Prevent Unwanted Houseguests

The first thing to remember is that the wildlife isn’t moving in “just for the fun of it”. They would much rather find suitable homes elsewhere, but because we have taken their land and built our houses, they often no longer have that luxury. The solution is often as easy as providing suitable substitute housing for them and making it harder for them to move into yours.

Semiannual maintenance should be performed on your home in the spring and fall, inspect for and repair any exterior holes that permit wildlife access into the house. Use binoculars to check eaves and roof lines. All such openings should be securely closed. If the intruder is a squirrel or raccoon, standard measures will not be enough. Squirrels will gnaw a new hole nearby, so the patch needs to be much larger than the hole.

Use expanding foam to seal around pipe and electrical penetrations – a mouse only needs a hole one-half the size of a dime to gain access. DO NOT block the weep holes in your brick, they aren’t big enough for adult animals and if the brick is not allowed to “breathe” you will have a much bigger problem on your hands – mold. DO check the weep holes for evidence of insects, especially ants. Check the foundation for little dirt tunnels that rise to the weep holes or cracks in the brick, as these are evidence of termites.

Replace all damaged siding, trim and soffits, especially areas that are softened by dry rot. There may not be a hole today, but weakened wood is a prime entry point. If you can’t get the wood replaced immediately, consider covering the area with welded wire hardware cloth.

Cap your chimney and /or keep the flue closed when not it use.  A closed flue is all that is necessary to keep  “guests” out of your house. One of our rehabbers enjoyed the swallows that nested in the chimney of their last house. They felt that the racket (sometimes loud enough to drown out the TV) was small payment for the privilege of hosting another generation of “skeeter eaters”. However, the next owner didn’t share their opinion and promptly capped the chimney. In addition to birds, raccoons and squirrels have been known to take up residence in chimneys.

To prevent an animal from gaining access to your roof, prune trees so they don’t over hang the house. It is recommended that a horizontal distance of 10 feet and a vertical distance of 15 feet should be maintained. Pay special attention to landscaping near the house, crepe myrtle or a lattice of climbing vine can provide an excellent ladder, be sure to trim back enough that it isn’t an easy jump to the eaves.

Pet doors will give access to wildlife. They can learn to use a pet door as easily as Fido and Fluffy. If you really need a pet door, consider a door that will open only for a special collar, which is worn by the pet.

Decide if you want to attract wildlife or not

Opossums, raccoons, mice, rats (ugh) and to a lesser extent rabbits and squirrels feel that their job is to clean up their environment. We don’t know if they love us for being so messy or they lament that their work is never done – but either way, they are quite good at cleaning up any food they find.  So the first step in discouraging foraging behavior is to make sure that there is nothing to forage. This means that trash cans need tight fitting / locking tops – no self-respecting possum or coon could pass such a huge “ mess” and not “clean” it up. Additionally, cat and dog food must be pulled up before dusk.

Each of us have our own tolerance for wildlife; fur is fine but scales are scary, feathers are OK but not grackles or crows, if it has more than 4 legs or none at all – all bets are off. Whether or not you are a fan of wildlife or not, we must remember that we moved into their home – not the other way around. We must respect their rights; perhaps ameliorate the impact of our presence – but we don’t have to tolerate the wildlife moving into our homes.

So what to do? Well it depends – first of all it is a good idea to provide appropriate shelter – outside! That way your home doesn’t start looking good.  Or provide shelter for the predator of the animal or pest.

Next, find the locations where the animals are getting in. Remember, most animals need a hole only large enough to accommodate their skulls. Plan how you are going to close the holes and buy the materials – but don’t use them yet. First, you need to make sure that no one is home – even more important, make sure that there are no babies.

If your visitors didn’t move in until the spring or summer, you can bet there are babies. At this point you have two choices; be patient and allow Mom to raise her babies and move out or call a Wildlife specialist, such as the rehabbers at Wildlife Rehab and Education, who can help you find something that will make your attic less attractive. Often you can “encourage” Mom to move her babies to a place that is less bright or loud.

If you are inclined to attract wildlife by providing food and water – it is a huge responsibility. Responsibility? Yes responsibility! Once you begin feeding the birds or other animals, you must continue for two reasons. First, easy access to food encourages the females to lay more eggs and birth more babies; therefore they will need more energy to support these babies. A Mom with babies needs the continued food support more than ever.

Insect eating birds are harder because it’s hard to hold back the insecticide when our plantings are being attacked. But you can’t attract the insect eating birds if there are no insects to eat.

The second reason is that some birds may delay or decide not to migrate because food is plentiful. The mammals will have produced a population that may or may not be supportable without the supplemental food. Either way, you have birds and/or mammals that will starve during the winter.

Another consideration is that wild animals are WILD. They are unpredictable and you must be prepared for the consequences. Just like the bears in Yellowstone Park, mammals can become aggressive when the food doesn’t come fast enough or in large enough quantities. Even squirrels that have accepted hand feeding can bite or scratch the next time you offer food. To prevent bites and scratches, don’t hand feed. In fact, it is a good idea to put out the food BEFORE your diners arrive.

One last word about attracting wildlife with food and water.  A common feeding location can spread disease and parasites. Bird feeders and birdbaths must be kept scrupulously clean because both can harbor mold, fungi and parasites. A single raccoon with distemper can infect everyone else that frequents the feeding location.