Co-existing with wildlife


Not in the house, please
Is the local wildlife getting a little too cozy — skunks under your deck, squirrels in your attic, raccoons in your chimney?

Bears and mountain lions are a subject for another day; we’re talkin’ about the more common critters. The response doesn’t have to be a choice between humane traps and hiring people who will “euthanize” any wild animal that’s being a nuisance.

“I don’t kill healthy animals. Relocating, almost never,” says Jack Murphy, owner of Aurora-based Urban Wildlife Rescue, Inc. “You need a permit to relocate a wild animal, and most of the time that permit is denied because the chances of a wild animal surviving in new territory are pretty low. It may get attacked as an intruder, and it may not know how to hunt in that area.”

There’s also the possibility that “relocating” a beastie will separate it from its babies or mate, or introduce a disease into a vulnerable population.

Murphy is a wildlife rehabilitator and one of about 15 humane animal control specialists in Colorado. He says that with most wildlife, there is very little danger associated with having animals close by, and he recommends putting up with the presence of a family until the babies leave home.

Murphy generally relies on animal excluder doors — like a pet door that will let animals out of the place they’re nesting but won’t let them back in. Then the access hole can be sealed up after he’s sure there are no critter babies left behind.

Before you call someone like him, you could try your own hand at humane eviction.

“You can encourage skunks and other animals to leave the place they keep coming back to by tossing in some moth balls when they’re not in,” says Sharon Bokan, small acreage coordinator for the Colorado State University Extension office in Boulder County. “Or you can make a ball of rags, soak it in ammonia, tie a long string around it, and toss the ball into the area with the string end hanging out. When the animals leave, you pull the thing out. Then you close up the access.”

If you can’t figure out how they’re getting in, sprinkle flour around, says Murphy. Disturbed areas will tell you where the unauthorized access is happening. It also announces when intruders have finally cleared out.

The key to handling most problems is not to attract unwanted behaviors in the first place. Bokan says these are the most common lures:

Keeping food — or anything that smells like food — outdoors, including in your car. That bowl of dog kibble, fallen fruit, the compost bin, trash cans, uncleaned barbecue grills, the discarded burger wrappers in your car parked outside, and, yes, bird feeders. Even if you can’t smell it, they all send out the signal that the cafe is open. That’s why temptation should be kept indoors or in animal-proof containers. For spilled bird seed, spread out a tarp or cardboard sheet under the feeder and dispose of the fallen food daily.

Unkempt yards — Maybe you prefer to call it “natural,” but uncontrolled weeds, shaggy shrubbery, tall grass, wood piles and the like offer good cover for wildlife. Keep things neat, with plenty of visual clearance down to ground level, and screen off woodpiles and/or use a repellant.

Pets — Never leave your pet unsupervised outdoors for long, and keep your dog on a leash when walking. Large foxes and coyotes are infamous for carrying off small pets, and they can often climb fences.

Access areas — Check around regularly for holes, breaks, overhanging tree limbs, loose screens or other aids that let critters into your home. Keep chimneys properly capped, and secure pet doors at night and when you’re not home.

Clueless neighbors — When it appears someone else is attracting wildlife, other than birds, you can seek advice from your local animal control department, Humane Society or the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

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