BARBARA LEACH: Nuisance Critters In The Garden

What is with the rabbits?  Is it me, or are they breeding like, well, rabbits?  Calls are coming in about what seems like an explosion of every imaginable critter.  Deer, mice, moles, voles, aggressive birds, foxes, coyotes, bears, skunks, possums, coons, chipmunks, snakes, rats, oh my!

Animal populations do have cycles, depending upon the food availability and natural population thinners, like disease or predators.  With more rain we get more forage, but more likely other factors have tipped the scale in favor of wildlife.  It might even be something you are inadvertently doing.

When questioning,”Why me?” you need to think about the basics:  Food, Cover and Water.  Analyze the habitat.  Find out the size of the varmint’s territory.  Animals compete for food sources and will defend their territory.  Often the problem is not as many individuals as we think.  If you never see the animal, sometimes a light dusting of flour will help you to get a track.  Some animals are only active at night.

Food:  A common source of food is feeding the birds.  Seed left to lie and rot on the ground is going to attract rodents of all sorts.  Rodents attract snakes.  So do bird eggs.  Consider feeding only in the winter or at the very least raking your seed up on a regular basis.  If you feed pets outside and don’t pick up and wash the bowls soon afterwards you provide both food and water.

While your animal may be vaccinated I do not advise letting them share bowls with a wild animal who may be ill.  If you are in the habit of tossing food scraps out for the animals, stop.  It spreads both human and animal diseases and makes wildlife dependent upon being fed and unable to fend for themselves.

The same can be said of many of the foods meant for squirrels and chipmunks.  While you may enjoy observing the animals, it is probably healthier to let them be wild.  Got unsecured garbage?  Plan on coons, skunks, possums and bears.

Cover:  Tall grass, weeds, overgrown shrubs, rock and brush piles or anything that provides cover should be moved away from the house.  Define your space and wildlife space, but remember, they will go where they will go.  Reduce the incidence of fleas, ticks and other undesirable things that accompany wildlife.  Many diseases can be carried by insects associated with animals.

Water:  While lovers of nature try to provide water for the animals, if it is drawing undesirable species you should look for ways to limit water.  A dog or cat bowl left out is a common source, but if your pet relies on it you may not be able to remove it.

Control options:  Toxicants often lead to secondary deaths.  Even if you can have perfect control over who and if they eat the bait you likely do not have control of where the animal dies.  That leads to poisoning hawks, pets or other non-targets.  You must also know whether it is legal to poison.  Sometimes repellants work, but perhaps only for a short time.  Over time they are expensive.

Trapping is often your best control but you may need a permit or may need to kill the animal since it is generally illegal to release anywhere but on your own property.  It is also generally illegal to harass an animal with young still dependent upon the parent so you must understand the breeding season and when the young leave.  Hiring a professional trapper might be the easiest and safest solution.

Exclusion (fencing and barriers) is often a viable option, but one must know the habits of the enemy and find out what type of exclusion and method of installation is best.

Information is available through Virginia Cooperative Extension to deal with nuisance animals, as well as how to attract animals.  Sometimes, you cannot have both.