Welcome to the neighborhood! The San Francisco dusky-footed woodrat neighborhood, that is.
Also called “packrats”, these rodents are actually more closely related to hamsters, voles, and lemmings than to European rats.
Woodrats prefer to live alone, except during mating season or when rearing young; each rat constructs its own house or “midden”. These look like piles of sticks and leaves, but are elaborately constructed to contain pantries and multiple entrances. The middens are passed down from generation to generation and can grow to be six feet tall, with satellite dens in surrounding trees.
While they live alone, woodrats are far from lonely. They live in neighborhoods with other woodrats, often near relatives. Each midden is also a refuge for a host of other creatures, including California mice, lizards, salamanders, and a variety of insects.
At Pedro Point Headlands, there is a woodrat neighborhood of several dozen middens along the South Ridge Trail. These have been surveyed and flagged by our consulting biologist. As the new trail switchbacks are laid out, our contractor picks the best line to create a sustainable trail, while sparing the many woodrat nests.
Because of their limited distribution, SF dusky-footed woodrats are a species of special concern in California.
You may never see these nocturnal creatures, but it’s good to know they’re present, enriching the ecosystem, both as a prey species and by providing refuge for other creatures.