Deer overtake a front lawn Credits: Getty Images
Hope Swinimer, founder of Hope for Wildlife Society, gives her best advice for dealing with animals—from raccoons in the attic to baby birds on the lawn—in everyday life.
Hope Swinimer knows all about wildlife. She's run Hope for Wildlife Society in Halifax, N.S., for over 20 years, has her own TV show on Cottage Life on Wednesdays at 8 p.m., and works to rehabilitate injured and orphaned local animals while educating the public on ways to live in harmony with the natural world.
Swinimer sees animals brought to the rescue for all kinds of reasons, many of them due to acts of humans, and many incidents can be avoided with proper education. Here are her four suggestions for protecting the wildlife in your neighbourhood.
1. Stop your cats and dogs from roaming.
"A lot of people think it's natural for cats to hunt," says Swimimer. "But cats are an invasive species. We've brought them into our world and they need to be controlled." Right now, outdoor and feral cats continually eat songbirds and the food sources necessary for other wild animals (such as minks and weasels) to survive. Keep your cats indoors or build them an outdoor enclosure.
Also, don't allow your dogs to chase wildlife. "They can chase deer and exhaust them," says Swimimer. "Dogs many not want to kill or hurt the deer, but it will burn the deer's valuable calories and could put the deer in distress."
2. Prevent window strikes.
If you have a large span of windows at home or work, purchase window decals to notify birds of the glass. Some decals are so discreet that they can't even be detected by the human eye. Also avoid placing trees in front of your windows. Birds could fly directly into the trees and ram into the glass behind them.
3. Reduce your speed at dawn and dusk.
Many animals are on the move at dawn and dusk, says Swinimer, so reduce the speed of your vehicle, remain alert and even avoid driving at those times if possible. "It's amazing how many animals are killed, not to mention people that are injured, due to impact injuries with wild animals," she says.
4. Put a fence around your garden and patch up holes in your home.
Prevention is key. Animals won't become a nuisance if you take preventative measures to stop them from eating your vegetables and flowers or setting up camp in your home. Ensure that all holes are patched in your attic and ensure that there are caps on your chimney, dryer vents and the vents that go into your bathrooms.
Of course, you may still come in contact with a wild animal that is alone, injured or in a place that it's not supposed to be. Swinimer has advice for what to do in a few common scenarios.
Scenario 1: You find a fawn alone in your yard, a park or a field.
Unless you have reason to believe that the mother is dead—for example, you see a dead deer by the side of the road and a baby 10 metres away—or you see the fawn shivering or covered in blood, you should probably leave it alone. Mother deer stow their newborn fawns in a safe place, then return two or three times a day for feeding.
Scenario 2: You see a baby bird crawling around on the ground.
Leave it alone! Again, unless the fledgling is injured, it is a normal part of life for it to learn to fly from the ground up. The parents are likely on the lookout, feeding it every hour.
If you're unsure whether or not to bring a baby to a wildlife rescue, give your local rescue a call. A quick phone call is better than bringing in an animal for no reason. The rescue will simply have to return it to its home, which takes valuable time.
Scenario 3: You find an injured bird or squirrel.
Throw a towel over the animal and gently place it in an enclosed cardboard box (with air holes) before driving it to a local rescue. "Most animals become calm and less fearful when they go into darkness," says Swinimer. Keep the car extremely quiet to minimize stress.
Don't hold onto the animal for a few hours or days. A baby bird can die of starvation in five or six hours because young birds consume an incredible amount of food. If the animal has a broken bone, it is in excruciating pain even if it doesn't show it. Don't feed it milk or bread.
Scenario 4: You find an injured skunk, raccoon or bird of prey.
If you don't want to touch the animal, or are scared for your safety, you can call a rescue and ask for a pick up. "We have a wonderful group of volunteers—over 300—and we have a dispatch page," says Swinimer. "If we get a call about a bald eagle, for example, I will post it to our trained volunteers and they will zip out, catch it quickly and bring it straight to our doctors." Since most rescues are run by volunteers, they can sometimes miss calls, but most will do their best to fulfill requests whenever possible.
Scenario 5: There are raccoons in your attic.
In most scenarios, a mother raccoon has found a safe space to have her babies and take care of them for a few weeks. "They never stay in their nesting site," says Swinimer. "If you have an old house and don't plan on patching the hole [where they entered the building] for awhile, you may just want to wait until mom takes her babies away."
If you can't wait, place a radio and a bright light in the attic for two or three days. The mother will become fearful and move her babies to a different den site. "Once you don't hear the chirping of the babies anymore, you can go up and patch the hole," Swinimer says. If you don't fix the hole, you will have raccoons again in short order.
If, after all your best efforts, you still have a raccoon or raccoon family in your home, you can hire a well-trained wildlife control company to humanely remove the animals. Swinimer recommends Skedaddle Humane Wildlife Control, which has locations in Halifax, Montreal and several cities in Ontario.