Animal Damage Prevention Strategies

As in heart disease, most animal damage problems are preventable. If you wish to live more harmoniously with nature than you will want to read the following information. Chances are you like to see wildlife around your property as long as the wildlife stays out of your house, shed or garden. You don’t mind sharing your land with wildlife as long as they aren’t damaging your property.

Unfortunately, this mutual agreement isn’t always followed. Many animals like squirrels, raccoons and skunks, find your house a much better place to live than a nearby tree or hole.

Like heart disease, most of the problems I am called upon to solve were preventable if the customer took a little time to understand and prepare for potential animal damage problems. This article is essentially a primer on how with a few simple steps, you can greatly reduce the likelihood of needing the services of a problem animal controller.

There are three basic strategies to prevent conflicts with animals, namely food reduction, habitat modification and exclusion.

Of the three strategies, food reduction and exclusion are the most important and fortunately the least expensive strategies to implement. Any effective long term plan to reduce human and wildlife conflicts must begin with food reduction. People are always shocked when I inform them that birdfeeders are my best friend. Bird feeders are essentially a free grocery store for a variety of animals such as mice, voles, chipmunks, squirrels, raccoons and opossums. What customers don’t realize is that in many animals the fertility of the female is governed by how much food she has available. For example, gray squirrels have anywhere from three to five young during each pregnancy. However, if she is well fed then the chances are great that she will give birth to five young rather than three. Considering that gray squirrels mate twice a year, you have a recipe for explosive squirrel population growth. Since there aren’t more den trees for the squirrels to dwell in, they just live in what is available, namely your house. Remember that nature follows ‘supply side’ economics. If there is a supply then there will be a demand to meet it. If there is an ample supply of food then more animals will come to consume it.

For those of you who enjoy watching birds during the winter months, here are a few suggestions. First, make sure that squirrels cannot reach your bird feeder under any circumstances. I am sure that you have heard that it is impossible to prevent squirrels from getting to your bird feeder, but this just isn’t true. Positioning your feeder on a pole (at least ten feet away from nearby branches) with a squirrel baffle should do the trick. Second, minimize the amount of seed that can reach the ground. Squirrels, mice, voles, etc. can and will forage any seed which has fallen on the ground. Simply placing a flat board or plate underneath the feeder to catch food will do the trick. However, you must routinely clean off the board/ plate regularly. If you would like to feed ground feeding birds like mourning doves, then spread the food on a smooth surface like a blanket or driveway and remove the remaining food after they have fed. Do not leave the food out over night or if you notice squirrels eating along with the birds. Third, don't buy mixed seed. Birds will waste seed looking for the seed they want to eat. Blue Jays are notorious for this. Install a feeder for each type of feed you plan to use. This way the birds will attend the feeder where they want to eat. See Feed Birds not Squirrels

Trash cans are another major food source for raccoons, skunks and opossums. It seems that no matter how tight the bungy cord is fastened, raccoon can still lift the lid. The solution is simply to leave the cans inside the garage or a storage shed. If neither a shed or a garage are available you can build a wood box with a lid to hold the trash cans inside. It can be made out of plywood and screws in a relatively short amount of time. Preventing animals from raiding the cans when they are at the curb for trash collection is a simple matter. First, minimize the amount of garbage placed in your trash by utilizing your sink’s garbage disposal. Next, spray the trash with bleach and/or baby powder to mask the food odors.


Habitat modification

is the most expensive strategy to reduce animal/human conflicts. It essentially consists of removing the living environment that the nuisance animal finds attractive. For example, if chipmunks are driving you crazy, then removing or cementing the stone wall will help reduce their population. Birds, such as pigeons, like to roost on building ledges and under eaves. Since their droppings can become unseemly and possibly infectious, they should be discouraged from roosting there. Don’t bother with ultrasonic devices (birds can’t hear in the ultrasonic range) or plastic owls (the birds get used to them). Instead, obtain some porcupine wire structured like the brand name, Nixalite. Nixalite (see our STORE ) consists of stainless steel spines that prevent birds from landing on it. After all who would want to land on needles?! This product is anchored in the areas where the birds roost to prevent them from roosting again. It is a permanent solution but it can also cost from $5 a foot plus installation. If the birds roost under dormer eaves then screen off the corners with galvanized quarter inch hardware cloth. This procedure can also reduce the chances of squirrels chewing a hole in the corner.

As a side note, I don’t recommend the use of the sticky bird repellent unless you are only looking for a short term solution. The problem with the sticky bird repellent is that it looses its stickiness over time and has a tendency to attract dirt. If you don’t want to see your house looking like it has been slimed by the goo monster than you use the other solutions. Plus if it is not applied properly you can actually catch a sparrow or similar small bird in the repellent.

A lighter form of habitat modification requires trimming back all tree branches within 4-6 feet of the roof line. As I tell my customers, once an animal finds easy access to your roof it is just a short step away from looking for a way to get in. Overhanging tree branches are to squirrels and raccoons what an open door is to a thief. The tree branches are an invitation to check out your house. The same rules apply to shrubs. All shrubs should be allowed to grow no higher than two feet below the roof line. Don’t be fooled into thinking that trimming tree branches back will stop squirrels or raccoons from cruising your roof line. Squirrels and raccoons can climb gutters. The reason why you should trim the trees back is the same reason you lock your doors. It just makes it that much harder for them to access your building.


is the last strategy to reduce animal entry onto your property. The first step in exclusion is by keeping your house and buildings in excellent repair. Animals are exploitive, if they find a weak shingle or rotted wood they will claw their way through those materials to live in your warm attic. Keep in mind how attractive your house is to an animal. It has many advantages over a tree in that its warm, insulated, dry, and doesn’t sway when the wind blows.

The first area a homeowner should seek to secure is the attic vent. Squirrels often enter buildings by chewing or pushing through the mosquito netting screen which keeps insects out of the attic. Ideally, all attic vents should be secured with inch wire mesh on the exterior of the building so as to protect the wooden louvers and the mosquito netting. I strongly recommend that the screen be screwed into place at each corner and then stapled securely around the remainder of the perimeter. Quarter inch wire mesh will protect the attic not only from squirrels but bats as well. If you are concerned about aesthetics then secure it on the inside. However, be sure that the mesh is towards the exterior of the building so as to protect the mosquito netting from potential damage.

All chimney flues should be capped. Capping a chimney flue not only prevents animal entry but it protects the chimney from water damage. (For information on Chimney Capping click chimney_capping.php)   Customers usually ignore my advice to cap their chimneys. They just don’t believe that raccoons and squirrels enter chimneys until it happens. Raccoons generally reside in chimneys from March-June to raise young. Squirrels often will be found in basements during the months of Jan/Feb and Oct/Nov because they fall down the furnace flue while looking for a potential nesting site. The cap you have placed on your chimney should be professionally manufactured so as to follow proper venting guidelines. Don’t use screening to cover a chimney because heavy snow and/or freezing rain may accumulate on the mesh forcing the gases back into the house. If you cap your furnace flues, I strongly recommend that you obtain a carbon monoxide detector. Oil and especially gas burning furnaces exhaust a great deal of moisture as a by product of combustion. The manufacturers worry that this moisture could freeze on the cap (during extreme cold temperatures) and thereby force the gases back into the house. While not aware of this phenomenon happening in the Baystate, you should be prepared for it. Finally, all caps should be of stainless steel construction. Although they generally cost about twenty dollars more, they are guaranteed for life against rust and corrosion.

Porches, mobile home and sheds can be protected from burrowing animals, like skunks, by constructing appropriate barriers. The best barricade consists of digging a one foot by one foot trench around the base of the structure. Then secure some galvanized inch or 1/2 inch hardware cloth to the wall and at the base of the trench bend it out so that it will extend one foot away from the structure. This type of barrier prevents animals from digging under the structure. No matter how far the animal digs it will keep meeting mesh. Some people prefer to pour concrete reinforced with re-rod. Obviously this method requires a great deal of time and effort and expense.

skunk protection

An easier method consists of extending the walls of the structure so that they are flush with the soil. (This can be done with wood or mesh). Obtain some heavy flat stone like patio block or slate and lay it on the surface of the soil around the base of the structure. This stone will act as the screen did in the previous method except it does so on the surface. The stone forces the skunk or woodchuck to start digging farther away. Since animals, like us, take the path of least resistance, they will most likely decide that your neighbor’s shed is a more convenient place to live. A word of advice, the stone should be heavy and extend from the shed at least 9-12 inches. If the stone barricade does not meet these requirements, the skunk or wood chuck might just push the stone out of the way.

Skunk protection

Act on these recommendations and the likelihood of your ever having a problem with wildlife will be greatly reduced. However, should you ever need help in controlling an animal damage problem, be sure you contact licensed problem animal controllers. For they are the individuals licensed to handle your situation. To learn what to look for before hiring an animal damage control professional click hiring professionals.




Disclaimer: WDC seeks to provide accurate, effective and responsible information on resolving human/wildlife conflicts. We welcome suggestions, criticisms to help us achieve this goal. The information provided is for informational purposes only and users of the information use it at their own risk. The reader must consult state/federal officials to determine the legality of any technique in the reader's locale. Some techniques are dangerous to the user and to others. WDC encourages readers to obtain appropriate training (see our informational literature at our Store ), and understand that proper animal damage control involves patience, understanding that not every technique/method works for every situation or even 100% of the time. Your use of this information is governed by this understanding. We welcome potential users of the information and photos to simply ask for permission via e-mail. Finally, WDC welcomes e-mail but understand that all e-mails become property of Wildlife Damage Control.