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Friends of Texas Wildlife: Critters in Your Attic or Chimney?

Friends of Texas Wildlife: Critters in Your Attic or Chimney?

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At Friends of Texas Wildlife, we often get calls from homeowners who have nuisance wildlife issues. While many of us enjoy coexisting with our furry and feathered friends, we can generally agree that we really don’t want to share our houses with them. We would like to offer some simple, humane, and inexpensive ways you can encourage wildlife to move along and that your home is not a good place for them to stay. 

If you have animals in an unwanted place (usually an attic, chimney, or under a deck, shed, or trailer), here are some things to remember. Because we live in an area where weather is usually mild, and animals do not hibernate, typically wildlife animals generally only want “in” when they are looking for safe denning places to have their babies. With the spread of suburbia and more clearing of wild areas, there are less natural denning places left for wildlife, so they try to adapt and find the next best thing. The most common animals people have problems with are raccoons, bats, and squirrels (in attics or chimneys) or skunks and opossums (under decks, sheds, or trailers). A little prevention can limit having problems in the first place. Keep tree limbs trimmed away from roofs and eaves so access by wildlife is limited. Make sure your chimneys are capped with screening, which will prevent all wildlife from gaining access (some birds may also try to nest in chimneys). If you feed your pets outdoors, please remember to pick up all food and water bowls before dark; skunks, opossums, and raccoons are all nocturnal and love a free meal when they can get one. Feeding wildlife encourages them to congregate in areas too close to people and domestic pets, and it can also increase the number of animals in a particular area, which can lead to overpopulation and the spread of disease. If you feed birds and squirrels, try to keep the feeders away from housing structures to discourage climbing on your home. Keep your home and outbuildings in good repair, making sure to fix any holes or rotten wood in roofs, eaves, or siding. A small hole can easily be enlarged by animals seeking an entrance point. 

Raccoons and squirrels are the most common animals to be a nuisance in chimneys or attics due to their great climbing abilities. The animals typically take up residence in very early spring or early fall, just before they give birth. The reason they select a particular space is because they could gain access and they perceive that particular attic or chimney to be a safe place to keep their babies. It is the mission of the homeowner to convince them otherwise. If it is not possible to leave the animals alone until they naturally vacate in a few weeks, you should make them believe your home is no longer a safe, quiet spot to raise their babies. First you will need to locate where the animal(s) are getting in. Tape some newspaper over the access hole as this will allow you to monitor the animal’s coming and going. Here are three effective means to convince unwanted attic or chimney occupants that your home is NOT a safe place for them to den: 

PREDATOR SMELL. 

Place a stinky dog blanket (the smellier the better) near or as close to the area of animal activity in your attic or chimney. Brush your dog and place the dog hair around access points (or get some dog hair from a friend or neighbor). Purchase fox or coyote urine at a sporting goods store or online, saturate some tennis balls with it, and toss them around in the attic (for chimneys, you can try some soaked cotton balls. In a pinch ammonia may also work as it mimics a strong urine smell. 

MAKE A LOT OF NOISE. 

Periodically, over a 3-day period, go into the attic or near the chimney base and make a lot of noise. Blow whistles, honk air horns, and clang pots and pans. You can also attach a box or cans to a cord, toss it into the attic, and drag it across the rafters. Make the noise during the natural sleep period of the animal (raccoons sleep during the day; squirrels at night). Put a portable radio in the attic or at the base of the chimney and tune it to talk radio. Play it loud during the natural sleep cycle of the animals. The sounds of human voices will reinforce that your home is not a safe place for them to stay. 

LIGHTS. 

Keep bright lights on in the attic 24 hours a day for the 3-day period. Flashing strobe lights can also be quite effective. For chimneys you can try a drop light. 

All of these methods can be adapted to scare animals out from under decks, sheds, or trailers also. Utilizing all three of these methods usually assure you of a critter-free space in about 3 days. Remember, if a mother animal has already had her babies, she will need a little time to find another denning location and then relocate her babies. Mothers will move their babies (one by one) to a new location. Raccoons or skunks will typically move their babies during the night and squirrels during the day. Also remember that the mother animal almost always has multiple denning spots already scoped out; given the time and opportunity she will move her babies to another location if she senses danger. Opossums, as marsupials, have a “built-in nursery” as baby opossums grow up in their mother’s pouch. Once mama opossum leaves, the babies leave with her. Skunks may need a little more time to leave, especially if the babies are not yet old enough to follow their mother. Give the animal ample opportunity to move out. Do not block entrances/exits and make sure to keep your dog(s) inside as much as possible. Keep checking the newspaper you have taped over access holes; once the paper remains undisturbed for several days and you no longer notice noises coming from your attic, chimney, etc., you can safely seal up all access points. Take care to repair all access points. Block entryways with thick boards or wire and trim back tree branches to prevent any further access. This method of removal has been used hundreds of times over the years in our area and has proven extremely successful. Encouraging wildlife to move out on its own is a win-win situation; mom gets to raise her own babies, you save lots of money since you didn’t need to pay anyone to remove the animals, and baby animals were not unnecessarily orphaned. NOTE: This technique does NOT work for mice/rats or bats. This technique should also not be used for owls or chimney swifts since mother birds cannot move their babies. Many species of bats are protected, so they can only be dealt with after breeding season is over. Typically, a one-way “door” is installed at the access point to the attic or eave; the bats can fly out but not get back in. Almost all songbirds and birds of prey are federally protected, so their active nests, eggs, or young cannot be interfered with. If you notice a bird building a nest in a spot that is a nuisance to you or your home, the nest can be removed ONLY if eggs or young are not yet present. 

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Many people’s first impulse is to set live traps and remove the animals themselves, or to call a pest control company. Trapping is a very ineffective way to deal with wildlife issues. You may be able to trap the mother, but it is almost always impossible to trap the babies, so trapping often leads to needlessly orphaning baby animals. A mother animal, trapped and separated from her babies, often injures herself quite severely while struggling to free herself from the trap (imagine her being trapped and listening to her crying babies nearby). Studies show that trapped wildlife animals transported and released into new areas have extremely low survival rates. Another reason trapping will not solve the problem is because wildlife from the surrounding areas will soon replace any animals removed. Raccoons, skunks, opossums, and squirrels are everywhere in our area; trapping merely creates turnover in the population. We discourage trapping unless an animal is stuck somewhere and does not have the ability to get out. 

If you have tried all of the above, or if you have a situation you feel you cannot deal with on your own, please call us at 281-259-0039 so we can refer you to some help. We encourage people to please NOT use regular pest control agencies as many are not licensed or trained to deal with wildlife. Many of these companies euthanize animals they remove, and most are not trained in how to locate babies, thereby often leaving orphaned baby wildlife behind for the homeowner to still deal with. We will be happy to refer you to the appropriate companies who can safely and humanely help you deal with nuisance wildlife and to also assure that no orphaned babies are left behind. Please remember that we need to try to share our space, as best as we can, and to try to coexist with our wild friends. They benefit us by keeping the natural balance in order; remove one species, and you are likely to create unbalance up and down the food chain. 

To learn more about what we do and view pictures of many of the animals we assist, please visit our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/ SavingTexasWildlife. Our educational visitor’s center is open the second Saturday of each month from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., located at 29816 Dobbin Hufsmith Road, Magnolia, Texas, so the next open house date will be Saturday, April 11. Come on out and visit us, learn a little more about local wildlife, do some fun activities and a craft, and meet some of our non-releasable wildlife educational animals. We also host birthday parties, camps, and educational presentations. Summer Camp registration will open April 1. For more information about any of these activities, or to register for summer camp, please visit our website or email ftwl. [email protected] There are many other ways you can help support our efforts, too (such as Kroger Community Rewards, Amazon Smile, etc.). Details can be found at www.ftlw.org, and then click on “How to Help”.

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