Many people who live on large and small acreage’s in Colorado consider free roaming wildlife one of the most important assets to their property. As the population continues to grow on the front range, and dwellings replace wildlife habitat, wild animals are displaced. Some species of wildlife continue to live in open space areas, parks, undeveloped parcels of land, river bottoms, and on or near bodies of water. Others have adapted very well to urban living- skunks and raccoons, in particular, seem to thrive in or near the cities.
As we increasingly share their habitat with our homes, there are sure to be many more human-animal encounters. In most situations, people and wildlife can coexist. The key to coexistence is usually respecting the “wild” in wildlife and understanding the needs that cause wildlife behavior. Wild animals should not be harassed, captured, domesticated, or fed. Most of the dangerous or potentially harmful encounters occur because people fail to leave wildlife alone.
Young animals should not be handled. During the spring and summer months, people often encounter baby animals. Deer, elk, and other mammals often leave their young while feeding, relying on the babies’ natural camouflage to protect them. Don’t assume that just because you don’t see the parents the young have been abandoned. Most people who think they are rescuing these “abandoned” babies are actually just kidnapping them from their mothers. There are very few true cases of abandoned wildlife. If you are absolutely certain that the mother animal is dead (hit by a car, for example), mark the location on a map or measure the mileage from a landmark and report it to the Division of Wildlife.
In cases where newly hatched birds have fallen from their nest, return them to the nest if you can do so safely. Keep in mind that when young birds begin to fly, they often spend time on the ground before they perfect their navigational skills. If this seems to be the case, leave them alone and let them learn.
Some diseases that are carried by wild animals such as rabies, hantavirus, and plague, can be transmitted to people. You can do your part to prevent the spread of some diseases by not feeding wild animals. When people leave food out, it draws many animals to the same place in unnaturally high numbers. This provides a perfect way of spreading disease from domestic animals to wild animals or from wild animals to pets. When people leave food out, a disease that would normally be found in just a few individuals can cause an outbreak that affects a whole population.
If you do see an animal that is not acting normally, or is out at a time when you would not normally expect to see it, it might have a disease. Animals that appear to be sick or injured should not be handled. They might appear to be too sick to fight, but if threatened, they might try to bite. Call the Division of Wildlife if you see diseased animals.
To protect yourself against hantavirus, avoid areas that are infested with mice. Deer mice are the most common carrier of this deadly virus. It is spread through rodent excrement, urine and saliva, and most often is contracted when people breath in dust that contains mouse droppings- often when they are sweeping out buildings and stirring up dust. For more information, call the Department of Health or the Division of Wildlife.
Animals in Your Home
The key to avoiding most conflicts with wildlife is keeping unwanted animals out of homes, buildings, and yards to prevent problems from developing. Here are some tips:
- Cover window wells. You can use commercially available grates or bubbles, or make a cover using a ¼ inch hardware cloth or chicken wire.
- Close up holes around and under the foundation of your home so animals will not be tempted to move in. Bury wire mesh 1 ½ to 2 feet deep in places where animals might gain access by digging.
- Keep all garbage out of reach of wildlife by storing it only in metal or plastic containers with tight fitting lids. Don’t put trash out until the day it’s due to be collected.
- Keep pet food out of reach of wildlife. Bring it in at night.
- To keep birds from colliding with windows, mark large windows with strips of white tape or with bird silhouettes.
- Fence gardens and cover fruit trees. Or, plant extra crops and share them with wildlife. Commercially available netting can be used to protect your fruit harvest. You can also try using repellants. Call the Division of Wildlife or your extension agent for more details.
- Screen fireplace chimneys and dryer vents to prevent animals from dropping in. Chimney tops should be screened from February to September to prevent birds and animals from nesting inside. Keep them screened year-round if raccoons are a problem. Remove branches that overhang affected structures in order to cut off easy access.
- Seal all cracks and holes larger than ½ inch diameter to keep rats, mice and bats out.
Certain kinds of wildlife are most likely to come in conflict with people. Following are some tips on what to do when you encounter these animals.
Raccoons often choose chimneys and attics as substitutes for den sites in hollow trees. They may be excluded by following the tips in the paragraph above. If they are gaining access to your roof by climbing trees, you can place an 18-inch tall cylinder of sheet metal around tree trunks at least 3 feet above ground. If it’s too late to exclude them, you can contact an animal trapping or pest control company from the local yellow pages, or you can try to handle the problem yourself by putting ammonia-soaked rags or mothballs in the space where the animals are living. Close the entrance with hardware cloth when they have left.
Since raccoons are especially adept at pilfering garbage, make sure that your garbage containers have tight-fitting lids and are clamped down or tied down to keep raccoons from tipping them over. Never feed raccoons.
Squirrels; Again, exclusion is the best long-term solution to prevent squirrel problems. Since squirrels in attics are common problems, screen your attic vents on the inside with hardware cloth to keep them out. If you do not want to deal with this problem yourself, contact one of the private wild animal trapping companies listed in the phone book. If you feed squirrels, you’re setting the stage for having a squirrel problem. Do not feed squirrels.
Deer can cause considerable damage to shrubs and young trees by eating them or rubbing their antlers on them. Commercial repellants containing thiram or homemade solutions of red pepper or eggs may help. A better option may be to fence your shrubs with cylinders of wire.
Thousands of wild animals are killed by cars every year, and collisions with large animals such as deer can cause serious damage to both you and your vehicle. If you see a deer near the road, please slow down. Deer will sometimes jump into the road when frightened. If you see one deer on the road, at least one more may well be nearby.
When deer appear in or around the city, it’s usually best to do nothing and allow them to leave on their own. Tranquilizing deer, elk, or other large animals is usually not necessary and can cause injury or death to the animal. Therefore, it is used only as a last resort.
Prairie dogs may find their way into your pasture or yard. If you have questions or need help controlling them, call your local animal control agency, the Division of Wildlife, or your county extension agent.
Woodpeckers, usually common flickers, like to drum on wood siding, eaves, and shingles on homes. These birds are protected by law and cannot be killed. However, there are a number of different techniques you can use to discourage their activities. You may have to try more than one.
- Provide an alternative drumming site nearby such as two overlapping boards with the back board firmly secured to something and the front board fastened to the other board only at one end so it will resonate.
- Erect lightweight plastic or mesh netting at least 3 inches out from affected wood areas.
- Treat with repellant. Contact your local county extension agent or the Division of Wildlife for further information.
Some wild animals inevitably will get injured. This is a fact of life for animals living in the wild, and some animals must die so that others can live. Predators and scavengers would not exist if their prey were never harmed. The best course of action is often to let nature take its course. If you do find an injured animal, you can call the Division of Wildlife. Do not try to keep the animal. It is illegal to take animals from the wild. Many animals are injured as a direct or indirect result of human activities. You can help prevent injuries and death to some animals by following a few simple rules:
- Keep pets under control. Dogs of any size can form packs and kill animals as large as deer and elk. You are responsible if your dog is caught harassing or killing wildlife. Cats are efficient predators that kill many birds and other small animals.
- Use wildlife-friendly fences. Split-rail fences allow easy crossing for wild animals. If you use barbed wire, the bottom strand should be 16 inches from the ground, and the fence should be no higher than 40 inches. Leaving a 12-inch gap between the two highest wires will help reduce entanglement and wire twisting.
Many commonly encountered wildlife problems can be handled easily and safely by you, and we ask your help in doing so. However, if you do not know what to do or need further help, please call the Division of Wildlife. In an emergency after normal office hours, you can reach Division of Wildlife personnel through the Colorado State Patrol.
Colorado Parks & Wildlife
Problem/Nuisance Wildlife: 303-291-7542
Denver, CO 80216 303-291-7227
317 W. Prospect
Fort Collins, CO 80526 970-472-4300
Colorado State Patrol
Dispatch- for after business hours emergencies
Colorado Department of Health
Colorado State University Extension 1-800-824-7842