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Whistle pigs
MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho – A Piute ground squirrel, commonly referred to as a “whistle pig,” takes a break from grazing on the lush grass encompassing the fairways of the Silver Sage Golf Course here May 24. Whistle pigs have called the golf course home for decades, peppering the fairways with numerous burrows. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Shane M. Phipps)
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Whistle pigs: Nuisance, but support local ecosystem

Posted 5/25/2011   Updated 5/25/2011 Email story   Print story

    


by Airman Shane M. Phipps
366th Fighter Wing Public Affairs


5/25/2011 - MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho --  -- Editors note: This is part one of a five-part series on Mountain Home Air Force Base's local wildlife.

Piute ground squirrels, more commonly referred to by locals as "whistle pigs," have been part of the Gunfighter community for decades.

These little 3- to 7-ounce ground squirrels make up a big part of the foundation of the base's ecosystem, which maintains numerous thriving species of wildlife.

"They're a natural part of the ecosystem," said Carl Rudeen, the wing's wildlife biologist and Natural Resources Manager. "They're an important food base for predators such as Golden Eagles, Red Tail Hawks and Prairie Falcons."

Whistle pigs, though a vital food source for many other forms of wildlife, are not necessarily welcome here in their current numbers. They produce one litter a year, after a gestation of about one month. Their litters usually consist of 4-9 young, and females may reproduce as yearlings, but males become reproductively mature at two years of age.

According to an article on www.highbeam.com, Idaho ground squirrels are notorious for causing damage to private and public property, agricultural crops, and pastures.

These ground squirrels are excellent burrowers, which proves to be a nuisance to not only base residents but golf course personnel as well. Any attempt to reduce their current numbers must be conducted cautiously because Burrowing Owls, which are protected by Idaho's Fish and Game department, can also be found in the "whistle pig" holes.

As stated by www.birds.cornell.edu, the Burrowing Owls' typical habitat includes dry, open areas with no trees and short grass such as, golf courses, cemeteries, airports, vacant lots, university campuses, pastures and prairie dog towns.

The staggering numbers of ground squirrels on MHAFB are due to ideal conditions in which the 6- to 8-inch ground squirrels flourish.

"There are several factors that make this area ideal for the squirrels. Ground squirrels eat seeds, but they are also grazers, so the lush grass on the golf course is an ideal feeding ground. Also, because of the human presence here, natural predators are kept in check," said Rudeen.

"They cause a lot of damage to landscape, but they are not a hazard," said Rudeen. "They're just part of the natural environment we have to learn to cope with. We could go out there and get rid of them, but eventually they're just going to come back. It's a limited treatment."



tabComments
6/4/2011 9:45:41 PM ET
my family and i lived in Mt. Home for about 7 years. 1991-1997 i was a lot younger then and one of my main memories of Mt. Home was the Whistle pigs my brother and i would try and catch one every morning on our walk to school had to laugh when i seen this story
Lindsey, iowa
 
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