-sac. The arrival of the Bewick’s Wren sanctioned my efforts in restoring habitat. If you are not familiar with this wren; they are very small with nondescript gray coloring and a very large voice. I spent weeks trying to identify the owner of the trilling early morning song that notified dawn. Could this enchanting tiny bird really be the source?

So I did some reading and found that this bird thrives in chaparral/coast oak woodlands. Bewick’s wrens are very shy (vigilant!) and nervous birds with expressively twitchy tails. They have a distinct scolding voice that is often the only clue to their whereabouts. They can raise 1-2 clutches in the spring. They do not migrate on the Central Coast and eat LOTS OF INSECTS. Motivated by this information I found the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website. This is an amazing resource for bird identification, song recordings, and plans for birdhouses.

Bewick's Wren comes in for an inspection of this nest box
This inquisitive Bewick’s Wren came in for a closer look after the nest box was left on the deck. Time to mount this box in its final safe location!

Here is the birdhouse plan link for the Berwick’s Wren.

The key features on this birdhouse includes a moveable side panel for cleaning and a sized hole that is too small for pesky house sparrows to move in. There are further instructions on hole sizing to accommodate other small birds that you may want to attract into the garden.

This Berwick’s wren takes a early evening sand bath after the chickens have headed for the roost

Last year the wrens built 3 nests and raised 2 broods. One nest was quickly abandoned after they determined that the mailbox was too busy a place for a nest. One nest was in a home made birdhouse and the last nest was on top of the motion detector light on the front walk. This year will have 3 nest boxes ready for occupation and it will be interesting to see if any chickadees, titmice or other small birds move in too.