The animals are in there already, under that porch and in the attic and under the roof of that garage. They've been in a semi-hibernating state, but their litters are being born, and over the next few weeks Toronto homes will become "home" to a new generation of baby raccoons, skunks, possums, and squirrels. They were here before us, but surely not as big, or fearless, or as prolific as they are now. How can you and the city's more common critters get along? The answers below are gleaned from experts at an open house on human-wildlife "conflicts" recently at Scarborough's McGregor Park Community Centre.
1. What should I do if the raccoons are using my shed or back deck as a latrine?
Try setting out amonia-soaked rags, or motion-sensored lights. Some people feed pets outside. Even if the food isn't out there, sometimes the smell of it's there. You might need to call a reputable private wildlife company. Though people can feel intimidated by raccoons, if you can scream and yell and stamp, they will definitely run away, unless cornered. "They still realize people can hurt them. You can't be timid about it," says MaryLou Leiher, a program manager with Toronto Animal Services. Some people build a wooden casing around their barbecue. Don't ignore the little tray under the barbecue that fills up with fat. That needs to be cleaned out regularly.
2. What are some things I can do to keep raccoons out of my house?
Inspect your roof and replace worn, curled or cracked shingles and soffits. Repair any opening in your attic (but don't use chicken wire - it isn't strong enough). Trim tree branches hanging over your roof. Hang a one-metre-wide sheet metal collar around your trees two metres above the ground and remove branches below the metal. Also, cover your chimneys with an animal-proof chimney cap, says the Canadian Association for Humane Trapping.
3. How can I keep those raccoons out of my recycling bins, and does that bungee cord trick really work?
Raccoons are quick learners and know how to get into the bins. Don't set the bins out the night before collection. Usually, by 7 a.m., all raccoons and other animals interested in your recyclables are gone. If you store the bins in a garage or shed, make sure the doors and windows are closed. Toronto's solid waste division gets the most complaints about the smaller, green bins; they're very easy to tip. "I believe they're working on new designs," adds a city employee who wouldn't give his name. He said he uses a bungee cord sometimes. The city tells people to use a bungee cord with a hook to fasten the green bin to a fence or wall a couple of feet off the ground. (Remove the cord before collection.) Some commercial recycling bins are on a night collection schedule, and those businesses find it especially challenging to keep critters out, but well-tied or sealed bags are less enticing. If you freeze organic waste before putting it in the bin, that will eliminate food odours.
4. How do I stop skunks from digging under my shed, deck, or under the front porch?
Skunks will dig under structures. During the day dig a trench and bury pieces of L-shaped galvanized metal mesh, as a prevention skirt. If the toe of the "L" points outward, skunks can't get under it. But you need to leave the entrance open until all the animals have left (usually between July and November). If babies are in the den and the mother is frantic to get in, a metal barrier can cause a worse mess. It's better to wait until the young skunks are joining the mother to forage. You can sprinkle flour in front of the den to see if the babies are coming out. All wild animals set up more than one den site. "If you can get the animal out before the litter is born, that's ideal." - MaryLou Leiher, program manager, Toronto Animal Services.
5. What if I see a bird or another animal I think might be hurt, or orphaned or abandoned by its parents?