Wildlife in Autumn

What’s happening with wildlife this fall? Here are a few of the questions our Living with Wildlife Hotline operators are responding to right now:

1. “My neighbors have decorated their yard for Halloween. Can decorations harm wildlife?”

Western Screech Owl tanlged in fake spiderweb. Photo by Dave Stapp

Photo by Dave Stapp, Marin Humane. This Western Screech Owl made a full recovery at WildCare and was released.

Yes! Halloween and other holidays for which people decorate the exteriors of their homes are particularly dangerous times for wildlife.

Anything that dangles, loops or flutters is a potential hazard. Candy wrappers and increased human activity at Halloween also put animals at risk, although this year, with COVID, the activity level on Halloween will likely be lower.

How can you help keep wildlife safe this Halloween? Here are some easy ways you can help make sure this Halloween isn’t a scary one for wildlife!

  • Please don’t use fake spiderweb or other decorations made of entangling fibers. Wild animals can easily get trapped and not be able to break the material to free themselves. When you come across people who have hung the webbing, they may not be aware of the dangers to wildlife. Consider printing this flyer for them, or at least speak to them about checking the webbing twice a day, in the morning and at night, to search for entangled animals.

    Photo by Dave Stapp, Marin Humane. Click here to download and print this flyer!

  • Avoid decorations with loops or closed circles. A foraging animal can inadvertently put his head through a loop or circle and choke himself.
  • Avoid decorations with small, dangling, edible-looking parts.
  • Don’t leave candy out where wildlife may find it and dispose of all candy wrappers properly.
  • Properly dispose of carved pumpkins. Carved pumpkins may be attractive to wildlife as food, so properly dispose of them if you don’t want post-holiday trick-or-treaters.
  • Be alert for nocturnal wildlife if you go trick-or-treating. Avoid cutting across lawns and through brushy areas to avoid accidental encounters with your wild neighbors.
  • Drive safely! Drivers on Halloween night know to be on the alert for children, but we encourage you to also be aware of wildlife that may be scared out of hiding by all the unusual nighttime activity.
  • Avoid hanging lights or decorations in areas where deer pass. Strings of lights can become snare traps for adult male deer who get them caught in their antlers.
  • Click to download a poster to share with friends and neighbors about the risks to wildlife of entangling decorations!

2. “Raccoons are tearing up my lawn! Why is this happening, and what can I do about it?”

Photo by Shelly Ross

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 in the fall.

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.

Grass torn up by raccoons. Photo by Kate Lynch

What can you do about it?

1. 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.

2. 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. They can take a couple of weeks to take effect so if you’ve struggled with this issue in the past, you still have time to get ahead of it this year. Learn more about beneficial nematodes here.

Photo by Patrick Donohew

3. 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.

A permanent solution is to install a wire mesh over your yard. The grass grows to cover it quickly and it prevents animals from digging. Google “gopher wildlife mesh” for options.


3. “I had three raccoons in my green bin!”

This is another frequent occurrence in autumn– juvenile raccoons trapped in the compost or “green” bin!

This makes sense when you consider how tempting the smell of food must be to a growing raccoon who might be out looking for food on his own for the first time.

How can you prevent unwanted green bin visitors? Make sure the lids of all of our garbage containers close tightly. Use bungee cords if necessary to prevent dexterous raccoon paws from getting inside. Also make sure it isn’t easy to tip your bins over, and try putting your bins out in the morning instead of the night before if you have had problems with animals tipping them over.

4. “All the crows in my neighborhood look awful! 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 and fall are 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.

Keep watching, and within the next few weeks you’ll see your crow neighbors looking sleek, glossy and waterproof again.


5. “Speaking of crows, what’s up with the huge “gangs” of crows I’m seeing these days?”

Another frequently-asked question in the 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!