It should come as no surprise that ongoing urban development in the District of Columbia has increasingly reduced local wildlife habitat. Wild animals are being pushed into yards and other spaces, which we humans think of as being reserved solely for our usage. Conflicts are bound to occur. The animals are simply trying to survive. Most people understand that and would like to solve the inevitable conflicts in a manner that does not cost the animal his or her life.
So what does the compassionate person do when a raccoon moves into the attic? Or when a groundhog digs a burrow under the shed? Unfortunately, far too often pest control companies offer to trap and relocate these animals to an appropriate place. This sounds idyllic, and humane; just move the creature out of my backyard to “somewhere else”. But this so-called solution comes with a host of very real concerns for the animals, and in most cases, it is the furthest thing from humane.
First, most pest control companies are not licensed to release animals, nor do they have written approval to release these animals on public lands, which is required. And so you have to wonder if the animals are actually being released at all.
Even if the animal is legally released in appropriate habitat at a distance from its home, that animal is unlikely to thrive. He or she has no knowledge of the new habitat. Where will he find food? Where are the water sources? Where can she seek shelter and a den? But the biggest problem is that most animals guard their territory fiercely from any interlopers. So if a place really is good habitat for an animal, say a squirrel, it will already be home to a family of squirrels, who will do their best to get rid of the newcomer. That’s because there simply are not sufficient resources to support them all.
At City Wildlife, we sometimes take in the victims of bloody fights, and we have a pretty good idea that the loser who is brought to our center — often too injured to save — has been relocated by someone who thought they were resolving a conflict humanely.
But there’s one more very real problem that many homeowners face when using these less-than-reputable pest removal services who relocate animals: babies are left behind. This happens all the time, as any rehabilitator can testify. Parents are trapped and driven miles away to a new location, where their survival is chancy, at best, and then the babies, half-starved and alone, emerge looking for the lost parents.
So what should one do? Does one have to tolerate families of wild animals in attics and under sheds? Is that the only humane recourse we have? Not at all!
For one thing, understand that during spring and summer months, animals need quiet, dark spaces to raise their young. And once they’ve established a nest, the kindest option may be to leave them be for the few short weeks the babies need to grow up and move out. At that point you can seal up the points of entry into the space that you would rather not have used as a den. Just be sure everyone’s moved out! A trail camera can be very helpful in these cases.
Alternately, if you’d rather not wait until the babies mature, you can arrange a humane eviction. Most animals have more than one nest site chosen for their young, and with some encouragement, they can be persuaded to move their babies. Doing so is best done by professional wildlife control experts — ask the company if it does “exclusion work” — but the DIY enthusiast or those with a strictly limited budget can try gently harassing the animals to make their chosen home less hospitable. You can use lights, loud music, or repellants such as rags soaked in vinegar to encourage an animal to pack up the family and move along.
Birds are the exception to this. Bird parents have no means to move their babies and no second nest to move them to. What’s more, most birds are protected by the International Migratory Bird Treaty, which prohibits tampering with nests, eggs, and the birds themselves. If you have a nest in a vent, however, it is likely to have been put there by European Starlings or House Sparrows. Since these are introduced species not protected by the International Migratory Bird Treaty, you can legally remove the nest once the babies have left — it will suddenly get very quiet —and the vent sealed off to prevent re-nesting. But don’t do anything until you are sure that the babies have left.
In summary, co-existence is kindest. And when that is simply not possible, do try to see things from the animal’s point of view, and, essentially, work with them, rather than against them, to solve the problem that we humans have ultimately created.