Got a skunk living under your front step? Are squirrels scarfing up your birdseed? Do chipmunks seem to have consumed the bulbs you planted for spring flowers? If purchasing an animal repellent is at the top of your shopping list, take five before you head there! Why? Because sometimes the most effective way to resolve a wildlife problem doesn’t involve buying anything at all.
The decision to use repellents to deter wildlife activity on your property depends on your surroundings and your concern for the safety of people, pets, and wildlife in the area. Even when these things all check out okay for using a repellent, it may not be necessary or may be less effective than something else, so take time to carefully assess your situation and consider your options.
What animal are you dealing with?
Have you seen the animal, or do you still need to do some investigating to determine the species? Knowing more about the species you’re dealing with will guide your efforts to get the animal to leave. Check out the species-specific articles below (under “More info”) for more detailed suggestions for the species you have.
What laws do you need to know about?
Nearly all wildlife has some form of legal protection, so it is important to check with local wildlife authorities to make sure you work within the framework of federal laws, state laws, and local ordinances.
How effective are chemical repellents?
Repellents vary in their effectiveness, due to their individual merits and the unique combination of factors in each situation. Animals may be able to ignore the bad smell of a chemical repellent if they are hungry enough. Or, they may become adjusted to it if habitat nearby has equally unpleasant downsides. Rain, too, can have an impact on the effectiveness of a chemical repellent. So, your results may vary from the glowing promises you read on the package or hear in ads. This is another good reason to first exhaust options that don’t cost anything to try.
How else can you encourage an animal to leave?
Wildlife will generally move on after baby season. But if extenuating circumstances make it impossible for you to wait, gentle harassment is often an effective way to get wildlife to leave. Again, check first with your state wildlife agency to ensure that the actions you plan to take are legal. For example, most birds have federal protection through the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, so harassing them is not legal. You also wouldn’t want to evict a wildlife mom whose dependent young would be left behind to die, so you need to be mindful of the season and check carefully for animal activity and presence before you harass and seal an opening. Once you determine which harassment activities are legal and ethical, here are a few things you can do to boost the effectiveness of your efforts:
Mammals in and under your home
- Pinpoint the animal’s location as well as you can, so you can concentrate your harassment efforts on that area. If the animals can easily move away from harassment without leaving, chances are your efforts will be ignored!
- Repeatedly focus bright lights and loud sounds into the area in which the animals are sheltering when they are most likely to be present. For example, raccoons typically try to rest during the day and squirrels at night. Loosely stuff entry points with paper towels or newspaper or cover the entry points into the space with a piece of cardboard or a single sheet of newspaper and secure with duct tape. If the cardboard or paper is undisturbed for at least 48 hours, it is typically safe to assume the area is clear. In this case, you can go ahead and seal the hole with heavy wire mesh (16-gauge), sheet metal, metal flashing, or by replacing the original materials. If the area is still being occupied, animals will be able to chew through the temporary material to escape or to access their young. If this is the case, step up your efforts by adding an offensive smell (vinegar soaked rags, for example) near the opening.
- Note: Do not plug holes if the situation involves birds, as they will not push through but will rather see the newspaper, paper towels or cardboard as a barrier. Also, baby animals separated from their mother may not be able to push through either.
Animals in your garden or yard
- Remove or alter things attracting the animals. Secure trashcans with tight-fitting lids and bungee cords, or purchase an “Animal Stopper” garbage can. Put down pet food dishes only when you and your pet are present, and remove them when your pet walks away (better yet, feed them inside). Keep spilled birdseed under feeders picked up so it doesn’t attract small rodents, which, in turn, attract other wildlife. Keep fallen fruit picked up.
- Plant strategically. Check with your local cooperative extension office for a list of plants that are appropriate for your area, yet are less favored by deer or other wildlife with which you are having a problem. For future plantings, plant less favored plants.
- Protect veggie gardens and specimen trees. It’s rarely possible to fence off all of the things wildlife might nibble on, so the only logical thing to do is accept that reality and identify the things you would most like to protect. For example, enclose a veggie garden with a fence designed to keep out the most likely visitors (two feet for rabbits, four foot L-shaped barrier for woodchucks, eight feet woven wire for deer), and place hardware cloth around the trunks of special lakeside trees that beavers may find tasty.
Repellents to avoid
Beware of products that use sticky gel/polybutane to supposedly “repel” birds or other animals by producing an unpleasant sensation upon contact with a sticky surface. More often than not, these products result in entanglement, broken feathers, the wrong animal being caught, and/or a slow horrible death for the animal.
Also avoid ammonia as it is highly toxic when inhaled. It’s also corrosive and can lead to serious chemical burns. It is particularly dangerous when used near wild baby animals that are unable to move away from the toxic vapors.
Like ammonia, moth balls are also dangerous to both people and animals, especially those may accidently consume them or those unable to move away from them. Moth balls contain toxic chemicals that are irritating to the eyes and lungs and can damage red blood cells.
Selecting the right repellent
If other methods don’t solve the problem, and you opt for repellents, check at hardware stores, nurseries, garden supply stores, and online retailers. Here are a few that have been tested and deemed effective when applied every two weeks or after rain:
- Migrate– (geese) a grape-based contact repellent that causes digestive upset
- Flight Control– (geese) combines a visual cue with digestive upset
- Ropel– (deer, raccoons, groundhogs, skunks, squirrels) bitter tasting substance
- Liquid Fence– (deer, rabbits) scent based repellent
- Critter Ridder– (raccoons, squirrels, groundhogs, skunks, foxes) capsaicin based irritant
- Peppermint oil– (mice, rats) – scent deterrent
- Urine-soaked clumps of cat litter– (groundhogs, skunks, foxes)- scent deterrent
The time you take to look at and think through a wildlife problem at the outset will light your path to a good solution—one that is both effective, environmentally sound, and compassionate. What’s more, when you are informed and strategic in your approach there’s another reward for you: you have a long-term solution that will save you time, money, and effort going forward.