Critter Invasions: Keeping Wildlife Wild
Critter Invasions: Keeping Wildlife WildBy Kathleen Hom(c) 2007, The Washington Post As the line between wildlife and people erodes – spectacularly evident by news stories of a coyote strolling into a Chicago Quiznos, a deer crashing through a hospital window and a raccoon pushing into a kitchen through a cat door – animal intrusions begin to seem less cute and more worrisome, even frightening. Some cases are one-time emergencies, such as a bird flying in an open door. These tend to happen in warm weather when doors and windows are left open. Less dramatic intrusions involve critters setting up dens and nests inside a house for the nesting season or hibernation. In either scenario, the key is to find a safe and humane outcome to the confrontation. In an Emergency When birds, squirrels and other animals stray into a house, they typically become frantic, climbing drapes or flying into windows. People tend to get frantic, too, in their attempts to get the intruder outside without injury to people or property. The first instinct often is to close in on the animal, hoping to chase it out of the house, but that may not be the best option. Some people try chasing the animal out, or throwing a towel over a terrified bird and carrying it out. But no matter how small or seemingly benign, a cornered animal can be dangerous, says John Hadidian, director of urban wildlife programs for the Humane Society of the United States. The animal could be rabid or have some other disease, or it might injure itself trying to get away from you. He offers an example many people might not think of: “I never recommend physical contact with a beautiful red cardinal,” he says. “It has a mean beak.” In these cases, it’s better to call animal control. “Both for your safety and theirs, it’s best to have someone who knows what they’re looking at,” Hadidian says. You can look for help by searching under animal control on the Internet or in the government listings of the white pages. Quieter Intrusions Dealing with creatures that move more deliberately into a house can be an issue any time of year. “The spring is when the babies usually come, but some also have babies in the fall. And then there’s hibernation in the winter with animals looking for dens,” Hadidian says. Animal invasions should not be ignored. Nest-building squirrels, for example, can chew wood, insulation and even electrical wires in an attic, which can be a fire hazard. Cindy Mannes, spokeswoman for the National Pest Management Association, says animals are only following instinct. “What they’re looking for is the same thing we’re looking for: food, water and shelter. … We happen to provide them with everything they need.” Prevention First Having the foresight to prevent a wildlife invasion “is better than applying a cure,” Hadidian says. Keeping them out in the first place can prevent animal disease and damage to the home that will test your patience and your pocketbook. Both Mannes and Hadidian recommend removing what attracts animals, especially food. Discourage raccoons from rummaging through trash by securing garbage cans and making sure pet food and other edibles are not left sitting outside the house. And Mannes cautions against leaving pets out at night. They could face serious attack by wild predators, “especially if they’re hungry.” Next, look around your home for potential entry points, around basements, attics, windows and vents. • Seal cracks around windows and doors where animals could squeeze inside. • Keep trees trimmed because the branches make great highways, especially for squirrels. • Install fine-mesh wire screens under decks or stairways so animals don’t set up housekeeping underneath those structures. • Install a chimney topper, available at hardware stores, to prevent animals from falling down chimneys or building nests inside them. • Before sealing entry points, be sure animals have not already established a home there; you don’t want to trap an animal inside your house. Getting Them Out If you discover animals nesting inside your house, don’t panic. The first step is to determine what kind of creature has invaded, and how it got in, Hadidian says. Identification can be tricky. For example, Hadidian says people sometimes mistake opossums for rats. For help determining what you’re dealing with, call animal control or the Humane Society. Once you know what’s in the house, humane traps that enclose a live animal without harming it also can be used – but only as a last resort. Be even more cautious once the animal is in the trap. Wear protective clothing and heavy gloves, and handle the cage with extreme care. These traps can be found at hardware stores. You also can install a metal contraption that acts as a one-way door over the entry point, allowing animals to exit your home in search of food, but not to reenter. These are mounted outside the house and usually are special-ordered, Hadidian says. The Wild Neighbors program of the Humane Society uses traps from Tomahawk Live Trap. (Be sure babies aren’t abandoned inside the house if the parent leaves without them.) Once you’re sure all creatures have left, clean the area and seal openings to prevent re-entry. And if you decide to call in pest management professionals, Mannes says, check licenses and references, and get more than one estimate.
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