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Animals Overview

Coexisting with Wildlife

Certified Community Wildlife Habitat

Reston Association will celebrate 15 years as a Certified Community Wildlife Habitat in 2015. A Community Wildlife Habitat is a community where the residents make it a priority to provide habitat for wildlife by providing the four basic elements wildlife need: food, water, cover and places to raise young.

Claudia Thompson-Deahl, RA’s Senior Environmental Resource Manager, started the certification process at the beginning of the millennium by initiating a community wide initiative. Claudia spoke at cluster and condo meetings, went to different businesses in Reston, and even approached various individuals throughout the community to encourage them to certify their backyards through the National Wildlife Federation’s certification program. Claudia helped certify over 100 properties, held several educational workshops and talks, organized native plant sales and attended many festivals to educate the community about creating healthy wildlife habitats.

If you would like to garden for wildlife and certify your property, please go to the National Wildlife Federation website.


Helpful Hints for Co-Existence With Wildlife 

Everyone with a house and a yard, whether in the country or the suburbs, has a little bit of nature around them. Songbirds, squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, opossums, raccoons and deer provide opportunities to enjoy wildlife. However, sometimes these same creatures in their search for food and nesting sites can cause homeowners distress. The following information presents some hints that will help homeowners co-exist with suburban wildlife, not surrender to them.


Protecting Your Gardens

One food source that many animals readily utilize is your vegetable garden. Some people choose simply to plant a little extra for the wildlife. However, when the toll becomes too great, the best protection is a fence. To be rabbit-, groundhog-, skunk-, and dog-proof, the fence should be 4 feet high, with 6-8 inches buried in the ground to deter burrowers. Chicken fencing will work, although galvanized welded wire fencing with 1 x 2 inch mesh is stronger and will last longer.

For those not interested in investing in a fence, the following repellents are recommended, although not guaranteed: a dog, a 3-foot width of black plastic laid around the garden, fox urine which can be obtained at a hunting/trapping store or wind flags.


Protecting Your House

Probably the biggest wildlife-related headache for a homeowner is animals that decide to share the house. The best deterrent is preventive maintenance. Check and replace loose or rotten eaves, fasten boards and shingles in early spring and fall. These are the times when animals are most actively looking for nesting and over-wintering sites. Also screen louvers, air vents, attic fans or any other openings that provide an entrance for birds or animals. Usually, heavy-gauge hardware cloth with quarter-inch mesh will keep birds, squirrels and bats out of attics. To foil raccoons, however, welded wire fencing, 9-gauge expanded metal screen or plywood should be used.

Animals should be removed as soon as they're discovered to prevent their having young in your attic. Squirrels and raccoons can usually be chased out with a broom. Another method is to place an ammonia-soaked rag in the attic in order to make the area uninhabitable. Once the animal is removed, the entrance hole must be sealed to prevent its return.

Animals such as chipmunks, groundhogs and, occasionally, opossums or skunks will burrow under concrete porches or garages. Using mulch or keeping grass cut short around these areas will make them less attractive burrowing sites. Once a burrow is found, search the entire area for other entrances. Plug all the entrances except one and sprinkle some flour in front of this entrance. Then, check for tracks leaving the burrow. When the animal leaves, fill the hole with rocks and cover with dirt. Some ammonia sprinkled around each entrance will help discourage animals from starting new dens.

Chimneys are another attractive denning site for birds, squirrels and raccoons. Installing a heavy-duty steel chimney cap with a 9-gauge expanded metal screen is the best way to prevent a lot of problems. A light-gauge aluminum and hardware-cloth chimney cap will not keep a persistent raccoon out of your chimney. These caps are usually available at hardware or department stores or from chimney cleaning outfits.

If you discover a raccoon in the chimney, evict it as soon as possible by opening the damper a little bit and building a small, smoky fire out of damp newspapers. Watch for the raccoon to leave and immediately install a chimney cap or heavy-duty spark screen. Care must be taken between April and June in order not to trap young raccoons inside chimneys. If you suspect young are in the chimney, consult the local humane society or wildlife administration office.

Excerpted from "Helpful Hints for Co-Existence with Wildlife" by Janet McKegg, Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

Nature Resources