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Attracting Wildlife to Your Back Yard

A Guide to Increasing Wildlife Diversity and Aesthetic Value Around Your Home

Wildlife Problems: Profiles, Problems, and Solutions


JPG - Deer in yard

Now that you have developed the perfect back yard for attracting wildlife, you may have done a better job than you could have ever imagined. By making the initial commitment to attract wildlife, you made a commitment to be more tolerable of the signs and traces left, or taken, by wildlife species.

Prevention is the key in avoiding unnecessary wildlife damages. To help avoid situations that may be intolerable, it helps to know the species which could cause damage and what steps need to be taken to minimize these potential damages.

There are a few precautions everyone can take that will help in general. Keep your yard free of garbage or pet food that may attract scavengers. Close all access points to buildings by screening vents, sealing cracks and holes, covering window wells and using fences. Overall, barriers are the surest way of preventing unwanted wildlife damages.

A successful landscaping plan has taken into account that certain resident species are present and will be attracted if specific items are offered. For example, it is never recommended to feed wildlife other than songbirds. By attracting larger species such as deer, damage can occur to shrubs, trees and other plantings in your yard and probably your neighbor's yard.

The following will assist you in recognizing some of North Dakota's wildlife species that are considered by some to be nuisance species, provide solutions to problems, and dispel some of the unwarranted fears of others.

PROFILES, PROBLEMS AND SOLUTIONS

SQUIRRELS

JPG - Squirrel feedingSquirrels, depending on who you ask, can either be entertaining little friends or absolute pests. Mature city forests and folks who feed birds have probably created better living conditions for the squirrel than the squirrel can find in the wild. For this reason, it has become one of the most talked about urban wildlife species.

There are four squirrels that can be found in North Dakota. These include the small red squirrel of north and eastern forests, the fairly rare flying squirrel found only in the east and then the fox and gray squirrels. Both the fox and gray are about the same size and can be found in back yards across the state. The difference is the fox squirrel is found almost statewide whereas the gray is primarily an eastern species.

We will discuss both the fox and gray squirrels because dealing with them is the same. The other species' populations have not grown dramatically in response to humans and therefore have caused few problems in comparison.

Most people get irritated because squirrels "raid" bird feeders. It is true that squirrels will eat what seeds are available. The trick is to make the seeds unavailable to squirrels. Squirrels are amazing jumpers and can reach bird feeders within ten feet of any tree limb, rooftop, etc.

By strategically placing bird feeders away from these platforms, squirrels will be less likely to reach them. Another must is to prevent squirrels from climbing poles upon which feeders are mounted. The best method is to use a six foot length of material such as PVC or plastic at least three inches in diameter to cover the mounting pipe. This material is just slippery enough to prevent squirrels from getting a grip.

Finally, by placing a feeder with peanuts or other squirrel favorites on the other side of the yard, squirrels will be apt to spend more time there than they will bothering the food targeted for birds.

Squirrels are a game species in North Dakota, meaning there is an open season for harvest. If you are living out of city limits, squirrels can be taken with the appropriate hunting licenses. Squirrels may also be moved by live trapping but they often return to the original location if not taken far enough away or simply are replaced by another neighboring squirrel who moves in to take advantage of the open habitat.

BATS

JPG - Bat entrance in to homeThis small, flying mammal has been highly persecuted in the past because of the misconceptions developed by movies and those spreading rumors and personal fears. In reality, bats are one of the most beneficial sources of insect control in the world. Bats can each consume half their weight in insects each night. They are no more likely to carry rabies than any other mammal and have a sonar system more sophisticated than technology developed for fighter aircraft and smart bombs.

Having said all of this, bats can still be a nuisance if they are not restricted from roosting in buildings occupied by humans. The largest problem results from old houses that normally are not constructed as tightly as new homes. Cracks in louvers, siding, around fascia or other fittings, under eaves and porches are but a few spots that bats can enter.

Sealing all of these possible entries is the only sure way of preventing bats from occupying a dwelling. Choose an appropriate sealer for the job such as caulking, weather-stripping, flashing or screening. Bats, like mice, can enter through holes and cracks as small as one-half inch.

If bats are found roosting inside, wait until darkness when they fly out to do your sealing. All of the bats may not be outside, but you have few alternatives other than completely pulling your house apart.

To encourage bats to use sites other than your house, you can also put up bat nesting/roosting boxes. Plans for these structures can be found in Constructing Nest Boxes, Feeders and Photo Blinds for North Dakota Wildlife available from the Game and Fish Department.

MICE AND VOLES

JPG - Meadow voleBeside the common house mouse found inside human dwellings, there are native small mammals which live in grassland and woodland habitats near houses. These small mammals have natural predators such as bull snakes, hawks and owls which are probably the best defense against them.

Native mice can cause messes in sheds, boats or any structure which may provide protection from the elements. Here, nests are constructed and young are raised. Canvas, cloth and other materials are chewed up in this endeavor. The best defense is to avoid parking trailers or placing other equipment on, or directly over, good habitat like grass or underbrush.

JPG - Damage from prairie volesKeep inside areas as neat and tidy as possible. Use control measures such as traps or chemical means when all else fails.

Voles don't nest in man-made structures as do the mice but do definitely live in yards, especially where grasses are allowed to grow naturally.

Vole populations cycle periodically and high populations coupled with heavy snows usually mean damage to bases of shrubs and trees. Voles normally eat grass seeds but will turn to tree bark under the snow line in winter. Fruit trees seem to be special favorites and can be killed if totally girdled. Damage seems to be more prevalent in untilled areas.

To prevent the loss of trees, they must be protected at the bases before winter sets in. Either purchase pre-fabricated trunk protectors or fashion your own out of some type of metal screening like hardware cloth. Make sure the trunk is protected from the ground to a height of at least six inches.

RABBITS AND HARES

JPG - Cottontail rabbitCottontail rabbits are frequently found in urban areas where they enjoy eating garden plants and flowers. During the winter, they will both girdle bark from trees and also eat tops of young trees within their reach. Protect gardens, trees and other plants by enclosing in wire fence material with a mesh size smaller than two and one- half inches.

Jackrabbits are a species typically found in outlying areas. They will also eat trees and garden vegetables. Tree guards and fences will prevent them from destroying plants.

Rabbits may be repelled using some home remedies like bloodmeal or human hair. A hunting license is not required to take rabbits by North Dakota residents.

Habitat components such as brush piles will attract cottontails and should not be placed in close proximity to new tree plantings and gardens.




SNAKES

Snakes can play a very beneficial part in controlling rodent and insect populations in a rural setting. North Dakota has only one kind of snake that is poisonous. This species, called the prairie rattlesnake, lives primarily west of the Missouri River drainage.

The remaining common species include the bull snake and the plains garter snake. They pose no threat and will attempt escape whenever coming into contact with humans.

Snakes are attracted to areas with adequate cover and prey. Minimize the chance they will take refuge close to your house by not planting thick shrubbery next to the house's foundation and by sealing up any holes in garages, porches and anywhere along the foundation.

BIRDS

There are 354 bird species that can be found in North Dakota sometime throughout the year. Only three of these species are not protected by any laws. These birds include the house sparrow, European starling and rock dove (pigeon). These species were brought in as exotics from other countries and have disrupted the balance of nature in many places, particularly in the midst of urban areas where they rely on man for food. These species can be killed without any license or permit.

The remaining three hundred plus species are protected by either state laws, federal laws such as the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, or both. A special exemption to the federal law protecting birds applies to blackbirds, magpies, grackles and crows, which can be controlled if they are damaging crops, about to damage crops, or if their concentrations pose a health hazard.

Some conflict may arise between you wanting to raise fruits for consumption and birds that have the same idea. Protecting all of these assets is difficult since fruit plantings sometime cover a large area. Again, the only sure method is to cover the desired fruits or berries with a plastic mesh netting available commercially. The idea of scaring birds with owl decoys, ribbons, streamers or silhouettes may work temporarily but birds quickly become accustomed to these scare tactics.

Another often nuisance species can be one of a few woodpecker species found in North Dakota. Since woodpeckers live in woodland areas, it may be a good idea to thoroughly think through the decision to side your house with wood if you plan on living in the woods.

Woodpeckers pound on wood siding and make holes for a variety of reasons including territorial behavior, feeding, and nesting. Holes produced by boring should be immediately filled. Screening or netting can deter further damage. Streamers, pinwheels or a solution of tabasco and water may keep birds away. A suet block provided on the other side of the yard may keep feeding birds busy. Most problems are short term during the breeding season.

If problems persist, a federal agency known as Wildlife Services may be able to provide assistance or help you obtain a permit to remove the bird. This is only as a last resort as agents are few and priorities are normally focused on larger problems.

POCKET GOPHERS

JPG - Pocket gopherJPG - Pocket gopher tunnelsA mound of fresh, fine, black dirt above ground is a sure sign that pocket gophers have been busy. These mammals, slightly smaller than a prairie dog, live their lives entirely underground excavating tunnels in search of food and living quarters.

They can cause damage to garden vegetables and trees by eating the roots from beneath the ground's surface. If you see pocket gopher mounds in close proximity to young tree plantings or gardens, you may eventually want to remove these animals.

Removal can be accomplished by purchasing small, inexpensive traps which are placed within the animal's tunnel system. Traps can be purchased from local farm stores or by ordering from gardening magazines.

Begin by excavating away the fine, black dirt from the original dirt mound above ground. Dig down until you find the tunnel holes coming in from each side. It's best to put a trap in both tunnels because its hard to say which way the animal will be coming. After the traps have been set, cover the excavated opening with a piece of plywood to create a dark environment. Place a weight on top of the plywood to keep it in place.

Another control measure involves the use of a commercially sold rodenticide which is put into the same tunnels described above. This method involves the use of a cane which deposits tablets underneath the soil surface. Trapping is safer, however, and should be used when possible.

SKUNKS

The striped skunk is primarily a nocturnal animal which makes its home in junk piles, old farm machinery, or building foundations. It is attracted to areas by good populations of small rodents or to areas where garbage has not been properly disposed.

Often, skunks will fall into window wells after investigating around house foundations at night. Let the skunk find its own way out by providing a "ladder" made of a long piece of plywood covered with carpet. After placing one end of the plywood into the bottom of the window well, move away and let nature take care of the rest.

If you believe a skunk has taken residence underneath your porch, foundation or mobile home, first find its entrance. During the day, investigate possible entry locations. When found, use bread flour spread on the ground near the entrance to determine when the skunk leaves your home. After the skunk has departed at night to feed seal the opening. After several days, the skunk will move on.

If the skunk does not move on and problems persist, traps can be used to capture skunks but the possibility of being sprayed always exists. Skunks are not classified as game animals and therefore can also be dispatched out of city limits without any special licenses. If you see a skunk outside during the day acting strange, take precautions and notify authorities as this animal may be rabid.

RACCOONS

Raccoons perched in stumpRaccoons can be clever animals while searching for food. They can destroy gardens quickly and are especially fond of a sweet corn patch. They will also come into a porch or garage for cat or dog food and will continue to do so for as long as the opportunity is provided. Overturned garbage cans or refuse scattered about your yard is also a sign that a "coon" may be working the area.

The best way to deter raccoons from an area is not providing them a reason to feed. Keep pet food inaccessible and the yard free of any scraps of garbage. If a garden is getting destroyed, the best defense is a chicken wire type fence with a strand or two of electric wire on top. Raccoons are excellent climbers and fences alone will be of little merit in preventing entry.

Raccoons can be live trapped and transferred to a new location. They are classified as furbearers and normally a license is required to hunt or trap them. This law does not apply to landowners, who may dispatch them on their own property

Sometimes, young or orphaned raccoons are picked up by people who want to raise these cute, furry little creatures. This is often the case when the mother coon has been destroyed by the landowner.

Raising raccoons is illegal under a law by the State Board of Animal Health. Young raccoons soon become large and lose their cuteness. They can carry a number of diseases transmittable to humans and have no training to survive in the wild after being hand raised. It is best to totally avoid this situation.

DEER

Deer are popular with many people, especially those living on the fringes of town or in the country. Many of the deer problems encountered can be traced to artificial feeding. Feeding deer is done with good intentions but usually leads to other damages that often are intolerable. Deer and other large species not only feed on the corn or other grain you provide but move to fruit trees, gardens, and flower beds. This can pose a problem to neighbors once deer are attracted to an area.

Health risks are also increased for deer who are artificially congregated into a small area. Diseases carried by a deer are easily transmitted by the close contact made at the feeding station. Naturally, deer browse far apart from one another on buds from trees and other plants.

The best defense against deer damage is planting species of trees, shrubs and flowers that deer do not prefer. Appendix D lists the trees, shrubs and other plants that deer prefer, sometimes eat, and generally dislike.

When plants that deer like to eat are planted, they must be protected by fencing. The best method is a six to eight-foot high mesh fence. Deer will simply jump over lower fences, especially if they are hungry and one of their favorite plants is the target.

CATS

Domestic catHouse cats and feral (wild)cats have a significant impact upon wild songbirds. A conservative estimate puts the cat population at about 55 million in the United States. If 80 percent of those cats were either feral or cats that were allowed to go outside, and if only one cat in ten caught one bird per day, 4.4 million birds would be killed per day by cats. Cats are not a natural part of the food chain and detrimental to songbird populations.

If you own cats, keep them on a leash or indoors. At the very minimum, keep them inside or under control when nesting season and migrational periods are in full swing. The cat is not at fault for instinctively hunting. The owner is at fault for letting it do so.

Bird feeders should be placed where cats cannot get to them, away from limbs or other platforms from where cats can jump. If your neighbor's cats are in your yard, ask them nicely to keep them under control. Repeated offenders can be live trapped and turned over to city authorities as most urban areas have leash laws for both dogs and cats.

INSECTS

Prairie tent caterpillar nest

 
A WORD ABOUT PESTICIDES
When absolutely necessary to use chemicals to control insect pests remember:
  1. Read and follow the label directions or hire a licensed applicator
  2. Spot spray rather than apply over a wide area
  3. Apply only when the wind is calm and preferably in the evening when bees and
    other nectar feeders are inactive.
  4. Choose a chemical specific to the pest.
 

There are a variety of insect species that can cause problems for trees and shrubs in North Dakota. Some insects may not kill the tree but will attack fruit that you have either raised for your self or for wildlife. Some insects can eventually kill trees, and unfortunately, some insect problems are not treatable.

The North Dakota Tree Handbook, developed in 1996 and referenced in Appendix F, describes insect problems. Further assistance can be obtained through city foresters, NDSU Extension Agents, local greenhouse and landscaping businesses, and mail order gardening catalogues.


Previous Section -- Landscape Planning: 5. Maintaining Your Plan
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Next Section -- Appendix A. Trees, Shrubs, Vines and Ground Cover Recommended for North Dakota Provided by North Dakota State Forest Service

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