The greater Houston/Galveston area is growing quickly, and as more development occurs, the higher the likelihood that suburban and even urban residents will encounter wildlife in some form or fashion. Most of the time, wildlife is an enjoyable addition to our lives. Many people enjoy the antics of squirrels in the trees or backyard birding. But sometimes, wildlife can be a little more intrusive. It is important to remember that wild animals are a part of the natural environment which we happen to share. The key is to learn how to peacefully coexist with each other.
Animals in your Attic (or elsewhere in the house)
Human structures are very convenient places for wild animals to shelter and nest. Some, such as raccoons, may even do some damage to buildings in order to gain access. The most important thing you can do to prevent this, and a necessary first step, is to animal-proof your home. Weak spot under eaves and soffits are vulnerable entry points to your attic, and the space under your porch, deck, or house are all ideal places for animals to live and nest as they are protected from the elements and from predators. Products such as HardiePlank can be used to reinforce weak spots on your house. Screens or metal sheeting over holes and dryer vent covers help keep small mammals and nesting birds out. Chimney caps will prevent squirrels and birds from nesting in your chimney.
If you already have animals in your home, any animal-proofing should be done after the animal has been removed. Professional companies such as 911 Wildlife can be hired to accomplish this in a humane way, or you can purchase a live trap. Some animal controls will even rent or loan out humane traps. During the spring and summer, many animals are nesting and will have young. Before removing an animal from you home and relocating it, check for babies! Once a parent is released elsewhere, any babies are now orphans. It is much better for the animals, both the mom and the babies, if they remain together. Raccoons, squirrels, and other animals will usually come back for their babies and move them to a new location. Call the staff at the Wildlife Center of Texas for instructions on how to accomplish this.
Animals in your Yard
Many times, wildlife can cause trouble just by coming into your yard. Dogs can be very disruptive to their owners and their neighbors when barking at nocturnal visitors in the dead of the night. It is important to remember that these animals live in your area and are a natural occurrence there. You may not have seen them or noticed them, especially if they are nocturnal, but even urban environments are full of wildlife. Most of the time, wild animals have a reason to come to your yard, and most commonly that reason is a food source. Garbage cans that are not secure are a great find for raccoons, opossums, and skunks. Another common offender is food for pets or feral cats that is left out overnight. It is like fast food for wild animals, and if several people in the neighborhood leave food out overnight, you can be sure that wildlife will be routinely making the rounds. Plants like palm trees, vegetables, and fruits will also attract animals.
The only way to prevent animals from eating these foods is to prevent access to them. Pet food can be left out during the day and taken inside in the evening. Garbage cans can be secured with bungee cords, and vegetable gardens can be protected with fencing. Once the food source has been removed, wild animals will have no reason to keep coming to your house. If you still experience problems, check to see if neighbors are leaving food out. Many times, wild animals will pass through your yard only because it is on the way to some other food attraction.
Remember that wild animals are natural residents in your area. They live there and belong there. Peaceful coexistence is the best option for everyone involved. If you think that trapping may be your only option, see the Trapping section below first. There are some complications involved with trapping that may make your problem worse rather than better.
Trapping is the first thing many people think of when they encounter a problem animal. However, this may not be the solution it seems to be. Trapping is tricky for several reasons.
First, it does not solve the problem of why an animal is there in the first place. If the reason that wild animal is there is not first resolved, any animal you remove will merely be replaced by more. See the advice above for ways to get to the root of the problem.
Second, most animals you may be interested in relocating are territorial. Believe it or not, your house is located in the territories of various animals. When an animal is removed from its territory, it is like putting up a for sale sign in that territory. Multiple animals will try to take control of a vacant territory, resulting in more animals coming around than before. There may even be fighting as an animal tries to become dominant in the territory. In the end, removing a single animal from a territory only invites more animals in. A better option is to keep that animal where it is, thereby maintaining the balance in the area.
And third, relocating an animal to another area will often result in the death of that animal. Territorial animals will defend their territories, and may kill any newcomers. Relocated animals are also often killed by vehicles as they try to make their way across busy roads to their previous home.
Please consider all of these factors before you decide to trap. The staff at The Wildlife Center of Texas is also available over the phone to give additional advice. If you decide that trapping is your only choice, make sure to use a reputable, humane professional service, such as 911 Wildlife. Many critter control companies destroy the animals they trap, rather than relocate them. Please call us at 713-861-WILD (713-861-9453) for more information.
Nuisance Bird Nesting & Nuisance Heronries
During the spring and summer, the Houston area sees many different species of birds that may choose yards and homes as their nest location, including several species of herons and egrets that come inland to nest and breed. Many people enjoy watching their local birds tend to their young as they grow and learn to fly, putting fallen babies back in their nests and keeping cats inside while the babies are spending some time on the ground as fledglings. However others may find that messy and smelly heron droppings, vents blocked by nests, noisy young chirping inside chimneys, and even protective parents swooping them when they go outside, can cause difficulties. It is important to remember that most birds in the greater Galveston/Houston area are federally protected, and it is illegal to remove them, their nests (if there are babies or eggs in them), or their young. There are hefty fines for removing them illegally or shooting them. The best way to prevent issues with nesting birds is to prevent them from building nests in undesirable spots. Chimney caps will keep swifts and others out of your chimney, dryer vent covers and screens will prevent sparrows, etc. from building nests in your dryer and appliance vents, and other methods can be used to prevent hawks, herons, or other birds from nesting in your trees. If you see parent birds moving in to any of your trees at the start of nesting season, you can try setting off firecrackers, spraying them with water, or any other non-lethal and non-injurious method you can think of to deter them from building a nest. Once there are eggs or babies in a nest, however, it is illegal to remove it. If you have nuisance birds with babies in your house or yard, you can call Texas Parks & Wildlife to try to get permission to move them, or you can just wait until they leave. Babies are grown and leave the nest in several weeks or up to a couple months for larger birds, at which point the nest can be removed.
For more information on nuisance heronries in particular, click here to read on in a publication from Texas Parks & Wildlife.