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Nuisance Wildlife

Wildlife problems with civilized solutions at

US Department of Agriculture-APHIS-Wildlife Services: Toll Free 866-487-3297;

Many of Pennsylvania’s furbearer populations have increased significantly as market prices for pelts have dropped. This has led to increases in the numbers of opossums, raccoons, skunks and beavers – even mink and coyotes – in many areas. In addition, expanding communities and new rural housing developments are placing more and more homes right on the doorstep of thriving wildlife habitats. As a result, deer, bears, groundhogs, squirrels, and myriad songbirds are becoming increasingly comfortable hanging out in backyards and similar places.

Wildlife problems are compounded by people who draw wildlife into residential areas with feeders and improperly-stored garbage. And it doesn’t help communities where hunting and trapping cannot be pursued within their limits because of safety zone limitations. That leaves most population control work to wildlife pest control agents. More often than not, it’s going to cost you at least time and probably money to alleviate a wildlife nuisance problem. In a lot of situations, though, homeowners can help themselves. They simply need to be armed with the right information and equipment to get the job done.

One of the most common wildlife problems Pennsylvanians face is garden raiding. The culprits are usually rabbits, groundhogs and deer, but occasionally a raccoon or bear will drop in for things like sweet corn and berries. Inexpensive solutions include using scarecrows, hanging pie tins and spraying peppery liquids on plants. But animals will adjust to these tactics. Many home gardeners also place fences around their gardens. But if animals climb over or dig under a fence, you may have to consider setting a live-trap to apprehend your raider.

Live-traps come in a variety of sizes and are of a cage-with-closing-door design. These traps are ideal for residential areas because if you catch the neighbor’s pet by mistake, all you have to do is open the door to release the dog or cat from the trap. Troublesome rabbits and squirrels can be relocated to another area. However, anyone who sets one of these traps must recognize it has the potential to catch something other than he or she may have ever expected; namely a skunk. The problem, of course, is what to do with the skunk. It’s liable to spray just about anyone who comes near the trap, even if the person is just trying to set it free.

Since skunks – as well as raccoons, bats, groundhogs, foxes and coyotes – are rabies vector species, they should not be relocated like other wildlife. Homeowners who set traps and catch these species face the choice of killing the animal or releasing it. Releasing a skunk or a raccoon can be a risky situation. There’s a chance that you could be sprayed by the skunk, or bitten or scratched. What follows promises to be unpleasant. You’ll either have to be deodorized or anxiously await test results on the trapped animal’s brain tissue to determine if it’s rabid.

A person should put a great deal of thought into any plan that calls for using a trap to resolve a nuisance wildlife problem. Getting and setting the trap is the easy part. Dealing with what happens after the door closes, however, truly can be more than most homeowners bargained for.

Before you set a trap to resolve a wildlife conflict, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Are you prepared to kill the trapped animal? 
  2. Do you know how to properly dispose of an animal carcass? 
  3. Do you know how to release a trapped animal? 
  4. Do you know what bait should be used to ensure you catch the targeted species? 
  5. Do you know how frequently you must check a trap set to capture wildlife?

If you can answer “yes” to the aforementioned questions then you should know what you’re getting into when you set a trap. Landowners and homeowners may not trap beavers, bobcats, migratory birds, big game, threatened species or endangered species. Landowners should contact the region office that serves the county where they are located before trapping nuisance wildlife. Also, once traps are set, they must be checked daily.

Wildlife taken alive may not be retained alive, sold, or given away. Live wildlife may be relocated to a natural setting. Any wildlife killed must be reported to the Game Commission.

Wildlife also has a habit of establishing homes under our sheds, in the banks of our ponds, even in our houses. These intrusions can range from bats or flying squirrels in the attic to chipmunks under the sidewalk and songbirds nesting in your hanging fuchsia or prized rosebush.

Sometimes it’s rewarding to have wildlife living on your property, because it can be fun to watch. But that enjoyment can change quickly when wildlife begins to invade your living quarters, causes significant property damage or has close, uncomfortable encounters with people around your home.

The solutions to these problems vary, but they include everything from hiring a wildlife pest control agent, using traps and making modifications to your home, to removing certain vegetation, placing fence and hunting. Exclusion and trapping are probably the two most commonly used approaches for dealing with nuisance wildlife.

Exclusion can be effective for some species, such as rabbits, bats, squirrels, raccoons, chipmunks, groundhogs, Canada geese and other waterfowl. But such work shouldn’t be considered a panacea. Animals sometimes make adjustments to access your property, instead of moving on.

Timing for exclusion work also is important. For instance, it would be a bad idea to make modifications that would exclude bats from your attic during summer. That’s when these sites serve as maternity colonies; summer exclusions force bats trapped inside to enter your home’s living quarters in their search for a way out.

The same holds true for maternity dens inhabited by skunks, raccoons, squirrels and groundhogs. Let the young leave the maternity site – it’s a good bet to wait until fall – and then exclude them from your home or property by blocking access to the den site. Groundhog dens inhabited by other wildlife can be rendered uninhabitable by filling them with rocks and dirt. Wait, of course, until the animal is out of the den. Usually only a groundhog will exhume the fill.

Squirrels are a species that tends to get on the nerves of many homeowners. Their most common crimes are digging in flower beds, chewing on expensive bird feeders and houses, and taking food from bird feeders. They can be excluded from bird feeders by placing feeders on a pole with a squirrel baffle and located away from trees. Removing bird feeders during summer and early fall also compels squirrels to relocate elsewhere. Trapping and transferring squirrels also is effective, but squirrels – particularly in places where large numbers converge – can become trap-shy rather quickly. Good baits for trapping squirrels include: peanut butter, ear corn, sunflower seeds and apple slices.

Lawn raiders and ransackers such as skunks, Canada geese, groundhogs and moles all present somewhat differing approaches to resolve. Canada geese, which can quickly lay waste to any yard near water by smothering it with feces, can be discouraged by exploding devices, scarecrows, fencing and hunting. Geese currently cannot be killed unless hunted legally because they are protected by federal laws.

Skunks, which occasionally rip up lawns in search of grubs or get drawn to a compost pile, can be deterred with fencing. Trapping is used to eliminate skunks. Should you or your dog be sprayed by a skunk while attempting to alleviate a problem, use the follow concoction to eliminate skunk odor: mix one quart of hydrogen peroxide with a quarter-cup of baking soda and a teaspoon of liquid soap. Apply the mixture to the sprayed area and it will neutralize the skunk’s musky odor.

Groundhogs and moles are lawn excavators that can make a mess of a yard quickly. Both problem animals are best handled through trapping. Groundhogs can be caught with baits such as apples, carrots or lettuce. Moles are best removed with hole or bayonet-type traps, which kill the animal as it passes through a trap armed with spring-loaded bayonets that is placed in the animal’s underground runways.

Wading birds such as great blue herons and great egrets also have become the bane of many rural and suburban areas because they are pilfering the expensive fish property owners are putting in backyard ponds. Solutions to this problem are few. The basic choices are put rocks or other cover in the water for fish to hide around, or locate your pond close to the house. But rest assured, if these wading birds see your pond while foraging, and it’s not close to a house, they’ll probably stop by because they’ve learned that hunting in these ponds is like picking fish out of a barrel.

Some people draw wildlife into neighborhoods or onto their properties by offering wildlife foods such as seed or suet; throwing table scraps out back; improperly storing garbage; outside pet feeding; or maintaining a grease-loaded grill. Litter – even discarded candy – also will attract wildlife. Stopping these activities can certainly make a difference when wildlife has become a nuisance in your area. Cleanliness should be a standard operating procedure for those not interested in sharing their space with wild animals.

Still, some properties, regardless of how well they’re cleaned, will continue to attract wildlife because important travelways pass through them, or preferred habitat, or plentiful natural food sources – mulberry, cherry or oak trees – are found there. In these cases, landowners must understand that if their properties provide some of the area’s best habitat – a wetland, high-banked dam, woodlot, fruit- or mast-bearing trees – they will continue to attract wildlife. This is especially true in areas where your property appears to be an island in a sea of suburbia. 

Nuisance Wildlife Briefs

“Suet Mignon” – Black bears are big, burly creatures that look like they can polish off a dinner-table full of food nightly. And they do seek out super-sized meals like road-killed deer and all-you-can-eat cornfields and blueberry patches. But given the chance to raid a birdfeeder filled with suet or sunflower seeds, many bears will come running, even to feeders very close to houses. The oil in sunflowers and the fat in suet can create an aromatic trail that can lure bears, not to mention squirrels, for a considerable distance. Bears crave suet and sunflower seeds – it’s like caviar or filet mignon – and will go out of their way to get them. Even if they’re available in only small quantities. So if you don’t feel like feeding the squirrels or having bears possibly tear down your feeders, the Game Commission recommends you consider bringing your feeders in for the summer, or at least at night. Put them out in winter when the cold weather returns. 

Why Is That Animal Coming To My House? – Wildlife is drawn to homes for a variety of reasons, but the three most common reasons are shelter, food and accessibility, according to the Game Commission. For instance, if your house is the only one in the neighborhood that has wood siding, is on a wooded lot, that has a pool, or doesn’t have a chimney-cap, it will naturally be more appealing to wildlife than other properties. Other factors that can lure wildlife to your home or property include: reduced human activity; homes with warped or loose soffit or siding; trailers without skirting or loose skirting; homes with open, unscreened attic windows; improperly stored garbage; and pet dishes with uneaten food. 

Who’s That Knocking On My House? – Woodpeckers have a nasty habit of picking on certain homeowners by beak-banging on their wood siding and drain spouting. It’s not exactly clear why woodpeckers do this, but most people believe the birds are either advertising their presence or probing for insects. Repeated shooing can convince the bird not to return. If this doesn’t get the job done, consider tacking aluminum foil or tying a shiny helium balloon to the area where damage is occurring. Owl and hawk decoys – even a fake snake – also may convince the bird to stay away. Woodpeckers are protected by state and federal wildlife laws. 

Mouse In The House – Field and other mice have a knack for invading our homes and outbuildings. They build nests in our shoes, chew lawnmower and clothes dryer parts, raid cereal boxes and race across our floors when we least expect. The most inexpensive and effective way to straighten out a mouse problem is to set traps. Available at most hardware stores and feed mills, mouse traps should be baited with cheese or peanut-butter and placed at locations where mouse droppings or damage have been found. Set more than one trap and move them around until you start catching mice. Don’t stop until sightings and damage stop. 

Busy Beavers - Beavers today are found in more areas of the state than at any other time in the past 150 years, according to the Game Commission. It’s also fair to say that they’re causing more property damage than ever before in the state’s history. Whether they’re cutting down someone’s shade trees or damming a culvert that will cause road flooding, beavers tend to make a mess of things quickly. Landowners experiencing beaver problems should contact the Game Commission region office serving their county for assistance. Region Office telephone numbers are: Northwest Region, 814-432-3188; Southwest, 724-238-9523; Northcentral, 570-398-4744; Southcentral, 814-643-1831; Northeast, 570-675-1143; and Southeast, 610-926-3136. 

Bats in the Attic – Homeowners occasionally find bats roosting or rearing young in their attics. When this type of discovery is made in the summer, it’s best to wait until late fall to remedy the situation, according to the Game Commission. Trying to exclude bats from your attic in summer may lead to bats trapped in the attic. They may eventually work their way into your living quarters in their efforts to escape. Waiting until fall, when bats head to winter hibernation sites, eliminates this risk. Placing a bat box outside may help ensure the bats don’t try to access your home when they return in the spring. Also see A Guide for Nuisance Control Operators.

Getting Involved – Landowners have a right to protect their property from damages caused by wildlife. With the exception of deer, bear, elk, beaver, bobcat, fisher, wild turkey, migratory birds, threatened species and endangered species, landowners may take action when personal property – other than an agricultural crop – is being destroyed, or when a sick or diseased animal poses a threat to humans, farm animals or pets. Only the property owner or person in charge of the property may take steps to capture or kill wildlife. 

Don’t Feed The Geese – If you’re interested in persuading a flock of resident Canada geese to stop using an area, one of the most effective ways to make progress is to encourage people to stop feeding or tossing handouts to the birds, according to the Game Commission. Attempts to relocate or frighten geese away can be expensive and aren’t always effective. For example, if problem geese are taken from a troubled urban/suburban area and released in a more rural setting, the birds are likely to return to an urban/suburban area. But if you can eliminate food handouts, there’s a chance the geese may go. The most effective way to resolve any resident goose problem, however, is through hunting. Adult geese, their nests, eggs and young cannot be harmed, unless a permit is obtained from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Game Commission.