House & Home

Keep Wildlife off Your Urban Property

Posted June 21

Eew! What’s that? Have you ever smelled an odor so foul and pungent that it woke you out of a deep sleep? I have … just the other night, in fact. As I emerged from Dreamland, I tried to identify the exact aroma that was assailing my nostrils. It seemed partly mineral, partly musky animal … could it be a skunk? Odd, because I am currently visiting my mother who lives in a good-sized city. The morning after, though, I described my experience and she said, “Oh yes. There are a fair number of skunks in this neighborhood. And we’ve even got a coyote, who lives on the golf course.”

What They Are and How They Cause Problems

As our cities grow and expand into formerly rural areas, it’s more and more common to to see creatures like skunks, raccoons, and groundhogs -- also known as woodchucks -- making themselves comfortable in urban and suburban backyards. (Remember, they were there first.)They tend to be nocturnal animals. If you see one or two in the daytime, though, don’t jump to the conclusion that they are rabid. Especially in late spring and summer, nursing mothers often search for food by day, when it is safer to leave their young alone. Unfortunately these critters make a mess and do a great deal of damage. For example, they are likely to chew your trash can or your siding, dig up your lawn, and kill your chickens. What’s more, they’ll leave droppings and in the case of skunks, may spray your pet with their distinctive … um … perfume. Some wild animals even carry rabies.

Don’t Make Your Yard a Pest Picnic Ground

Wildlife comes a-calling for one reason – food. (They don’t, as a rule, care for human company much more than we care for theirs.) So if you want to un-invite animal pests from your yard, start by cutting off the food you may be unwittingly offering them. Pick up and dispose of fallen fruit and vegetables from your garden. Make sure garbage and compost are safely stowed in sturdy, chew-proof, securely covered containers, and when we say “securely covered,” we mean that you may need a bungee cord to hold the lid on tight. If you must feed your pets outdoors, make mealtimes short; don’t leave dishes of half-eaten kibble around. And work at improving the health of your lawn to eliminate a favorite skunk delicacy – grubs.

Shut Down Your Wildlife Hotel

Here’s another way to keep skunks, coons, and woodchucks off your premises. Inspect the exterior of your home for sites that an unwanted animal might use as a den. (Dens usually mean nests, which mean babies, which mean even more of the animal you’d like to discourage.) Close off holes under your porch or deck, or in the base of your house and outbuildings. Replace regular pet doors with electronic versions, which are activated by a chip on your cat or dog’s collar. Cover your chimney with a special cap that will allow smoke to escape while at the same time excluding climbing animals. One caveat: It’s best not to do this during nesting season so you don’t inadvertently trap kits or cubs inside.

Scare Critters Away with a Non-Toxic Sprinkler

If you feel that more drastic measures are required, try scaring unwanted animals away with a special sprinkler. When the system detects heat and/or motion, it will activate a spray (and with some models, a sound, as well) that frightens pests of various sizes. Designed to protect a yard of about 1600-1900 square feet, the sprinkler is easy to set up, runs on AA batteries, and costs under $70. It is a humane wildlife deterrent system that is safe to use even if you have small children or pets; it won’t harm your soil either. One disadvantage, however, is that it wastes water.

Laura Firszt writes for

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