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Help keep critters outside where they belong: Tips for homeowners on how to secure your house



January 10, 2008


Susan Barnes (971) 673-6010
Christie Scott (971) 673-6038

squirrel with hair mites
Fox Squirrel with hair mites

Clackamas, Ore — Winter is the season where animals like squirrels, raccoons, skunks and opossums are all looking for a warm place to stay and an easy meal – if they can get it.  Susan Barnes, wildlife biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife urges residents to take steps to keep wildlife out of structures and outside, where they belong.  “It’s better for wildlife and for humans when animals remain outdoors where they belong,” she explains. 

Residents can take a variety of steps to protect their homes from entry of unwanted animals.  Sealing your home properly by closing chimneys, attics and crawl spaces; repairing holes or weak spots around your home where an animal could enter and trimming tree limbs six to eight feet from your house are all good deterrents.  Removing food sources such as bird feeders, wildlife feeders and fallen tree fruit is also recommended. 

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife discourages home owners from using animal feeders intended for animals such as squirrels, raccoons or other mammals.  According to Barnes, animals can actually be harmed by feeders, rather than helped.  “It’s a common misconception that urban wildlife don’t have enough food to survive, so well-meaning individuals attempt to supplement that food source.  What actually happens is that people create a situation where both animals and humans are put at risk,” she explained.

Feeding wildlife can increase the occurrence of disease transmission as animals come into closer contact with one another and in higher numbers than naturally would occur.  Diseases such as a parasitic mites can be spread to other animals using the feeder.  Some diseases carried by wildlife can potentially be spread to domestic pets and humans. 

Providing a constant source of food for mammals can also create an unnatural over-population of animals in a concentrated area where the available resources are not enough to support the animals’ other needs such as shelter and nest sites.

Additional information on living with urban wildlife can be found on-line.


FAQ on living with urban wildlife

What should I do if have an animal in or under my house?

  • Lights and/or radio may help to drive animal out of structures.
  • If an animal is loose in the house, block off the room it's in, provide one way out (open a window or a door) and watch until you see the animal leave.
  • For many animals, the smell of ammonia is very unpleasant.  Placing an ammonia soaked cloth or a tuna-sized can of ammonia near the area where the animal is, might encourage the animal to move on.
  • If you discover an animal in a fireplace, close the damper immediately.  Then open the doors or screen slightly and use a hand-held fishing net to capture the animal.  Cover the net opening with a board and quickly take the animal outside for release.  Squirrels can chew their way out through nets very quickly, so it may be more effective to "shoo" them in the direction of an exit.
  • If an animal is in a stove fan, disassemble the fan and, as you remove it hold a fishing net under the hole.  Avoid handling a wild animal; use caution and appropriate protection, such as heavy gloves.
  • If a squirrel is caught in a wood stove pipe (tin type), the easiest way to get them out is to lower a braided rope (at least 1/2" thick) down the pipe and leave.  They will be able to climb out on their own.  Be sure to use a braided rope, as other types could be too slippery.
  • Make sure the animal has exited before sealing any opening. Try using flour or talcum powder by the exit hole to highlight any tracks.
  • Wildlife control operators can assist residents that need to trap, relocate or remove animals.  Contact your local ODFW office to find these types of businesses in your area. 

How do I protect my house from animals in the winter?

  • Screen attic vents, chimneys and crawl spaces on the inside with hardware cloth to keep squirrels and other animals out. 
  • Trim branches hanging over buildings within 6-8 feet from the structure.
  • Install one-way doors to allow animals to leave, but not to enter. 
  • Bring pet food containers indoors.
  • Place 18-inch metal cylinders around trees, place plastic pipe or collar around wires (electric wire should be done by professionals).
  • Enclose compost bins and secure trash containers with a tight-fitting lid.

What should I do if I see animals other than birds at my bird feeder?

  • Remove your bird feeders for 2-3 weeks.  Removing the food source will encourage other animals to move on. 
  • Clean up any birdseed that has fallen to the ground. 
  • When putting bird feeders back up, place bird feeders on a tall pipe with a baffle so squirrels cannot reach them.
  • Use 2 inch by 4-inch mesh wire over and around bird feeders to keep other animals out.

How do I keep my bird feeder clean?

  • Use a solution of one part bleach and nine parts water once a month to clean and sanitize your bird feeders. 
  • If there is mold in the feeder, scrub out with a stiff brush and then clean with a bleach solution. 
  • Wait until feeder is completely dry before filling with bird feed.
  • When re-filling feeders, remove any old seed before adding new.
  • Don’t fill the feeder completely.  Use smaller amounts of feed so there is less waste and less chance of mold.
  • A thorough cleaning once or twice a year will help keep birds healthy.



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