Our environment is filled with several species of wildlife, most of which we don’t even see although they can be in our own backyards. Residential areas can unknowingly support a large variety of animals so well sometimes issues can arise between us and our wild neighbors. Please review these tips and tricks that may make living side by side with these untamed visitors a bit easier.
Determining what animal may be scurrying in your yard or garden is the first step to help you deter unwanted behavior. Observing how the dirt has been disturbed is evidence about what the culprit may be.
Opossums – scattered soil with no distinct pattern
Raccoons – portions of soil rolled away like small layers of carpet
Skunks – holes in small cone shapes
For many common animals such as opossums and raccoons, you can place several containers with ammonia-soaked rags around areas you want them to stay away from. A coffee can with holes in the soft lid or something with a ventilated lid allows the ammonia scent to trick critters into thinking a predator may be nearby, making the area undesirable to potential prey. Place containers 3-5 feet apart around the designated area. You may need to refresh the ammonia on the rags if wildlife returns after the scent fades.
Using a natural, hot pepper spray can also be used to deter some critters from either eating garden goodies or entering unwanted areas. The taste and slight sting from the peppers can be unpleasant to sensitive noses, taste buds, and hands. Recipe:
1 Yellow Onion – chopped
1 Jalapeno Pepper – chopped
2 Tablespoons Cayenne Pepper
Combine all ingredients with about 2 quarts of water. Boil for 20 minutes. Strain. Once liquid has cooled pour into spray bottle. Apply to “problem” areas, and reapply as needed.
Birds are probably the most common animal that comes to mind when thinking about local wildlife, and the variety of problems that can come up are as numerous as the types of birds in your area. Click here if you believe you’ve found an injured or orphaned bird.
Sugar solution: To make your own hummingbird food, mix 1 part sugar to 4 parts water. Boil together and cool before filling your hummingbird feeder. To ensure the health of your garden birds, clean feeders often.
If a particular bird seems to be more vocal than usual, remember they’re looking for a mate. It will only be a springtime event and will stop shortly. Enjoy these beautiful songs.
My cat wants to play with backyard birds
To warn unsuspecting birds, put multiple bells on your cat’s collar. Keeping your cat indoors will benefit wildlife greatly and protect your cat as well.
Protecting backyard fruit and vegetables
Although some types of birds eat unwanted insects they can also destroy fruit and vegetable crops. Hang flexible mesh netting on seedbeds, vines, berries, and small trees. Netting used on trees can be hung just prior to fruit ripening so it won’t interfere with plant growth. Secure netting at the base and pull tight to avoid entangling and injuring birds. Also, placing plastic owls, snakes, aluminum foil flags, wind chimes, or streamers in the problem area will scare them away. Remember to move the owl or snake often or the birds may become accustomed to them.
Protecting your swimming pool
To discourage water birds from landing in your pool, keep the cover on or keep a large beach ball and other toys floating in the pool. Solar powered boats will also scare off unwanted ducks, as well as hanging old CDs/DVDs or large, helium filled balloons with eye patterns marked on them from nearby trees or posts. The reflection of the sun will deter birds, and the movement from wind or activity in the tree will cause them to spin randomly to increase the area exposed to the reflective light. If ducklings are found in your pool, put a ramp in the water to help them walk out. Please avoid feeding, especially do not feed bread. Bread can fill them up but provides no nutrition and can weaken them.
Nest building in the house
Place wire over the top of the chimney in the wintertime to deter nesting in springtime. For birds that are in the process of nest building you can disrupt the nest before eggs have been laid. It is, however, against federal law to disturb most bird nests that have eggs or babies.
Birds keep hitting a window
The sun’s glare on a window creates a mirror effect, so birds may see themselves and think it is an intruder. Birds are trying to protect their territory by attacking their image. Try closing your curtains and placing bird silhouettes or static-cling decals randomly on your windows.
How do I get a bird out of my house?
Birds will typically fly toward light. Close all the curtains and turn off the lights. Leave the doors open and let the bird find its own way out. Don’t try to catch or chase it out. This will stress the bird and may cause it to injure itself.
Dealing with pigeons on your roof
Life-like statues of owls are available through garden supply stores and catalogs. They should be mounted on a stick so that they move slightly in the breeze. The owls should be moved periodically so the pigeons won’t become accustomed to them. Balloons or shiny strips of foil or plastic tied on posts or a line can be an effective scaring device. These may be removed after the pigeons have settled somewhere else.
Nesting in your attic
Screen the entry point so the birds do not have access. You can use a clear, plastic bird netting that is available at most garden supply stores. Galvanized hardware cloth or aviary wire may also be used. Caution: be sure all birds are out before screening the area.
Pigeons are nesting on ledges of my building
Altering the angle of the flat surface will keep them off. This can be done with sheeting, concrete, or wood installed at a 45-60 degree angle. Slinky toys purchased at the toy store will also work well for altering ledges. Attach the Slinky at one end and stretch it along the ledge, being careful not to open it all the way. The objective is to make it uncomfortable for the pigeons to land. Hang wind chimes that move and make noise.
How do I control Woodpecker drumming?
When woodpeckers are drumming, they are usually looking for something to peck on that will make a lot of noise. Therefore, if you muffle the resonating quality of the object they have chosen, chances are they will stop using it. To do this, you can cover the object with a blanket or foam rubber padding.
How do I control Woodpecker cavity building?
This could be the most difficult behavior to try to control, but it is also the least common. Be sure to keep in mind that this is another seasonal behavior, and it will only be temporary. If the cavity building can be discouraged before the cavity is fully built, the woodpecker may try to relocate and excavate elsewhere. However, they may return the following year and try again. Usually a combination of scare tactics and prompt repair to the excavation areas are effective in trying to discourage cavity-building activities. You should fill shallow holes with caulk or wood filler as soon as they are created. Larger holes and loose knots can be filled with wooden plugs or window screen and then caulked. You may also try to offer ready-built nesting boxes, which they might choose to use rather than making their own.
Birds of Prey
The term “birds of prey” refers to several related bird groups, including hawks, owls, eagles, falcons, kites and ospreys. You may also hear the term “Raptor” when speaking of this hunting group. Vultures, not closely related, are often included because they look similar to and soar with raptors. However, vultures are efficient scavengers and feed on carrion (dead flesh/meat). All other birds in this group hunt for their food.
Ingestion of poison and insecticides through prey items (such as mice/rats and smaller animals) can lead to secondary poisoning and other issues in birds of prey. Insecticides have adversely affected the breeding success of many species. One affect after the accumulation of insecticide within avian tissue and other parts of the body is that eggs laid have weak shells that do not last through incubation. This is one of the reasons using poison to kill household “pests” is discouraged.
Habitat encroachment has also reduced territories and changed the environment in which many of these birds once thrived.
The vast majority of bats are insectivores and the rest feed on fruit, mice, and small vertebrates. Because so many bats consume insects, they are very valuable in keeping the insect population down. One bat can catch hundreds of insects in an hour.
Bats perform other vital functions, as well. They are the sole pollinator of some keystone plant species. In the tropics, the seed dispersal and pollination activity of fruit- and nectar-eating bats are vital to the survival of the rain forests.
A major threat to bat populations is habitat loss. This is one reason why bats take advantage of access to attics and other man-made structures. If you would like to help combat this and provide bats with alternate housing, consider putting up a bat house in your yard. Bat houses are compact and take up minimal room. They should be placed where they can receive 6-8 hours of sun per day. Learn more about bat houses through http://batcon.org.
Preventing a Problem
Walk around the exterior of your house to look for places that can serve as a point of entry for bats. Bats can fit through very tiny spaces, so your search must be thorough. Bats do not chew holes in walls or electrical insulation. Watch out for:
- Unscreened windows; uncapped chimneys; loose-fitting screen doors
- Doors with a space at the bottom (buy a draft guard)
- Any hole greater than one-half inch in diameter or a crack .25” x 1.5” or greater
Openings should be closed with steel wool, duct tape, or a screen.
Removal of a (healthy) individual bat
If the bat is awake:
Open all doors and windows in the room that lead outside. Close off the rest of the house. You may wish to observe from outside to verify the bat leaves the house.
If the bat is asleep:
Without touching the bat, gently scoop it into a small container (like a shoebox) using a cloth or a piece of paper. Put a soft cloth into the box to give the bat something to cling to. Cover the box and place it where it cannot be disturbed by pets or children, and allow it to awaken before releasing. Before a bat is able to fly, it needs time to warm up as it comes out of sleep. When the bat is awake, release it outside. Remember, bats are wild animals and potential rabies vectors, so you should never touch a bat directly with bare hands.
Removal of a Bat Colony
Most bat colonies naturally leave their roosts in the fall, so this is the best time to bat-proof your house for next season.
If you don’t want to wait until fall, watch as the bats leave at dusk to feed. Observe point of exit, and cover exit. DO NOT do this during the summer months (June – August). This is when flightless young are present. It is inhumane to separate a parent from dependent offspring.
What to do if you find an injured bat
If you find a sick or injured bat in your house or yard, leave it alone. Call the Dallas Wildlife Center for further information.
Food and Hunting
Rabbits and hares make up 2/3 of the Bobcat’s diet, the remainder consists of squirrels and mice. The Bobcat, like many larger predators, can fast for some time when food is not available, then eats heavily when it is available. The animal caches (stores) and revisits larger kills.
The various calls of the Bobcat sound much like those of the domestic cat, although its scream is piercing. When threatened, the animal utters a short, sudden, and resonant “cough-bark.” It yowls loudest and most often during the breeding season.
Bobcats are solitary animals, coming together only for courtship and copulation. After several months in the den, the kittens begin venturing out in the world with their mother. The young are typically independent and disperse from one another by late fall or early winter.
Threats to Bobcats
Hunters and the automobile are this animal’s worst enemies, but predators such as foxes, owls and adult male Bobcats may attack young.
How to Avoid / Solve Problems:
- Do not feed bobcats or any wildlife.
- Never leave pet food outside.
- Restrict use of birdseed. Bobcats are attracted to the birds and rodents that use the feeder.
- When/where possible, eliminate outdoor sources of water.
- Trim and clear near ground level any shrubbery that provides cover for bobcats or prey.
- Use fencing to help deter bobcats. The fence must be at least six feet tall with the bottom extending at least six inches below ground level. Augment your existing fencing with outwardly inverted fencing, electrical fencing, or cement blocks and large rocks buried outside the fence line to prevent animals from digging into your yard.
- Actively discourage bobcats by making loud noises and spraying water to make them leave.
- Battery operated flashing lights, tape recorded human noises, and strategically placed containers holding ammonia-soaked rags may deter bobcats from entering your yard.
- Keep cats and small dogs indoors, allowing them outside only under strict supervision.
- Keep chickens, rabbits and other small animals in well protected areas and in sturdy cages at night. Cages made of chicken wire are meant only for keeping small animals contained; they will not keep bobcats or other predators from entering. Stronger gauge wiring is a necessity in protecting these small animals.
Coyotes, by nature, are wary of humans and will avoid people whenever possible. Coyotes that have been successful finding food in more residential/urban areas may become more comfortable around our living spaces. Utilizing strong, consistent deterrents is critical to changing behavior patterns and minimizing encounters. If you do encounter a coyote remember the following:
- Never feed or attempt to “tame” a coyote
- Avoid direct eye contact.
- Do not turn your back or run from a coyote.
- If it’s not your yard, leave the area calmly.
- If followed by a coyote, make loud noises and make yourself look big. Use super soakers (large-sized squirt guns).
- If it isyour yard, make loud noises (shake pennies in a jar, etc.), make yourself look as big as possible, and even spray with a hose or super soaker until the coyote leaves.
- If followed by a coyote, make loud noises and make yourself look big. Use super soakers (large-sized squirt guns).
- Always keep yourself between the coyote and small children.
- Coyotes are not considered a disease threat. Although they are a potential rabies vector, outbreaks of rabies in coyotes are rare and they are not commonly implicated in the transmission of the disease to humans or domestic animals.
Remember – coyotes are drawn to urban and suburban neighborhoods for two reasons: human encroachment into native habitat and the availability of food. Successfully deterring established coyote populations requires action from the entire neighborhood/community. All property owners need to:
- Secure garbage cans by fastening lids with rope, bungee cords, or chains and tying the handle to a stake driven into the ground. Put garbage out the morning of pickup, not the night before.
- Dispose of especially attractive food wastes such as meat, cheese, and eggs with a small amount of ammonia added to the bag to deter coyotes.
- Use enclosed compost bins rather than exposed piles. Avoid adding dog or cat waste, meat, milk or eggs, and any food containing these products, to compost.
- Pick ripe fruit off fruit trees and keep fallen fruit off the ground. Coyotes are fond of ripe fruit.
- Clear away bushes and dense weeds near your home where coyotes find cover and animals to feed on.
Keeping Companion Animals Safe
- Cats and small dogs could be seen as prey to the coyote, while larger dogs could be injured in a confrontation. Make sure your pets stay inside whenever coyotes are seen or known to be in the area. Coyotes can be active both during the day and at night, and are predominantly crepuscular.
- Fence your property or yard. The fence must be at least six feet tall with the bottom extending at least six inches below the ground. Fences can be made more effective by outwardly inverting the top of the fence or by using electric fencing along the top and bottom.
- Spay or neuter your dogs. Un-spayed females can attract male coyotes. In addition, un-neutered domestic male dogs may be lured by the female coyote’s scent.
- If you allow your cats to go outside unattended and there is little or no natural tree cover, you can help protect your cat by installing “cat posts.” Cat posts can be any type of long climbable wooden post (4×4 or corner posts) that stands out of the ground at least six to eight feet with a platform on top for the cat to rest on. The post will provide the cat with an opportunity to escape from a pursuing coyote.
- Don’t feed coyotes or leave pet food outside. Coyotes can easily become dependent on human food sources.
- Vaccinate your animals (transmission of disease from coyotes to domestic animals is extremely rare).
- Coyotes are primarily rodent eaters and scavengers (rodents comprise 90% of coyotes’ diets). However, they can harm or kill animals kept outside such as chickens, rabbits, goats and sheep. To reduce the risk to outside animals, take the following precautions:
- Fright devices, such as sirens and sensor lights, may help deter coyotes from closely approaching animal housing areas.
- Use guard animals. Llamas, donkeys, and special guard dogs have proved effective in reducing or eliminating coyote predation of pastured animals.
- Provide rabbits with a wire-covered enclosure with fencing buried below the ground. Provide an escape shelter with an opening just small enough for the rabbit to enter. (Cages are not recommended because rabbits may be attacked through the cage or die of stress as they frantically try to find cover.)
- Make sure livestock and all pets are securely inside at night; confine livestock during birthing season.
Most Important Things to Know About Deer:
- If you find a fawn that’s alone and quiet, leave it alone. Remember: mother knows best! She will return before dark. Deer are born without a scent. Mothers often leave fawns for 5 hours or more to keep them safe while she forages for food.
- If you find an injured fawn/deer or a fawn that’s walking around alone and calling loudly, contact _______ immediately.
- Never provide food. This can exacerbate any problems and can also attract other animals to your property.
- Deer panic easily and have sharp hooved feet. Never attempt to get too close or touch a deer of any age regardless of how injured/tame it may seem.
- If you find a deer in your yard, leave all gates open and let the deer leave on its own. Attempting to herd it out of your yard can cause the deer to panic and severely injure or kill itself.
- Deer can sometimes wander into residential areas and even in and out of streets. Do not attempt to corner/trap the deer or herd them into any area. Because they panic very easily, the resulting erratic behavior can lead to serious injury for the animal itself or people.
Deer eat all kinds of grasses and new growth on trees and shrubs including poison oak and ivy! They are more active at dusk and dawn but also feed during the night. Bucks lose their antlers in March. The antlers re-grow in the summer. Fallen deer antlers are difficult to find because they have excellent nutritional value for squirrels, opossums, and other wild travelers of the forest, who eat them.
Deer prefer grassy fields near forest edges. They use their large rotating ears to listen for predators. The male is called a buck and the female is a doe. Does have their first young at 2 years of age beginning in early May. Newborn fawns weigh from 3 to 6 pounds and are only about 12 inches long. Babies have no scent at birth, which keeps predators away. The mothers leave the fawns alone, quiet and still, sometimes for hours, while they feed.
Too much pruning?
A deer fence at least 8 feet tall is the best guard for rose bushes and gardens. Visit your local nursery for deer-resistant shrubs and plants. A barking dog is also a good deterrent.
Gray foxes resemble small dogs with bushy tails. They have long bodies, relatively short legs, pointed noses, and large pointed ears. They are silvery gray with a black streak extending to the tip of their tail. The gray fox is found throughout most of the southern half of North America, in many different habitats. They are nocturnal and during the day den in hollow trees, stumps, or burrows.
The gray fox gives birth to pups in a ground burrow. Litters of 1 to 7 pups are born in April or May, with both parents caring for their young. At 3 months of age pups begin to hunt with their parents. One month later, they are able to forage for food on their own. Family groups will stay together until fall, when the young disperse.
The gray fox is the only true tree climber in the canine family. They have strong, hooked claws that allow them to scramble up trees to avoid predators or to access fruit.
Rodent and Insect Eaters
Gray foxes perform a valuable service by controlling rodent and insect populations. Their diet consists of rabbits, mice, squirrels, insects, and fruit.
Threats to Foxes
Many foxes are shot or poisoned by farmers concerned about their livestock. In truth, foxes are not a serious threat. They are also hunted and killed for sport and trapped for their fur. Predators include bobcats, wolves, coyotes and domestic dogs.
Opossums are nocturnal, roaming at night, and looking for a dark, secluded place to sleep during the daylight hours. They are scavengers and eat anything. Since opossums are quiet and rarely cause damage, most people are unaware that they are around. Like all scavengers they sometimes predate on smaller mammals, birds or reptiles. Pet food left out at night often attracts them to our yards. They benefit us by eating mice, rats, snails, slugs and insects.
How Can I Prevent Inviting a Problem with Opossums?
- Pick up pet food at night
- Cover garbage cans tightly
- Keep fallen fruit picked up
- Close off under decks, sheds, etc.
- Make sure foundation vents are secure
- Do not leave garage or sheds open at night
Ideas for Handling Opossum Troubles
- In the Attic or Under the House:Close off the entrance when the animal is out at night. To be sure he is out, put paper loosely over the entry hole and watch for it to be pushed outward or torn, or attach a one-way door flap. The animal may leave, but not re-enter. Be sure no young are left behind.
- In the Garage:Open the door and close it after dark when the opossum has left. Do not leave pet food down at night which might attract an opossum. Sprinkle flour around the door and check for tracks to be sure he has gone.
- In the Yard:Put 24″ wide sheet metal around fruit tree trunks to discourage climbing.
- In the Garbage Can:Tip the can on its side. The opossum will leave when he feels it is safe. Secure the can once the opossum vacates.
- Trapped in Window Well or Pit:Place a board or large pipe into the area so he has something to help him climb out. Cover such areas to prevent another occurrence.
- Protecting Poultry and Rabbits:Keep the bird or animal area well secured at night. There are many night predators. Removing one predator often opens the area for another.
- An Opossum Under the House or Deck:During the day, place containers holding ammonia-soaked rags in the area they are visiting. The smell will cause them to leave on their own come nightfall.
Preventing a Problem
- Keep all pet food inside at night. Raccoons are highly attracted to cat and dog food. Cats will adjust to eating during the day, and early morning is the best time to feed. Only leave out enough food for the cat to eat within 30 minutes to 1 hour. Never leave out large quantities of food – it only attracts large quantities of wildlife.
- Close off cat and dog doors at night to prevent them from entering the house.
- Fasten garbage cans securely with bungee cord or rope. Raccoons have long slender fingers that make it easy to open garbage cans and grasp food.
- Keep fallen fruit picked up. If temptation is eliminated, fewer raccoons will wander into your yard.
- Don’t leave garage and shed doors open at night.
- Close off any possible holes/entrances to the foundation of your house or deck. However, do not do this if you suspect babies are present, they will become trapped.
- Never corner a raccoon or any other wildlife, which can encourage the animal to act defensively.
- If you are in an open area and encounter a raccoon, just continue on your way, and the raccoon will do the same.
- Never offer food.
Solving a Problem – Under the house or deck?
During the day, place ammonia-soaked rags in a can every 3-5 feet around perimeter and both sides of the entrance to the suspected problem area. Spray Hot Pepper Deterrent around opening. Within 2-3 weeks, the raccoons should have moved elsewhere. Sprinkle flour outside the entrance to the problem area and when you see exiting footprints, seal the entrance only once you’re sure they’ve evacuated. Keep in mind that raccoons will not vacate until nightfall.
In the yard?
- Metal wrapped around tree trunks will prevent climbing.
- Installing a motion detector sprinkler system that’s activated at night can help keep raccoons from becoming too comfortable in your yard.
- Spraying a hot pepper mixture on your lawn will deter raccoons from digging for grubs/insects. Also, use beneficial nematodes in the spring and summer to rid your lawn of grubs and grub damage. Getting rid of the food source will solve the problem.
In your pond?
- Submerge wire mesh around the perimeter of the water, attaching it to the edge, or use electric fencing.
- You can also protect fish by including tunnels for them to escape into when raccoons are present.
Keep small animals secured at night. Removing a raccoon will only open up the territory for other raccoons or possibly opossums, skunks, and other wildlife.
Skunks are omnivores and feed on a variety of unwanted insects such as grubs and termites, as well as berries, nuts, bird eggs, and small rodents. Without skunks, our gardens would suffer greatly.
Skunks moving in?
Decks, garages, basements, and woodpiles provide adequate housing for skunks. A few ways to prevent unwanted house guests is to secure vent screens on your house, close off raised decks, pick up pet food at night and dispose of fallen fruit. They’re not good climbers, so you can easily block access to your yard by extending the fence into the ground several inches and keeping gates closed.
During the day, place ammonia-soaked rags in a can every 3-5 feet around the perimeter and both sides of the entrance to the suspected problem area. You can also use a Hot Pepper Wildlife Deterrent. Within 2-3 weeks the animals should have moved elsewhere.
Wait until you are sure there are no babies inside to board up any openings.
How can I get a skunk out of my garage?
Open the door and allow the animal to leave quietly. This should prevent him from spraying. Secure the door when he is gone. Pet food left out at night may be attracting skunks. Remove the pet food before dark and feed your pets during the daylight hours.
How can I prevent skunks from digging in my lawn and garden?
Skunks dig for insects, grubs and termites. They leave small cone-shaped holes. Install floodlights and keep them on at night if you find evidence of skunks digging in your lawn or garden. They do not like bright lights and should go elsewhere. Check with your garden supply store for the best product to use to get rid of your particular insect problem. Then the skunk will have no reason to dig. Skunks will also eat fruit, so pick up fallen fruit so they are not attracted to that area of your yard.
How can I protect my small pets from skunks?
Keep chickens and small animals secured at night. Remember, skunks can dig, so ensure proper housing for your pets.
What can be done about skunk odor?
There are commercial products on the market that claim to remove skunk odor. Tomato juice or vinegar is helpful in neutralizing the scent. A mixture of 1 quart 3% hydrogen peroxide, 1/4 cup baking soda, and 1 tsp. liquid soap has proven effective in eliminating the odor. If a skunk has only passed through your yard, the odor will dissipate on its own after a time.
What do I do with squirrels in the attic or roof?
Squirrels prefer natural habitat for nest building. However, on occasion they will utilize man-made structures to raise their young. To eliminate this possibility, close off any entrances to the foundation of your house or attic. However, do not do this if there might be babies inside as they will be trapped. Cut tree limbs that provide access to your roof. Install a spark arrester on your chimney or cap it with heavy wire mesh. Again, be sure there are no babies in the chimney.
What can I do to discourage squirrels from my yard?
Axle grease or sheet metal can be used on or around tree trunks to prevent climbing. Sprinkling perfumed soap chips or cayenne pepper will prevent them from digging. You can also purchase a plastic hawk or owl from a hardware store to scare them away. Place the look-alike in a tree and make sure to move it about once a week or the squirrels will catch on.