Boulder County homeowners are more familiar with wildlife than most urban dwellers. The best motto is “live and let live,” but a wildlife expert offers tips when unwanted animals move into your home.
By Carol Brock
As a professional wildlife-control operator and rehabilitator, Jack Murphy has seen it all—from skunks under decks and squirrels in attics to bats in belfries. And, he says, we’re closing in on his busiest seasons of the year—mating and birthing times. For homeowners, that means your attic and porch look pretty good right now to wildlife mamas scouting for nesting sites.
Even worse, Murphy says, are unscrupulous pest-management operators who have no compunction about killing nuisance wildlife and telling a homeowner otherwise.Murphy’s nonprofit Denver company, Urban Wildlife Rescue Inc., uses only humane procedures, like one-way doors and wire screens, to evict or keep out wildlife. Unlike most pest–management operators, he eschews trapping and relocating wildlife under any circumstances, equating it to a death sentence for the animal. Relocated animals “can’t adjust to a new habitat, they don’t know who the predators are, and they come into conflicts with other animals in that territory who will kill them,” he says.
Murphy always recommends calling a professional to remove wildlife that has taken up residence in a home. “A handyman isn’t a wildlife guy,” he points out, “and wild animals are unpredictable.” Particularly in spring and summer, when their babies are born. “You have to be really careful,” he cautions. A mother animal separated from her offspring will do anything to return to them. If she can’t, the babies will die in your attic. So make certain the babies have grown up enough to leave the nest before patching any holes.
The following wildlife-control methods—and many others—are available on Murphy’s website at urbanwildlife rescue.org. “The things on the website might work 50 percent of the time, but they’re cheap,” he notes, “and it depends on the animal. If it’s been there a year, these methods probably won’t work; if it’s been there two days, then they might.”Murphy doesn’t recommend doing your own patching, or any other type of wildlife mitigation. “Does the average person feel comfortable doing their own electricity and plumbing? Probably not, and you’re dealing with an animal so it’s never cut-and-dried,” he says. Although he willingly gives callers DIY suggestions and lists many on his website, he proffers a big caveat: “Animals are just like people, in that they’re unique individuals. What method works for one may not work for another. People have to realize you have to be really careful with wild animals. It’s tricky.”
These methods don’t apply if wildlife babies are involved. See the website for alternate suggestions if you suspect the animal has a litter. For all methods, make sure the animal is gone before doing any mitigation.
Squirrels in attics are a common problem, but they often leave in the hottest part of summer. When they do, find their entry hole and patch it, usually during mid-morning, as squirrels are apt to be outside eating at that time. Sometimes the hole is very small, so check the attic for light shining through from the outside. Common entrances are attic and soffit vents. Use ¼- or ½-inch hardware cloth to block the hole and spray the area with squirrel repellent or 1 Tbsp. Tabasco sauce mixed in 1 quart of water. You can also purchase a one-way door, or make your own.
Raccoons in brick chimneys are usually raising a family. It’s best to leave them alone until the mother can take them out of the chimney at about 8 to 10 weeks of age. After they leave, secure the chimney with a chimney cap. If a single raccoon is living in the chimney, place a bowl of ammonia in the fireplace and leave the flue open 1/8 inch. You can also place a radio turned up loudly to a talk radio station—if you can stand it! Give the raccoon two to three nights to vacate.
Eau de Skunk
Skunks love to dig beneath porches and cement slabs. Spray the area around their entrance with a hot-pepper spray made from one chopped yellow onion, one chopped jalapeño pepper and 1 Tbsp. cayenne pepper boiled in 2 quarts of water for 20 minutes. Let the mixture cool, then strain it and pour it into a spray bottle. Don’t spray deep into the hole or the skunk may retaliate.
Next, roll rags into a tight ball about the size of a tennis ball or smaller, and tie it with twine. Soak two or three balls in ammonia until saturated, and push them into the hole as far as possible, using a stiff wire, such as an opened clothes hanger. Then lightly cover the hole with wadded newspaper or loose dirt. Re-cover the hole whenever it’s open. When the hole has been left uncovered for a few days, the skunk is out. Repeat the process if the skunk has not left by the fifth day.Skunks love to dig beneath porches and cement slabs. Spray the area around their entrance with a hot-pepper spray made from one chopped yellow onion, one chopped jalapeño pepper and 1 Tbsp. cayenne pepper boiled in 2 quarts of water for 20 minutes. Let the mixture cool, then strain it and pour it into a spray bottle. Don’t spray deep into the hole or the skunk may retaliate.
Foxes usually only den under a house or structure in spring, when the female has kits. It’s best to let her raise them and allow the family to leave on its own. A nuisance fox can be removed using ammonia rags and a radio. Foxes are uncomfortable around humans, so human activity alone is usually enough to scare them off.
Bats aren’t really a problem, unless they’ve been depositing guano in your attic. Bats typically enter attics through cracks in the roof, but usually leave in winter to hibernate. If you have bats in your attic, call a wildlife-control operator, as bats are a protected species. If they are in your attic during the prime seasons, most will leave in the early evening to devour insects.
Speaking of insects, a single bat can eat up to 800 mosquitoes an hour, depending on the species. Though they look creepy, bats are great for the environment, as they eat insect pests and pollinate plants. White-nose syndrome, a fungus affecting bats in the northeastern United States, has killed a record number of bats—nearly 7 million so far. It hasn’t affected Colorado bats yet, but federal and state officials are watching out for it. Consider being a friend of bats by building and installing bat boxes on your property