Embrace the Wild Side: A nuisance wildlife expert shares control tips

|  July 10, 2013

Wildlife control and pest management share many important similarities. Both require superior customer service and attention to detail. Both need skilled technicians capable of adapting to new environments and adjusting to new challenges presented by pest species.

Yet despite their similarities, wildlife control presents unique issues that, if not handled properly, can lead to costly callbacks, negative public relations, and even death among workers and clients. The sources of the forthcoming tips about handling the most common nuisance species include the author’s expertise and results of a survey from the National Pest Management Association (NPMA), which in 2007, polled pest management professionals (PMPs) who also handle wildlife problems.

Start with the basics

Wildlife control is all about implementing the fundamentals at each and every job. Effective wildlife control begins with a thorough site inspection (see Fig.

Fig. 1. Only a close inspection of this vent would reveal the hole in the screen.

Fig. 1. Only a close inspection of this vent would reveal the hole in the screen.

1.). Most of the time, clients will know which species is causing the problem. But a thorough inspection will ensure secondary openings and likely travel routes are identified. Inspections also allow you to inform clients about potential weaknesses animals could exploit – such as unsecured vents, uncapped chimneys and unscreened decks – in the future. Each of those problems presents potential income opportunities as you service accounts.

Before securing any openings, cork them with crumpled newspaper to monitor for animal movement. If bats are possible, install one-way doors instead, provided young aren’t a possibility (May through August).

If a wildlife problem is confirmed, determine the appropriate control method(s) in consultation with the client. Avoid the tendency of adopting a one-technique-fits-all mentality. Sometimes, wildlife control operators (WCOs) fall into ruts and fail to recognize less-lethal techniques can be just as effective as lethal ones in some situations, such as excluding a skunk from a shed.

Keep in mind, the ultimate goal of wildlife control is to end the damage, not capture animals. If trapping is required, try setting at least three traps. Multiple traps allow for success by ensuring other traps are available if one misfires. The best way to reduce the likelihood of misfire is ensure all traps are stable when set. Wobbly traps can misfire or spook animals if they feel motion when stepping inside.

Never expect lures or baits to draw animals more than a few feet to your traps. While some baits work better than others, most failures are because of poor trap placement. Place traps where animals can’t help but find them, such as along trails or at den entrances.

Squirrels. Gray and fox squirrels have powerful jaws. I call them beavers that climb. After the infestation has been removed, close the opening securely (see

Fig. 2. This gray squirrel board shows what happens when the infestation isn’t removed.

Fig. 2. This gray squirrel board shows what happens when the infestation isn’t removed.

Fig. 2). One way is to fill the void with expanding foam to reduce airflow, followed by aluminum flashing. The use of painted aluminum flashing, available in several colors, allows the repair to blend with the structure.

Raccoons. Select trapping locations for raccoons carefully because they’ll destroy anything within reach. One WCO forgot this and set a cage trap near a garden hose. The following morning, all 50 ft. of the hose was inside the trap with the raccoon. While this lesson only cost the price of a garden hose, others have had to repair telephone lines and shingles. Warn technicians and clients about the dangers associated with raccoon latrines, particularly those in areas where children might come in contact. Suggestions for removing raccoon latrines are available at http://icwdm.org/Diseases/Roundworm.aspx. Avoid translocating raccoons to prevent the spread of disease and creating a population of trap-wise raccoons that can become extremely difficult to cage trap the second time around.

Opossums. Opossums have a tendency to stay put when frightened, causing customers to believe they’re sick, injured or dead. Before servicing the call, ask the client to remove pets, children and other onlookers surrounding the animal. Instruct the client to check on the opossum in two hours and call back if additional help is needed. Chances are the opossum will move on once it perceives there’s no further threat. Opossums also have a gland that expresses a fluid with a skunk-like odor. While it’s not as powerful as skunk odor, it’s similar enough to confuse clients and inexperienced technicians.

Pigeons, starlings and house sparrows. I suspect trapping is an underused control method for these species. Consider using nest-style traps for starlings and house sparrows during nesting season. Pigeons can be trapped year-round. Seashell grit can increase the attractiveness of whole corn bait. Ensure water and shelter are available to the birds. Traps containing a couple pigeons are more attractive to other pigeons than empty traps, so always leave a couple behind. Tie a ribbon to one of their legs so they can be identified during recheck. Don’t make a bird and decoy bird remain in a trap unless necessary.

Fig. 3. Woodpecker damage to a home with Mylar strips used to frighten the pest birds.

Fig. 3. Woodpecker damage to a home with Mylar strips used to frighten the pest birds.

Woodpeckers. Initiate nonlethal control of woodpeckers as soon as possible. The longer the woodpecker remains at a structure, the more difficult it will be to get it to leave. While most damage to structures is unrelated to feeding, check the structure carefully to ensure the woodpeckers aren’t feeding on wood-boring insects. Use appropriate insecticides if necessary. Otherwise, hang strips of Mylar tape around the damage site (see Fig. 3). Repair non-nesting holes immediately. Prepare your client for the likely possibility the woodpecker will move to another part of the structure.

Bats. The diseases associated with bats present challenges to WCOs. Possible rabies exposure is indicated when a bat is found in the living space. People shouldn’t assume they’ll see bite marks, either. While only a small percentage of bats are infected, you can’t afford to take chances. Ensure call center and field technicians are thoroughly familiar with state rabies exposure protocols, including the process of testing a bat (or any other mammal) for rabies. An introduction to the topic can be found at www.cdc.gov/rabies/bats/contact/index.html. Under no circumstances should employees provide medical advice.

Clients should be referred to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention protocol and advised to discuss the problem with qualified medical authorities.
Bat guano is often associated with Histoplasma capsulatum, the fungus that causes histoplasmosis (see Fig. 4). Disturbance of bat guano can release spores

Fig. 4. Bat droppings.

Fig. 4. Bat droppings.

capable of infecting people as far as 30 yds. from the disturbance site. Only small doses of infective spores are necessary to become infected. Technicians should be fit-tested and required to wear at least a N100 respirator before opening the hatch to a crawlspace, drop ceiling, attic, or other enclosed or potentially contaminated area.

Skunks. Skunks release their scent for three reasons: illness, self-defense or death. Clients complaining of skunk odor that continues for weeks with little to no abatement have a dead skunk on the property. Intermittent odors result from isolated sprays. While the smell can be irritating, techniques to eliminate it are available at www.ianrpubs.unl.edu/epublic/pages/publicationD.jsp?publicationId=1427. Skunk damage to turf typically occurs in the late spring and summer. Skunks dig precise, conical-shaped holes in search of grubs and other prey. In contrast, raccoons and armadillos shred the turf, peeling back large chunks. It can be difficult to capture skunks during this type of feeding because they’re often not interested in any other food. Traps set at entrances under fences or other pinch points will increase capture rates.

Fig. 5. Mole run.

Fig. 5. Mole run.

Moles. When controlling Eastern moles (Scalopus aquaticus), focus control on traveling tunnels rather than feeding tunnels. Traveling tunnels are straight and long (see Fig. 5); feeding tunnels are short and crooked. If you can’t find traveling tunnels, roll the lawn flat and monitor for fresh activity. Have clients continue to water the lawn to ensure the mole’s prey remains near the surface.

Snakes. Snakes are more of a nuisance than a threat to health and safety. However, the public’s phobia about snakes is as irrational as it is severe. The best way to control snakes is to remove cover and hiding places, as well as eliminate their access to the structure. Exclusion should only be performed when the snakes aren’t hibernating. Placing traps inside the structure is recommended in case snakes are accidentally trapped inside.

Woodchucks. Sulfur-charcoal gas cartridges are effective on woodchuck dens when performed at dusk and following rainfall. Tape the cartridge to a 3-ft.-long stick to allow for deeper placement and reduce the risk of burying the cartridge when sealing the hole. Never use gas cartridges when the burrows are nearby structures, and always consider fire risks.

Chipmunks. Chipmunk control frequently fails because chipmunks in neighboring properties quickly migrate to the area where you initiated control. Place twice as many traps than the number estimated by the client. Price the job to include additional trapping to begin several weeks after the initial trapping period ends.

Wildlife control is a growing and profitable area; however, it requires a special set of skills and knowledge to perform well. Start small, and do your homework to increase the likelihood of success. pmp

Contact Vantassel, founder of Wildlife Control Consultant, LLC, at stephenvantassel@hotmail.com or 402-489-1042.

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