Control Wildlife Damage Around the Home with Common-Sense Control Methods
by Nick Gromicko, CMI®
Whether you are a home gardener, enjoy landscaping around your home, or just own your own home, there are times when certain species of wildlife can become a nuisance and cause
damage to plants, and even greater economic losses. Wildlife damage can occur throughout the year, but the fall and winter months are times when food supplies and cover may become more limited for many wildlife species, causing them to find your home or landscape an attractive place to call home. Solving wildlife damage problems may seem out of your control. But most often, you have more control over the problem than you think. It might not be easy, but if you think through the problem and put forth some effort, you can often cut your losses and maybe even eliminate them. If you have concerns or questions about wildlife, you can ask your InterNACHI inspector about them during your next scheduled inspection. InterNACHI members are the best-trained inspectors in the industry.
Many different species of wildlife can become a nuisance and cause problems, under certain conditions. Raccoons, skunks, snakes, woodchucks and other rodents, such as moles, house mice, and tree squirrels can often cause problems. In addition, whitetail deer populations have increased in many urban environments to the point where they are becoming a nuisance by grazing on landscape plantings. Other problem wildlife can include starlings, pigeons, sparrows, or the woodpecker damaging the wood siding on your home, just to name a few.
Think Through the Problem
People experiencing a problem caused by critters usually want an easy, quick solution and often ask, "Is there something I can spray to get rid of this pest?" It is never quite that easy. Preventing and controlling wildlife damage requires a thought process, and often includes using integrated pest-management techniques. A successful wildlife damage program often makes use of a combination of control options, and usually begins with an accurate assessment of the damage and identification of the desired outcome. Wildlife damage management is the opposite of managing property to attract wildlife. To manage for wildlife, you must make sure that animals have sufficient food, water, and cover throughout the year. If you have unwanted animals around your home, it is a sure bet that there is food, water and cover in the area. The solution is to remove at least one of these elements. And if you can remove two, that’s even better.
Try this sequence in thinking through a wildlife damage problem:
- Identify the wildlife species causing the problem. This is the most important step. Correctly identifying the species of wildlife causing damage may seem simple, but it can be challenging, under certain circumstances. Learn about the life history and habitat requirements for the wildlife species that may be a potential problem in your area.
- Are there cultural techniques which you could use to modify the habitat and reduce the chances of having a wildlife damage problem? For instance, there may be certain plants which could be used in your home landscape that might not be an attractive food source for deer. Would more frequent mowing or herbicide use reduce the amount of weedy cover needed for a buildup of rodent populations?
- Is there some way you can keep the animal causing damage from getting into the site?
- If you can’t build them out, can you repel them from the area? Sometimes, you can use chemical, home-made, visual or sound repellents to solve and control a problem.
- If you can’t put up an effective barrier or repel the animals from the problem site, the last step may involve removing from the area the animals that are causing the damage. It may be necessary to trap, shoot, use gas cartridges in dens, or use poison baits to control a wildlife damage problem. Of course, when considering these alternatives for controlling most wildlife species, you should check with a wildlife conservation agent or local animal control agent to get approval. Often, these persons will also provide some assistance.
- Remember that no entire species of wild animal is a nuisance or pest all the time. The trick is to deal only with the animal(s) causing damage, not try to eradicate the entire population.
- A final consideration: Is it worth the effort? It takes quite a bit of time and money to solve and control a wildlife damage problem. Can you tolerate some damage or losses caused by wildlife? Remember that the aesthetic benefits derived from viewing wildlife, and the importance of managing habitats for those wildlife species you wish to attract to your property. Ask yourself if the economic loss is greater than the control cost. If it is, then it is worthwhile to develop and implement a wildlife damage control program.
Living With Wildlife
Wild animals contribute to our enjoyment of nature and outdoor recreation, but they can also damage property, agriculture, and natural resources, and threaten human health and safety. Equipped with the right information and tools, most homeowners can solve their own problems and learn to live with wildlife. For example, trimming trees and shrubbery are ways of changing a habitat to make it less attractive to unwanted flocks of birds or even snakes.
The following information may assist homeowners in keeping that curious raccoon out of the garbage can, that persistent rabbit or deer out of the garden, that goose or duck out of the backyard pool, that woodpecker off the siding, and that swooping bat out of the attic. Caution should always be taken to avoid overly aggressive animals.
Squirrels and Other Rodents
To keep these animals from becoming a permanent part of the family home and yard: use screens on vents and fan openings; keep doors and windows in good repair; tighten eaves; replace rotten boards; cap the chimney; trim overhanging trees; remove bird feeders or use squirrel-proof feeders; and remove acorns and other nuts from the yard. Chipmunks can be deterred by removing denning habitat, which includes logs, rock walls, and stones.
Also known as groundhogs, these animals sometimes burrow near buildings, browse in gardens, and damage fruit trees and ornamental shrubs. Fencing can help reduce woodchuck damage. The lower edge of the fence should be buried at least 10 inches into the ground to prevent burrowing. The fence should be 3 to 4 feet high, with a surrounding electric hot-shot wire placed 4 to 5 inches off the ground.
Opossums and Skunks
Opossums and skunks become a problem to homeowners by raiding garbage cans and bird feeders; eating pet foods; and living under porches, low decks, open sheds, and any other areas that provide shelter. Skunks also dig holes in lawns, golf courses and gardens. Both animals sometimes kill poultry and eat eggs. To keep opossums and skunks from denning under buildings, seal off all foundation openings with wire mesh, sheet metal, or concrete. Chicken coops can be protected by sealing all ground-level openings into the buildings and by closing the doors at night. Foraging in garbage cans may be eliminated by providing tight-fitting lids and straps.
Bats prefer to avoid human contact; however, they are known to establish roosts in attics and abandoned buildings. Building and attic roosts can be eliminated by sealing entry and exit holes (after the bats have left) with such materials as 1/4-inch hardware cloth, caulking or wire mesh. If a bat makes its way into the house, you can usually encourage it to leave after dark by turning on lights and opening windows and doors.
Rabbits can be kept out of the garden and away from ornamental plants and small trees by using products containing repellents, such as Hinder, or by placing a 2-foot poultry fence around the area. It is important to bury the fence at least 6 inches beneath the surface of the ground. For information about taste repellents, check your local farm and garden center. Before using any chemical repellents, read the label carefully, and check with your state pesticide regulatory agency for application guidelines.
Raccoons are attracted to easy food sources, such as garden produce, garbage, and pet food. To help prevent scavenging, use metal trash cans that are fastened to a pole or other solid object. A strap or latch that secures the lid of the garbage can is also helpful. To keep raccoons out of the garden, use two strands of electric livestock fence. The strands should be placed atn 4 and 8 inches, respectively, off the ground and surround the entire garden. Exercise caution when implementing this exclusionary method in urban areas. Raccoons will also readily inhabit attics, chimneys and sheds. Use metal flashing and 1-inch mesh hardware cloth to block entrances.
The best way to keep snakes out of your house and yard is to seal cracks and openings around doors, windows, water pipes, attics and foundations. Removing logs, wood piles, and high grass, and controlling insects and rodents are also helpful. Remove non-poisonous snakes from inside buildings by placing piles of damp burlap bags in areas where snakes have been seen. After the snakes have curled up beneath the bags, remove the bags and snakes from the building. To remove dangerous snakes, call a professional pest control company.
These birds damage buildings by drilling holes into wooden siding, eaves and trim boards, especially those made of cedar and redwood. If the pecking creates a suitable cavity, the bird may use it for nesting. Effective methods of excluding woodpeckers include placing lightweight mesh nylon or plastic netting on the wooden siding beneath the eaves, covering pecked areas with metal sheathing, and using visual repellents, such as "eye-spot" balloons.
Deer feed on row crops, vegetables, fruit trees, nursery stock, stacked hay, and ornamental plants and trees. Deer can be discouraged by removing supplemental food sources, and by using scare devices and repellents. The only sure way to eliminate deer damage is to fence the deer out. A wire-mesh fence is effective if it is solidly constructed and at least 8 feet high. Electric fencing also helps reduce damage.
Coyotes and Foxes
These animals may carry rabies and sometimes prey on domestic pets, rabbits, ducks, geese, chickens, young pigs and lambs. Coyotes also kill calves, goats and deer. Net-wire and electric fencing will help exclude foxes and coyotes; however, because they are good climbers, a roof of net wire on livestock pens may also be necessary. For more information about fencing, contact your local county extension office.
The protection of livestock and poultry is most important during the spring denning period. Foxes and coyotes will often den close to farm buildings, under haystacks, and inside hog lots and small pastures used for lambing. Shed lambing and farrowing in protected enclosures can be useful in preventing predation on young livestock. Additionally, noise- and light-making devices, such as the Electronic Guard, may keep these predators away. Guard dogs are also useful in preventing predation on sheep. Regrettably, dispersal methods are not effective in all situations, so other methods, including trapping or snaring, may have to be used.
Mountain Lions and Bears
As bear and lion habitats continue to be encroached upon by housing expansion, interactions between these animals and humans continues to increase. Bears are noted for destroying cornfields and trees, scavenging in garbage cans, demolishing the interiors of cabins and campers, and killing livestock. Lions are serious predators of sheep, goats, domestic pets, large livestock, poultry, bighorn sheep, and deer. Typical bear and lion predation on sheep leaves 10 or more killed in a single attack, and both species have been known to attack humans.
Prevention is the best method of controlling bear and lion damage. Heavy woven and electric fencing can effectively deter bears and lions from attacking livestock and damaging property. Loud music, barking dogs, exploder cannons, fireworks, gunfire, nightlights, scarecrows, and changes in the position of objects in the depredation area often provide temporary relief. The best way to protect pets is to keep them inside an enclosed kennel or shelter. Using guard dogs, removing garbage and dead carcasses, and placing crops and beehives at considerable distances away from timber and brush may reduce damage by bears. Mountain lions also prefer to hunt where escape cover is close by; removal of brush and trees within a quarter of a mile of buildings and livestock may reduce lion predation.
Professional relocation of damaging mountain lions and bears is sometimes necessary. For more information about state laws and regulations concerning relocation or lethal control of mountain lions and bears, contact your state wildlife agency.
Remember, think through your problem before attempting to invest in a control program. What is the easiest, cheapest, most practical way to control the problem? What will be the least hazardous to pets, people, and non-target wildlife? Are you losing enough money to justify a control expense? Your goal should be to reduce damage to a level you can live with.