Prairie dogs? You said dogs?

The first time I heard about prairie dogs was when I went to Fort Whyte Alive in Winnipeg. I expected some kind of coyote to show up. Was I wrong about that! I did have some attenuating circumstances pleading for me… The prairie dog is a native of North America and does not live in Europe.

Meet Pete the prairie dog Meet Pete the prairie dog

These little guys live in small hills in which they dig holes and tunnels.

Prairie dogs are burrowing rodents (not actually dogs) native to the grasslands of North America. They are a type of ground squirrel. On average, these stout-bodied rodents will grow to be between 30–40 centimetres (12–16 in) long, including the short tail and weigh between 0.5–1.5 kilograms (1–3 lb). They will eat all sorts of vegetables and fruits.

Eating a little piece of carrot Eating a little piece of carrot

Here we found them at Oak Hammock Marsh and at Fort Whyte Alive in Winnipeg. They’re just coming out of their winter sleep, or sleepy period. Normally you can see them all over their “dog-made” hills, but today there were not many of them.

Usually I shoot with an aperture priority and automatic shutter speed, but when shooting animals, it’s better to use the shutter priority and set it to something like 1/250 or faster. Animals are always faster than people to move. Be warned.

Mr Peanut Mr Peanut

When “visiting” prairie dogs, it’s always a good idea to take some small food and nuts with you. There is always the obvious sign saying that you should not feed the wild animals, but if you want some nice pictures you need to have a way to get them to sit still for a few seconds. Unsalted peanuts, carrots and an apple will always do. With that you can feed prairie dogs, deer, squirrels and other animals.

Looking for some carrot Looking for some carrot

Prairie dogs are named for their habitat and warning call, which sounds similar to a dog's bark. At the time I took these pictures I didn’t have a sound recorder with me…

I don’t know if prairie dogs bite, I never got a chance to get close enough. At second thought, I don’t think I want to find out. After all they are rodents with sharp teeth. In seconds they go through their peanut and come back for more :-)

Found a peanut! Found a peanut!

Some of the prairie dogs eat sitting up, giving a chance for some really nice pictures. If only they didn’t have the (bad) habit of sitting with their backs turned to the one giving them food… I guess it’s their way of ensuring they can run away in case the food provider turns out to be a menace.

Having a little snack Having a little snack

I guess it’s visible which ones I shot just now, in the beginning of spring and the ones I shot last year in summer. A part from the grass color that is. In summer they are a lot fatter. The ones I got recently seemed a bit skinny…

Well, photographing them with their backs turned or not, they are really fun to shoot. You can get rather close to them, they are not very easily scared. They are also a good and innocent way of training a photographer’s patience. You never know when or where they will come out of their hill and if they want to eat. The best way to find out is to see if they are scurrying around seemingly looking for food or simply running around to chase others. No need to throw your peanuts in the ring at that point…