Nuisance Wildlife Information and Control

BEC Pest Management,LLC offers full service nuisance wildlife trapping, proofing and removal.

 

Preventing Conflicts with Wildlife

It’s important to note that not all wildlife create conflicts. Although it might not appear so at the time, the animals, which are often referred to as nuisance or problem animals, are innocent. When a conflict exists between humans and animals it is usually because the animal is only doing what it needs to do to survive. It is simply following its own instincts, and intends no harm or discomfort.

Dealing with a conflict can be difficult because it is often a community issue. Some people habitually feed and perhaps inadvertently shelter wildlife, while their neighbor may not want wildlife around at all. This scenario can create undesirable situations for people, pets, and the animals themselves. Raccoons, opposums, skunks and squirrels that are fed by people often lose their fear of humans and may become aggressive when not fed as expected.

 

 

Raccoons

 

The raccoon (Procyon lotor) is a native mammal, measuring about 3 feet long, including its 12-inch, bushy, ringed tail. Because their hind legs are longer than the front legs, raccoons have a hunched appearance when they walk or run. Each of their front feet has five dexterous toes, allowing raccoons to grasp and manipulate food and other items.

Raccoons prefer forest areas near a stream or water source, but have adapted to various environments throughout Washington. Raccoon populations can get quite large in urban areas, owing to hunting and trapping restrictions, few predators, and human-supplied food.

Adult raccoons weigh 15 to 40 pounds, their weight being a result of genetics, age, available food, and habitat location. Males have weighed in at over 60 pounds. A raccoon in the wild will probably weigh less than the urbanized raccoon that has learned to live on handouts, pet food, and garbage-can leftovers.

As long as raccoons are kept out of human homes, not cornered, and not treated as pets, they are not dangerous.

 

Food and Feeding Habitats

  • Raccoons will eat almost anything, but are particularly fond of creatures found in water—clams, crayfish, frogs, fish, and snails.

  • Raccoons also eat insects, slugs, dead animals, birds and bird eggs, as well as fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. Around humans, raccoons often eat garbage and pet food.

  • Although not great hunters, raccoons can catch young gophers, squirrels, mice, and rats.

  • Except during the breeding season and for females with young, raccoons are solitary. Individuals will eat together if a large amount of food is available in an area.

Den Sites and Resting Sites

  • Dens are used for shelter and raising young. They include abandoned burrows dug by other mammals, areas in or under large rock piles and brush piles, hollow logs, and holes in trees.

  • Den sites also include wood duck nest-boxes, attics, crawl spaces, chimneys, and abandoned vehicles.

  • In urban areas, raccoons normally use den sites as daytime rest sites. In wooded areas, they often rest in trees.

  • Raccoons generally move to different den or daytime rest site every few days and do not follow a predictable pattern. Only a female with young or an animal “holed up” during a cold spell will use the same den for any length of time. Several raccoons may den together during winter storms.

Reproduction and Home Range

  • Raccoons pair up only during the breeding season, and mating occurs as early as January to as late as June. The peak mating period is March to April.

  • After a 65-day gestation period, two to three kits are born.

  • The kits remain in the den until they are about seven weeks old, at which time they can walk, run, climb, and begin to occupy alternate dens.

  • At eight to ten weeks of age, the young regularly accompany their mother outside the den and forage for them selves. By 12 weeks, the kits roam on their own for several nights before returning to their mother.

  • The kits remain with their mother in her home range through winter, and in early spring seek out their own territories.

  • The size of a raccoon’s home range as well as its nightly hunting area varies greatly depending on the habitat and food supply. Home range diameters of 1 mile are known to occur in urban areas.

Mortality and Longevity

  • Raccoons die from encounters with vehicles, hunters, and trappers, and from disease, starvation, and predation.

  • Young raccoons are the main victims of starvation, since they have very little fat reserves to draw from during food shortages in late winter and early spring.

  • Raccoon predators include cougars, bobcats, coyotes, and domestic dogs. Large owls and eagles will prey on young raccoons.

  • The average life span of a raccoon in the wild is 2 to 3 years; captive raccoons have lived 13.

Viewing Raccoons

Raccoons can be seen throughout the year, except during extremely cold periods. Usually observed at night, they are occasionally seen during the day eating or napping in a tree or searching elsewhere for food. Coastal raccoons take advantage of low tides and are seen foraging on shellfish and other food by day.

Droppings

Raccoon droppings are crumbly, flat-ended, and can contain a variety of food items. The length is 3 to 5 inches, but this is usually broken into segments. The diameter is about the size of the end of your little finger.

Raccoons leave droppings on logs, at the base of trees, and on roofs (raccoons defecate before climbing trees and entering structures). Raccoons create toilet areas—inside and outside structures—away from the nesting area. House cats have similar habits.

Note: Raccoon droppings may carry a parasite that can be fatal to humans. Do not handle or smell raccoon droppings and wash your hands if you touch any.

 

Preventing Conflicts

A raccoon’s search for food may lead it to a vegetable garden, fish pond, garbage can, or chicken coop. Its search for a den site may lead it to an attic, chimney, or crawl space. The most effective way to prevent conflicts is to modify the habitat around your home so as not to attract raccoons. Recommendations on how to do this are given below:

Don’t feed raccoons.
Feeding raccoons may create undesirable situations for you, your children, neighbors, pets, and the raccoons themselves. Raccoons that are fed by people often lose their fear of humans and may become aggressive when not fed as expected. Artificial feeding also tends to concentrate raccoons in a small area; overcrowding can spread diseases and parasites. Finally, these hungry visitors might approach a neighbor who doesn’t share your appreciation of the animals. The neighbor might choose to remove these raccoons, or have them removed.

Don’t give raccoons access to garbage.
Keep your garbage can lid on tight by securing it with rope, chain, bungee cords, or weights. Better yet, buy garbage cans with clamps or other mechanisms that hold lids on. To prevent tipping, secure side handles to metal or wooden stakes driven into the ground. Or keep your cans in tight-fitting bins, a shed, or a garage. Put garbage cans out for pickup in the morning, after raccoons have returned to their resting areas.

Feed dogs and cats indoors and keep them in at night.
If you must feed your pets outside, do so in late morning or at midday, and pick up food, water bowls, leftovers, and spilled food well before dark every day.

Keep pets indoors at night.
If cornered, raccoons may attack dogs and cats. Bite wounds from raccoons can result in fractures and disease transmission.

Prevent raccoons from entering pet doors.
Keep indoor pet food and any other food away from a pet door. Lock the pet door at night. If it is necessary to have it remain open, put an electronically activated opener on your pet’s collar. Note: Floodlights or motion detector lights placed above the pet door to scare raccoons are not long-term solutions.

Put food in secure compost containers and clean up barbecue areas.
Don’t put food of any kind in open compost piles; instead, use a securely covered compost structure or a commercially available raccoon-proof composter to prevent attracting raccoons and getting exposed to their droppings. A covered worm box is another alternative. If burying food scraps, cover them with at least 8 inches of soil and don’t leave any garbage above ground in the area—including the stinky shovel. Placing a wire mesh barrier that is held in place with a heavy object over the in-ground compost will prevent problems.

Clean barbecue grills and grease traps thoroughly following each use.

Eliminate access to denning sites.
Raccoons commonly use chimneys, attics, and spaces under houses, porches, and sheds as den sites. Close any potential entries with ¼-inch mesh hardware cloth, boards, or metal flashing. Make all connections flush and secure to keep mice, rats, and other mammals out. Make sure you don’t trap an animal inside when you seal off a potential entry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Opossums

Prior to European settlement of North America, the Virginia opossum was found only in Central America and the southeastern United States. During the 1900s, its range expanded northward and westward.

Virginia opossums, also known as “possums,” first arrived in Washington in the early 1900s as pets and novelties. Some of these animals, or their offspring, later escaped from captivity or were intentionally released.

With few natural predators, the absence of hunting, and an abundance of food and shelter, opossums have adapted well to living close to people in urban and suburban environments. Except for higher elevations, opossums now occupy most human-occupied habitats in western Washington.

Opossums are marsupials (mammals with a pouch in which they carry their young), a primitive group of mammals found most commonly in Australia. Kangaroos, koalas, and wombats are other well known marsupials. Opossums are the only marsupials in North America. All other mammals are placentals, which means their young develop within a saclike membrane called the placenta inside the mother’s uterus, rather than in an exterior pouch.

In Australia and elsewhere, many species of marsupial have been out-competed and even driven to extinction by more modern mammals. Yet, the opossum has adapted to the changing environment in the Western Hemisphere, and continues to thrive.

Opossums are inhibited animals, especially in daylight or under artificial light, but are by no means stupid. Results from some learning and discrimination tests rank opossums above dogs and more or less on a par with pigs in intelligence.

Facts about Washington’s Opossums

Food and Feeding Habitats

  • Opossums lived during the time of the dinosaurs and one reason for their continued survival is their ability to eat nearly anything.

  • Foods include fruits, nuts, grains, insects, slugs, snakes, frogs, birds, bird eggs, shellfish, mice, and carrion (dead animals).

  • Around human habitation, opossums also eat garbage, pet food, birdseed, poultry, and handouts.

  • A study of Portland Oregon’s opossum population found that small mammals (dead and alive) were the most important food in winter and spring, slugs in summer, and fruits in fall.

  • Because opossums eat many road-killed animals, including other opossums, they often become road kill themselves.

  • Because opossums accumulate little body fat for winter and don’t store food, they must forage year-round.

Den Sites

  • Opossums will den nearly anywhere that is dry, sheltered, and safe. Den sites include burrows dug by other mammals, rock crevices, hollow stumps, logs and trees, woodpiles, and spaces in or under buildings.

  • Their fur doesn’t provide much insulation, so opossums fill their dens with dried leaves, grass, and other available soft material to form well-insulated nests. Nest materials are carried in their coiled tail.

  • To avoid predators, opossums move to a different den every few days. (A male opossum followed by radio tracking used 19 different dens in five months.)

  • A female with young or an opossum “holed up” during a cold spell will use the same den for a greater length of time.

    Reproduction

  • Opossums are successful as a species due in part to the size and frequency of litters.

  • The breeding season begins as early as January and may continue to mid-November.

  Mortality and Longevity

Opossums have high mortality rates at all ages. They are killed by dogs, coyotes, foxes, raccoons, bobcats, eagles, hawks, and owls, with young opossums being the most vulnerable.

Car kills in the fall and in winter conditions account for many opossum deaths.

Opossums rarely live a full two years in the wild.

Being marsupials, opossums give birth to undeveloped young. Only 12 days following breeding, five to ten bumblebee-sized pups crawl into their mother’s pouch, where each firmly attaches to a teat.

Opossum pups find nourishment, warmth, and safety in the pouch. When closed, it is so well sealed that if the female swims, the pups remain dry.

At 60 to 70 days old, the house mouse-size young begin to leave the pouch for brief periods, returning to suckle.

At 80 to 90 days old, the young begin to ride on their mother’s back with their feet and tail firmly attached to her fur. (Contrary to myth, a female opossum never carries her young on her tail.)

At 3½ months of age, the young begin to leave the den to feed on their own, and soon disperse to establish their own territories.

Viewing Opossums

 Opossums are nocturnal, spending the day in dens or other protected spots. However, they can be seen at any time of day, especially in winter when food is scarce. At night, opossums forage in areas near their current dens, but can travel up to 2 miles in search of food

Opossums are solitary animals, and except during breeding season or a female with her young, they are rarely seen together. Opossums do not hibernate.

Although they can climb and are good swimmers, opossums prefer to amble about on the ground. With a top speed of about 4 miles per hour, when “running,” opossums appear to be walking quickly, with the tail rotating in circles for balance. When idle, opossums constantly groom themselves, much as house cats do.

Trails
Opossums readily use trails made by other wildlife or humans near creeks, ravines, and wetlands. Like raccoons and foxes, opossums use culverts as a safe way to cross under highways and roadways.

In developed areas, trails occur along buildings and fences. Wear marks and hairs may be found around the edges of entry points where opossums are entering a building or crawling under a fence. Opossum hair is long and silver to gray in color.

Tracks
Tracks can be found in mud, snow, or fine soil; also on deck railings, downspouts, and other surfaces that opossums use to gain access to structures. The opossum’s opposable hind thumbs create a unique print, pointing as much as 90 degrees away from the direction of travel.

Opossum droppings may resemble the droppings of house cats and small domestic dogs, coyotes, and foxes.

Droppings
Opossum droppings are not easily found, but can be seen along trails they use and near favorite feeding spots. Opossum droppings vary in appearance according to the animal’s diet and may resemble the droppings of house cats and small domestic dogs, coyotes, and foxes. Firm droppings are pointed on the ends and 1 to 3 inches long.

 

Preventing Conflicts

In urban areas, opossums are beneficial as rodent and carrion eaters. They also clean up uneaten food that might otherwise attract mice and rats. However, in rural areas the impact of non-native opossums preying upon native invertebrates, small mammals, amphibians, reptiles, ground-nesting birds, nestlings, and eggs is of concern to wildlife biologists.

As long as they are kept out of human homes, not cornered, and their interaction with pets is limited, opossums are not dangerous. If an opossum finds its way into your house, stay calm, close surrounding interior doors, leave the room, and let the animal find its own way out through the pet door or an open door or window. If necessary, gently use a broom to coral the opossum outside. Do not corner an opossum, thereby forcing it to defend itself.

Although generally gentle and placid, opossums have 50 teeth and will use them to protect themselves, or their young So avoid close encounters.

An opossum’s search for food may lead it to a vegetable garden, garbage can, or chicken coop. Its search for a den site may lead it to an attic, chimney, or crawl space. The most effective way to prevent conflicts is to modify the habitat around your home so as not to attract opossums.

Recommendations on how to do this are given below:

Don’t feed opossums. Feeding opossums may create undesirable situations for you, your children, neighbors, pets, and the opossums themselves. Opossums that are fed by people often lose their fear of humans and may become aggressive when not fed as expected. Artificial feeding also tends to concentrate opossums in a small area; overcrowding can spread diseases and parasites. Finally, these hungry visitors might approach a neighbor who doesn’t share your appreciation of the animals. The neighbor might choose to remove these opossums, or have them removed.

Don’t give opossums access to garbage. Keep your garbage can lid on tight by securing it with rope, chain, bungee cords, or weights. Better yet, buy garbage cans with clamps or other mechanisms that hold lids on. To prevent tipping, secure side handles to metal or wooden stakes driven into the ground. Or keep your cans in tight-fitting bins, a shed, or a garage. Put garbage cans out for pickup in the morning, after opossums have returned to their resting areas.

Feed dogs and cats indoors and keep them in at night. If you must feed your pets outside, do so in late morning or at midday, and pick up food, water bowls, leftovers, and spilled food well before dark every day.

Keep pets indoors at night. If cornered, opossums may attack dogs and cats. Bite wounds from opossums can result in fractures and disease transmission.

Prevent opossums from entering pet doors. Keep indoor pet food and any other food away from a pet door. Lock the pet door at night. If it is necessary to have it remain open, put an electronically activated opener on your pet’s collar. Note: Floodlights or motion detector lights placed above the pet door to scare opossums are not long-term solutions.

Put food in secure compost containers and clean up barbecue areas. Don’t put food of any kind in open compost piles; instead, use a securely covered compost structure or a commercially available opossums-proof composter to prevent attracting opossums and getting exposed to their droppings. A covered worm box is another alternative. If burying food scraps, cover them with at least 8 inches of soil and don’t leave any garbage above ground in the area—including the stinky shovel. Cover the burial site with heavy wire mesh and a weight as further prevention.

Clean barbecue grills and grease traps thoroughly following each use.

Eliminate access to denning sites. Opossums commonly use chimneys, attics, and spaces under houses, porches, and sheds as den sites. Close any potential entries with ¼-inch mesh hardware cloth, boards, or metal flashing. Make all connections flush and secure to keep mice, rats, and other mammals out. Make sure you don’t trap an animal inside when you seal off a potential entry (see “Opossums in or Under Buildings” the handout Evicting Animals from Buildings for additional information).

Install a commercially designed and engineered chimney cap (homemade caps are often unsafe and may be a fire hazard). You can still have fires in your fireplace; however, the “cap” will keep opossums and other wildlife out. (For information on how to remove opossums from chimneys, see “Raccoons in Dumpsters and Down Chimneys” in the handout on Raccoons.)

Prevent opossums from accessing rooftops by trimming tree limbs away from structures and by attaching sheets of metal flashing around corners of buildings. Commercial products that prevent climbing are available from farm supply centers and bird-control supply companies on the Internet. Remove vegetation on buildings, such as English ivy, which provide opossums a way to climb structures and hide their access point inside.

Occasionally an opossum will find a suitable den site in or under a building. Opossums normally occupy a den site for only two or three consecutive nights. However, during the mating and nesting season, females are attracted to warm, dry, dark, easily defended areas, and will remain longer if the setting remains favorable.