Living with Urban Wildlife
Many wildlife species can’t survive in close proximity to humans, but others have learned to adapt to man’s encroachment on their territory and live among us as secretive, usually unseen neighbors. Some people object to this “intrusion,” forgetting that wildlife plays an important role in our environment, and that it is, after all, we who are the intruders.
Peaceful co-existence with our wild neighbors is most successfully achieved by allowing these animals their niche in the urban environment while taking measures to prevent them from becoming a nuisance. The following do’s and don’ts will help prevent problems before they arise.
- Tightly screen all access holes into buildings. Vents, gables, chimneys, eaves, and pipes are all potential entryways for wildlife to set up residence in the attic or under the home.
- Secure trash in sturdy plastic or metal cans with tightly fitting lids. If necessary, tie the lids down so they won’t become dislodged if the can is tipped over. Also, wait until the morning of pick-up to put trash out.
- Eliminate any food sources such as fallen fruit or unattended pet food, which may attract wildlife.
- Construct fences and walls high enough to exclude smaller animals. Generally, coyotes won’t scale a fence higher than 6 feet, and an 8 foot fence will discourage most deer. Installing extenders, which angle outward, to the top of each post and running 2 or 3 strands of wire along the extenders will help ensure that these animals don’t pass over the top. To stop animals from digging under a fence, attach chicken wire to the bottom and bury it at least 6 inches deep and 6 inches outward, parallel to the ground.
- Burying cinder blocks around the bottom of a fence will also discourage digging.
- Clear brush, dense ground cover, wood piles, and garden debris where rodents may be living. Reducing the rodent population will eliminate an attractive food source for coyotes and snakes.
Protect caged animals such as chickens and rabbits. A hutch which stands above ground should have a solid bottom to prevent your pet from becoming easy prey for a coyote or raccoon. Chicken coops must be extremely secure to prevent predators from climbing over or digging under the structure. Also, remember that the dexterous hands of raccoons can undo many latches.
- Don’t feed wildlife. Doing so will lure animals from the surrounding hillsides in overwhelming numbers leaving them dependent on you for food and at risk from other humans who may harm them.
- Don’t corner or try to catch a wild animal. If you come across a wild animal, keep children and pets at a safe distance and leave it alone. Odds are it wants to get away from you as badly as you want it to leave. If the animal appears injured, call your local animal control agency for assistance.
- Don’t allow pets to roam, especially at night. They may never return.
- Don’t set out poison bait. More than likely, the wrong animal will consume it or the dead, poisoned animal will be eaten by a non-target animal, such as a hawk or your dog or cat, and in turn be poisoned themselves. Also, a poisoned animal will frequently die under a building or some other inaccessible area leaving you with an irremovable smelly carcass.
- Don’t seal an entrance hole in a building or the opening to a den site unless you are certain the animals living there are not present. Make a tracking patch by spreading a thick layer of flour in front of the entrance. When you see paw prints leading away from the opening it is usually safe to seal the entrance. Most animals leave their dens at dusk to search for food. If, however, you cannot catch the animal out of its den, try driving it out by placing ammonia-soaked rags into the nesting site. Again, make a tracking patch and wait. If necessary, re-soak the rags twice daily. If you are uncertain of the number of animals in the nesting site, try hanging a piece of hardware cloth larger than the opening on the outside. The animals can then swing the hardware cloth outward to escape, but cannot reenter. NEVER seal an entrance during the breeding season (usually March–June); you may trap infant wildlife too young to escape.
- Don’t try to smoke out an animal which is living in your chimney. It can easily be overcome by smoke and fall into the fire. Try placing a dish of ammonia in the base of the chimney and open the damper. The fumes should force the animal out the top. If an animal is trapped in your chimney, place a thick rope into the chimney, far enough to reach the animal, secure it at the top and leave. Most animals will scale the rope and escape. To prevent animals from getting into the chimney in the first place, install a wire mesh cap over the top.
- Trapping and relocating animals is generally not recommended for several reasons: Removing a nuisance animal is only a temporary solution; others will soon move in from surrounding areas to take its place. In some cases, it is illegal to trap animals such as raccoons and skunks, because they are furbearers and protected by law. Animals can only be relocated to specific release sites where studies have shown the area able to support newcomers. Releasing animals into unapproved areas causes problems for the released animal as well as the existing population. For more information about trapping and relocating animals in your area, contact your local animal control agency.
- Many animals do not like walking on an unfamiliar surface. Laying chicken wire or plastic sheeting on the ground may discourage an animal from passing through an area where it is unwelcome.
- To assist an animal which has become trapped in a window well, lean a rough branch thick enough to support the animal’s weight into the window well. The animal can then use it to climb out.
- To help prevent damage to roofs by wildlife, avoid planting creeping vines near walls and keep tree branches trimmed away from buildings. This will help eliminate an animal’s access to the roof. Also, tacking sheet metal around trees or on walls will keep animals from getting the footing they need to climb. The sheet metal should be at least 2 feet wide and attached about 3 feet above ground level.
- Ornamental fish ponds can be protected from raccoons by attaching wire mesh (preferably a type that won’t rust) horizontally around the circumference of the pond. It should be at least one foot wide and submerged about 2 to 6 inches. Raccoons cannot reach over the mesh and because it is unstable are unlikely to try standing on it.