By Jack Murphy, CEO of Urban Wildlife Rescue
Spring is almost here and that means one thing--babies. Although mice, rats, rabbits and pigeons have young year around, most animals give birth in the spring. The majority of wild animals give birth to and raise their young outside, but squirrels and raccoons sometimes choose human habitats to house their families.
Squirrels have their young mid-February and late July. Squirrels may have two birthing seasons, with litters of three to four young but may have more--depending on environmental conditions such as food availability and predation. Although squirrels are outside animals, some will choose human buildings for their nest sites. The most common place for squirrels to give birth in a human structure is in the attic. Squirrels can enter attics through vents, bad flashing, and rotten soffits, etc.
How do you know if a squirrel is in the attic? Scratching and chewing sounds in the attic during daytime are a giveaway. Squirrels are diurnal--awake and active during the daylight hours--and they generally sleep once the sun sets. If you hear noises at night it is probably not squirrels. If it sounds like a small pony galloping above your head during the day, the squirrel is usually on top of the roof and not inside.
Mother squirrels go outside to eat then return to the nest to nurse the kits all day long. Their mother does not bring food to them so baby squirrels will stay in the nest and nurse until they are 12 weeks old. Kits will then begin to venture out of the nest area, guided by their mother.
If you suspect you are hosting a squirrel family in your attic, you must take actions to evict your squatters. Choosing to remove a squirrel family from an attic can be tricky and is not an activity for a "do-it-yourselfer." Hire a professional and truly humane pest control company. The technician will place the babies in a nest box near the entrance the mother uses to the attic. A box is necessary because if the kits are over six weeks old they are active and can be difficult to catch. Then the technician will seal up the entry she used. The mother will move the babies to a new nest outside. Be aware--most wildlife control businesses prefer to kill the families so always ask how the procedure is done with each company. Trapping and relocation are also death sentences for the family. Eviction only is the most humane way.
Raccoons usually give birth in Colorado starting about mid-March into April. Litters can be up to six babies. If a mother raccoon loses her babies, her milk will dry up and she will go into a second estrus, mate again, and can have another litter in August. Human habitats that are ideal for raccoon mothers are the chimney and the attic.
How do you know if a raccoon is in your chimney? If chortling sounds are emanating from your fireplace it is probably a mother raccoon and her young, not birds. They are usually on the smoke shelf which is a flat concrete shelf located down and behind the damper door. That is why you cannot see them if the flue or damper door is opened.
The most humane way of dealing with this situation is to wait them out. The inside of a chimney is concrete and steel so they will not damage anything. A mother (sow) raccoon will nurse her babies (kits) in the birth den until weaning, which will occur when kits are about ten weeks old. She will never bring food back to the den because the scent will attract predators. While weaning the kits the sow will take them out of the birth den and will usually not bring them back.
Once the family is gone, a chimney cap needs to be installed to prevent future problems. The sow or even one of the kits may return the following year to the same chimney to give birth again. Consequently, the most logical “fix” is to cap the chimney for good.
How do you know if a raccoon is in your attic? During late March into April you may hear sounds in your attic late at night. Raccoons may have moved in. Raccoon family sounds are muffled by attic insulation but movements and verbal communications might still be heard in your living areas below.
Once again, leaving the animals alone for ten weeks until weaning and voluntary relocation outside is the best and most humane thing to do. However, raccoons can become noisy at night, especially once the kits are old enough to move around and get more vocal. If you decide that leaving them in the attic is not a good option then here are some ideas that a "do it yourselfer" can try. Raccoons are highly intelligent and will take a hint well. Make your presence known. Make noise. Open the attic door and shine lights into the space during the day. I have gone into attics and talked to them and/or taken their picture with flash cameras and they often leave that night.
What NOT to do:
Do not use any harsh chemicals, such as ammonia. This often does not work but it can cause lung damage to the sensitive newborns of all species.
In a chimney, do NOT start a fire. The raccoon mother can get out but the babies cannot. The kits will burn or suffocate. I have done the cleanup when people have tried to evict squirrels or raccoons by fire and it is horrible.
The average raccoon in an urban setting has a minimum of about 20 den sites. If you evict them the mother will simply move the kits to one of her other den sites.
What TO do:
One thing that may work for removing raccoons and squirrels is a product called Fresh Cab. Fresh Cab is a rodent repellent that is balsam fir needle oil and lasts up to 90 days. It is packaged in tea bags which makes it easy to toss a few up onto the smoke shelf or around in the attic.
Add lights or a radio to your attic so raccoons have no peace in the den.
Be proactive and check your house routinely to look for any potential animal entry points. Repair holes, soffits, rotted wood, and get the chimney capped.
If you would rather hire a professional to remove wild animals from your home or building, research companies’ philosophies and methods. Most wildlife control operators (WCO'S) prefer to kill the animals onsite. They will also “relocate” animals they take from your home. This may or may not be true, and do realize that most relocated animals do not survive. Finding a humane WCO can be difficult because there are only a small number of us scattered about the entire country.
To find a true humane animal control group, go to Animal Help Now (Ahnow.org), which has a list of truly humane WCO's nationwide. There are many parts of the country that do not have any humane WCO's. One other person and I are listed on the Ahnow app to help or give advice to anyone, anywhere who needs it.
Just remember, you want the animal evicted. Not trapped, not relocated, and not killed. If you hire someone, you control the situation, not them and if they cannot abide by the rules you set, hire someone else.
We must co-exist with our wildlife but not cohabitate. There are many simple, humane ways of dealing with wildlife conflicts and killing the animal does not need to be one of those ways. In 35 years of being a humane WCO I have never had to kill or harm an animal in any way in order to resolve a conflict. Humans like to brag that they are the smartest animal on the planet--if this is true--prove it--just outsmart the nonhuman animals.