Archive for Thursday, June 8, 2006

Squirrels, rabbits create mischief

June 8, 2006

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Flowers are not the only enjoyable life in the garden. The amazing aerobatic antics of eastern gray tree squirrels can amuse gardeners for hours ... up the tree, across the power line, over the roof and down to the bird feeder for a mid-morning snack. Likewise, furry cute bunnies can bounce freely through the green grass, stopping just long enough to steal a quick bite of clover or dandelion. Although both are clever and mischievous, they wear out their welcome when they begin chewing on something more desirable. Here are some options for keeping unwanted squirrels and rabbits out of the garden or off of the front porch:

Gray tree squirrels live in a wide variety of habitats. Although they prefer hardwood and pine tree forests, they can find safe haven in old structures, dead trees and other nondesirable locations, such as the attic of a home. They feed on acorns, hickory nuts, walnuts and osage orange fruits. They survive the winter by eating tree buds. Then, in the spring and summer, they eat succulent plant materials such as bulbs, perennials, fungi, corn, berries and fruits when available. When food is scarce, they chew on tree bark, insects and other animal matter. Basically, they eat just about anything that does not run away.

Rabbits can damage landscape trees and shrubs as well as eat succulent green plants. During winter months, they strip bark from a wide variety of plants and eat the buds of fruit and evergreen trees.

The clipped branches have a clean "knife-like" cut to them. They usually clip stems 1/4 inch in diameter or less. And they can reach as high as 20 inches off the ground. Repeated clipping can cause unusual plant growth and development. Rarely do they damage the bark enough to cause plant death. During the growing season, rabbits eat a wide variety of plants, including both the flowers and vegetative parts.

Unfortunately, chewing, digging and eating in undesirable locations is a learned behavior for both creatures. And getting the varmints to stop is difficult because it has to be "unlearned" or discouraged to the point of leaving. This is much easier said than done. There are a variety of commercial products available on the market to discourage squirrel chewing and rabbit feeding. Many do not work, and those that do only are effective for a short period of time.

The next option is exclusion. If possible, use heavy-gauge mesh wire to protect soffits, eaves and other areas vulnerable to chewing. Try covering the top of flower pots with the same wire to stop digging. Fasten the wire in such a way as to allow plants to grow through openings cut in the wire. Around the garden and flower bed, chicken wire 2 feet tall and securely fastened to the ground will keep rabbits out. Keep in mind that once animals find food, they will work hard to find it again.

If exclusion fails to work, the only option left is trapping. There are two types of traps: live and nonlive traps. To use a live trap, such as box trap, tie the trap door open for a day or two. Once the animal is used to feeding, set the trap. Check the trap at least twice daily. Good baits to use are orange and apple slices, walnuts, pecans and peanut butter. For the traps to be effective, animals must be relocated at least 10 to 12 miles away. Unfortunately, this seemingly humane method of dealing with a squirrel or rabbit may not be the best for him in the long run. They are very territorial and rely on experiences for knowing where to find food, shelter and water. For relocation to be effective, animals must be taken out of their territory. This means they do not know where to find food, shelter and water. Plus, they do not know predator populations or rival dominant animals. Long story short, humane relocation usually results in long, slow death. With that said, nonlive traps work - no question. However, because of such high animal presence in town, it will not be long before a new visitor can be spotted doing the same things.

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