Kenwood Press

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Living with Wildlife: 04/15/2017

Tree trimming and trapping – proceed with extreme caution

Raccoon in Trap

As I sit huddled at my desk writing this, wearing many layers to keep warm, it’s hard to believe it’s spring. Looking out the windows though, at all the beautiful new leaves emerging on the trees and small carpets of wildflowers here and there on the ground, there’s no denying that spring has sprung. Our bird nesting boxes are all occupied, and I see the ravens working hard on their nest. Practically every little songbird I see has nesting material in its beak.

Spring is often the time of the year when humans and wildlife have a difficult time co-existing. Most birds and mammals have their young in the spring. That means that wild parents are looking for den or nest sites, building materials, and food.

We are fortunate to have so many species of birds here in our area. When they build their nests, they are carefully camouflaged to keep predators from finding them. Even experienced birders have a difficult time locating nests. That’s why this is definitely not the time of year to be trimming trees and shrubs. Some birds, such as Juncos, Towhees and Quail nest on the ground, so that’s something to be aware of as well. Trees, shrubs and grasses provide critical nesting habitat to hundreds of wildlife species. Tree trimming should be done October through February – not now.

Most birds are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and it is a federal crime to in any way disturb, harass, or otherwise harm protected wild birds or active nests.

While some birds may nest on the ground, some mammals may nest in trees. Tree squirrels always do; raccoons and opossums may as well. Rabbits nest on the ground. Skunks, foxes, coyotes and bobcats will find den sites on or under the ground. In our area, many of these animals may decide to nest in, on or under our houses, decks, sheds, barns, etc. This sometimes causes conflicts. The phones at Wildlife Rescue ring off the hook this time of year. We always ask people to try to be patient, if possible. Wild mothers only nest or den when their young are helpless. When the little ones are old enough to travel, their mom will move them to other sites. People who call because they hear baby animals inside their walls, under their bathtub, or in their attic understandably don’t want to wait. If you have that problem, I recommend you call the experts for help. Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue has an excellent humane wildlife exclusion service. You can call them at 992-0276.

Often gardeners have conflicts with wildlife. Wild animals like to dig in gardens, and lawns. They like to eat some plants, flowers, veggies, and love those tender new leaves. At our house, we were having to do battle with both deer and ground squirrels eating the leaves of our young buckeye trees – trees that I started from seed myself! I was mad.

People sometimes feel they can solve these problems by trapping. Please don’t go this route. There is no such thing as humane trapping and that includes the so-called “have a heart” traps. There are also a lot of laws involved in trapping wildlife, and this column doesn’t have enough space to cover them all, but just for starters you must first get a number and register your trap with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. You are only allowed to trap an animal for cause, i.e., damage. If you catch a non-target animal it must be released unharmed. Trapping is indiscriminate, and you have no way of knowing that you’ve trapped the offending animal. Even to me, a person with years of experience working with wildlife, all skunks look alike. So do jackrabbits, and foxes and all the others. Probably the most important thing people should know about trapping is that it is absolutely illegal to trap and relocate wildlife. I’ve had people tell me that they trapped an animal and released it at a place where it would be happier! They might be happier, but I can assure you that the animal is not. These are wild animals and they can choose to live wherever they want. How would you like it if somebody kidnapped you, dropped you off somewhere you’ve never seen before, away from anything familiar? Most relocated wildlife die trying to get back “home.”

There are many legal and humane ways to solve human-wildlife conflicts. I solved our problem with the deer and ground squirrels with two great tools. I got a repellent to spray on the leaves. The spray doesn’t wash off in the rain and it lasts about two months. It is safe for humans and pets. The second thing I got was a motion-activated sprinkler that shoots a burst of water on the offending animal That really scares them and keeps them away. You can get both of these products at Swede’s Feeds in Kenwood.

Sharon Ponsford is a a longtime volunteer with Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue and a former board member of the California Council of Wildlife Rehabilitators. She lives in Glen Ellen. If you have questions or would like to ask her about our local wildlife, please email her at

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