Characteristics: Opossums are marsupials and carry their young in a pouch like kangaroos. Nocturnal omnivores, they will eat virtually everything. Opossums are also scavengers. They clear our streets and yards of dead animals and rotten fruit. They love garbage and compost piles.
Predators: Their main predators are man and the car. Others include dogs, coyotes, and owls.
Habitat: Comfortable in both the wilderness and urban settings, opossums thrive in virtually every corner of North America and can be found in every neighborhood across the country. They den in trees, root hollows, under sheds, in basements and attics and under debris piles.
Reproduction: Birthing and rearing begins in January and runs through July. Opossums may have two litters each year, so the birthing and rearing season is virtually continual.
Fight or Flight Zone: An opossum’s fight or flight zone is very limited and varies based on the animal’s attentiveness to its surroundings. If you are standing still and an opossum is looking for food, it may walk right past you at 2 feet and never notice you. On the other hand, if it hears you, it might run when 20 feet away.
- Opossums are completely non-aggressive. In order to be bitten, you actually have to put your hand close enough for the opossum to reach it by merely turning its head.
- There has never been a recorded case of a wild opossum carrying rabies.
- They are immune to snake venom and many other diseases to which other mammals are susceptible.
- They can climb almost anything.
- They live a solitary life, except to mate.
- They are nocturnal, unless trapped out in an area where they could not escape from before sunrise.
- Opossums never attack humans unless they are attacked.
- They are often found sleeping with pet cats in an outside cat den.
Human Interaction: Opossums are easily herded with a broom or piece of cardboard. They may be ushered into a trash can and then released just outside of your yard.
Benefits: Opossums are the true janitors of the night. They clean up any discarded food or animal matter that is left to rot. They are absolutely the best gardeners we could employ, killing and digging up all of the pests that are detrimental to our plants.
Exclusion: There are no effective exclusion barriers to prevent opossums from entering your yard. To prevent entry into your house, follow the guidelines under raccoon.
Myth: Opossums are filthy and carry rabies. False. Opossums constantly clean themselves, and there has never been a recorded case of a wild opossum carrying rabies. In fact, they appear to be immune to many diseases including rabies. They also appear to be immune to the venomous snakes in North America.
Characteristics: Otters are semi-aquatic carnivores. They are brown to black, with light colored cheeks and chests. Adults range from 35 to 51 inches in length and weigh between 11 and 30 pounds. They eat amphibians, fish, turtles, crayfish, crab, small mammals, birds and eggs.
Predators: Their predators include bobcats, coyote, birds of prey and alligators.
Habitat: River Otters occupy most fresh water habitats where there is a food supply. They build dens in the burrows of other mammals, in natural hollows, under logs or in river banks. Their dens have underwater entrances and are lined with leaves, grass, moss, bark and hair. Otters will also den under decks that are within several hundred feet of their water source.
Reproduction: Mating occurs in late winter or early spring, but due to delayed implantation, the young may be born as much as one year later. One to six pups are born between November and May. Young are weaned within 3 months and leave their mother’s care from 6 months to one year of age.
Fight or Flight Zone: Their fight or flight zone varies, depending on their proximity to water and whether the female is protecting her young. If they are within a few feet of water, they may be willing to play while humans are within 30 feet of them. If they feel threatened, they will enter the water for protection. If a mother is protecting her young, she may become defensive at 50 feet.
- Otters are members of the weasel family.
- They represent no real threat to humans, as long as we do not threaten their young. If they perceive a threat to their young, they can become fierce aggressors.
- Otters are an integral predator species within an aquatic habitat. They help to maintain a balanced aquatic ecosystem by preying on the weakest and slowest prey species, as well as on “trash fish” that compete with more economically desirable game fish.
- Otters look like kids at recess - running, rolling, wrestling, and sliding down river and lake banks. Although this is often playtime, it also develops hunting skills, strengthens muscles, and builds social bonds.
Human Interaction: There are no confirmed accounts of human conflict with otters, except in terms of their predation on game fish populations. Most of these complaints come from commercial fish hatcheries and breeding farms that do not have effective exclusion measures in place.
Benefits: Otters are a significant predator of slow moving fish and therefore help to keep fish populations healthy by taking the older or sick.
Exclusion: Generally the only time otters represent a problem for home owners is when the home is very near a river or a lake that otters frequent. On rare occasions, an otter will den under a deck or shed, and the home owner will become concerned for their safety or the safety of their pets. The easiest solution is to fence in the structure and attach a welded wire bottom that extends into the ground at least 1 foot.
Myth: We have found no reference to any blatant untruths about otters.
There is an ongoing discussion that warrants clarification, which is that "otters decimate game fish populations.” This statement only measures the effects that otters have on fish populations in terms of whether or not their predation is acceptable to humans.
If you ask whether they have a negative effect on the environment itself, the answer is no. As it is with all species, Mother Nature has a plan, and the only real hitch in that plan is man’s unnatural manipulation and misuse of habitat and natural resources.
If we allowed the otter to conduct its life without interference, everything would manage itself and maintain a balance. Unfortunately we interfere with that process and demand certain unnatural benefits that nature had not intended.
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Characteristics: The wild Rock Pigeon is native to Europe, South Africa, and Asia. The pigeon in North America is considered feral because it was introduced by humans in the 1600’s. These birds are diurnal seed eaters and in urban settings have a scavenger quality.
Predators: Pigeons have many predators including man, hawks, peregrine falcons, dogs, cats, foxes, coyotes, raccoons and opossums.
Reproduction: In urban settings, they breed year-round. Two eggs are laid, and the babies emerge 19 days later. They fledge from the nest at about 28 days.
Habitat: Rock Pigeons are native only to Europe, South Africa, and southwestern Asia, but feral pigeons are found worldwide. They nest in rock crevices in cliffs and on man-made structures that mimic cliffs such as buildings and statues. They build their nests on ledges or any flat surface that is 5 inches or more wide.
Fight or Flight Zone: The pigeon’s fight or flight zone is almost non-existent in an urban setting. They are quite use to being fed by people, and welcome the potential food source. Often times, they are so comfortable with people that they will land on your shoulder or head and expect a hand out.
- Pigeons are one of the most successful wild animals in an urban setting. They have learned not only how to adapt to man’s new structures, but they seem to have benefited from the structures' protection.
- Pigeons have also learned how to talk man into providing all of their food by becoming the flighted panhandlers of the city.
- Both male and female pigeons feed their young with pigeon milk, a slurry that is produced in the parents crop.
- Pigeons are used in most parts of the world as homing racers because of their innate ability to find their way home.
Human Interaction: Pigeons are historically one of the two most common species of wildlife seen in urban environments, the other being the tree squirrel. They are considered pests by many because they roost in groups and their droppings tend to become a nuisance. City governments tend not to like them because of the added cleaning of statues and city property.
Benefits: Pigeons are a favorite prey of one of the most endangered animals in North America, the Peregrine Falcon. One of the unusual benefits of pigeons is that they have a calming influence on humans because they are so comfortable around us. We sit in the parks, enjoying their cooing and head bobbing antics. By cleaning up all of our edible garbage, pigeons are a natural janitor in our cities.
Exclusion: It is difficult to exclude pigeons because they can fly and we build structures that invite them. In other words, they are here to stay. Nevertheless, we can build and modify horizontal surfaces on buildings so that they are not as inviting. We can also install special bird wire or plastic pigeon spikes. In some cases, it may be more practical to install netting that will prevent entry.
Myth: Pigeons are filthy and carry lots of diseases. FALSE. Pigeons are as fastidious as all other birds about their preening. They bathe every day and do not carry any diseases that are not carried by other birds. They just happen to live in the heart of the cities that we build and pollute.
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RABBIT (Eastern Cottontail)
Characteristics: Eastern Cottontails are active at night, dusk and dawn. They are herbivores and eat a wild variety of plants, fruits, vegetables and tree bark. They grow to be the size of a house cat.
Predators: The cottontail has many predators including hawks, owls, coyotes, foxes, and bobcats.
Reproduction: Cottontails can have between two and four litters each year, with an average of 5 babies, called kittens. Mating begins in February and ends in September. The kittens are weaned in three weeks and leave mom at 7 weeks.
Habitat: The eastern cottontail can be found in the eastern half of the U.S., Canada and throughout most of Central America. They den in grasslands, woods and all types of urban areas that offer any ground cover, such as grass, fallen leaves and pine needles. They build a nest that is the size and shape of a dinner soup bowl, about two to three inches deep. The mother tears out some or her fur and mixes it with the same ground cover that surrounds the nest, and then covers the nest site, causing it to virtually disappear. The nest is only big enough for the babies when they are very tiny.
Fight or Flight Zone: Their fight or flight zone is extremely large. They will flee when they feel a threat as much as 50 feet away.
- Rabbits have an unusual physiological failsafe designed into their bodies. If they are caught by a predator, their fur and skin will tear very easily and allow them to flee leaving that patch of fur and skin in the mouth or talon of the attacker. They may lose a patch of skin and/or fur, but they escape with their lives.
- Mother rabbits will care for their young even if they are handled by humans.
- Mother rabbits do not occupy the nest. They only visit the nest to feed their babies twice each night and are elsewhere at all other times.
- Baby rabbits are capable of caring for themselves if they are the size of a lime and found hoping around outside the nest.
Human Interaction: Rabbits can be a nuisance to gardeners. They love many of the plants cherished by those with a green thumb. Most of these complaints come from those who do not provide effective protection for their plants. Rabbits represent no threat to humans. They are rarely seen in the daytime. If a nest is disturbed by a dog or due to yard work, the babies may be replaced and the nest recreated. (See Myth for how to do this successfully.)
Benefits: Rabbits are an important food source for many predatory species, and in that capacity, they fulfill an invaluable role. Rabbits are one of the well-adapted wild species that offer no threat and can be enjoyed by the entire family.
Exclusion: Excluding rabbits from gardens is a relatively simple task. It only requires a fence that is three feet high and extends down into the ground eight or more inches.
Myth: If you reconstruct a nest, you can tell if the mother comes back by placing pieces of string over the nest in a pattern and note whether they were disturbed. False. A mother rabbit can open a nest and feed her young without disturbing the nest material at all. The only way to truly determine whether she is caring for her young is to examine the babies when you return them to the nest. Note the size of their bellies and check each morning and night for the next two days to make sure they are being fed. Each evening, they will have empty bellies, and each morning, they will be full and plump. If they are not bigger in the morning than the night before, contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.
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Characteristics: Raccoons are omnivores and will eat almost anything. They love fish, crawfish, small mammals, fruit, birds, eggs, as well as dog and cat food. They are primarily nocturnal and weigh between 8 and 20 pounds.
Predators: Man, dogs, and cars are the real predators for raccoons in an urban setting. Occasionally, owls and coyotes prey on young raccoons.
Habitat: They live as solitary animals, except during mating, birthing and early rearing. Raccoons den in tree hollows, attics, under sheds and abandoned buildings and cars.
Reproduction: Birthing and rearing begins in March and some young may remain with their mother for the entire first year.
Fight or Flight Zone: The urban raccoon’s fight or flight zone is sometimes non-existent. Urban raccoons have learned that the easiest food comes from humans; they will literally entertain for it.
- Raccoons can climb virtually anything including the siding on your home.
- They are primarily nocturnal, but are often seen hunting, playing with or moving their young in the daytime during rearing season (March through September).
- Raccoons will enter your home through a cat or dog door.
- They will eat alongside your cat from the same bowl.
- If you make the mistake of feeding them and then decide to stop feeding them, they will become very aggressive and even attempt to enter your home. NEVER feed wild animals.
- Raccoons have been known to attack humans if they feel that their young are in danger or if they are cornered.
Human Interaction: You may love raccoons and enjoy their antics, but your neighbor may not. Help to secure the life of the raccoon by scaring it anytime it is seen where it is not welcome. They need to be afraid of humans if they want to live. Frighten them with sticks, rocks, a hose and noise makers. Do not provide them with food sources.
Benefits: Raccoons are another of the predators that control pests. They are one of the urban janitors of the wild and will eat almost anything. They love to dig up crawling things in your lawn and garden. They clean up fallen fruit before it rots. They are great building inspectors and will reveal any unsecured boards or shingles on our homes.
Exclusion: There are no effective exclusion barriers to prevent raccoons from entering your yard. The most common entry points to your house are attic and soffit vents, the gap between the fascia board and the roof decking behind your gutters, the ridge vent on the roof and your chimney. These openings rarely have wire mesh covering them and are an open invitation. Although the openings are too small for the raccoon to crawl through, the gaps offer them a place to start pulling to enlarge the opening. You need to cover these openings with ½ inch welded wire mesh or hardware cloth. You should also install a chimney cap. You should also consider locking your cat or dog door.
Myth: Raccoons seen in the daytime are sick and probably have rabies. False. Raccoons spend a great deal of time outside during the day when they are rearing their young. They have many more mouths to feed and young to train. It is, however, true that if they have rabies or distemper, they frequently will appear in the open during the daytime. In these instances, they will exhibit symptoms like blindness, seizure, walking drunk, and sitting for long periods in one spot.
Characteristics: All snakes are carnivores and swallow their prey whole. They hunt small mammals, such as chipmunks, mice, rats, and others that can damage your yard and home. Although they range in size from several inches to 30 feet, North American snakes are less than 10 feet long.
Predators: Snakes are preyed on by other snakes, hawks, owls, foxes, coyotes, opossums and raccoons, among others.
Habitat: In regions where snakes are prevalent, they can be found in virtually all neighborhoods. Snakes love brush piles, debris piles, loose straw and pine needles, ivy, and any thick ground cover including tall grass.
Reproduction: Egg laying and birthing take place from April through late July. The newborns are on their own when they emerge from the egg. Some snakes such as garter snakes and rattlesnakes give birth to live young.
Fight or Flight Zone: A snake’s fight or flight zone is unpredictable however they want nothing to do with humans. They may react from as far away as 10 feet, or they may actually crawl over your foot without showing any sign of acknowledgement.
- Snakes see us as predators and will avoid us at all cost if possible.
- Snakes are primarily solitary animals.
- There are 115 species of snakes in North America; only 19 of these are venomous.
- In general, venomous snakes in North America have an ornate color pattern not a solid color with exception of the Osage, Western, and Florida Cottonmouth (these have a subdued pattern and may appear to be a solid color on top).
- Snakes may be seen out in the open day or night. Their activity depends more on temperature than daylight or darkness.
- Snakes like to sun themselves on sidewalks and even rooftops.
Human Interaction: Snakes should be handled by an experienced individual but with proper identification of the species (an emailed photograph); an experienced handler can guide a homeowner through removing a non-venomous snake from an unwanted area. Call an experienced wildlife rehabilitator for assistance. Non-venomous snakes should be left alone to help keep the pest population down and many will protect your property by killing venomous snakes.
Benefits: Snakes are one of the major predators of rats, mice, and many other small rodents that can be a problem in an urban setting.
Exclusion: It is impossible to exclude snakes from your property. Snakes generally do not venture into a home. If you are still afraid of them coming into your house you will have to place ¼ inch hardware cloth over the same vents and cracks as described under bat exclusion.
Myth: Snakes will chase you even after they are dead. False. A snake’s nerves may cause its muscles to react after death but they are not chasing anything. They do not even chase us when they are living.
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Characteristics: About the size of a house cat, skunks are nocturnal omnivores. They eat mice and other small rodents, lizards, frogs, birds, eggs, fallen fruit, acorns and insects. They will eat pet foods and garbage.
Predators: Skunks have two main predators: man and the great horned owl.
Habitat: Skunks den in hollow logs and shallow burrows. In an urban setting, they will den under buildings, decks and log piles.
Reproduction: Skunks mate from February through March. They give birth to a litter of 5 or 6 babies between May and June. The babies spend the first year with their mother.
Fight or Flight Zone: The fight or flight zone for skunks is about 30 feet. When a skunk becomes aware of your presence, it will stop in its tracks and wait until it feels safe. Then it will slowly move away as long as you don’t move.
- Skunks are members of the weasel family, Mustelidae.
- There are four species of skunk in North America: striped skunks (Mephitis mephitis), hooded skunks (M. macroura), spotted skunks (Spilogale putorius), and scarce hognosed skunks (Conepatus mesoleucus).
- Skunks represent no real threat to humans.
- Skunks are one of the five rabies vector species (species that are more likely to carry rabies than other mammals).
- Skunks are beneficial predators of pest species like insects, mice and other small rodents.
- Skunks have a very predictable set of behaviors that lead up to spraying a potential predator. They initially stop in their tracks and face the aggressor and click their teeth. If that doesn’t work, they raise their tail and stomp their feet while backing away. If that doesn’t work, they turn their behind toward the predator while stomping their feet. Lastly, they will spray a foul smelling liquid that lingers on anything it hits.
Human Interaction: Skunks receive a bad reputation because when people panic the skunks spray and removing the smell is an involved process. The truth is that these animals almost never have a physical conflict with humans because we know better than to get too close. If you find yourself confronted by a skunk, DON’T panic. Just remember the predictable behaviors listed above and remain calm. If you merely stop in your tracks, they will asses the situation and as soon as they are convinced that you mean no harm, they will move on without your interference.
Benefits: Skunks are an important prey species for the Great Horned Owl. One of the skunks favorite foods are Yellow Jackets.
Exclusion: A 4 foot fence with a buried 1 foot wire fence barrier will prevent entry into your yard. They can climb but usually prefer to stay on the ground.
Myth: Bathing in tomato juice will neutralize skunk odor. False. Tomato juice does not neutralize skunk odor. It may cover and decrease the smell but will not eliminate it. The best method for neutralizing the smell is 1 quart of hydrogen peroxide, ½ cup baking soda, and 1 teaspoon Dawn dishwashing liquid. Mix thoroughly and use immediately.
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Characteristics: Two vultures can be found in the U.S.: the black vulture and the turkey vulture. They are diurnal scavengers and eat dead animals. The turkey vulture's wingspan averages between 65 and 72 inches; the black vulture's wingspan averages between 53 and 60 inches.
Predators: Vultures in this country do not have any significant predator. Raccoons, some reptiles and great horned owls will prey on their eggs and young nestlings.
Habitat: Black vultures are native to the southeastern United States, as well as Central and South America. Turkey vultures are native throughout all of the United States. Both species roost on trees, signs, telephone poles and sometimes on building rooftops. They both nest in hollow trees, cliff crevices, abandoned buildings and rock outcrops.
Reproduction: Birthing and rearing begin in March and continue through August. Some young rely on their parents through the first year.
Fight or Flight Zone: Their fight or flight zone can be as little as 30 feet, if they are used to eating carrion that is near human activity.
- They represent no threat to humans.
- They are diurnal animals active only during daylight hours.
- They soar in circles overhead to search for food, to catch a thermal and sometimes just to play.
- These birds are very beneficial in an urban setting because they clean up all of the animals that have died. They are nature’s undertakers.
- They will roost in groups in close proximity to humans.
- Their primary defense is to throw up vile smelling stomach contents.
Human Interaction: These animals pose no problems for humans so no response is necessary. They will fly away at the slightest threat by humans. Simply walk toward them and yell or wave your arms. They will often roost in large numbers on a tree near humans but this does not mean that there is a dead animal near by. They rest in the heat of the day and extend their wings to cool themselves.
Benefits: The vulture does an amazing job of keeping the planet clean of all dead animals. As a result, they help to prevent the spread of disease.
Exclusion: The only time exclusion is warranted is if you have a vacant building and the vultures decide to nest or roost there. In that case, all you need to do is close the entry point. Before closing the entry point, be sure there are no eggs or young nestlings inside (March through August).
Myth: Vultures are filthy animals. False. In fact they are very clean birds that preen themselves constantly. They have extremely strong immune systems designed for scavengers.
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Characteristics: Woodpeckers are diurnal omnivores. There are 21 species in North America. They range in size from 3 to 21 inches in length and occupy every state. They have specialized beaks and brain compartments designed to allow for their vigorous pecking.
Predators: Woodpeckers have many predators. Snakes, owls, hawks, raccoons, opossums, bobcats, and foxes are among those that prey on them in the nest and in flight. Many woodpeckers are poisoned by pesticides and attacked by free roaming domestic cats.
Habitat: Woodpeckers require dense forest habitats but they adapt to urban environments by using wood sided structures and telephone poles for nesting and food.
Reproduction: Mating and nest building occur between February and June. Birthing follows 14 to 29 days after egg laying. An average clutch of 4 is born and fledge from the nest in 14 to 30 days based on species.
Fight or Flight Zone: Their fight or flight zone is 20 to 30 feet. Woodpeckers in an urban setting are generally more frightened of humans than the majority of common songbirds. They will perch on a tree nearby but will fly as soon as they perceive movement.
- Woodpeckers have very specialized anatomy that allows them to peck on wood to retrieve insects. Their brains are suspended in their skull by shock cords and extensive muscle mass that prevent the brain from injury and their beaks are extremely strong.
- Woodpeckers can excavate a nest hole in a tree that is 3 times their body size in roughly 2 weeks.
- Woodpecker tongues can be as long as 4 inches and due to the length, they are stored under their skin and around the back of their skulls.
- Most woodpeckers prefer to perch on vertical or semi-vertical surfaces and support their weight with their tail.
- Unlike most other birds that have three forward and one backward pointing toe, woodpeckers have two forward pointing and two backward pointing toes.
- Many woodpeckers do not vocalize but rather use drumming (pecking on loud surfaces) as a means of communication.
Human Interaction: Woodpeckers are very beneficial termite inspectors. In many cases, their pecking on the siding or woodwork of homes indicates the presence of insects or larva. They can be your early warning pest control friend. Every year, homeowners have occasional problems with woodpeckers drumming or excavating their woodwork in order to declare territory or find insects. If they are looking for insects, simply call your termite inspector. If they are drumming to make noise you may be able to provide them with another board or wooden box that will make more noise than the woodwork they have chosen
Benefits: Woodpeckers are one of the best pest inspectors for your home. When they peck holes in your woodwork, it may very well be to find insects (termites) that are making noise within the walls. They are also an important prey species for many predators.
Exclusion: Exclusion is not possible, but when problems occur, refer to solutions listed above.
Myth: Woodpeckers drill holes in a house to build a nest cavity. False. As stated above, they are almost always looking for insects or they are drumming to make noise. The walls of a house are hollow and do not provide a floor for a nest cavity so it is not likely that the bird has any intention of nesting there.
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