Tips to keep wildlife from taking up residence
After more than 30 years in the nuisance animal control business, Dick Hane knows the way to a skunk’s heart.
It’s 9Lives Sliced Beef in Gravy cat food, “the best skunk bait in the world.”
The owner of A-1 Animal Control in Fruita is the guy people call when something smells “dead” in their houses or when they have a den of skunks in the crawlspace. During his tenure in resolving conflicts between humans and wildlife, he’s developed a sense for how animals (and people) behave.
He’s met squirrels that are smart enough to know people’s work schedules and come in through dog doors to wreak havoc during the day. Hane deals primarily with what he calls “town critters,” animals that don’t mind living with humans who have moved into their habitats or thrive off human interaction.
Ideally, keeping the animals out is the best defense. Wildlife managers call this “exclusion.” But once they get in your home, it’s all about removal. This can be expensive and difficult. Prevention is definitely easier than the cure in most cases Hane deals with, but by the time he gets involved, it’s usually past that point.
Hane offered two important but basic tips to save homeowners a lot of trouble and prevent animals from taking over their houses: Eliminate opportunities for food and shelter for these animals in your home.
DON’T FEED THE ANIMALS
Hane’s advice is to remove tempting food from around your home. This means food that grows and food that’s introduced.
Hane recalled a situation in which he removed hundreds of ground squirrels in a few days from a Grand Junction physician’s office on Wellington Avenue. The squirrels were attracted by the Russian olive tree fruit around the office until that ran out. Then they found the cars in the parking lot.
“They were eating the wiring in the cars,” Hane said. “They’re attracted by the insulation on the wire, that’s made with a lubricant that has fish oil.” Several vehicles required expensive electrical work after the squirrels had done their damage.
Bird lovers attract more than their feathered friends, Hane said.
“Bird feeders are a magnet for all kinds of wildlife in your yard,” he said. That includes raccoons, rodents and squirrels.
Likewise, pet foods left around homes will tempt wild animals. Sometimes this can even lure them indoors or lead to bigger problems.
“Pet food attracts coons, skunks, rats, and then pretty soon you’ve got snakes,” he said. “Our world functions on a predator-prey basis and if you have prey, you have predators.”
Hane caught the biggest skunk he’s ever seen as a result of a woman who offered a cat food smorgasbord in her garage. She freely fed the neighborhood cats, and the skunks figured out where they could get a free meal by entering through the cat door. Hane ended up catching a skunk weighing more than 17 pounds.
Backyard fruit orchards can attract raccoons, skunks and other animals, especially during a time wildlife managers call “fall frenzy.” This is usually during late fall, when bears eat 22 hours per day and skunks and raccoons will double their body weight in two months to prepare for winter. The animals will slow down their activity until it warms up again, usually sometime in January, and then breeding season starts. Skunks become especially active during this time. In fact, Hane once caught 17 skunks under a Whitewater home one February in just over a week.
It’s best to resolve the problem before mating season, he said. “If you have one skunk now, you’ll have five in the spring.”
SEAL YOUR HOME
Hane advises conducting a top-to-bottom inspection of your home, starting with the eaves and soffits and going all the way down to the crawlspace. If you have small holes, chances are animals will use that opportunity to come in.
The general rule is that if an animal’s head will fit in the hole, it will wriggle its way in. Hane said it’s amazing that the animals find the tiniest crevasses.
“Animals are so smart,” he said. “They find their way in through air currents.” In the summer, cool air escapes into the heat. And in the winter, warm air leads animals to their opportunity for shelter.
Make sure to inspect your patio for inviting areas as well. The housing area under hot tubs can be a warm place for animals to winter. Also check areas under sinks and near any plumbing for rodent activity. A wide clearance around pipes can be an easy passage for mice.
It seems like common sense, but don’t leave doors open. “Do not leave your garage door open to air out your garage,” he said. “It’s just an open invitation.”
He recalled removing more than 300 dead mice from a Mesa County home after the owner reported a “bad odor” and scratching sounds. It turned out that the contractor who had completed a new siding project on the home three years earlier had failed to seal nooks and crannies near the eaves of the house, and the mice crawled in and fell between the walls.
At one Redlands home, he removed 24 pack rats within a month. They had found a small hole to enter into the house.
Pack rat nests can be especially nasty, because they collect things and create a horrible mess. “It’s like a bushel basket full of thorns and clusters and stuff,” Hane said. “They’re gross. They stink. But they’re cute — they look like Minnie Mouse.”
Pack rats and mice stay active during the wintertime, so they’re always trying to find warmer shelter and food to survive. They also produce an incredible amount of waste. Hane removed 16 gallons of pack rat feces from one home that hosted nests of pack rats.
Having animals move in isn’t just inconvenient or annoying. It can be dangerous. Wild animals in and around people’s homes can bring zoonotic diseases, which can infect humans. Diseases such as this include rabies, transmitted through saliva, or like bubonic plague or tularemia, in which the parasites living on animals can spread disease to humans. Or there’s hantavirus, which humans contract by breathing infected dust produced by the feces of certain rodents, including deer mice.
Overall, Hane said it’s just a good idea to keep wild animals where they belong: the wild.