Wildlife Matters…with Dell Cullum

You Can Live With Wildlife:

Here on the east end we are fortunate to have many beautiful wildlife species. I say that a lot because it’s quite remarkably true. The number of wildlife species just on the east end alone practically rival some states entirely. Our various songbirds could fill a booklet, but add in the waterfowl, the game birds, marsh birds and shore birds, then the seabirds, and of course the variety of birds of prey, and you’ve got yourself a literal catalog of winged species on the east end of Long Island that would impress any wildlife enthusiast. Even during a time when our worldwide bird populations are dwindling at an accelerated rate, much due to human impact, the east end remains a beacon of beauty to all species. Even our most beautiful migratory guests, like the Osprey, Snowy Owl and the Hummingbird continue to thrive year after year in this special place we call home.

As we get closer to 2020, we find our present state experiencing more problematic issues between human life and wildlife than ever before. Being on an island gives us limited space to start. Every house, road, parking lot, cleared lot, is habitat once belonging to wildlife, now eliminated. This creates an incredible burden on all wildlife species. We see this most prevalent in our deer.

The deer population has increased very little over the past 20 years or more. Science has suggested that deer regulate their own population according to the amount of habitat they have to live in. When habitat is too confining, female deer seem to have smaller (single) litters. Habitat that is abundant, will often find deer giving birth to predominantly twins or even triplets. Either way it’s common sense, keep eliminating the available habitat for wildlife, and they will be forced into dense pockets and pushed into areas that will only make them more problematic; like in the roads, your property, or your house. In other words, take away the habitat and home of a critter to build yourself a house, and more than likely the critter will make your house, their house as well. Your soffit and gable vents are nothing more than available holes in deluxe accommodating, yet unique looking trees to these critters.

This unfortunate and unavoidable fact has mysteriously turned the wildlife into the “bad-guy” and left the panicking humans running in circles, completely bewildered, calling one of the hundreds of pest control operations to come and eliminate every living thing around their perimeter, bad and good. It’s just a catastrophe on so many levels. What folks don’t realize is it’s much easier and healthier to simply live WITH the wildlife, and take the proper precautions and steps to “critter-proof” your home. It can be done, it does work and I’m going to give you the basics to get you started. Every home is different but, with the proper expert instruction, any home can be critter-proofed. We’ll talk about securing your outdoor property from nuisance wildlife at another time, but this month it’s all about the house.

Okay, let’s start from the ground up. Your foundation is key when it comes to the #1 nuisance wildlife critter, the mouse. Remember, your foundation was built to set your house on top of. Any space that can accommodate the tip of your pinky finger, can be an access point for a mouse. All conduit, PVC, flex, plumbing , gas lines, and wires that pass through the foundation MUST be sealed properly with the proper sealant. Most often these holes are cut well in advance and even more often they are cut bigger than the material passing through it. Foams and chalking deteriorate over time and need to be reapplied. Steel wool oxidizes, and like its non-oxidizing cousin copper wool it can easily be pulled out by even a mouse over a period of time. Use either a permanent sealant (cement) or inspect annually. Make sure your basement windows are sealed properly and put plastic shields over your window wells to keep baby opossums and snakes from accidentally falling in and getting trapped. Basement bilco-doors must be installed properly with sealant where it meets the house and on a level bilco-door foundation. I also suggest a door at the bottom of the basement entry of the bilco with no gap at the saddle (bottom). You get that foundation tightened up and you’re halfway to Fort Knox.

After that, your safe all the way up to your gutter-line or roof edge. Unless you’re one of those people who leave their air conditioner in the window year round. I never understood that gamble. I get dozens a call each year for critters pushing out the side plastic a/c spacers and moving right in on seasonally vacant homes. There is nothing more secure than a closed window folks. The roof-line is where the real action occurs, so my advice is, keep the critters from reaching your roof and they’ll move on to your neighbors house. But let’s actually talk about the roof first. Cedar shingle roofs on lathe is the most vulnerable of roofs in regards to raccoons. It has everything to do with age of the roof and the grade of shingle used. New homes should absolutely use the heaviest grade of shingle and only allow up to 2″ max space between lathe. The smaller the space the better. Some folks even staple a layer of chicken wire or hardware cloth over the lathe before installing the shingles.

Asphalt shingle roofs are less likely to get breached because below the shingle is a layer of plywood. The only vulnerable location on this type of roof is right at the gutter-line under the very first asphalt tile or the top crown. Below the crown or gutter tile is a space (I call a contractors space). I’m not sure of the purpose but, I suspect it has something to do with venting or air flow. Either way, the space is usually an inch or more open and a great head start for a raccoon to claw his way in by making it just a bit bigger. Remember the rule of thumb with raccoons; if their head fits, their body follows. Underneath that bushy coat is a slinky cats body that can stretch and narrow itself to get into and through some pretty tight and small spaces. To make matters worse with asphalt roof breaches at the gutter-line, is that you usually can’t see them from the ground and they often go unnoticed. So, if you’re hearing activity in your attic space but, you don’t see any breaches around the roof area, you might want to get up on the roof and check the tiles above the gutters.

All chimneys must be capped with a fine but durable mesh top. Bats, Flying Squirrels, Grey Squirrels, Raccoons, even Seagulls and other birds can either fall into these openings or climb into, only to find they can’t climb out. The exception is the female raccoon who often uses the top of a fireplace flue as a nursery to raise her young, easily climbing in and out each night. If you can keep the critters from reaching the roof, then rooftop venting and crown venting is only left vulnerable to flying squirrels who can glide onto your roof from a higher nearby tree. Again, make sure all vulnerable entries on the roof have secure screens and no spaces bigger than your finger to pass into. Raccoons often tear the covers off of roof vents, bend the fan blades and drop into your attic like Santa Claus down a chimney. My advice is either eliminate the vents, or reenforce the covers and screens. The screens are usually NOT secured to the vent and are easily pulled away.

Tree limbs that touch or hang low over a roof, and vegetation that climbs the sides of exterior walls or lattice MUST be removed to insure critters won’t use these items as ladders to reach your roof. Raccoons are not good jumpers so, simply cutting vegetation 2′ away from your home will eliminate that ladder option. Squirrels on the other hand can jump about 16′, but they prefer shorter jump distances. Cutting or planting all trees away from your home will only benefit you in nuisance wildlife prevention. Leaving trees and climbing vines to accent the beauty of your home will only result in the reverse every time. If you insist on this type of landscaping, then don’t waste your time taking precautions on anything else, and by all means befriend a trapper because you’re going to become very close.

I saved the most vulnerable for last; gable vents and soffit vents. Gable vents are simple. Don’t rely on the factory screening. Before installation (or after) Re-screen with 1/4″ hardware cloth both front and back. Particularly if your gable vent is made of wood, plastic or aluminum. This is the primary locations for nuisance wildlife entry. Soffit vents should also be reinforced or fixed permanently (not removable). The soffit ends should also be well secured in both design and construction. This is a great leverage location for squirrels to breach. If squirrels are getting to your roof via the utility lines from the road, call PSE&G and have them install a wildlife wire collar. I believe they are required to do so if necessary.

Bats can be controlled by placing bat houses in recommended locations around your home. This keeps the critters around to eat insects (mainly mosquitos), but out of your belfry when they get tired. Most bats gain access into attic spaces through gable vents with ripped screens ; however, they also like to roost behind facia boards along the roof line that aren’t flush to the house siding. To avoid this, stuff the space with that lite-gauge deer netting that drapes over low bushes. This material can be waded up and stuffed into that space, filling the void and making it unaccommodating to the bats. No glues or adhesives necessary.

Canned foam is a great material for filling all vulnerable spaces. Yes, it can be chewed through and breached but, it also gives you information of the cause. It allows you to identify the vulnerable location, identify the critter, and all this usually before they actually bore all the way through. At that point you can secure with a more permanent material or re-foam; however, this time blow a small amount of cayenne pepper onto the foam immediately after application (before it dries). This won’t kill the critters, but they WILL leave the area alone.

Of all this great information, I left one thing out. How to keep the climbing critters from simply climbing up the corner of your home and reaching the roof. We all know that both raccoons and squirrel can, and often do it. Well my friends, the answer is as easy as all the other advice I just shared with you, but you’re going to have to give me a call to gain this knowledge; 631-377-6555. I’ve been 100% successful in making my clients homes critter-proof. No more do they require those bi-annual visits from trappers or pest control companies. Yes my friends, you can critter proof your home, and then relax and enjoy the beauty of our magnificent wildlife, your beautiful home, and living together in natural harmony. Now THAT’S living.

Remember folks,… wildlife matters. Thank You.

~Dell Cullum

Hampton Wildlife  631-377-6555
Wildlife Rescue of East Hampton, Inc.  844-SAV-WILD (844-728-9453)
Evelyn Alexander Wildlife Rescue & Rehab Center   631-728-WILD (9453)