Helpful Ways to Ward Off Wildlife From Your Landscape
By Cathy Babcock | Photography by Richard Maack
The Valley has become a sprawling metropolis that has expanded into uncultivated desert. Many residential developments feature native area open spaces between the houses or incorporate wildlife corridors that keep dry washes open and natural. And whether old or newly built, HOA-run communities typically have some type of fencing restriction in place. This means that homeowners often end up sharing their neighborhood with the wildlife passing through or living nearby.
In addition to birds, rodents and even domesticated animals, desert residents frequently have to cope with coyotes, javelinas, deer, rabbits, ground squirrels and rock squirrels. So how does one go about coexisting with these wild creatures while at the same time protecting your pets and plants?
To determine an effective solution, you must first identify what’s causing damage to your landscape. Learn its habits, such as what it likes to eat, whether it is nocturnal or diurnal, and if it has set up residence in your yard. Once you identity the critter, either by visual confirmation or process of elimination, you can take specific steps to remove it or prevent its return.
Both wild and domesticated animals and birds need food, water, cover and nesting sites to survive and thrive. However, you don’t want them to set up housekeeping in your landscape. Begin wildlife-proofing your landscape by removing these elements as much as possible. Never deliberately feed coyotes, rabbits, squirrels, deer or javelinas. Doing so encourages these animals to return, which can be dangerous for you and them. If you set out bird feeders, remove daily any seed that falls underneath the feeder onto the ground. Eliminate brush piles, tall grass and wood piles that might provide hiding and nesting places. Dark and cool crawl spaces underneath decks or outbuildings are favorite spots for animals, so try to block access. Bring pet food and water dishes in at night. Secure your garbage can lids, and cover the compost pile.
DEALING WITH PERSISTENT GUESTS
After you’ve done all of the above, what can you do if unwanted animals still come to your yard? The most effective solution is to fence in your property. If you live in an HOA community, make sure to get approval from the board. Fencing can be permanent or temporary, depending on what is being protected. For example, rabbits can wipe out an entire vegetable garden overnight. Keeping bunnies away from your tender vegetables and new plantings requires permanent fencing. The fence should be at least 3 feet high, or high enough that a rabbit standing on its hind legs can’t see over the top of it, and buried at least 1 foot below ground level at the base. A solid or floppy fence made from wire mesh such as chicken wire works best. Raised beds should be the same height as the fencing. Plant rabbit-resistant growers such as fairy duster (Calliandra spp.) and lantana as deterrents.
Javelinas can be particularly distressful to homeowners, as they are large and often travel in packs. They use washes as roads and are generally nocturnal. They eat almost anything, especially flowers, succulents, garbage and birdseed. Prickly pear cacti are a culinary favorite of javelinas. Prevent them from turning your yard into their restaurant with a 4-foot-high fence buried 8 to 12 inches into the ground; this will stop them from tunneling underneath. Electric fences are inexpensive to install, but they are not the best solution if children or pets are present. Javelinas also appear to turn their snouts up at hibiscus and roses.
Scent and sound repellents are only temporary solutions, because the pest eventually becomes familiar with them. The use of live traps poses a different problem: What do you do with the animal if it is caught? Many animals are territorial, and relocating them is not a kind, or always legal, solution. Safer alternatives are motion-activated night lights or motion-detection sprinklers. Avoid poison baits; they are dangerous for pets, and also hazardous to hawks and other predators.