Late summer and fall mean a surge in calls to WildCare's Living with Wildlife Hotline 415-456-7283, and three of the most common questions involve raccoons, foxes and crows.
1. Raccoons are tearing up my lawn! Why is this happening, and what can I do about it?
This is a very common question this time of year, and what our hotline operators tell callers is that they don't actually have a raccoon problem, they have a grub problem!
A well-watered lawn offers prime habitat for the larvae of different types of scarab beetles, like Japanese Beetles or so-called "June bugs". The beetles lay their eggs during the summer, and the larvae (grubs) hatch right about now.
Raccoons have excellent hearing, and as they cross your lawn during their nightly foraging rounds (eating mice, rats, snails, crickets and other garden pests!) the sound of the tasty fat grubs moving around under the lawn is irresistible!
To further complicate matters, at this time of year the baby raccoons from this past spring are now rambunctious "teenagers" and their mother needs to teach them how to forage for food on their own. Food sources like grubs are easy pickings, so Mom makes a point to bring her brood to a grub-filled lawn to demonstrate how to dig for these tasty morsels.
What can you do about it? First, change your lawn watering schedule. Grubs come up to the surface and become more active when there is moisture. Raccoons are most active at night (although at this time of year, you may see the occasional group of juveniles playing in your backyard during the day while mom is sleeping).
Watering during the night means the grubs are at their most noisy just as the raccoons are passing through. Change your sprinklers to spray after dawn and your yard won't be as attractive to wandering raccoon families.
Second, use beneficial nematodes! Getting rid of the grubs is the best way to permanently discourage the raccoons.
Obviously you don't want to use toxic pesticides, so organic gardeners and followers of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) principles recommend adding these microscopic roundworms to your soil. The nematodes invade the grubs and kill them, without harming you, the soil or wildlife.
Note that beneficial nematodes can take a couple of weeks to take effect. Learn more about beneficial nematodes here.
Third, in conjunction with the first two suggestions, try deterrents. The Scarecrow Sprinkler (buy it here http://amzn.to/2okHhSR) is a motion-activated sprinkler that sends a heart-stopping spray of water across your yard when it senses motion. It can be effective against digging raccoons, but you'll need to move the Scarecrow around regularly, as intelligent raccoons quickly become used to it. Strobe lights, loud noise and scent deterrents may also help.
2. "My backyard is full of bits of mice. I know I have a family of foxes nearby, but what's up with the icky bits of their food everywhere?"
If you're lucky enough to have your yard chosen by a family of Gray Foxes, all we ask is that you take pictures!
These wonderful animals love to find a protected backyard to raise their kits, and they seem to especially enjoy lounging on your patio furniture (and eating any rodents in the vicinity!)
Few things are as charming as watching baby Gray Foxes playing, pouncing and learning to hunt. But as the kits get older, callers report that they're finding bits of mouse and other prey items scattered around their yards.
You can thank the diligent care of the father fox for that!
The youngsters are just now growing in their adult teeth, but as those teeth come in, Dad needs to "cut up" their food for them.This translates into lots of meaty bits strewn around the yard.
Don't worry, very soon, as the kits finally develop their adult teeth, they'll be ready to leave their protected nursery (your patio) and start hunting with their parents.
Note that foxes are very curious, but they're also shy. If you see them staring at you while they roam the neighborhood, they aren’t squaring off for a fight or trying to intimidate you, they’re simply checking you out.
3. "All the crows in my neighborhood look awful! They're all mangy and grubby looking. Are they sick?"
If the crows (and ravens!) in your neighborhood aren't looking their sleek black selves, it's not because they're ill. Late summer is when these birds molt, replacing old, worn-out and broken feathers with shiny, silky new ones.
Molting happens now, when this spring's baby crows have grown up enough to not need constant care, and the demands on the parent crows' resources are lower. There's still plenty of food around, and it's usually warm too, so suffering through a few "bad hair days" with missing feathers isn't deadly.
4. "Speaking of crows, what's up with the huge "gangs" of crows I'm seeing these days?"
Another frequently-asked question in late summer/early fall!
Crows are social animals, and they enjoy each other's company. Most of the birds in those big flocks are this year's youngsters, now able to fly, forage and socialize. If you've seen packs of pre-teens at the local mall, this is a similar phenomenon.
Young birds get together to play, squabble, chase and learn together, creating big, noisy flocks that seem to stretch on forever. Watch as winter comes for these groups to get smaller as the crows find mates and territories of their own.
Do you have other wildlife questions? Call WildCare's Living with Wildlife Hotline at 415-456-SAVE (7283) for advice!