When you start spring cleaning around your home and yard, watch out for the health and safety of your wild neighbors! Wild animals can be accidentally injured or orphaned when people trim trees, mow lawns, clean chimneys or find them trapped or nesting indoors.
You can take simple precautions to prevent injuring or orphaning wildlife when you clean and make repairs to your house. Here are some tips for homeowners, landscapers and other professionals.
Chimneys and vents
From a wild animal's perspective, open chimneys and accessible dryer or stove vents are cozy, attractive places to raise young. If you find such guests, tolerating them temporarily is always the best option. If at all possible, delay cleaning chimneys until the babies have left. Then have the chimney capped.
Keep in mind that almost all birds are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and cannot be killed or moved. Unless you're able to exclude birds early—before eggs are laid—you must leave them be for a few weeks until the young are able to fly on their own.
Never try to smoke any animal out of a chimney! It can be deadly, since young mammals—and some birds—may not be able to get out on their own.
If you need your wildlife visitors to leave sooner, encourage the mammal mothers (but not birds) to move their families themselves. This is the most natural way—and the least likely to cause injury. To get them to move to a better place, use humane harassment methods:
- Place a radio in the fireplace and turn up the volume.
- Turn on lights.
- Carefully place rags moistened with cider vinegar (not ammonia!) in the fireplace.
Once you're absolutely sure the animals are gone for good, cap the chimney with an approved chimney cap or cover vents with screening to prevent further problems.
Home and attic
Check for animals in the attic before cleaning and don't evict any animals without looking for babies first. If you find babies, it's best to wait until they are old enough to leave with their mom. But since wild animals can cause damage in attics, you may need professional help to figure out the species of animal and ensure that mothers are humanely encouraged to relocate their families on their own. This is the best and most humane solution for problems with animals in homes.
Keep birds from hitting clean windows by placing visual obstructions inside or dangling strips of Mylar tape from the top of the glass outside the window.
Check for small gaps where animals might enter your house, such as behind appliances or anywhere pipes enter the building. Even a 1/2" by 1/4" hole or crack is big enough for a snake or mouse to squeeze through. Plug holes loosely with insulation, paper or cloth, and wait a few days to make sure that no animals are inside before sealing any gaps.
Always walk around your lawn before mowing to check for wildlife, especially turtles and nests of baby rabbits. Turtles may be gently moved, but rabbit nests should be left alone, so that the mother rabbit can find her babies when she comes back to feed them. They'll be on their own in about three weeks. Leave a safety zone of grass around the nest until they are gone.
Trim branches around your house to discourage climbing wildlife. Be sure to check all limbs for bird and squirrel nests before you trim. Follow these steps if you accidentally knock a nest out of a tree:
- Retrieve the babies and their nest and place them securely in nearby limbs.
- If the nest is broken, rebuild it, if possible, or make a replacement nest of the same shape.
- Use a clean household container, such as a margarine tub, strawberry basket or plastic bottle with the top cut off, but don't use cleaning product containers!
- Poke holes in the bottom for drainage and line the container with natural materials like those of the original nest.
- Watch for the mother to return—it's a myth that birds will reject babies touched by people. If no mother returns, contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.