Walking out into my backyard one recent day, I caught a flash of movement in a nearby tree.
“Just another squirrel,” I thought. Then I looked closer.
Staring back at me was a pair of dark eyes surrounded by a black-and-white mask: a raccoon, the first I’d seen anywhere near my home. Naturally, I grabbed my phone and took some pictures. But then I wondered: Is it normal for raccoons to be out during daytime? Aren’t they nocturnal? Could he be, god forbid, rabid?
Many homeowners might find themselves encountering wildlife in their backyards, and wonder what to do. Here are some of the most common questions you might have, and answers from wildlife experts so you and all of your four-legged/winged neighbors can live together in peace.
How to tell if an animal has rabies or other illness
Let’s start from the top: How can you tell if a backyard critter has rabies or other harmful illness? Generally speaking, you should call your local animal control division if the animal is showing signs of lethargy, disorientation, or aggression.
If an animal is active at odd hours of the day, that may also be a sign of illness, says Thomas Ward, training specialist at Critter Control.
Keep in mind that it’s not always possible to tell if an animal is sick because some diseases don’t show symptoms at various stages. It’s generally best to leave wildlife alone, and, if there’s a question, bring all pets and children indoors.
“It is never recommended for a homeowner to try to interact with a wild animal, even if it is not sick,” says Ward. “They are, by nature, very unpredictable and can be very dangerous.”
Is it OK to feed wild animals?
We all have that neighbor who loves to feed the squirrels. (And, hey, maybe you are that neighbor.) But is this a good idea?
Not really, says Ward. Wild animals are nothing like your pets, and you should never try to “adopt” one in your yard. Feeding them in close proximity to your home increases the likelihood of a dangerous encounter.
What if a bird starts building a nest on your property?
Birds often build nests in rain gutters, under eaves, or in trees where you don’t want them. However, you may be surprised to learn that the Migratory Bird Treaty Act has made it illegal to destroy, move, or interfere with “active” nests (with eggs or young in them) for over 2,000 species of birds. Those who do could face up to six months in jail or $15,000 in fines!
It is OK, however, to foil a nest in the making. So if you see a bird building a nest in an undesirable spot on your property, you won’t be breaking any laws if you take preventive measures.
You can cut back foliage to make a popular shrub or bush less appealing to birds. Or, consider adding a visual deterrent—like an aluminum pan or an old compact disc—to encourage birds to nest elsewhere, says Christian Blake, associate certified entomologist and technical services manager for Ehrlich Pest Control.
What if a baby bird falls out of a nest onto the ground?
If you find a baby bird on the ground below a nest, it’s really best to just leave it alone and let nature do its thing. Baby birds often fall to the ground when they are learning how to fly, and it’s likely one or both parents are nearby to help.
If the baby bird is really small, you might be tempted to get it back into the nest but may be hesitant because you’ve heard that touching a baby bird, egg, or nest—and, thus, leaving your scent behind—will cause the mother to abandon her young. That’s primarily a myth, as birds don’t have a great sense of smell. But they are sensitive to predators (yes, you are a predator!) and disturbances to their nests. Plus, touching wildlife with your bare hands can result in the spread of disease—from you to the birds, and vice versa. So it’s best to steer clear.
What to do with baby bunnies
In the spring or summer, you might see bunnies exploring on their own for the first time. Are they orphaned? Where the heck is Mom? And what should you do?
For one, if you know where their nest is located, wildlife experts say it’s fine to try to return the babies to the nest.
“Mother rabbits only visit their nest twice a day to feed their babies, so it should not raise alarm if they are found alone,” says Chelsea Barrett, development manager for Greenwood Wildlife Rehabilitation Center.
As an added diagnostic tool, after you’ve returned the baby, encircle the nest with flour from the pantry.
“Check the nest 24 hours later to see if the flour circle was disturbed,” Barrett adds. “If the flour has not been disturbed, then the bunnies are likely orphaned.”
It’s possible that the baby’s mother was killed or injured by a predator, or run over by a car. If the baby bunny is at least 5 inches long, has its eyes and ears open, and is able to hop, it will likely survive on its own. If you’re sure that a nest has been abandoned and the bunnies are younger than that, you can bring them to a wildlife rehabilitation center.
How to rescue baby squirrels
As for baby squirrels, consider placing the animal in an open box with an old T-shirt and a heat source like a hot water bottle or a rice sock. Place the entire box under the tree that’s closest to where you found the baby squirrel. If all goes well, the mother squirrel will retrieve the baby and take it back to the nest. If the baby is still in the box after 24 hours, call a local licensed wildlife rehab center for help.
Want to raise the critter yourself? In many states, it’s illegal to keep and care for wildlife without a license. Do not try to rescue and keep a baby bunny, squirrel, or other animal—cute though they may be.
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If a child got lost in the mall and came up to you crying, your first reaction would not be to take them home with you. The same idea goes for baby squirrels. One day you might come across a furry fella that seems to be without a mama. The first step should be to try and find the mother squirrel, not to take him home or to Greenwood! If you think you have found an orphaned squirrel, call Greenwood and we will give you specific reunite instructions. 303-823-8455 If it is after hours, visit our website for detailed instructions on what to do until we open again the next day. Please do not feed him – it will likely do more harm than good. https://www.greenwoodwildlife.org/wildlife-emergency/i-found-an-animal/found-a-mammal/found-a-squirrel/ #reuniteoverrescue #babyanimals #wildlife #rehabilitation #Colorado (Photo credit: Ken Forman)
How to keep animals out of your garden, garbage, and more
Depending on where you live, you may find evidence that a deer has been munching through your vegetable garden, or a raccoon has rummaged through your trash. Is there anything you can do to stop them?
In general, wild animals are attracted to food sources of all kinds. (Deer may also be attracted to fruit trees.) Fencing can help deter hungry animals to some extent, but it’s also important to keep your yard neat and tidy at all times. This means sealing your garbage cans, picking up fallen fruit, and generally keeping your landscape trimmed and free of debris.
Motion-activated lights can also help deter food-seeking animals at night, and plastic netting or chicken wire can help keep your vegetable garden safe and undisturbed.
You can also easily deer-proof your garden with some simple fishing line and wooden posts, according to this helpful video tutorial below.
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