Do you see coyotes lurking behind your home? Did a bobcat and her kittens make a den of the space underneath your porch? From raccoons to snakes, urban wildlife has adapted to live in the habitats created by human dwellings.
Lewisville Animal Services hosted a public information session on urban wildlife and how to deal with the creatures residents encounter. Led Thursday evening by Marcus Stephens with 911 Wildlife, the only wildlife control company in Texas endorsed by the Humane Society, attendees learned the myths of and tricks to co-existing with wild animals in urban areas.
“There are a lot of animals that have not only adapted but are thriving in the urban habitat,” Stephens said. “All of these animals you will see at some point in or around your neighborhood.”
The animals listed as urban adapters included bats, armadillos, beavers, bobcats, coyotes, foxes, gophers, moles, opossums, rabbits, raccoons, skunks and squirrels.
Here are some basic tips taught at the session on how to prevent wildlife issues:
Cut out the food supply. If wildlife are making regular appearances in your yard, they are probably getting a meal out of it. Food left out for birds and cats attract other hungry critters too, so putting only enough seed in a feeder to be eaten that day or leaving a food bowl out for only an hour daily will cut down on unwanted visitors.
Keep your garbage and compost contained to avoid attracting rats, which would then attract bobcats and snakes. Communicate with your neighbor if they are feeding a feral cat colony. Get beneficial nematodes to eat the bug eggs and larva in your yard if you don’t want skunks and armadillos eating them.
Providing meals to wildlife not only allows them to thrive and reproduce more easily by getting rid of their need to hunt but also makes it easier for diseases such as distemper to spread by means of communal bowls.
Do not trap wildlife. Animals have a low survival rate when taken to unfamiliar territories, with nearly 100 percent mortality rate for relocated animals. They also hurt themselves — break their teeth and jaws, cut their hands and faces, skin their arms and more — on the traps.
Not only is trapping inhumane, it is ineffective, Stephens said, making it a waste of time and money. Taxpayers foot the bill when animal services loans out traps and sets out to pick them up. Professional trapping can cost hundreds of dollars.
But because populations of animals are 50 times more dense in urban areas than in rural areas, once you get rid of one raccoon or squirrel, another will find its way into the space. It is more effective to evict the animal from den sites it has set up and cut off its access to it with one–way doors and L-shaped barriers.
Trapping also presents the possibility of orphaning young wildlife and threatening their survival.
Keep an eye on your pets. And keep your pets on a short leash. While bobcats will not prey on pets, they also will stand their ground if a small dog comes chasing after it. A 30-foot leash will not help you if your pet takes off from you after a bobcat.
If anything makes a meal out of small dogs, it will most likely be owls and hawks. Making sure your pets aren’t instigating a fight with wildlife and keeping them close to you will better ensure their safety.
Don’t forget to secure your pet doors at night too.
Pay attention to your property. Trim overhanging branches to keep squirrels and other wildlife from getting onto your roof and possibly into your attic. Make sure your chimney has a secure cap to keep birds and raccoons from raising their young in what they think are hollow trees.
Inspect your roof, eaves and siding for damage that could create a habitable space for critters. Cover attic and foundation vents with heavy-gauge, rust–proof wire mesh to keep anything from crawling in.
If you see bobcats or coyotes wandering near your property and you don’t want them there, spray them with the hose, yell at them, shake noisemakers at them and generally haze them, Stephens said, to condition them to think humans are a threat to their well-being. While it isn’t necessarily the case that we are, it encourages the animals to not come near associated properties and people in general. If your area has coyote problems, let your neighbors know to also partake in hazing.
Rabbits and other unwanted animals in your garden can be deterred with motion–detected sprinklers, as the animals don’t care to get wet. The downside to these are they do not discriminate and will dampen any motion makers, such as pets and children.
Be aware that wood piles, stacked rocks and any other type of pile create easy access points for rats and snakes.
Take preemptive measures. If you own a pool, it’s possible a duck will see this as a safe place to raise its young. To prevent your pool from becoming a duck’s new home, especially since migratory birds cannot be disturbed due to federal law, buy a shark or alligator floaty — any big inflatable with eyes — to deter the fowl.
Keep landscaping six inches off the ground to prevent rats from using it as a hiding spot.
Decks and porches are prime hideaway homes for urban wildlife. By digging and inserting an L-shaped barrier out of mesh around the elevated walkways, you can prevent armadillos from not only getting under your house but also from digging their way under the mesh to get there.
Do not give reason for wildlife to regularly stop by for meals. Keep dog and cat food from sitting out overnight and don’t let your trash be easily accessed.
“If you start making your house a hard target, they will leave it alone,” Stephens said.
The urban wildlife does more help than harm. We are seen as the top of the food chain by the wildlife that populates our area. Unless we corner a bobcat or hand-feed the coyotes, they have no reason to attack us or our family. They understand our pets will put up a fight if they tried to eat them, which is why they prey on bunnies, squirrels, mice, rats and birds instead.
Bobcats can eat about 25 to 30 rats a night, Stephens said, and are not a threat to children. Coyotes and snakes also take care of rats. An average of five people a year are bitten by coyotes, all of them in Southern California due to hand-feeding. To compare, on average 4.5 million people in the U.S. are bitten by dogs.
Very rarely do local raccoons have rabies and they eat bugs, rats and snakes. Opossums eat these too as well as dead animals. Opossums are also immune to rabies and distemper in addition to most venomous snakes but hardly ever live past 18 months.
It is key to have reasonable expectations of the urban wildlife in our community.
“It is a reasonable expectation that they do not need to live in your house [or] under it,” Stephens said. “Is it reasonable to think that we’re going to keep them out of your yard or off your roof? It’s never going to happen. It’s not a realistic expectation.”
For additional information on urban wildlife, Stephens can be reached at 214-368-5911 or firstname.lastname@example.org.