Wildlife in the Attic

Problems caused by Wildlife

So you have found evidence of wildlife in the attic. Now what? Don’t worry! There are humane solutions to problems you are having with wildlife that have found their way into your home. With a little effort and understanding, you can humanely manage the situation and protect your home too.

Urban sprawl experienced by many communities has significantly decreased the natural habitat for wild animals and birds.  With the loss of habitat, it is not surprising that you may find wildlife on your property and in your home.

Wild animals are always looking for water and food.  When humans build their homes on land on which wildlife used to have exclusive occupancy, water and food resources for these displaced animals often becomes scarce.  

Additionally, wildlife is interested in finding another important resource: shelter.  They need shelter during the birthing season. From late February to early October, pregnant females need to find a safe place to give birth and rear their young. Shelter again becomes very important in the fall as many species need it to survive the winter.

Learning to co-exist with wildlife can be easy and rewarding once you have the knowledge of how to prevent conflicts, preferably before they occur.

The Problem

Wild animals searching for scarce resources (water, food and shelter) sometimes take up residence in, under or close to your home.

Animals seeking shelter in your home are usually females. This is because she is seeking to shelter her babies from the elements and predators. Unfortunately in doing this she may cause some damage to your home. Please keep in mind, it is nothing personal. She is merely trying to protect her young.

It is important to remember that when you see one animal in your home it probably means there are more, namely babies. During the birthing season, the babies are helpless and usually do not venture out of the nest. Depending on the species, the birthing season is anywhere between March and early October.

What NOT To Do

If you seal up the entrance the mother used to to gain access to your home, the babies will die. As a result, you will be left with the foul smell of decaying flesh which may be expensive to find and remove.

If you trap the animal, you are probably catching the mother. Again, the babies will die.

Furthermore, it is important to note that in many jurisdictions including Ontario, it is illegal to trap and relocate adult wild animals beyond specific distances. Additionally, trapping an animal can be dangerous. Would you know what to do with, for example, a trapped skunk? Diseases, such as rabies, can also be of concern.

Finally, even if you somehow are able to verify that there are no babies and you successfully trap and legally re-locate the animal, con-species tend to be territorial. This means if you remove one from your home, another can now move in.

So what can you do? 

Humane Solutions

Attractions:  Food or Water

The first thing you should do is determine what is attracting your wild visitor to your home. If it is food or water, can you make these attractions less appealing? Is the garbage can lid raccoon-proof? Do you leave your pet’s food or water on the porch? The humane solution might be to simply store your garbage and green waste in proper bins with lock-down handles to secure the lids. Or, simply move the bins to a shed or garage until the morning of collection so wildlife can’t reach this ‘food’.

Attractions:  Shelter

If you determine the wild visitor is simply seeking temporary shelter for her babies, the best solution is to leave the family alone. Allow the babies to grow up because when they mature and leave the nest they will leave your home. At that time, seal the entrance so the mother cannot return when she is ready to give birth again. If you seal the entrance before the babies have had a chance to leave, not only is this inhumane but you will have to deal with finding and disposing of decaying remains. Additional damage may be done to your home during the babies’ vain attempts to escape and their mother’s attempts to get to them. 

You could contact professional wildlife removal companies for assistance. If you do decide to go this route, please ensure they follow humane practices that won’t end up creating orphans or causing the painful death of any animal. For example, ‘humane treatment’ of certain species does NOT mean taking the babies out of your home and leaving them outside ‘for the mother to ‘find’. Most mothers of will NOT find their young if their nest is moved so the young will die.

If you are in doubt about what constitutes ‘humane practices’ for the wildlife you would like removed, contact a wildlife sanctuary, rehabilitator or humane society for their input. They can give you their thoughts on any planned removal recommended by your wildlife removal company BEFORE any harm has been done to the wildlife. Additionally, because of the wonderful internet world, you are no longer limited to local advice. Therefore, if you are unable to get in contact with a local wildlife center, go international!

Unconventional Approach

Although I am not recommending this approach, I would be remis not to mention it.  For 10 years I have had a pair of squirrels living in the soffit of my home.  Occasionally, when exiting my home, I can hear the pitter patter of their little paws in my soffit beating a hasty retreat over my head and back to the side of the house. Every year they have 2 litters of babies who grow up in the soffit and can occasionally be seen climbing on the exterior brick walls of my house. Once mature, the babies leave.

Every so often, I check my attic and garage but they have never entered them. As long as my squirrel family stays in the soffit I am quite happy to have them. I don’t know why but they have always respected the rest of my home and never entered it. Of course, I do not feed them and when they see me they quickly run away. It is not easy to resist the temptation, but for their own good (and mine) I do not make any attempt to tame them. This arrangement works well for all of us.

Prevention

As is often the case, prevention is your best long term humane solution, but timing is everything. It is important to do animal-proofing of your home before the weather gets too cold. Animals being evicted need to be given enough time to find alternative shelter. Furthermore, it is important not to animal proof during the nesting period which is from early March to early October.  

Roof

Inspect your roof. Common entry points for wildlife is through soffits, fascia, vents, loose shingles, porch overhangs, poorly maintained siding and the point where two roofs meet. A welded wire mesh (also known as hardware cloth) can be used to animal proof this access. The mesh should be 16 to 19 gauge, 1″ x 1′” or 1/2″ x 1/2″. Welded wire mesh can be purchased at building supply stores.  

Chimneys

Chimneys present special problems, especially for squirrels and birds. These animals are often able to get in, but not out. Before wildlife-proofing your chimney, please ensure there is no animal currently residing or stuck inside it.

Removing a stuck animal might not be easy. They are scared, they may be injured and they may bite. If they won’t leave on their own and if you can’t coax them out, it is time to call a professional.

Once you have removed a stuck animal, or waited for a nest of babies to mature and leave, a cap and spark arrester screen can be installed on your chimney to stop wildlife from re-entering. Please note:  a cap alone is not enough because wildlife can still fit underneath it. You will need to add the screen to prevent all access. The screen should be 1″ x 1″ welded wire mesh. Most chimney cleaning companies can do the installation if you prefer not to do it yourself.

Downspouts

Downspouts are particularly dangerous for birds. They are often able to get in the opening on the roof, but not out. Specifically, if a bird cannot spread his wings, he cannot fly. So, once inside and surrounded by the slippery walls of a downspout with a diameter that does not allow wings to expand, the bird is trapped.

If you do get a bird trapped in your downspout, simply remove the elbow at the bottom of the spout and the bird will be able to drop to the ground. Usually it is the elbow that prevents the bird from exiting the downspout at ground level. Subsequently, the downspouts should be capped at the roof level to prevent a bird from getting trapped again. Caps made especially for downspouts can be bought at the hardware store. Installation is usually as simply as pushing the cap into the downspout’s opening.

Window Wells and Deep Holes

Animals such as skunks, mice, frogs, toads, etc., can fall into window wells and find they are not able to get back out on their own. To prevent such an event, purchase a window well cover or make your own using 1″ x 1″ welded wire mesh.

This problem can also occur if you have dug deep holes for a fence post. Preventive methods include putting in the post as soon as the hole is dug, or covering the hole until you are ready to put in the post.

To get an animal already stuck in your window well or post hole out, simply provide him with an object to step up on. Unless injured, he will leave by himself. You can use something as simple as a large stone or piece of wood (ex. the post!). Place one end of the wood in the hole at a 45 degree angle and rest the wood so the other end is sticking out of the hole. The wood must be strong enough to hold the weight of the animal without tipping or breaking.. Please note: if you are dealing with a skunk, be careful! Move VERY, VERY slowly, do not talk or make any other sound, wear protective eye goggles and clothing (I wear a garbage bag since it is disposable) and you should be fine. As long as the skunk doesn’t see you as a threat he will not spray. If in doubt, hire a professional.

Conclusion

In most cases the wild animal choose your home because they need food, water or shelter.

If they have come for food or water, then you simply need to remove these resources and they will leave.

If a mother came to find shelter for her newborns, the best thing you can do is wait for the babies to become mature enough to leave the nest. Most wild animal families will leave your home to find more natural surroundings when the babies are old enough.

Once all your wild visitors have left,  you will want to find all potential entry/exit point and seal them. Keep your house, porch, outbuildings, etc., in good repair. Remove any attractions that can be reached by wildlife, such as pet food and garbage, or make these attractions inaccessible.

For helpful hints on keeping wildlife out of your vegetable and flower garden, please visit Visitors in my Garden !