Ask an Expert: How Can I Keep Wildlife Out of My Home?

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Phil Ardizzone founded AT&R Trapping in 1986 in Montgomery County, MD to humanely remove animals from homes and businesses and provide long-term solutions to homeowners and commercial industries that are faced with problems resulting from nuisance wildlife. Ardizzone offered these suggestions if you find you have unwelcome wildlife taking up residence in and around your home or property.

It seems like more and more homeowners and businesses are dealing with animal invasions! Why is so much wildlife taking over people’s homes and yards?

As we develop urban and suburban areas, we encroach more and more on animals’ natural habitats. All they can do is adapt to what we’ve thrown at them—which, thankfully, they have. But that also means that we have to live with them. And that’s a real challenge.

Animals look for the basics: food, water, and shelter. Once they establish a food source, they stay as close as possible to it. Lots of vegetation, ponds where they can get water, kitchen compost—those all might make your home pretty inviting.

It seems like the features we find so attractive in our landscapes are attractive to wildlife as well!

They absolutely are. Thick grass or ground cover attracts a variety of rodents. If the cover is too close to the house, the making of a conflict begins. Plus, small rodents like rats and mice attract predators like snakes. Rodents will move in and then begin to explore the structure itself. Landscape design plays a huge part in avoiding wildlife conflict.

We have created an artificial environment for critters to live in. But we should think about it from their perspective. They don’t see it as our home. They just see a safe place to breed, with abundant food to eat. The more we understand what animals find to be attractive or available, the better we can modify those situations so we don’t have conflicts.

How much do bird feeders or otherwise feeding wildlife contribute to the problem?

Honestly, feeding birds or mammals can have a pretty negative impact because it creates a false habitat. Plus, abundant food leads to breeding.

Bird houses are fine, especially for certain species of birds that have lost the fight in our habitat modification, like bluebirds. But feeding birds can create a lot of problems.

Square cropped portrait of Eastern gray squirrel emerging from nest in the eaves of an old porch with left paw folded over chest facing camera. The background is raw and green painted wood.

What animals have become the biggest pests? Is it mostly squirrels and raccoons? It seems like foxes and coyotes are encroaching more and more into suburban and urban areas these days.

Certainly, squirrels and raccoons are the bread and butter of my business! But foxes, skunks, groundhogs, beavers, and flying squirrels—they can all create a nuisance.

Are there some basic steps homeowners can take to prevent invasions and infestations before they occur, like keeping the siding, roof, and vents in good repair?

Every house is different, but some things are consistent from house to house. Any places that ventilate air, such as exhaust vents, attics, crawl spaces, ridge vents, kitchen or bathroom fan vents, and dryer vents, are the areas that typically animals are attracted to because of the warmth that comes out of these places. It’s like a cavity in a tree: protected, safe, and in the case of the vents, warm. Because these areas are not properly protected from animals, that makes them very vulnerable.

Animals, with their claws and teeth, are well equipped to get through anything, but sometimes we make it easy for them by not closing off vents and ducts properly.

Old wooden fence from wooden planks standing at rural road

What’s the best way to prevent wildlife from becoming a problem?

If you’re building a new house, exterior products should be capable of resisting animals’ efforts to get in. If you’re building your house up on a platform, say, and it’s surrounded by lattice, extensive measures must be taken to properly exclude wildlife from the design.

Start by asking your architect and contractor if they’ve taken steps to keep animals out. A lot of products are plastic, and not very hardy, which makes them very vulnerable to a determined animal.

If you’ve been in your house a while, don’t wait until you have a problem. At that point, there is not a happy ending for the animal, and you could end up spending a lot of money and dealing with the stress of having wildlife in or under your home. At some point, take a look around your house and see if you notice places where animals could become a problem. You can hire a firm like ours to come out and walk your property with you to suggest some preventive steps you can take, especially if you notice a lot more wild animals showing up.

Your company specializes in humanely removing animals. How do you do that?

I define human treatment as being as responsible and compassionate to the animals as we can be. We never use poison. We use snap traps for mice and rats, rather than so-called humane traps. That’s because the snap traps kill the animals immediately, whereas a mouse or rat could languish for who knows how long in a live trap. We can’t relocate mice and rats, so they will have to be euthanized anyway. It’s better that snap traps do that job. We do use live traps for animals like raccoons and foxes.

Do you release any animals back into the wild?

The state of Maryland has specific regulations guiding what we can and can’t release into the wild. As I said, we can’t “relocate” mice and rats. Neither can we release raccoons, foxes, beavers, or skunks. Those all must be humanely euthanized. We can relocate squirrels, groundhogs, and opossums.

What’s important to keep in mind is that relocating or releasing wild animals into a foreign environment may not be the most humane way to treat them. Not only do they undergo a lot of stress in a trap, but they’re getting released into a totally unfamiliar environment where they could easily become prey.

I don’t trap animals on every job. Sometimes I install one-way doors that let animals exit and not re-enter.

Do you ever recommend that homeowners trap pests themselves?

I do not. If people call and ask how to do it, we don’t give advice over the phone. There are a lot of reasons for that. One is, the homeowner may not be prepared for what ends up in the trap. You need a full operational plan in place to know what to do with whatever animal you trap. If an animal gets trapped and is legal to relocate, it should be removed from that trap as quickly as possible to increase its chances of survival.

Is the solution for a rodent or an animal like a fox always going to involve trapping?

Not necessarily. Animals are individuals. What works for one may not work for another. One fox might take off if you disturb her den and never return; others might completely ignore you. A professional looks at the big picture, connects all the dots as to why the conflict is taking place, and makes the changes that hopefully motivate the animal to go elsewhere.

How do you deal with bats in attics?

We do not trap bats at all. We inspect the structure that they’ve gotten into—like the attic—identify all entry points and vulnerabilities, and then install one-way doors to allow them to exit. We want them to be able to leave on their own, and not be able to return.

How do you deal with deer?

We don’t trap them. Instead, depending on the property, we may erect a 10-foot tall fence. Deer can easily clear an 8 foot fence, so it has to be higher.

The biggest complaint people have about deer is that the animals eat their ornamental plants. So, you can either put in plants deer don’t like, or you can put up fencing to protect them.

There’s no one template to resolve every wildlife problem. Our goal is to help people understand wildlife and have as happy an ending as possible.

This guest post features Phil Ardizzone of AT&R Trapping.

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