Thursday, May 9, 2013

This 'n That Thursdays: Enjoying the Country (Wild)Life

From Rid-A-Critter

We have lived in rural areas for quite a long time now, starting in Oklahoma, then in Colorado, and now in Georgia.  We love the peacefulness and the fact that we have plenty of room for our animals.  But our animals are not the only creatures inhabiting our property.  We share space with many of the native (or not!) species that live here.  Sometimes this is delightful.  I never tire of watching the birds and the butterflies who visit our yard.  I love cute little chipmunks, and find the toads and lizards that come out when the weather warms up to be quite amusing.  Most of our property is double fenced to keep deer from entering, but we did leave a corridor unfenced so that they could move freely through the area, and I enjoy watching them as they pass by.  Sometimes I even get to see more elusive creatures such as turkeys or foxes, and once I found a tiny baby box turtle, newly hatched, emerging from the ground.  Being so close to nature definitely has its perks.

But even though we love our wildlife, sometimes they love us back just a little too much.  When we first moved here we had chimney swifts in the chimneys, mice and black rat snakes in the basement, and flying squirrels in the attic.  A screen cover over the chimney openings, foam spray insulation in cracks around the home exterior, and (sadly) traps in the attic took care of these problems, but other creatures will periodically attempt to move in just a little too close for comfort and solutions must be found.  Over the years we have had varying success -- I have resigned myself to sharing the fruit of our fig tree with the birds and squirrels, but the armadillo determined to dig to China via our yard had to go (we did manage to trap him and send him to a good home on the exterminator's hunting property, where he can eat fire ants to his heart's content).  Here is a short list of some cures for problem critters that have worked for us so far:

Deer in the garden - the best solution by far is a double fence, at least four feet high and four feet apart (deer are excellent high jumpers, but not so good at broad jumping); you may end up, as we did, with a few deer stuck between the fences over the years, so I suggest strategically placed sets of double gates so that you can open the outer gate and then chase the deer toward the opening; a deer that gets stuck like this once will not come back, although there are plenty of others to take its place!

Squirrels in covered gutters - with our abundance of mature oak trees, we have a squirrel overpopulation problem; if they would stay in the trees it wouldn't be so bad, but when they start living in the covered gutters, filling them with twigs and leaves which then cause clogs, something has to be done; I have found that if you leave covers off at the ends, this creates a gap big enough for predators to enter, making the gutter less attractive to the squirrels

Squirrels digging in flower pots - those pesky squirrels love to dig holes and plant acorns in my outdoor flower pots, but if I keep the pots full of plants and line any empty areas with decorative stones the digging is kept to a minimum; if they are particularly obnoxious, try a few mouse traps hidden in the pots, which will not kill the squirrels but will certainly give them an unpleasant and hopefully discouraging surprise

Black vulture winter roosts - I have to say that few things are more disconcerting than a bare winter tree in your yard filled with scores of huge black birds, and few things are messier; of course a shotgun is always an option, and a very popular one in our home town, but I prefer a less noisy method to keep black vultures away, which is to flap a large white cloth (such as a pillowcase) at them when they come in to roost in the late afternoon/early evening; this will take a little dedication on your part, as you may have to do this several times the first day (the vultures will keep coming back to see if it is safe to land); this may take about an hour on day one, and you may have to repeat the process for several days, but it will work, and they will usually leave the area to find a safer roost; this method also works on your free-ranging chickens should they decide to roost near the house (trust me, you do not want a rooster in a tree next to your bedroom window!)

Skunks under the porch - while I have never actually seen the skunks that come into our yard, I have certainly smelled them; since they don't hang around long I haven't had to chase them off, but to deal with the lingering odor under our porch an aerosol air freshener works like magic; I don't know what they use in that stuff, but it kills skunk odor almost immediately, with the additional advantage of discouraging the skunks from returning too often (seems that they find the air freshener even more malodorous than themselves!)

Eastern Phoebe nests - these very persistent birds love to build nests on top of our porch posts; unfortunately, they build mud nests, and with Georgia's red clay this mud tends to stain, not to mention the fact that birds themselves are pretty messy; the best way to deal with this problem is bird spikes, which make it impossible for the birds to land (don't worry, they can and do find other areas to nest)

Ground-nesting yellow jackets - one of the first pests we encountered, or I should say our carpenters encountered, when we moved here was ground-nesting yellow jackets; usually you never know where the nest is until you actually step on it, and these very aggressive little insects will let you know in no uncertain terms that you are not welcome (ouch!!); our carpenters told me about the best way to destroy the nest, which is to wait until evening when all the wasps are inside and then pour gasoline into the entrance hole; this works every time, and we have had to destroy nests many times over the years

Snakes in the yard - snakes don't actually bother me very much, since they are good for rodent control and I consider rodents to be one of our biggest nuisance creatures; however, we do have a few species of venomous snakes in our area that I would prefer not to see on our property (I once found a young copperhead in my donkey's paddock which I had to kill to keep her safe); the best way to discourage snakes in the yard is to keep the grass mowed short and most of the area relatively open (no brush piles or dense ground covers near the house); also, keep rodents under control so that the snakes have no food source

Ticks - oh lord, how I hate ticks; keeping deer off of the property and the vegetation cut short helps minimize the number of these blood-sucking parasites, but the most effective control, as every rural Georgian knows, is chickens or better yet, if you can stand the noise, Guinea hens, who love to eat the little vermin and are phenomenal at searching them out

Mice in the feed room - mice consider feed rooms in barns to be rodent paradise; to keep these pests under control, leave a light on at night and set traps along the edges of the room, especially in dark corners (mice will hug the walls); also, try to keep hiding places to a minimum; of course, the best control would be a barn cat, but if you decide to keep a cat in the feed room please do not set the traps or your poor kitty may suffer instead!

Ants in the kitchen - I used to keep a canister of brown sugar on the kitchen countertop near the window, but one year ants got into the kitchen, discovered it, and built a nest inside; now, even though I have removed all food from the area and try to keep it crumb-free, ants still persist in invading our kitchen when the weather turns warm; if I could pinpoint their entryway I would block it, but so far have had no luck; when all else fails, I resort to leaving a little night light on after dark during ant season; for some reason these ants are nocturnal and they do not like the light

Fire ants in the yard - I am allergic to these non-native invaders, so I would love to be rid of them; poisoning the queen is the permanent solution, but one of our dogs likes to chew on the bait traps, so they are not an option for us; instead, I pour Wipe (an oil-based insect repellent for horses) on top of mounds to at least get them to move to an area farther away from the house; it is not cheap, but because it is oil-based it lasts for a while, much longer than the typical ant spray

Chicken predators - this is a tough one, as so many animals seem to love eating chickens; when we first moved here someone gave me a flock of chickens; I had no coop, but the birds seemed content to roam the yard and roost in the trees, which was fine until the hens began to lay eggs and hatch chicks; suddenly every type of predator imaginable found our yard; our original flock of six grew to over two dozen birds and then dwindled to zero as the predators began to take their toll; I will not get more chickens until I have a predator-proof coop in which to house the birds; this coop will include a run that will be fenced with small-mesh wire such as hardware cloth (keeps out snakes), have a covered top (for raptors) and have dig-proof edging along the bottom (keeps out foxes, raccoons, and opossums as well as stray dogs and cats)

Here in the country, all sorts of critters will always want to share your space, and with some sensible solutions to certain problems I welcome them!  Even the black rat snake that almost fell on my head from a porch post and the pesky squirrel who keeps trying to live in the barn's covered gutters do not detract (too much) from the enjoyment we derive from our resident wildlife.

By Skip Vetter (from Bi-State Wildlife Hotline)

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