Suburban Wildlife with a South American Twist

When school ended, the 10-year-old classroom degu (South American rat) came home with us. The teacher told us that Cedar, named for her reddish fur, might not survive the summer, given her advanced age, in which case we should freeze her (near the cool-pops?) until fall, when she would get a proper school funeral. I did not fall immediately in love with this creature, despite her being cute, caged, fairly clean, and friendly. Instead, I clicked into the Oxford English Dictionary, to learn that a degu is “a rat-like animal, rather smaller than the Water Vole, the head and body measuring from seven and a half to eight inches in length.” A definition often makes me fonder. Now I like Cedar, sort of, and having her around has made me curious about the new book Central Park in the Dark: More mysteries of urban wildlife. Who knows, maybe Cedar has dozens of cousins in New York City.


I wonder whether the title is based on Charles Ives’ Central Park in the Dark? Wikipedia says the piece “evokes an evening comparing sounds from nearby nightclubs in Manhattan (playing the popular music of the day, ragtime, quoting "Hello My Baby" and even Sousa's "Washington Post March") with the mysterious dark and misty qualities of the Central Park woods (played by the strings).”

Marie Winn’s earlier book on the wildlife of Central Park, Red Tails in Love: the Mysteries of Urban Wildlife, was about the red-tailed hawks Pale Male and Lola. The story of Pale Male is also told in two Youth books in the library, Pale Male: a Citizen Hawk of New York City and The Tale of Pale Male: a True Story, as well as in a DVD.

Pale Male is featured on Down Here Below, a song on Steve Earle’s latest album, Washington Square Serenade.

Although the library seems to not have any books about the degu, there is a great story about a family adopting another South American rodent, the capybara, as a pet. The OED says the capybara is "The largest extant rodent quadruped (Hydrochrus Capybara), nearly allied to the Guinea-pig; it lives about the rivers of tropical S. America." Capybobby is adopted by the Bill Peet family.

Another good title in the unusual wild birds in urban settings genre is the book and dvd on the Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill in San Francisco.

This is very interesting! I hope the rest of your summer with the degu goes well. I was reading some information here and they seem like interesting animals. It's a unique experience for you. Enjoy!