I love wild animals, but don’t want them living under my house!

A couple of months ago, a skunk moved in under my house. I didn’t actually see it, so how did I know it was a skunk? If you’ve ever smelled skunk spray, it’s not something you forget. The pungent, musky smell hangs in the air for a long time. I had smelled it a couple of times in the early evening, so I knew there was one prowling about.

My two dogs confirmed my suspicion one night when I let them out for their last pee. As soon as I let them out, they ran around the fenced area like crazy, sniffing the ground (clue #1). My littlest dog then went to the lattice enclosure around the bottom of the deck and was obviously very interested in something (clue #2).

The next morning I saw some small animal tracks under the bird feeder (clue #3). Skunks have five toes on each foot, and claws that extend from each toe. The claws make deep tracks on the fore feet, unlike a cat, which retracts its claws. The hind foot leaves the mark of a heel pad that is usually between two and two-and-a-half inches. 

Okay, so a skunk had been in the yard last night, probably attracted to the spilled sunflower seeds below the feeder. I began checking to see if there was any place where a small animal could get under the house. A skunk, which is about the size of a small housecat, could squeeze between the lattice framwork around the deck. Then I noticed a depression where a critter had dug to get under the house. So, there was indeed a skunk living under my house.

The negatives to having a skunk living under your house are: 1) they can contract and spread rabies; 2) they can dig burrows or tunnels under there; and 3) if they find an opening, they can get inside your house. Three very good reasons for not having a free-loading skunk as a boarder.

I removed the bird feeder and cleaned up all the spilled seed. At least I wouldn’t be aiding and abetting the intruder. I was trying to figure out how to get the skunk to leave when my dogs took care of the problem for me.

The next night, I let them out and right away smelled the skunk, but it was too late. The dogs lit out after something in the dark. I held my breath, waiting to see what would happen. I was anticipating having to deal with two very stinky dogs, but miraculously, they didn’t get sprayed.

Turns out, the skunk took his leave that night. I made a mental note to close up that opening under the house. Problem solved.

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Black bears give birth while hibernating

Imagine going to sleep and waking up months later, with three new babies that you gave birth to with no memory of the big event. This is part of the black bear’s mating cycle every year. The bears mate in late summer, but the cubs don’t begin growing until the female bear, called a “sow,” enters her den to hibernate. Some time between mid-January and mid-February, she gives birth to 2 to 3 cubs without fully waking from hibernation. She and the cubs stay in the den together until springtime.

So, while winter does her thing, mom and cubs are safe and warm in their winter hibernacula!

Photo credit: For Fox Sake Rescue

Do coyotes howl when hunting?

Coyote howling in Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Jim Peaco

Many people panic when they hear the howls and yips of their coyote neighbors. They often believe these sounds mean that they, or their pets, are in danger. Although it’s always best to keep small pets properly contained or supervised, a howling coyote isn’t trying to announce that it’s about to attack you or anyone else. Coyotes are around us all the time without causing us any harm. Whether you hear them or not, they are present in our neighborhoods and parks. When you hear them howl, it isn’t because they’re searching for food—they’ve been there all along, and you just happened to notice them singing. Coyotes howl and yip to communicate with one another. A coyote may howl to bond with family, meet up with a friend or relative, or warn territorial rivals that this particular territory is taken. Like most other predators, coyotes hunt silently by stalking their prey. Coyotes live in small family groups, typically containing just two to five individuals, but use auditory illusions to make themselves sound like a large, intimidating pack. Just one mated pair might sound like a dozen or more animals! This is one of the reasons that people are often alarmed by their calls. Enjoy listening to your coyote neighbors as they communicate with each other.

Don’t relocate any wild critter in winter!

Seeing chipmunks scurrying around? While you might be tempted to trap and relocate them, moving them is not a humane solution, especially during the cold months. Chipmunks spend the fall collecting nuts and acorns that they have stored in their burrow to keep them alive in winter. When you relocate a chipmunk, you take it away from its hard-earned stash of winter food, leaving it to starve. Other than making a couple of small holes in your yard, they don’t mean you any harm and are simply trying to survive.

Please don’t relocate ANY wildlife in winter. They have food sources mapped out and stored away. If they are moved, they lose the safety and warmth of their burrow or den and run the very real risk of starving and becoming food for predators.

Photo by For Fox Sakes Wildlife Rescue

Mama opossum carrying 12 babies on her back!

If there was a wildlife Mama-of-the-Year award, this mama would get my vote!

Check out this video of a mama opossum in Wisconsin carrying 12 of her babies on her back.

Opossums remain in the mother’s pouch until they are about two months old. Between two and four months of age, they may ride on their mother’s back and are dependent on the mother for help in finding food and shelter.

Read my earlier blog post about how possums are the unsung heroes in the fight against Lyme Disease.

Please leave possums alone. They are quite harmless, and once the babies are old enough, they will move on.

Fall’s bounty is winter’s food for animals

Fall is nature’s time to provide the food that will sustain wild animals through the winter. The summer growing season has produced a virtual cornucopia of delectible wild foods like poke, persimmon, and sumac that will provide a bounty of food for deer, wild turkeys, birds, and other wildlife.

pokeberry
persimmon
mockingbird on sumac

Want to know how you can help feed wildlife this winter? Let your garden go wild.

  1. Leave undisturbed wild areas in your garden – piles of leaves or brushwood can make the perfect nest in which animals can hide, rest, and hibernate.
  2. By leaving the task of tidying your garden borders and shrubs until early spring, shelter can be provided for insects throughout winter.
  3. The seeds of summer’s flowers can provide extra food for birds, mice, and opossums.
  4. If you have a compost heap, this will become a welcome habitat for toads, salamanders, and skinks to overwinter.

Eastern box turtles are declining

For the last few decades, box turtle numbers have been declining. Althought they’re not endangered, their populations have been plummeting throughout their range and they can’t continue at this pace.

An Eastern box turtle may have just one to three surviving babies in their entire lifetime. Individual turtles have a small range, just a few acres in size, so if just a few are picked up and taken home as pets, the local population may not recover for several decades.

Box turtles don’t do well in captivity except with expert care, so bringing one home won’t likely go very well. Captive turtles succumb prematurely to infection and malnutrition-related disease, often within just a few months of captive life.

So, please, the next time you see a box turtle in the wild, leave it alone, other than to help it cross the road (in the direction it’s going). Keep our native wildlife safe!

Why do raccoons have masks?

I just learned something that I never knew about raccoons. Those cute, little masks that make them look like four-pawed bandits actually serve a purpose. By absorbing moonlight, starlight, and artificial light around the raccoon’s eyes, the masks reduce glare, allowing them to see more clearly at night.

Photo by Maureen Seibert

Some raccoons are “palefaces,” and have white masks. This is a genetic mutation, more common with raccoons in coastal areas.

Animals have an amazing ability to evolve so they can be better equipped to survive in their environment. It is survival of the fittest, after all!

Another reason to love opossums

About the size of a large house cat, the Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana) is North America’s only marsupial, a mammal that carries and nurses its young in a pouch. One of Earth’s oldest surviving mammals, opossums (or simply possums), have been around for at least 65 million years, first appearing in North America about the time dinosaurs went extinct.

Most people don’t know it, but possums are the unsung heroes in the fight against Lyme Disease, eating over 95 percent of the ticks that land on them during their meanderings. Researchers estimate the average possum kills thousands of ticks every week. They also eat snails, slugs, and beetles, so they’re a welcome addition to the garden. They’ll also catch and eat unwelcome pests like mice, rats, fire ants, cockroaches, and even roadkill, making them an important part of Nature’s cleanup crew.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about possums is that they’re immune to snake venom, and actually kill and eat snakes, even venomous ones like rattlesnakes, copperheads, and cottonmouths. Peptide in the Virginia opossum’s blood has been found to be an effective and inexpensive antivenom against bites from the western diamondback rattlesnake in the U.S. and the Russell viper in India.

So the next time you see a possum, walk away. They are far more beneficial as scavengers than harmful for any damage they might do. Give Nature a break!

Photo courtesy Amazingfacts.com

Those amazing woodpeckers!

Woodpeckers are my favorite family of birds, and I count myself fortunate that there are many different species in my neighborhood. They are year-round residents, quite vocal, and show up regularly at my suet and seed feeders in the winter.

Most woodpeckers excavate new nest cavities every year to raise their young. Once they’re done raising the current year’s brood, their nesting hole can become a home for many other animals. Pileated woodpeckers (pictured below) are the largest woodpeckers in North America, and their size and strong bills make them especially good at building homes for their families, and many other animals. A pileated woodpecker’s nest cavity is likely to later be home to owls, wood ducks, flying squirrels, tree squirrels, weasels, and raccoons.

Courtesy of For Fox Sake Wildlife Rescue

I’m fortunate that a pair of pileateds visits my feeders every morning in the winter. Where I lived previously, they preferred the safety of the deep woods and showed no interest in the bird feeders. The woodpeckers here, on the other hand, have become habituated to coming to feeders due to the number of people who feed them. They learn, and teach their young, that even if it’s a bit scary, bird feeders offer good stuff!