Residential neighborhoods in the American Southwest can be magnets for local desert animals. The grasses and other flora homeowners plant for decoration can also feed the region's fauna. Not all desert animals are carnivores. Those that are may resort to grazing on vegetation when prey cannot be found. Predators may wander into residential neighborhoods looking for animals that prefer to eat plants.
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Vegetarian Black-Tailed Jackrabbits
Black-tailed jackrabbits are desert residents that have a strictly vegetarian diet. They prefer desert grasses but will eat any vegetation, including shrubs when they're not taking cover under them. During the day, they stay underground in burrows that they can dig near residential neighborhoods. They start foraging at dusk. and are quite likely to find tasty meals in your lawn or garden. If they travel in pairs, they are mating or raising young in a nearby burrow. Left to their own devices, females can bear up to 14 young each year.
Omnivorous Desert Coyotes
Coyotes' nighttime howls may signal their presence before chewed-upon grasses or overturned trash cans do, providing physical evidence of their travels. Coyotes are opportunistic omnivores who usually go after animals but will eat plants bearing fruits, vegetables and berries. So if you discover that there's produce missing from your garden or yard, this desert resident may be responsible.
Coyotes typically hunt alone unless they're training new pups. The family pet cat or small dog may be a target for urban coyotes looking for jackrabbits. Coyotes that have learned how to find food in the trash or in residential parks may be bolder in their hunt.
Foraging Mule Deer
Mule deer prefer to graze new growth on shrubs and enjoy acorns when they can find them. They can also dig to find mushrooms or other vegetation. They typically forage at either dawn or dusk to avoid the heat of the day and may search the edge of residential neighborhoods for food, particularly if there are water sources or cover from the daytime heat. The mule deer is a desert resident that finds numerous different plants completely palatable, including many of your favorite garden specimens.
Chuckwalla lizards live in rocky hillsides and outcrops and forage for wildflowers. They also like to eat the flowers from creosote bushes, common evergreen shrubs across the Southwest. Chuckwalla lizards are not picky, however; they will also eat annuals and perennials planted in non-desert-style lawns. Unlike many area lizards, they are herbivores and do not like insects. With an affinity for savoring flowers of all sorts, this desert resident may have his eye on yours.
The plump 9-to-14-inch Kangaroo Rat earns its name from the long hops it makes across the Southwest in search of seeds from creosote or mesquite bushes. It can also eat prairie grasses and other succulent vegetation. Kangaroo rats can survive on very little, if any, water. Like the black-tailed jackrabbit, they burrow during the day and start foraging at dusk. Its coloring is similar to a hamster, but it has more in common with urban rats. Its tail can be up to 150 percent as long as its head and body.
Because Gambel's quail always search for water sources, residential desert neighborhoods can draw their attention. Gambel's quail prefer water near shrubbery under which they can take cover from the heat and from hawks and falcons. Like the Kangaroo Rat, Gambel's quail prefers seeds of any kind but will eat succulent vegetation like cactus for its water as well as desert and prairie grasses. It's quite possible this desert animal might find something yummy and worthwhile in your lawn or garden.