The beginning of spring set off what we in the wildlife rescue and rehabbing circles call "baby season." We have some species that are more eager to get started than others, especially in the accommodating winter climate offered in Southern California.
Squirrels are usually the first species to make their appearance. Being more adventurous, males are most often the gender finding themselves separated from the rest of the litter once they are able to pull themselves around. And with spring come the tree trimmers who will be responsible for a very large percentage of displaced squirrels.
Late winter until summer is when there are babies nesting in trees. It is unfortunate that tree trimmers are not always willing to search the tree out before starting to trim, causing nests with adults and babies to come crashing to the ground. Squirrels are known for taking long falls and coming out perfectly fine, but very young squirrels often don't fare as well. Head trauma is one of the most common injuries, along with being captured by cats, dogs, crows and other predators.
Opossums and raccoons climb through and hang out in trees, but like the skunk, they choose to den in burrows and make-shift dens provided by homeowners. Homeowners unknowingly provide homes for wildlife in poorly stored and stacked woodpiles, open and rarely visited outbuildings, abandoned cars, deteriorated under-house and attic air vents, above-ground porches and crawl spaces. The standard striped skunk does not climb trees and trellises like the squirrels, opossums and raccoons. If you are in an area that has spotted skunks, however, it is a different story. They, like other backyard nuisance wildlife, are very agile and energetic and are very good at climbing. These are the ones that do a handstand to spray.
With people feeling that sudden burst of energy to do spring cleaning, it is time to remove the "welcome signs" you have created in your yard so you don't have unwelcome visitors in the next few weeks.
Wildlife, like humans, require three things to survive: water, food and shelter. Remove those things and they don't stay around.
It is never safe to invite wildlife to your home. You never want to feed them, water them or provide for them in any way. They are and will always be wild and unpredictable. To provide for wildlife weakens them and places them in harm's way. Admire wildlife from a distance and never encroach on their space. And never try to tame them, as they are not pets and it is illegal to try to keep them as pets. Always encourage them to leave by making loud noises, yelling or banging on metal, waving your arms or throwing a rock toward their direction without hitting them.
Wildlife is fun to watch, but the animals can also be a nuisance and destroy your property while trying to survive. Squirrels will chew through anything, including wood trim and phone and electrical wires. Raccoons will tear up your attic or crawl space to make a comfortable den, dig in your planters and grass, remove loose screens, vents and shingles. Opossums are more passive and not destructive. They don't dig their own dens, but they will den wherever you allow them, often sharing space in the winter with raccoons and skunks. They love fallen fruit and road kill, earning them the title of "Nature's Sanitation Engineers."
Then we have the striped skunk who seems to wander the roads without a care in the world. Skunks are not really as destructive as the squirrels and raccoons can be, but they can leave your lawn looking much like a bad golfer would — a hole here and a hole there in their search for food. They tend to roll back little patches of grass, finding grubs close to the surface, and they will help themselves to fallen fruits and avocados.
We have encroached on their space for years by over-building, and these animals have become very accustomed to our presence. We are not as feared as we should be.
If you find orphaned wildlife in your yard, contact your local animal control department to locate a local rehabber. Watch from a distance to see if the mother is in the area trying to get to the baby or if there are other predators. If there are no signs of the mother trying to reunite with the baby or there are predators, you can use gloves or a thick towel to place the baby in a box with a soft rag and place in a dark quiet place. It is important to keep the baby warm and calm while waiting for a rehabber's assistance.
Do not try to feed the baby. Cow's milk will kill. Wildlife has special formulas.
Southern California resident Sandie Freeman is the author of "Nuisance Wildlife, Are you inviting them?"
Keeping critters at bay
- Keep lids securely closed on trash containers.
- Rinse out food jars and cans.
- Stack wood properly and away from house.
- Replace deteriorated screens on all vents.
- Place a cap on your chimney.
- Bring pet food and water in at night.
- Close and lock pet entry doors.
- Enclose raised porches.
- Keep weeds in yard controlled.
- Pick up fruit from trees.
- Keep trees and bushes trimmed away from roofs and up from ground.
- Keep unoccupied garage doors and outbuildings closed from dusk on.