Not Wild about Your Backyard Wildlife?
A variety of wildlife routinely exists in many neighborhood backyards. Homes that are near open space, hills, natural water sources, meadows and the like are known as an urban or suburban interface. In these areas in particular, people not only will see deer and other small animals, but sometimes more dangerous wildlife may move in. Hillside development may destroy previously wild habitat. Drought can also cause bears, mountain lions, and other predators to move in to residential areas. The need for water, or the need for smaller live food sources that can be found near water, will encourage even shy wildlife to venture into uncomfortable proximity to humans.
Most wildlife does not pose imminent danger to people, although many wild critters can be a nuisance to homeowners. Some wildlife can actually be welcome visitors. Which critters should you be wary of and what can you do to keep them out of your yard?
Rodents (mice and rats) are already unwelcome visitors.
Agricultural pests (moles, voles, gophers, and even rabbits) damage your plants and yard, and can destabilize hillsides.
Omnivores (raccoons, opossums, and skunks) cause damage by gnawing on things, raiding garbage cans, and digging up lawns and gardens. Feral cats can carry diseases and harm neighborhood pets. While rarely dangerous, these are all unwanted pests…and worse, they attract larger predators such as coyotes.
These critters are attracted to your backyard for three reasons: food, water, and shelter.
Yards can be a suburban buffet to wildlife: pet food left outside, vegetable gardens, compost, fallen fruit from trees, and overflowing birdseed. Remove all of this, and clean dirty grills containing bits of food.
Secure garbage cans and composting areas. There are special animal resistant containers available. Even fallen seeds will attract nuisance critters that will then attract predators. Treat your lawn for grubs as they are often the reason raccoons, skunks, and even wild boars, may be digging up your grass.
And please don’t feed the wildlife!
Remove possible shelter: Block off crawlspaces under decks. Cut back bushes that could become nice dens and hiding spots. Keep areas around wood piles blocked off or tightly covered.
While nuisance critters are not known to attack people, be cautious with pets – especially small ones. Raccoons, for example, can have rabies, and are known to have roundworm in their feces and are known to relieve themselves in kids’ sandboxes, so make yours is covered if you have one for your grandchildren!
Some wildlife helps humans by eating pests.
Bobcats and non-venomous snakes eat rodents. Bobcats are shy and not known to be aggressive with humans. But better to have them nearby in open space and not in your yard, so remove all food sources that are encouraging your rodent population. Even non-venomous snakes can bite pets and small children. Keep underbrush and grasses cut to remove habitat for snakes.
Bats eat mosquitoes and are pollinators and seed distributors, so encourage them to stay – but in their own bat house versus your attic.
Mosquitoes breed in standing water so remove it! They can carry West Nile Virus and Eastern Equine Encephalitis.
Deer ticks can cause Lyme and other diseases. Fence out deer; remove tall grasses and piles of leaves. Modify landscaping to help ensure “tick-free” play areas. Do full-body tick checks on pets and kids.
Venomous snakes feed on rodents, birds and lizards. Keep rodent populations down by removing hiding habitats such as ground cover, rotten stumps, logs, and burrows. If your grandchildren visit frequently, consider installing snake-proof fencing in your yard.
Black Widow Spiders and other poisonous spiders are typically non-aggressive, biting only in self-defense. Remove habitat they will find attractive such as bushes around vents, remove litter and clutter around house foundation. Also, seal cracks. Don’t bring hitchhikers into the home on wooden logs or in storage boxes.
Coyotes and foxes are omnivores, but also opportunistic carnivores that typically do not fear humans. They are often attracted to backyards because of pet food, and may then pose a danger to small pets. They can have canine distemper and mange. Consider special fencing or other exclusion tactics if you routinely see coyote or other dangerous animals in your yard. “Hazing” helps these critters retain a fear of people: Make a loud noise using a shaker can filled with coins or install motion-activated lighting or sprinklers.
Mountain lions and bears are predators and tend to avoid humans if possible. If you see one in a residential area it is, looking for food and water or could be sick. Contact your state’s local Department of Fish and Wildlife for assistance, or 911 if threatened.
And remember to remove the reasons (food, water, shelter) animals hang out in your neighborhood.