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A Virginia opossum in a trash ca.


If you’re lucky and created a balanced wildscape, a diverse group of animals and plants will inhabit it. However, you can’t always control which insects, birds, and other animals will visit your property. On occasion, some animals behave more like pests than welcomed visitors, which means adapting your behavior to theirs – outsmarting or excluding them when they create a nuisance you can’t live with.

You have several options for controlling unwanted or problem visitors. First, try excluding them from your yard with fences, screens, or nets. You may also be able to lure pests away from problem areas by offering them habitat in places where they will not be a nuisance. If those methods do not work, discourage them by removing food for one week. Then consider live trapping and relocating them; check local, county, and state regulations first, because you must have landowner permission to relocate wildlife on private and public land. Finally, contact your municipal animal control office for further suggestions.

Oklahoma laws generally grant citizens substantive latitude to deal with wildlife problems and considerable assistance is available from USDA Wildlife Services. However, many landowners may prefer to employ individuals who are skilled and educated in handling human/wildlife conflicts. Although permitted and regulated by the Wildlife Department, Nuisance Wildlife Control Operators are not state employees. They operate as private enterprises and normally charge a fee or solicit a donation for their services. A list of Nuisance Wildlife Control Operators can be found at

Although relocation may seem to be an easy answer, it too has problems, as adult animals that are relocated often return or die trying to find their way back to where they once lived. When placed in an unfamiliar area, they are as lost as you would be if you were stranded in a new area.

Here, we explore some of the most common problems people experience with wildlife that may be acting like pests. Several recommendations are given and should be tried before contacting the local animal control office. Remember, you began developing a wildscape to attract wildlife closer to you; it makes sense to try to work out a solution that will be fair to you and to the wildlife now using the setting you have provided.

Competition for Food

When much of your wildscaping effort has been directed toward offering food sources for wildlife, it should be no surprise to find various species - sometimes thought of as pests - competing for the food. This kind of competition illustrates success! Natural food sources, such as berry bushes, come with far fewer sharing problems than feeding stations. But there are several ways to minimize trouble at feeders too.

Squirrels Eating All the Bird Food

Most backyard wildlife watchers enjoy the playful antics of squirrels, whether the animals are receiving a scolding from an irate blue jay or energetically chasing each other through the trees. However, squirrels can become pests at bird feeding stations. In no time flat, a couple of squirrels can polish off a feeder full of expensive thistle or sunflower seeds. You can reduce squirrel feeding expenses and still enjoy their presence, though, by following these suggestions.

Avoid locating feeders near trees or buildings where squirrels can jump onto them. Try greasing bird feeder poles with vegetable oil or shortening, or invest in a commercially made baffle. Luring squirrels to other areas of your yard with less expensive food, like whole kernel corn, is an alternative option. Many catalogs for bird enthusiasts now offer feeders that are precisely counterweighted to shut feeder ports when a heavy bird or squirrel lands on the feeding platform.

It’s a good idea to seal all entrances to attics and other buildings to prevent squirrels from nesting inside. Once these rodents find their way in, they can cause serious damage to wiring and insulation.

Pests like European Starlings and House Sparrows

These introduced birds have been ecological pests for the American landscape since the late 1800s. Starlings and house sparrows are very damaging in outcompeting our native birds for food and for nesting cavities.

To discourage house sparrows at backyard feeders, develop your feeding program around small hanging feeders that offer unstable footing. Avoid offering the house sparrow’s favorite foods like cracked corn, wheat, and bread. Starlings can also be discouraged from using your backyard feeders. Unlike most birds, starlings like to feed late in the morning and early in the afternoon, so try feeding in early morning or late afternoon. Again, avoid bakery items and other scrap-type foods. Try using suet feeders that force birds to hang upside down; starlings cannot feed that way.

If your feeding operation is being overrun by starlings, you might consider building a funnel trap to catch multiple individuals. This trap is simple to construct and is extremely effective, capturing a dozen or more birds in a day. Bait the trap with bread scraps and the curious starlings will soon enter through the funnel. Leave any captured birds in the trap for the whole day to attract others. Once the trap is full, release any native birds that might remain inside. You may then humanely dispose of the starlings.

All birds other than house sparrows and starlings are protected by federal laws and cannot be harmed. This includes the birds, their young, eggs, and nests.

Blackbirds Eating All the Food

Feeding a few grackles, starlings, or other blackbirds usually is not a problem, but wintering blackbirds can quickly overwhelm a feeding station. Because these blackbirds feed throughout the day, one solution is to put out just enough food out at about 6 p.m. to last until 9 a.m. the following morning.

If the blackbird problem persists, you might consider erecting a grackle log roller developed by Dr. Bernie Daniel of Cincinnati, Ohio, on your hopper style feeders. The log roller is a ½ inch diameter wooden dowl rod placed 2 inches above the perching ledges of a hopper feeder. The ends of each dowl have screws threaded through cotter pins, allowing the rod to spin like a log in water whenever a large bird such as a grackle lands on it. After several moments of wild wing flapping, the grackle leaves, while smaller birds such as chickadees, finches, and tufted titmice can perch between the rod and feeder and still reach the food. Woodpeckers can also continue using the feeder by perching on the ledge and reaching under the rod for food.

Exotic Rats and Mice at the Feeder

Norway and black rats and the common house mouse are nonnative pests that live in close association with humans, relying on us to provide food and shelter. Your first step in controlling them is to eliminate their food supply. Store food in sealed containers with tight-fitting lids and do not stock platform or ground bird feeders with more than one day’s food supply.

Don’t leave pet food out overnight, because this is a sure attraction for unwanted rats and mice as well as for raccoons, opossums, and skunks. Although brush piles are extremely beneficial wildlife attractions, they should not be established directly next to your house foundation. You may wish to place the brush pile above the ground by placing the foundation on concrete blocks.


Attracting wildlife effectively means you will also be attracting natural predators. As with drawing in unwanted competitors for food, the presence of predators should be viewed as a sign of success. Again, with a little planning, there are ways to keep losses to a minimum.

Cats Preying on Songbirds and Other Wildlife

Cats can pose a major threat to your backyard wildlife community. Although cats may be fed and sustained by their owners, their natural instincts cause them to attack and kill any small moving animals they encounter. Research has indicated that a single house cat may kill as many as 100 animals a year, 60 % being small mammals, lizards, and snakes and the remaining 40 percent being birds. Multiply that by the number of cats roaming the neighborhood, and you could have very high morality rates in your wildscape.

The best thing that can be done is to keep your cat indoors and ensure that it is spayed or neutered. Not only does this keep the smaller wildlife safe, but it also ensures your pet’s safety from other cats and dogs and from wildlife such as coyotes and bobcats. If a number of strays are loose in your neighborhood, contact your animal control office to see how they can be captured.

Other means of controlling cats simply aren’t effective. Tying bells onto your cat’s collar will have limited success; once the cats understand that the ringing warns the other animals, they will learn to walk without ringing the bell. Additionally, wild animals don’t associate the ringing sound with a source of danger.

To protect any birds that you feed, don’t provide mixed grain directly on the ground. Instead, use sunflower or thistle seeds in tube or platform feeders off the ground. Brush piles should be at least 10 – 15 feet from feeding stations, because they provide excellent cover for cats to use as they wait to ambush birds.

Hawks Preying on Songbirds

Hawks are an interesting and important component of the environment. Most hawks are opportunistic and eat a variety of animals including rodents, rabbits, amphibians, reptiles, insects, and some birds. Although a few hawk species rely on small birds for a majority of their diet – for example, the prairie falcon and sharp-shinned and Cooper’s hawks – don’t worry that these avian predators will deplete the songbirds in your yard.

To minimize songbird losses, avoid attracting and concentrating songbirds at feeding stations that lack quick access to shrub or brush pile cover. Additional feeders spread throughout the yard will decrease concentrations of birds, which are easy pickings. Remember that all birds of prey, including hawks, owls, and kites, are protected by federal law.

Controlling Nest Box Predators

After placing nest boxes on poles, clear the vegetation from the pole base. If you’re using wooden poles, wrap a 2-foot length of sheet metal just below the nest box to prevent access by climbing predators. Place a 40-inch-wide baffle around poles to deter snakes from getting in the nest box. The baffle will deter raccoons and cats, also predators of nest boxes, unless the nest box is placed on a tree. To ensure protection from all climbing predators, mount the nest box on a metal or wooden pole with a baffle and at least 6 feet from any trees and out from under any overhanging branches. This will discourage raccoons, cats, and snakes from dropping down to the nest box.

Outwitting Starlings and Sparrows

Pests like house sparrows and starlings also use natural or artificial nesting structures to raise their young, readily evicting and even killing native species that occupy the nest box. The house sparrow is notorious for attacking a female bluebird that is sitting on her brood, pecking her in the skull with its sharp beak, and then building a new nest over the dead bluebird and her young.

Keeping starlings out of most nest boxes can be accomplished relatively easily. These large chunky birds need equally large entrances. If you keep entrance hole diameters less than 2 ½ inches, starlings will be restricted from most houses.

House sparrows have proven to be a more difficult matter. Since they are approximately the same size as or even smaller than many native songbirds, reducing entrance dimensions is not effective. Trapping and humanely dispatching house sparrows is the best method to help eliminate them from your area. This can be accomplished by using homemade or commercially available traps.

If your bluebird house is known to have problems with house sparrows, you might consider installing the Joe Huber Trap-in-the-box which consists of two screws, a metal trap plate, and a trip rod located inside the nest box. These remain in the box permanently and will not affect nesting bluebirds or other desirable species. This trap should only be used to capture house sparrows; beyond European starlings, all other species that might nest in bluebird boxes are protected by state and federal law. When house sparrows begin building a nest, hang the trap plate on the top screw. Set the trap by placing the upper arm of the trip rod under the bottom of the trap plate. The next bird to enter will touch the lower arm of the trip rod and cause the plate to fall across the entrance hole.

Once you have set the trap, leave the area for a few minutes and allow the sparrows to return. If you catch the male house sparrow, humanely dispose of him and remove his nest so that native birds can begin using the bird house. However, if you capture the female house sparrow, it’s a good idea to dispose of her and reset the box trap for the male. The male house sparrow does much of the nest building and considers the box as his territory. If you only trap the female, the male will return with another mate and continue to exclude native birds. Therefore, the male is the primary target for controlling house sparrow problems.

This trap should be used carefully and responsibly. To avoid catching a protected native bird, set the trap only when an active sparrow nest is present. Although you may release a bluebird or wren physically unharmed, the bird will probably abandon the nest box. Also, check active traps frequently to minimize risk to other birds that might enter the house. Once a full clutch of four to five house sparrow eggs is laid or young have hatched, house sparrows will enter the bird house frequently and may be captured within a few minutes after you have set the trap. Carefully open the nest box and remove the sparrow. To prevent escape, cover the box with a plastic bag or onion sack before opening the bird house.

After the offending male house sparrow is removed and humanely disposed of, the bird house is available for use by several native songbirds that nest in cavities. If the house is properly located, it is often quickly inhabited by these birds.

Remember, European starlings and house sparrows are not protected by law, so they may be humanely disposed of. Do not release these birds elsewhere. Studies have shown that unless you take birds hundreds of miles away, they will return to your area. Even if they don’t return, you have only increased the problem for people and native birds in the release area.

Other Wildlife Complications in the Home and Yard

Wild creatures are adaptable. If our homes and yards provide them with tempting opportunities, they may take advantage of these in unexpected ways.

Bats in the Attic

Bats occasionally crawl into the attics of buildings to live for the summer. Although they are helpful to have around because they eat insects, they should not be encouraged to live in your home because their guano will smell and will foul attic insulation. If you seal off the attic when you first notice the bats, you may trap any young that are inside and cause them to starve to death. Instead, wait until about late July, when the young are old enough to fly, to exclude the bats from your attic. Until then, cover and seal all holes but one for the bats to continue roosting and feeding their young.

After late July, staple a sheet of flexible mesh just above the main entrance hole and on either side. Leave the bottom side open so that the bats can crawl out and fly away in the evening. When they return in the morning, they will be unable to enter the attic and will have to seek out other shelter. If you wish to keep the bats around your residence, erect a bat house near the eaves of your home. Once the bats have left in the fall, repair the hole and clean out your attic.

Birds Flying into Windows

Birds collide with windows for a variety of reasons. The most common is that windows often appear as tunnels that birds can fly through, either due to reflections or because a second window can be seen on the opposite side of the building. Birds also collide with windows located near feeding stations, especially if a predator such as a house cat frightens them into flight. And sometimes, birds crash into windows because they see their own reflections and are territorial about any apparent competitor entering their space.

Many birds are injured or die by fling into windows, but in most cases these collisions only stun the bird. If you find such a bird, simply place it in a warm, dry, quiet location until it recovers and can be released, usually in about 90 minutes.

Woodpeckers Drumming on Houses

Woodpeckers are adapted to finding food, as well as mates, by drumming on dead trees. However, since fewer snags exist in the urban environment, the birds may have fewer drumming sites to use. They have therefore begun drumming on the outsides of wooden homes, becoming quite a source of irritation. Because modern homes have air pockets for insulative value, the drumming woodpecker things the wood is hollow. In snags, these hollow areas are where the woodpecker normally finds its insect foods.

Try hanging a suet feeder where birds are causing a problem, which can distract them from damaging your property. If the woodpecker is drumming on one spot, cover it with a plastic coffee can lid to muffle the hollow echo the woodpecker hears. You also might cover the home’s siding with a sheet of thick (8 – 10 mm) plastic, which the birds can’t easily grip. If woodpeckers are roosting at night in the eaves, spray them with a water hose several nights in a row to drive them off. Noise makers may also be effective.

Snakes in the House

Snakes are beneficial in that they eat mice and insects, but they usually aren’t welcome in homes. They often crawl into basements and other rooms during warm weather or high water. Keep them out by sealing all foundation cracks and put a cover or netting over basement window wells.

Armadillos Digging Up the Yard

Although armadillos seem harmless enough and are appealing to watch, they are great diggers. When foraging, they can leave a messy trail of excavations all over a neatly kept lawn. These mammals are searching for beetle grubs; therefore, to keep them from digging up your yard, you can treat the lawn for beetle grubs. The correct time to treat for grubs is during August, because the beetles have just laid their eggs and are near the ground surface.

If you don’t wish to use any pesticides or insecticides, you might consider gradually phasing out your lawn area and converting it to more wildlife-friendly habitat, such as a butterfly garden, where any armadillo digging will be much less noticeable and bothersome. Also, once you are no longer watering your lawn, the ground will become hard and difficult for the grubs to dig into.

Another option is to install chain-link fencing around your property, although it has a higher cost and will exclude other wildlife you might desire. Fencing should be buried at least 18 – 24 inches below ground to prevent armadillos from digging under it.

Rabbits and Raccoons Eating Garden Vegetables

Conflicts sometime arise between rabbits or raccoons and vegetable gardeners. Left unprotected, a cultivated garden may become a smorgasbord for these small mammals. The only truly effective deterrent is fencing. Electric, chicken-wire, or woven-wire fences perform well and are very cost effective.

To exclude rabbits, fencing should be buried at least 18 inches below ground and should extend at least 30 inches above ground. Raccoons can climb over such a low fence, so place a low-voltage electric wire at the top that will shock them without harming them.

Skunks in the Yard

Skunks can be a gardener’s best friend by eating insects and rodents, but sometimes they become a nuisance, and caution must be used when dealing with these animals. Obviously, you want to avoid being sprayed, but equally important is to avoid being bitten. Skunks may carry the rabies virus but not exhibit any symptoms.

If you are concerned by high skunk activity in your yard, take a look around your wildscape. Skunks may be attracted to garbage or other food sources, so take precautions to reduce this. Skunks also eat mice in barns, crawl spaces, sheds, and garages, requiring a rodent-control program to eliminate this attraction. Finally, debris such as fence posts, lumber, brush piles, etc. provide shelter for skunks and may need to be removed.

Wildlife Eating Off Fruit Trees

Many bird species, including northern mockingbirds, cedar waxwings, and American robins, eat berries and soft fruit, occasionally visiting a landowner’s cherry or peach trees. To discourage wildlife from eating all the fruit, cover fruit-producing plants with plastic bird netting, and then plant native berry producers such as choke cherry, blackberry, mulberry, or pokeweed. The native plants will still attract birds, but the netting will protect your cultivated fruit.

You also might consider letting wildlife have everything that drops from the tree, gathering it and placing it in a specific area away from your orchard. “Recycling” your bruised fruits will provide a food source and attract birds, small mammals, and even butterflies.

Finding “Lost” Wildlife

People often find eggs or young birds in their yards during spring and summer. If the nest is visible, place the eggs or young birds back in the nest. Contrary to popular belief, songbirds do not have a well-developed sense of smell and will not abandon their young if you touch them. If you have eggs but cannot find the nest, leave them alone – it is illegal to possess wild bird eggs. Generally, the parents will renest.

If a partially or completely unfeathered hatchling is found out of the nest, put it back in the nest. If you find a completely feathered young bird, you can assume that it has left the nest on its own and is still under parental care. Place the young bird on the top of a shrub away from predators.

Mammals are a different story, however. Most young mammals that are found alone, including deer, rabbit, squirrel and raccoon, are only hiding or have wandered away from their parents, which are nearby searching for food. If you touch the young mammal, your scent may either frighten the parent away or make it easier for predators to find the animal. The best thing to do is simply to leave it alone.

Most people are not equipped to care for wild animals adequately, and most “rescued” young will die. Although they may look cute at first, those that survive may quickly turn into unmanageable adults that don’t make good pets. Legality also is an issue. Possessing some native animals and all migratory birds without a permit is illegal and subject to a fine.

If All Else Fails…

If you have tried the listed recommendations and still have not been able to solve your nuisance wildlife problem, contact you state Wildlife Services.

Remember that all bird species except house sparrows, European starlings, and feral pigeons are protected by state and federal law. It is illegal to harass or kill any other native birds or their young. Also, many other species of wildlife are protected by various state laws.