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Animals like raccoons, squirrels, woodchucks, moles, and voles can be nuisances to homeowners and property managers by causing property damage and sometimes posing health risks. Damage to lawns and landscaping usually occur while critters are seeking food, either by feeding directly on plants or while hunting (e.g., skunks digging up a lawn for grubs or moles tunneling for earthworms). Animals can dig dens under structures or enter buildings searching for shelter, especially for winter dens and sites to give birth. Sometimes, animals are just exploring their environment.

a hawk sits on pigeon in a snow covered backyard
We often love seeing wildlife, but sometimes there are unintended consequences. Photo: Edward Kozlowski. Click photo to see enlarged version.

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How Do I Identify Wildlife?

Beasts Begone, Handling Wildlife Problems in Buildings not only provides an overview of the different ways to solve animal problems in and around buildings, but also includes information about specific types of animals.

Many of the wildlife species that cause problems are active at night, so we often will look for identification clues other than looking at the animal such as animal signs; odors; time of day of animal activity; and frequency of activity.

photo of a sample page of the Beasts Begone book showing information about the flying squirrel including access routes, entry sites, sounds, gnaw marks and food remains, fecal droppings, hair, other signs, and tracks.
A sample page from Beasts Begone.

Animal Signs

Moles produce underground tunnels that are evident by ridges and boils (mounds).

corner of lawn next to brick patio and raised garden bed with a sandy line a few inches side angling through the grass
Mole tunnel  Photo: NYSIPM. Click photo to see enlarged version.
large lawn with school in background with 19 small piles of dark brown dirt a few inches high
Mole boils. Photo: NYSIPM. Click photo to see enlarged version.

In contrast, voles travel on paths that are maintained above the ground when snow covers the ground. Once the snow melts, the vole paths become clear. The damage grows out when the grass begins to grow in spring.

green and brown grass with a ridged pathway snaking through the middle
Vole path. Photo: NYSIPM. Click photo to see enlarged version.

Woodchucks create large mounds at the entrance to their burrows.

photo of the bottom of a shed wall lifted u on a concrete block with digging evidence
Woodchuck burrow entrance. Photo: NYSIPM. Click photo to see enlarged version.

Chipmunk burrows usually have little or no dirt piled by the entrance.

lower part of fence over ground with some plants and dead leaves with a hole a few inches in diameter leading into the ground
Chipmunk burrow entrance. Photo: NYSIPM. Click photo to see enlarged version.

Sometimes wildlife will tear up grass in search of white grubs.

close up of lawn with small chunks of grass and dirt pulled out
Shallow holes or large patches of lawn torn up are a sign of raccoons, skunks, crows, or other forms of wildlife digging for white grubs. Photo: NYSIPM. Click photo to see enlarged version.

Noise

Some animals, such as flying squirrels, are noisy at night while others, such as gray and red squirrels are more active during the day.

Woody Plant Damage

Rabbits feed on the lower parts of a plant unless thick snow allows them higher access and cleanly clip off plant buds. Deer can reach much higher and shred the plant tissue when biting. Voles will eat the bark around the base of the plant.

low growing green plant surrounding a multi-stem shrub that has had bark chewed off
Vole damage. Photo: NYSIPM. Click photo to see enlarged version.

Surrounding Habitat

Many animals, including insect pests, will use tree branches that touch the building as a bridge. A tall house without adjacent trees, but close to woods may indicate the presence of flying squirrels, especially if the animals are noisy at night.

roof of brick building with a large tree branch leaning against it
Many pests gain access to roofs via natural bridges.  Photo: NYSIPM. Click photo to see enlarged version.

Entry Holes

The size of any openings into a structure can give you a clue as to the size of the animal that could enter it, excluding larger animals. Chew marks lets you know that the animal has made a hole larger. Location is also important. Some species (like flying squirrels and bats) typically enter the upper portion of a building, while others (such as chipmunks) usually enter around the foundation. Some species (such as red squirrels) enter a building either low or high.

Inside the structure, fecal droppings and nesting materials can usually identify the animals.

NOTE: Inspecting for animal damage on buildings often entails safety risks such as ladder use and entering enclosed spaces. While the nature and extent of an animal problem in buildings can often be ascertained from an inspection from the outside, sometimes attics and crawlspaces will need to be entered to determine the specific animal pest. For both these reasons, it is best to hire a wildlife control professional. For assistance in locating trained professionals, check out the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, NYS Wildlife Management Association, and the National Wildlife Control Operators Association.

Inspecting for bats
Nothing beats a good inspection to find out what's going bump in the night. Photo: NYSIPM. Click photo to see enlarged version.

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Should I Worry About Wildlife?

Often a first step is to determine if you have a real problem. Many are excited to see a hawk in their backyard, but others see the same animal as a threat.

Wildlife certainly do not belong in your home and can cause damage or pose health risks. If you determine that wildlife is causing actual or potential harm, then we're here to help you use IPM to avoid wildlife conflicts.

photo of cluttered attic with a gray squirrel looking out from under a board
Squirrels do not belong in attics. Photo: NYSIPM. Click photo to see enlarged version.

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Why Do I Have Wildlife?

All living things need food, water, shelter, and space. When we see wildlife in our backyard or home, it is because we are providing what they need to survive. By identifying what wildlife is attracted to, we can take steps to eliminate it. What is attracting wildlife to your yard?

deer reaching up and licking birdfood off a bird feeder
Meant for the birds, other wildlife will also partake of free food. Photo: Jeff Camilleri, flickr. Click photo to see enlarged version.

Food

  • Bird feeders
  • Compost piles
  • Feeding pets outdoors
  • Unsecured trash and recycling
  • Fruiting plants

Shelter

  • Sheds, barns, and other out-buildings
  • Wood piles
  • Tall vegetation surrounding the building

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How Do I Manage Wildlife in My Yard?

For turfgrass and landscape pests, removing or reducing food and shelter is likely the best option. Strategies include:

Exclusion

  • Pest-proof compost systems
  • Sealed trash and recycling containers
Bird netting over blueberry bushes
Placing fine bird netting over plants before berries ripen will ensure more berries for you.  Photo: NYSIPM. Click photo to see enlarged version.

Repellents

Commercial repellents are available for the reduction of feeding damage by animals such as deer and rabbits on woody plants. There are a wide range of instances of people claiming success with the use of lights, noise, and/or movement to repel animals, but these stories are largely anecdotal.

Trapping

If you desire that the animals be captured and removed from your property, it is important to know the relevant laws which vary from state to state. A do-it-yourself approach is more likely to be successful with situations such as trapping moles and voles. In other situations, like raccoons living in the attic, you may need to contract with a professional wildlife control operator. One-way door devices, designed to allow animals to leave but not re-enter a structure, have at times been successful with animals like squirrels. Often, though, the animal will chew its way back in at another location on the building.

Preventing future problems

Once the immediate issue has been solved, it is important to take steps to reduce the likelihood of subsequent problems. Remove or reduce accessibility of attractants or pathways (such as tree limbs near buildings) for the animals. Effective exclusion, ranging from wire guards around trees to animal-resistant building vents and chimney covers, usually provides the best long-term results. 

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How Do I Manage Wildlife in My Home?

We have pages dedicated to bats, birds, deer, and snakes. We also cover habitat management in our Mice and Rats page which will help with excluding smaller rodents such as squirrels as well as other pests.

Beasts Begone, Handling Wildlife Problems in Buildings provides an overview of the different ways to solve animal problems in and around buildings. It is intended for use by homeowners, property managers and pest control operators who are unfamiliar with nuisance wildlife control. The species and techniques are applicable to New York State and may be relevant in other states throughout the Northeast.

illustration of side of house with a dotted line representing 1/4 inch galvinized hardware cloth screwed in parallel to the side of the wall and bent to a 90 degree angle and buried 2 to 3 inches below ground and sticking out 12 inches or more from the wall
Beasts Begone, Handling Wildlife Problems in Buildings provides detailed instructions on how to exclude different types of wildlife from digging under or getting into buildings.

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