Backyard Wildlife – Questions & Answers


What’s tunneling under my lawn?

If your yard is criss-crossed with speed bump like tunnels, you probably have moles! In Minnesota we have two species of moles, the star-nosed mole and the Eastern mole. Both are small mammals, gray to black in color with large digging claws on there front feet. They are insectivores, meaning they eat invertebrates especially worms and soft-bodied insects such as beetle grubs. Moles do not eat plants but they do eat the insects attracted to plants. Moles are very important to soil health; their digging search for insects aerates the soils and allows new seeds and plants to take root. Moles are extremely difficult to get rid of and in most cases are doing more good then harm to your yard. Things you can do to control the number of moles in your yard:

1. Cut back on how often you water, moles will dig deeper if the surface soil isn’t moist enough to keep their tunnels from collapsing.
2. Use a barrel-roller to compress the surface soil making it more difficult for the moles to dig through.
3. Plant more flowers and shrubs instead of grass in your yard, moles are attracted to grass.
4. Live trapping is the most effective way to control mole numbers. Contact the resources below to find out more about this method.

How do I feed the birds and not the squirrels?

There is a million dollar industry related to squirrels and bird feeders and still no one has come up with a foolproof solution. Squirrels are clever, nut eating rodents. Thanks to their constantly growing incisors, squirrels can chew through almost anything including wood and plastic. Some things that you can do to discourage squirrels:
1. Place feeders in the open away from trees and other overhanging objects.
2. Put feeders on metal poles at least six feet off the ground and skirt the pole with metal about four feet off the ground.
3. Choose food that squirrels dislike. Squirrels prefer sunflowers and peanuts (so do most birds). Selecting a food without these contents can help decrease decrease squirrels’ attempts at emptying feeders just to get those tasty bits.
4. Put food out when the squirrels are resting. Squirrels tend to feed in the morning and afternoon so putting your food out at noon may allow the birds first shot at it.
5. Put food out, such as dried corn, specifically for the squirrels.

Eek! What should I do about bats in my house?

Bats are beneficial and gentle creatures but occasionally they get too close for comfort. If this happens, don’t panic! If it is a single bat that hasn’t bitten or scratched anyone, open a window or door and it should fly out. One can also carefully push the bat into a can using a piece of cardboard and release it outside. If it’s several bats, they may be roosting somewhere in the house, such as an attic. The only consistent successful method of getting the bats to leave is physical exclusion. The best times to exclude bats are April and August/September so you aren’t trapping flightless babies in your house. Contact the resources below to find out more about bat exclusion.

Why is that woodpecker hammering on my house?

Woodpeckers go after houses as an alternative to increasingly rare dead trees. Sometimes woodpeckers are looking for a place to make a roosting or nesting hole identified by the woodpecker digging a hole several inches across and pulling out insulation. A second reason for woodpeckers to repeatedly bang on the side of the house is to declare territory. This is called drumming. Woodpeckers even do it to aluminum siding. The most common reason is the woodpeckers are looking for food, identified by several small holes often near the eves. Cedar siding provides great places for solitary bees and beetles to nest and can be attractive for carpenter ants making it a smorgasbord for the woodpeckers. Even if there are no insects, the sound of electric current running through the walls can deceive the woodpecker into thinking baby wasps are buried beneath the surface. So what can you do to protect your house and discourage woodpeckers?

1. You may not kill the woodpecker – it is illegal.
2. Woodpeckers are skittish birds and can often be discouraged from areas by hanging strips of shiny metallic party streamers so that they blow in the wind.
3. Repair or fill with wood putty any existing holes to prevent visual clues.
4. Bird netting or screen tacked at least one inch from the wood surface can be hung in areas where woodpeckers are persistent.
5. Hanging a nest box may discourage woodpeckers from making large roosting holes but may increase feeding holes.

How do I help an orphaned animal?

First of all, make sure it is an orphan. Well-intentioned people take many babies away from their parents. The most common “orphans” are rabbits and baby birds. To prevent predators from finding their babies, rabbits visit their nest only a couple of times a day. You can test to see if mom is coming back by placing a few pieces of straw over the nest and if they have been moved the next morning, you know mom’s been there. Gawky baby birds, such as Robins and Blue Jays, often leave their nests as much as a week before they can fly, and hop around hiding in bushes with the parents watching from a distance. Always remember a young animal’s best chance for survival is being raised by its natural mother. Once you are sure an animal is an orphan:

1. Call a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. It is illegal and sometimes dangerous for the average person to raise wild animals. Trying to raise animals on your own can result in problems for the animal later on. The Wildlife Rehabilitation Center and the Raptor Research and Rehabilitation Center at the University of Minnesota are both excellent places to take animals.
Place the animal in a cardboard box with an unfrayed cloth on the bottom. The box should be kept in a warm quiet place until the animal can be transported to the rehabilitation center.
3. Animals should be handled with gloves or through a towel. Never let children handle orphaned or injured animals.
4. Do not feed the animal.
5. These same rules apply to injured animals as well.

Act Locally
Wildlife Information at the Bell Museum, 10 Church Street SE
Minneapolis, MN

Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Minnesota, 2530 Dale St. N.
Roseville, Minnesota
651.486.WILD (9453)

The Raptor Center, University of Minnesota, 1920 Fitch Ave.
St. Paul, MN

Backyard Wildlife

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