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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 3 or 4 pounds of moth crystals in containers 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. If you can't catch the animal out of its burrow, encourage its leaving by pouring one-half to one gallon of household ammonia into the den, then spread the flour and check for tracks.

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. An alternative is pouring a pound of moth crystals down the chimney, although this will take longer to remove the raccoon than smoke. 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.

If none of these tricks work on problem wildlife, traps may be a last resort. Call Reston Association at (703) 437-9580 for more information.

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