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Backyard Wildlife


  Naturalist Corner  

Fox in yard

If you have any question whether you may have a rabid or dangerous animal nearby, call either the police non-emergency phone number, 703-691-2131, or 911.

Don't approach animals you don't know. Any animal can react unpredictably. For safety, just let the animal move on, then take a look at your backyard and consider making it animal-proof. Animals that are around people or homes could be sick or injured, which could make them act aggressively. They also could be rabid or carrying ticks. Interaction alone could be grounds for having an animal destroyed. If your goal is to get the animal to leave, don't approach it or make contact with it. Let it move along on its own.

Why not trap or relocate a nuisance beast? For one, it's against the law. It violates state game regulations, and relocation rarely works. The animal sometimes returns to the site of the problem, starts conflict problems in new areas, or doesn't survive the stress of the move. In addition, if the animal was there because the habitat was good for it, another animal of the same species may move in. It is against Park Authority regulations, state law, and sound wildlife management to release any animal, wild or domestic, on parkland.

Aggressive Animal

Do not approach any animal.

If you have any question whether you may have a rabid or dangerous animal nearby, call either the police non-emergency phone number, 703-691-2131, or 911.

Report any wildlife acting in a dangerous manner, whether on parkland or in your neighborhood, to the Animal Control Department at 703-691-2131.

Injured or Sick Animal

People with the best intentions can get into the worst situations. A few years ago, a good Park Authority friend rescued a raccoon from her own property shortly after she moved to Virginia. She was not aware of rabies issues in Virginia, and after the raccoon sickened and died, rabies was discovered. The raccoon had been in contact with the rescuer's children and other neighborhood youngsters, and 27 people underwent rabies vaccinations. It was not the best of first impressions.

The Wildlife Rescue League, a non-profit organization, provides wildlife rehabilitation services in Fairfax County. The Rescue League hotline number is 703-440-0800. Although it's usually best for wildlife to be left in the wild, sometimes an injured animal may not recover on its own. To learn about helping wildlife, check our article "Ten Ways to Help Your Wildlife!". Wildlife rehabilitation is not an amateur hobby. It's regulated and licensed by the state.

Nuisance Animal

The best action is preventive. Try animal-proofing your home or yard. No single action will work every time, and you may have to try several things, but here are some ideas that may help keep wildlife away.

General tips to animal-proof your yard:

Remove or reduce sources of food
In other words, please don't feed the bears. Take pet foods (and pets!) indoors; secure trash; fence gardens.

Remove sources of shelter
Wood piles, mounds of yard clippings, and other vegetative debris can attract rodents and reptiles.

Keep the animal out of your yard
Fences, chemical deterrents, and creative plantings may prevent unwanted wildlife from trespassing.

BATS BATS: For such a tiny, gentle, and relatively rare animal, nuisance bats cause a lot of concern. Remember, bats can carry rabies, so use extra caution.

If you have a bat in your house, contact the Wildlife Rescue League, 703-440-0800, immediately to speak with bat experts. Don't wait overnight to see if a bat will leave on its own. Some bats can enter buildings in openings as small as ½ inch, so it may take a specialist to ensure that the area is truly bat-proof.

If a bat is someplace people don't go (behind shutters, in an attic), you can wait for all the bats to leave and then seal the area. If bats are in an area such as the space between your house and shutters, contact a bat specialist. If you try to remove it yourself, you may injure the bat or it may become aggressive.

BEAVER BEAVER: Beaver are the source of frequent nuisance complaints. They play a key role in Eastern temperate deciduous forests by changing their habitat and, as a result, they help reduce the effect of flooding, remove pollutants and sediment from water, and create wetlands habitat for wildlife.

The key to keeping beaver out of an area is to make it harder for them to get food. Wrap the bottom four feet of trees in hardware cloth. Leave enough space between the tree bark and the cloth to allow the tree to grow. For more information read the article "Beavers - Wildlife in our Backyard".

DEER DEER: Residents tell us that besides damaging their plants, deer make their dogs "go nuts."

The county deer population is at an unhealthy level. In many places, there are too many deer for the habitat available. This forces deer into dangerous situations (they may share the road with your car), and they may become more susceptible to disease. Experts recommend an eight-foot tall fence to exclude deer.

The county's Animal Control Department has a deer management program on public lands. You'll find detailed information about Deer Management in Fairfax County online.

FOXES FOXES: Foxes frequent Fairfax County yards, and we've had reports of them stealing newspapers, tampering with bird feeders, and just sitting and staring.

Foxes, like other canines, have an excellent sense of smell. They can be discouraged by strong odors (ammonia or pepper scents) and by proper sanitation (they'll feed on trash or on the rodents trash attracts). Learn what attracted the animal in the first place, because removing it might be enough to encourage it to move on.

SKUNKS SKUNKS: Skunks help us by eating insects and rodents. But they smell bad, and a skunk burrow under a deck, although not common, can be a rather unpleasant wildlife interaction.

Before blocking a skunk's access to its burrow, first make sure all the animals in the burrow, including the young, are out. Then block or screen the entry point to prevent them from returning. Moth balls may prevent skunks from returning home. Place the balls near the opening of the burrow in a weatherproof container with holes to allow the odor to disperse.

SQUIRRELS SQUIRRELS: Most of the calls we get about squirrels are from people concerned when the critters aren't around!

Squirrels are year-round residents, but that doesn't mean they stay in one place. Migrations in spring and fall help disperse the young into new areas, which may include attics, sheds, and basements. Squirrels can be common in your yard if it contains their natural food sources of bark, flower buds, insects and nuts.

WOODCHUCKS WOODCHUCKS: It is usually the burrow, not the woodchuck, which produces the ankle twisting curses we hear throughout the county.

Woodchucks, or groundhogs, are closely related to squirrels and can climb trees. They're also very good burrowers. You can keep them out of your yard with a fence that reaches 18 inches below ground level. If you know where the animal's burrow is, you can also block its entry points.

Contacts

There are several resources for help on nuisance animals:

The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries maintains the legal list of nuisance wildlife. The department also provides tips and advice for homeowners. If you see someone committing a wildlife crime, report it to the Wildlife Crime Line at 1-800-237-5712.

Our local wildlife biologist in the Animal Control division of the Police Department can help.

The Fairfax County Park Authority Nature Centers have expert staff that can answer backyard wildlife questions.


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