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Living With Wildlife

Gail Buhl
Education Program Manager, The Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota and Independent Permitted Wildlife Rehabilitator

The Raptor Center and other wildlife rehabilitators in Minnesota receive hundreds of phone calls every year regarding injured wildlife. We also receive numerous phone queries on what to do because some species of wildlife have become a “nuisance” animal to someone. I say “nuisance” because a nuisance animal to one person may not be so to another. For example, some people purposefully feed tree squirrels in their yard, while others loathe them and would like to eliminate them.

Many wildlife animals have now adapted to city or suburban living. Just as with human neighbors, this sometimes brings conflict. When you are trying to solve a conflict you need to answer several questions before you take any steps toward a solution.

– What is the animal? Knowing the species can help pinpoint a solution.

Why is the animal exhibiting this behavior? Usually they are doing something because it fulfills some need in the animal’s life, such as providing food, shelter, or nesting area.

Has something changed in your area? For example habitat destruction in the form of housing or shopping developments nearby may force animals to find alternative living arrangements.

Below are common questions and possible solutions to solving conflicts with nuisance wildlife.

How can I stop a woodpecker from putting holes in my siding?

This challenge is common on houses that have cedar siding. Woodpeckers generally put holes in siding for three main reasons. (1) They may be looking for a nest site. Woodpeckers need dead trees and tree cavities for nesting. If nothing suitable is around, they may look to the siding as an alternative. (2) Woodpeckers, especially males, want to advertise their suitability as a mate and want to warn away any rivals by pounding on a surface as loud as they can. On a house they usually choose metal flashing on a chimney, but sometimes siding is good enough. (3) The third reason to put holes in siding is because they are after the insects that are living there. All three have a similar solution.

– First you need to get the woodpecker to stop the pounding. Putting up something that scares the bird away can work well. Be unpredictable. Streamers, old CDs or pie pans hung from the eaves near the bird’s location work well because they flash in the light and make noise. A fake great horned owl may work but only if you move it frequently. Once the woodpecker is “chased” away, the repairs can begin.

– If the bird is catching insects, you will want an expert to examine and treat the insect problem. If you do not, the woodpeckers will be tempted to visit your siding again.

– Hardware cloth placed over the hole until the board section can be replaced (if that is what is needed) can prevent further damage. At the same time, you may want to install woodpecker nest boxes to encourage the birds to stay nearby but not on your house.

I have a hawk dive bombing my neighbors and me – what can I do?

This can be an unsettling situation, because the bird is noticing you and flying toward you. This behavior in hawks is mostly seen in Broad Winged Hawks and happens just as their young are fledging (learning to fly) and about two weeks after. They are protecting their young from any perceived threat. If they are swooping just in a certain area in the yard, avoid that area if possible until the problem ends. If that is not the case, you may be able to avoid a confrontation by changing your behavior a little. For example, using an umbrella over your head to get the mail, or going to that area of the yard when it is dark outside. Other bird species besides Broad Winged Hawks have been known to be very protective of their young: mockingbirds, cardinals, Canadian geese, and even robins.

I have a bat flying in my house, how do I get it out? OR There are bats in my attic, how do I get rid of them?

A single bat in the house is generally fairly easy to help out of the house. They want out as much as you want them out. Don’t swat at them with brooms, tennis rackets, towels or your hands. They are delicate animals and are easily hurt. Prepare yourself with leather gloves and a shoebox with a lid, then close all the doors to the room and stand still, waiting for the bat to land. Approach slowly and gently place the box over the bat until the edges are flush with the surface the bat is on. Gently slide the cover under the edge of the box until the bat is fully enclosed. In late spring or summer, release the bat outside after dark. In late fall or winter, contact a wildlife rehabilitator. The bat will need to be placed in a cave or overwintered. If an attic has more than one bat, request an energy audit from your local utility company to locate the bats’ entrance holes. Bats often defecate as they are leaving through the hole (it looks like mouse scat except it has shiny insect parts in it). Plug up all the other holes except the ones they are using regularly. Place a one way door on the outside of the building; an old tube sock with the toe cut out works nicely. Keep on for a few days to a week, and then plug up the hole. I recommend not doing this if it is during early to mid summer because the bats may be caring for babies in the attic.

Rabbits/deer/woodchucks/chipmunks are getting into my garden – what do I do?

These animals are coming for the smorgasbord you are growing. There are commercial and homemade sprays you can put on the plants that have mixed success. You also have to remember to reapply the spray after rain. The best way to discourage these animals is exclusion: build a fence. For the digging animals you must extend the fence underground, while a deer fence must be at least six feet high. Killing the animals usually is not the best option because in general their populations in our urban areas are good. If you kill the one in the garden, very shortly another one will take over the territory and you will have the problem again and again and again. If done correctly, exclusion works immediately and once.

All of the above animal nuisance solutions hinge on knowing the animal’s natural history. What does it want and why does it want it? The key in using any of these techniques is persistence on your part. If one method doesn’t work, try another. Request help from professional organizations if what you are doing is not working. A little effort on our part can ensure that we have a peaceful neighborhood for all.

Read Up

The Sibley Guide to Birds of Eastern North America by David Allen Sibley Knopf 2003.Wild Neighbors: The Humane Approach to Living with Wildlife by The Humane Society of the United States. Fulcrum Publishing 1997.Wild Neighbors: The Humane Approach to Living with Wildlife by The Humane Society of the United States. Fulcrum Publishing 1997.

Living With Wildlife

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