Learning To Live With Wildlife

By Kathy Van Mullekom
AS NEIGHBORHOODS sprawl into rural areas and shopping centers claim remaining woods in cities, a new breed of wildlife emerges.

Rabbits, Raccoons and deer aren’t so wild any more because we’re taking away their habitats and they are learning to live among us. We’ve forced wildlife to become suburbanized!

They are opportunistic and adaptive. As habitats are cut down and developments move in, they’ve had to move closer to our homes to nest and eke out a life. In many cities nationwide, those adapting animals include deer, Raccoons, Canada Geese, squirrels, skunks and rabbits—even foxes.

“The reason foxes are adapting well is that they are moving in where their food sources, such as rabbit, songbirds and the young of Raccoons and opossums, are plentiful,” says Jim Seward, assistant park services and program at Sandy Bottom Nature Park in Hampton, VA.

“A concern on the horizon is the invasion of suburbia by the Coyote, which may make the concerns of all the other nuisance wildlife pale in comparison.”

During spring, animals are particularly active because they’re having babies and searching for food and water. Often, their habits clash with ours and life becomes a little combative.

Here are some tips on how to peacefully co-exist with wild friends that may visit your yard:

What they like to eat: Mice and other creatures people dislike, raid trash cans and bird feeders and nibble on food remains from barbecue grills.

What they like to do: Raccoons raise their young in dead, hollow trees. But people often cut those down, so raccoons often look for uncapped chimneys to serve as nurseries.

What you can do: Avoid feeding raccoons or they will hang out all night, every night, expecting free handouts. If your chimney has no cap on the top, and you have no raccoons in it, have a chimney expert install a cap. If you have a mother and her young in your chimney, wait for her to move them to ground level, which she will do when her young are about 6 weeks old. If you have raccoon babies in your chimney and you cap it before she gets her babies out, the mother will rip out shingles to get to them.

For bird feeders, install a 2-foot-long plastic-pipe baffle that’s open on the bottom and closed at the top. Position it 4 feet off the ground; a raccoon’s haunches are not strong enough to scale it. These baffles are available at wildlife specialty stores.

What they like to eat: Young tender plants, including veggies and perennials; clover is their favorite; plants browsed by rabbits have a neat, clipped appearance.

What they like to do: Make baby bunnies three to four litters a year. They create nests in open places, favoring tall grass.

What you can do: To protect plants, use bad-smelling repellents such as Liquid Fence (available at many local garden centers). Black netting over plants also helps protect them; its almost-invisible look is barely noticeable in the garden.

For fencing, use 2-ft-high chicken fence supported by posts every 6 to 8 ft; make sure the bottom is either buried 6 to 8 inches deep or is staked securely to the ground to prevent rabbits from pushing underneath it.

What they like to eat: They can empty a bird feeder in no time and nibble on your almost-ripe tomatoes; also will chew wires and even the gas line on your grill.

What they like to do: Build nests at the top of chimneys, only to sometimes have them fall down into those cavities; or, jump down into chimneys, thinking they are hollow trees; they can’t climb out those slippery slopes.

What you can do:
Cap chimneys. If a wandering squirrel gets in an uncapped chimney, go up on the roof and lower a long -inch rope into the chimney, leaving the rest of the rope hanging off the side of the house; the squirrel will easily climb the rope and get out. Remove rope and cap chimney.

To evict a family of squirrels from an attic, use a blaring radio or put ammonia-soaked rags in the area. Strobe lights in the attic are also effective at “freaking them out,” say wildlife experts. Check to make sure you have no holes in your siding or exterior trim where more squirrels can enter.

Outdoors, use caged bird feeders to keep squirrels from raiding them. Safflower is a bird seed that squirrels seem to dislike. Squirrel baffles on feeders also help; they are available at wildlife specialty stores and garden centers. Wildlife experts suggest you feed the squirrels to keep them happy and away from feeders.

To help prevent squirrels from eating tomatoes, place containers of fresh water outdoors for them; they are usually thirsty and looking for a drink.

What they like to eat: Grubs, mice, baby rats and Japanese beetles

What they like to do:
Spray dogs that get too close to them; get under your house and shed; skunks and cats get along fine.

What you can do: Seal up any entry points under your house and outbuildings.

To deodorize a dog, mix a quart of hydrogen peroxide, 1⁄2 cup of baking soda and 1 teaspoon of a liquid soap. Wash the dog in this concoction, rinse, shampoo, rinse again and the smell is gone. Tip: A black dog may have a few rust-colored highlights after this application. Tomato juice does not work. If a skunk sprays a dog’s tongue, there is no real way to deodorize it.

Canada Geese
What they like to eat: Grass shoots

What they like to do: Litter yards and golf courses with droppings when they land and stay on grassy areas; flock to open water for protection from predators.

What you can do: Reduce fertilizer use and supplemental water to reduce young grass shoots. Allow grass to “naturalize.” Grass that’s 6 inches high has fewer tender shoots, making the food more difficult for geese to find.

To keep them from loitering on grassy areas, establish a hedge or planting of ornamental grasses, cattails or shrubs along the edge of the water; this disrupts the clear sight line they need to have when a predator approaches them. Boulders larger than 2 ft. wide and 12 inches high can be mixed between plants.

Border Collies have been successful in deterring geese at golf courses, parks, airports and condos.

What they like to eat: After a long winter nap, they fill up on most anything in a garden

What they like to do: These cautious animals generally fear people but will burrow under houses, porches and other buildings.

What you can do:
To keep them out of your garden, add objects that blow in the wind, including balloons and reflective Mylar tape.

The best solution is a 3-ft-high mesh or chicken-wire fence with two tricks built into it. The top above-ground part should be floppy, or staked loosely to wooden stakes so it wobbles if the animal tries to climb over it. The bottom 12 inches should run parallel to the ground and be secured with landscaping staples as a “false bottom” to prevent digging under it.

To encourage them to move along, put urine-soaked cat litter inside burrow entrances.

What they like to eat: Plants, plants and more plants, especially tender ones like azaleas, tomatoes and perennials

What they like to do: Strip foliage and bark from plants

What you can do:
Garden wisely, including using plants deer dislike: strong-smelling mint, geranium and marigolds; daffodils; toxic foxglove and nightshade species; fuzzy and prickly plants; ornamental grasses and ferns; salvias; asters; allium; and native plants. For a list of deer-resistant plants, visit www.yorkcounty.gov/vce/progareas/hort/hortpubs.htm.

To scare them away, use motion-activated sprinklers; battery-operated stakes feature scent lures that deliver a mild shock and teach deer to avoid certain areas of the garden.

For repellents, local gardeners and extension offices report good results with a bad-smelling product called Liquid Fence, available at garden centers.

Deer-proof fencing is the most effective method. Fencing options include plastic mesh, electrified polytape, woven wire and electric fence kits that come with a scented lure.

Tips On Living With The Wild
Here’s help on living in harmony with wildlife:

• Button up your house. Check home’s exterior and interior for places where wildlife can enter. Un-capped chimneys, holes in siding or trim and open foundation vents and access doors are entry points for animals. Birds like to build nests inside dryer and bathroom ventilation pipes. Placing screens over the pipe on the outside is an ideal way to fix that problem; if a bird and its nest are already in the pipe, wait until the family has left to remove the nest and screen the area. It takes about 21 days for baby birds to leave home.

• Seal off access to areas under decks and storage sheds. To check for animals, sprinkle a 12-inch band of white flour around the deck or shed, checking for animal footprints; you also can stuff any hole with newspaper and wait 48 hours to see if an animal pushes it away.

• Remove temptation. Songbirds are good to feed, but Raccoons are not. If raccoons raid your birdfeeders, remove the feeders at night or install stovepipe-style baffles to keep Raccoons from scurrying up the poles supporting the feeders.

• Use trashcans that Raccoons can’t open (cans with 4-inch twist-off lids are good) or tip over easily. Keep barbecue grills clean; even nonfood products such as candles, sunscreen and insect repellent can attract animals, so keep those indoors when you’re not using them.

• Make them move along. To safely make your yard inhospitable to wildlife, use rotten egg-smelling repellents such as Liquid Fence on plants. Devices that spray water, move or make noise often help; one that seems to work effectively is the motion-activated scarecrow that shoots sprays of water.

• Clean the roof. Trim branches away from your house to limit access for climbing wildlife; check limbs, chimneys and attics for occupied nests before trimming.

Learn more. For more information, visit www.windstar.org  –Daily Press