Ask the Nature Lady: Wildlife “Break-ins”

by Marlene Condon

People often write to ask me about critters getting into their homes.  The problem is usually that animals are being attracted to food that they can easily obtain.

For example, one woman reported that she had two raccoons coming into the house every night through her cat doors to eat cat food in the kitchen.  She was hoping that instead of needing to lock the swinging little doors at night, there might be some other way to deter the raccoons from entering.

But if you have wildlife entering your house or some other structure for food, the only solution really is to make the food inaccessible.  In this case, the cat doors did need to be locked at night when raccoons are most active (although these animals do sometimes come out in the daytime if they are hungry or thirsty enough).

Wildlife wakes up hungry every day, just as we do, and it desperately needs food to survive, just as we do.  Because these animals cannot just visit a grocery store when they need nourishment, they go after food wherever it is easily accessible.

And those are the key words—“easily accessible.”  Any food just sitting there, easy to grab, is an animal’s dream meal!

Sometimes people leave food where there’s a barrier between it and wildlife, but the barrier may not be good enough.  For example, many times I’ve heard of folks storing birdseed on a screened porch even though they live in bear country.  A full-grown bear is so big and strong that it can easily break through the screen to get the seeds that it is able to smell.

People need to remember that the bear doesn’t know those seeds are supposed to be off-limits.  Thus it’s up to humans to make sure that food is never left where it can serve to entice starving wildlife.

Another example is leaving food and/or food wrappers inside vehicles.  Again, if you do this in bear country, you will probably experience a bear break-in.

So—especially if you live where there are bears—you need to be extra vigilant about where you leave food or wrappers.  And remember, our wild animals are not trying to be a nuisance to folks.  They’re just hungry!

Naturalist Marlene A. Condon is the author/photographer of The Nature-friendly Garden: Creating a Backyard Haven for Plants, Wildlife, and People (Stackpole Books; information at  If you have a question about plants or animals, or gardening in a nature-friendly manner, send it to [email protected] and please watch for an answer in this paper.

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