Frenemies of Nature

Garden Scene
Frenemies of Nature

Photos courtesy of Steve Kyles and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources

Is the wildlife in your yard a joy or a nuisance? It all depends on your perspective – and what the furry little critters might be doing to your landscape. 

Warm weather is here, and with the rising mercury, people are eager to spend time outdoors. As a result, wild animals – and their handiwork – often are more visible as well.

“Summer is a fun time to be outside, and it’s fun to see animals do what they do,” says I.B. Parnell, a Georgia Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist. “It’s not necessarily something to be afraid of. It’s something neat to see.” 

Frenemies of NatureOf course, when these adorable animals start digging up your yard or eating your plants or harassing your pets, they might seem more like frenemies. “A lot of times the animal’s activity depends on the perception of the person,” says Parnell.

For most people, animals morph from friend to foe when their activities become invasive or destructive. Some of the species that most often create problems for homeowners include coyotes, foxes, deer, raccoons, possums, armadillos and snakes. For people who have ponds on their properties, beavers, Canada geese and alligators can make their presence known in unwelcome ways as well. 

Frenemies of NatureForaging for Food
While the state provides technical information, says Parnell, who works in the Thomson DNR office, the state and counties do not provide trapping services. However, he says the state handles sick or injured wildlife on an emergency basis.

Animals in suburban settings often pattern themselves after people, Parnell says, and they might roam around neighborhoods while people are at work. Oftentimes, wild animals venture into neighborhoods in search of food. 

“Once animals start associating food being near houses, you create a search pattern for them,” says Parnell. “If animals find food on one back porch, they’ll look for it on another.”

Frenemies of NatureExposed garbage is another food source for wildlife, and coyotes, foxes, possums and raccoons will look for food from the same sources. In addition, says Parnell, raccoons or possums might fight with dogs.

“If a raccoon is fighting with a pet dog, that can be an immediate threat,” he says. “It’s likely that the raccoon is sick or injured in some way.” The animal needs to be destroyed to test it for rabies, he says, but the head must be intact because that is the part of the body where county personnel test the animal for the virus.

Armadillos can cause problems by digging in yards, and Parnell says they are difficult to catch because they don’t respond well to baits. He says people can use a wooden trap or a seasoned trap to catch them. (A seasoned trap has the scent of an armadillo because one already has been captured in it.) Parnell recommends that people use logs or wood to build a funnel into the trap.

Frenemies of Nature“Armadillos are not protected by law. They can be trapped or shot any time,” he says. “You can do it yourself, or you can hire a nuisance wildlife contractor to do it for you.”

“Although people are afraid of coyotes, Parnell says, there is no documented coyote attack of a child in Georgia. They will attack cats or small dogs, however.”

Parnell also emphasizes that “animals can only be relocated to another property with the landowner’s permission. For instance, people cannot trap animals and take them to Clarks Hill Lake without the permission of the Army Corps of Engineers.”

However, he adds, “If it’s causing you enough of a problem to catch it, it’s causing you enough of a problem to kill it.”

Parnell says his office gets a lot of calls about beavers, which chew on fruit tree to build dams, in neighborhood ponds. “There is no season for beavers. They can be taken year-round,” he says. 

According to Parnell, alligators under 4 feet long don’t mess with people. They eat frogs and snakes, he says, but a 6-foot alligator could be a threat to a small dog. People who have an alligator that is longer than 4 feet in their pond can call a nuisance trapper to have It removed. However, says Parnell, no one can ask to have an alligator removed from someone else’s pond.

Frenemies of NatureOh, Baby!
At this time of year, baby animals are more visible as well.

In early summer, for instance, baby foxes, which may have been in dens under outside sheds or in old stumps for a month or more, are big enough to come out and play. “It might be the first time people see them,” says Parnell. “The best thing to do is to chalk it up to something really cool to see and leave them alone.”

People also might find birds’ nests on the top of porch columns or in a wreath on their front door. “This is a temporary problem. The best thing to do is to let the young birds fledge. It generally takes two to three weeks,” says Parnell. “When the birds are gone, take down the nest. Or you can take it down before it has eggs in it.”

He also recommends that homeowners put something on top of columns to prevent birds from building a nest there. “An ounce of prevention goes a really long way,” he says.

Someone who sees a deer in a fenced yard might think that the animal is trapped, but it could have been put there to protect it from predators. Fawns also can be found under shrubs as well.

“People think the fawn has been abandoned, but that’s not the case. Does hide their fawns in the shrubs,” Parnell says. “Every three to six hours, the doe will come to the last place she fed the fawn and bleat so the fawn will go to her. Unless you see a dead doe next to the fawn, the best thing to do for that fawn is to leave it alone.”

For more information, call (706) 667-4672 or visit georgiawildlife.com/nuisancewildlife or georgiawildlife.com/hunting/game-management.

Frenemies of NatureDos and Don’ts to Control Nuisance Wildlife
Due to limited personnel, the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division cannot provide employees to remove nuisance animals from neighborhoods or private property. However, people can hire a nuisance wildlife trapping service to take care of a problem animal. Depending on the setting and type of nuisance, they can take care of a problem themselves or obtain a nuisance wildlife control permit to live trap, possess, transport and release certain nuisance wildlife in suitable habitats. I.B. Parnell, a Georgia Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist, also offers a number of dos and don’ts to keep wildlife from engaging in destructive behavior on personal or neighborhood properties. 

Do:

  • Keep garbage in closed containers.
  • Keep lawns mowed low so rats and mice, which attract snakes, coyotes, bobcats and foxes, can’t hide in the grass.
  • Clean up any birdseed that falls out of a feeder and onto the ground because it attracts rodents at night.
  • To deter beavers from gnawing on trees, wrap the bases of trees in welding wire or paint the trees from ground level to a height of 4 feet with a mix of sand and exterior paint (8 ounces of sand for every quart of paint).
  • Trap or shoot armadillos, possums or raccoons, or hire a nuisance wildlife trapping service to do it.
  • Go through a neighborhood homeowners’ association to decide as a group if residents want Canada geese to stay or go. To rid a property of Canada geese, landowners can harvest them during the hunting season, which runs off and on from September until the end of January. They also can be removed by a nuisance removal service when they are unable to fly during synchronized molting season from mid-June until mid-July. They must be relocated at least 100 miles away.
  • Get a Canada goose nest destruction permit from the Fish & Wildlife Service.
  • Leave animals alone, particularly if they do not appear to be in distress.
  • Call a wildlife rehabilitator to help some animals such as a baby bird that has fallen out of a nest. Highland Animal Hospital in Augusta is the closest wildlife rehabilitator in the area.

Don’t:

  •  Leave attractants such as leftover pet food in your yard.
  • Leave cats out at night when they are more likely to be attacked by a coyote.
  • Put extra garbage out until the morning of pickup.
  • Let your children pick up small animals such as baby foxes, even though the baby animals might let them.
  • Leave piles of brush or limbs in your yard.
  • Feed Canada geese.
  • Try to raise baby animals on your own. They get acclimated to people and cannot be returned to the wild.