By Jack Murphy
Now is the perfect time to check your house for any problems that could allow wildlife to enter your home, as cold weather approaches. Co-existence is great—cohabitation, not so much. Like humans, wild animals want to be warm and cozy in winter too, but having critters living in, or under, your house is not a good thing.
Here are some ideas to keep animals from entering your home:
First thing is your chimney. Be sure the chimney is capped. Birds and squirrels often fall down a chimney and they cannot get out. In the spring (March, April), chimneys are also a favorite place for raccoons to climb into, give birth, and use the smoke shelf for a den site for mom and babies. They remain until she takes them out as she starts to wean them, in ten weeks or so. A good chimney cap will prevent access from all animals and birds.
Secondly, if you have a fans over your stove, and/or bathroom, it is a good idea to see where they are vented to the outside. If a vent goes out through the roof, it needs to be screened to prevent birds and squirrels from falling down the pipe. Again, when animals fall in they cannot get out on their own. Having a dead animal over your stove can cause some gross and disgusting situations. A good way to screen these vents is to use hardware cloth (galvanized screening) which is available in any hardware store.
Third, a basic roof check is a good idea. Check any roof vents and make sure they are screened and not ripped through. Check for any loose flashing or rotten wood. Any damage or potential damage should be repaired. However, if a hole or gap appears that an animal could potentially already be using as an entry, do not seal up those holes. You want to be sure that the animals are not using these holes as an entry points. Stuff the holes with a wads of paper or staple plastic sheets over them. Let the barriers sit for a couple of days. If the plastic or paper is not moved or ripped through, no animals are living there. Be careful in winter though—some animals will not go out for long periods of really cold or snowy weather. Repair unused entry points with metal sheet metal or hardware cloth to seal holes because many animals can chew through wood.
If the paper or plastic is disturbed you may have a house guest. Knowing what the species is and their habits and behaviors is vitally important when trying to evict an animal. For example, squirrels’ autumn birthing season started in mid-July and there could be a mother with dependent young inside. Getting animals out on your own can be tricky so it may often require professional help.
If you decide to hire a wildlife control operator (WCO), be very careful. Most of these people or companies trap and kill most or all of the animals they catch. Trapping is not humane and there is no such thing as a humane trap. Some WCOs will kill captured animals on-site and others will do it by relocation. Numerous studies show that most relocated animals do not survive. They can suffer slow, miserable deaths that may last for days or weeks, due to inability to adjust to the new habitat. This maladjustment results in starvation, dehydration, or injuries suffered when they are left to fend for themselves in territories already occupied by rival animals competing for the same resources. Trapping and relocating an animal is not humane.
Truly humane WCOs are few and far between in our entire country, but there are a few starting to emerge. If you need to hire someone, ask them what they do and/or tell them what you want. You want the animal “evicted and excluded.” This can be done using a one-way door. This door will allow the animal to exit but not re-enter. Once gone, the door is removed and the entry is sealed. (If there are babies this will not work. The young must be removed by hand and reunited with their mother.) If a WCO does not use or know what a one-way door is, do not hire them. Some WCOs do know how to use one-way doors but make more money if they trap. For the homeowner, use of a one-way door is less expensive, more efficient, and requires less time. For the animal it is humane and not life threatening.
Pre-winter can also be a good time to check under concrete slabs, porches, or decks. Skunks, rabbits, and foxes will often live under such structures. Again, check for animals living under each area before sealing it up. Cover the hole with paper, sticks, or boards and watch for any movement of the flimsy barricades.
If no animals move the barricades, then animal proof the structure. Dig a trench about ten to twelve inches deep and one foot wide. Use welded wire fencing or half-inch hardwar cloth to run from the bottom of the slab or deck down into the trench (10”-12”). Bend it 90 degrees so it goes out one foot (the wire is then “L” shaped). Secure the wire to the deck with screws. For concrete use two foot pieces of rebar staked in to hold the wire up against the concrete. Back fill the trench and it is done. It is a bit of a job, but the porch or deck is now animal proofed for many years.
If it appears that animals are currently under the deck or porch, you may need professional help. One-way doors will work so all the same precautions mentioned above apply regarding the hiring of a WCO and removal of young animals.
Prevention is the key. It is easier to keep animals out of your house than it is to remove them once they acquire access. Inspect your home now before problems arise!
Jack Murphy is founder and CEO of Urban Wildlife Rescue: http://urbanwildliferescue.org/ (303) 340-4911 --UWR is a 501-c-3 nonprofit that accepts tax-deductible donations. Services include: education, phone consultation, on-site removal, and rehabilitation of unwanted or injured animals.