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Posts Tagged ‘pest animals’

Secrets of Jeff Ball’s Perfect Lawn – Week 15 of 2010

The arrival of spring is supposed to be a happy event, freeing us from cabin fever.  Unfortunately, when the snow melted this year, spring brought bad news to many  homeowners.  Parts of their lawn looked like some alien used a laser beam to leave a squiggly maze-like message on their lawns.  Unfortunately it was earthly creatures — voles — that had their way with many of our yards.

Voles look a lot like mice.  While mice have pointy noses and long tails, voles have blunt noses and short tails.  Voles experience a major population explosion every four or five years, This phenomenon is rarely noticed unless it coincides with a winter like we had this year, with extended snow cover in many parts of Michigan.

The vole damage manifests itself several ways. Sometimes it looks like wavy paths of dead grass about 2 inches wide.  More often, the paths become little ditches of bare soil about ½ inch deep. The devastation can cover 500 square feet or more.

And there’s more bad news. When the snow melted, the voles didn’t go away.  They’re still on the property, living under mulch, in weedy areas, or somewhere undercover hiding from their predators —  cats, hawks, and owls.

Voles are vegetarians and they can munch their way through a lot of additional plants after messing up lawns.  So if you did suffer vole damage on your lawn, keep an eye on your perennials this spring, especially  hostas.  If they don’t come back, they were probably lunch for some voles.  Tulips planted last fall that don’t show up this spring were probably snacks.  Voles also love to dig down and eat the tender roots of newly planted trees, shrubs, and flowers, so keep an eye on new transplants. The good news is voles don’t eat daffodils

Getting rid of voles is the next step to saving what’s left of your lawn and garden if you’ve been victimized.

Some folks rig barriers around trees and shrubs using hardware cloth, but that approach requires a fair amount of time and trouble.  While there are repellents to get rid of voles, they haven’t worked very well for me.

I recommend trapping voles with those old fashioned wooden snap traps, just like the ones my grandmother used to catch mice behind the wood stove 60 years ago.  Voles won’t go near a trap set in the open.  It has to be covered with boards leaning on a stone or even better in upturned clay flower pots.  While peanut butter bait is often effective, apples are a special treat for voles.  The technique begins with putting a slice of apple under five or six upturned clay flower pots set at least 10 feet apart in areas where you suspect voles to be hanging out – garden beds, weed patches, or mulched areas adjacent to the damaged lawn areas. Set a brick or rock on top to keep the raccoons from interfering.  If in a day or two, you find an apple slice with little teeth marks, you then place a snap trap under the pot with apple for bait, but do not set the trap.  After providing the voles a buffet for two or three nights , you set the trap. That is when you begin a serious reduction of your vole population.  This  may seem like a lot of work but you are dealing with cagey critters.

Do this again in late September and October and you can reduce the chances of being faced with lawn damage next spring.

Meanwhile, don’t assume that those vole paths in the lawn will disappear naturally as the grass plants reproduce.  If you don’t do anything, you’re just inviting weeds to grow in the bare spots. The area damaged by voles needs to be overseeded.  Don’t do that job until the weather and the soil warms in May.

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Bats benefit man by consuming immense numbers of flying insects. However, when they roost in numbers in our home, their accumulated droppings, odors, mites and lice cause problems. There is also the potential threat of rabies, but this is rare

Bats have been the subject of many horror stories and films and consequently suffer from a number of inaccurate myths.

Contrary to what you may have heard:

  • Very few bats become rabid (less than half of 1 percent).
  • Bat droppings in buildings usually are not a source of histoplasmosis.
  • Bats are not filthy and will not infest homes with dangerous parasites.
  • Bats are not aggressive and will not attack people or pets.
  • Bats in the United States do not feed on blood. (The vampire bat, which does feed on blood, lives in Latin America.)

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At a social gathering recently I was a bit upset hearing one of the guests brag about trapping six raccoons in his back yard in just three weeks.  It was what happened after the animal was trapped that upset me.  When I asked, he reported proudly that he had taken all six out to a state park and released them.  What seems like an act of kindness is really a very bad thing to do. It also happens to be illegal to move wild animals anywhere in Michigan.

When you add another of any of the pest animals such as raccoons, squirrels, and rabbits to a new wooded area, you have just caused an imbalance in the food supply for all the other similar animals already resident to that area. Generally the number of any of those animals in any territory is controlled by how much food is available in that piece of land.  Add just one more critter, much less six more critters, and the population exceeds the food supply and only bad things can happen.  Usually the stress from hunger leads to disease which kills enough of the animals to get the population down to where it is again supported by the existing food supply.

The best way to get rid of pest animals is to hire a local wildlife removal company.  They come in, trap the critter, and remove it safely for a fee.  For a list of available companies go to http://wildlife-removal.com/state/Michigan.htm.

If you insist on handling the problem yourself, you need a proper cage trap that is properly baited.  And then you need a method for disposing of the animal in a humane fashion, usually by drowning or dispatching with a gun.

Woodstream Company has just come out with an updated version of their traditional Havahart trap.  It is called the “Easy Set Cage Trap” and comes in two sizes – one for skunks, rabbits, or squirrels, and the other for raccoons, woodchucks or oppossums.  While you can use your own secret bait, such as cat food for raccoons, it is easier and more effective to buy bait designed for catching the critter at hand.

Revenge Animal Bait Kits are commonly used with success.  For about $10 you can get a bait that attracts each of the six animal pests I named above (Google “Revenge Bait Kits”).  These baits will be good for about two weeks which is usually a lot longer than you need.

All these animals are a problem because people have eliminated their natural habitat with development and they have gotten real used to eating people food thrown out in the trash.  It seems like an oxymoron to say the humane way to deal with pest animals is to kill them, but that is the sad truth and we all should respect it.

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