5 Wildlife Creatures Found in San Diego Backyards and What to Do (Or Not Do) With Them

5 Creatures Found in San Diego Backyards and What to Do (Or Not) With Them

Wildlife abounds in California.

Given its proximity to canyons, mountains, coastal sage, and desert landscapes, San Diego in particular is full of snakes, squirrels, raccoons, skunks, opossums, and more, so it’s not unusual for homeowners to find all manner of creatures in their yards. Many times, wildlife in backyards is a welcome addition – until it’s not.

Below are some of the common creatures found in Southern California backyards and what to consider with each type:

1. Raccoons

Native to North America, raccoons are nocturnal animals that forage and feed at night. If you live in San Diego and have a yard, chances are you’ve seen a raccoon rooting through your trash or eating your dog’s pet food. The raccoon is an omnivorous creature that eats nearly anything, including fruits, plants, insects, rodents, and whatever else it can find. Although it eats anything, usually the only things eating it are larger predators like coyotes and bobcats.

Are They a Problem?

Many times, raccoons will be noisy and frequent visitors to your backyard, but don’t pose any issues. However, it’s important to note that raccoons do carry diseases like distemper, rabies, and “raccoon roundworm.” The first one affects dogs only, but the second two can be fatal for humans as well. Raccoons can also damage lawns and gardens in their search for food.

How to Keep or Remove Raccoons From Your Yard?

Secure your trash cans with bungee cords or use critter-proof garbage cans like the ones found here.

 Keep your trash cans inside a shed or garage.

 Freeze smelly food like fish between trash pickup days.

 Put a battery-operated radio in your garden and keep it tuned to an all-night music or news channel to scare away curious raccoons.

 Use humane electric fencing around garden areas where raccoons like to forage.

 Apply a hot sauce repellant to the perimeter of your lawn or fresh sod. Mix a bottle of hot sauce with one gallon of water, add a teaspoon of detergent, combine well and pour it all into a spray bottle and apply to areas where raccoons enter.

 Use a “scaring” device such as a movement-activated sprinkler or lights.

 Bring pet food and water indoors at night, and store extra food in a locked shed or cabinet.

Additional Notes:

 Ensure your pets are vaccinated against rabies and distemper.

 Pay close attention to wood piles near your home as raccoons can use them as bathrooms and old raccoon poop carries the fatal raccoon roundworm parasite. Keep your woodpiles clean and if you find poop, spray it down with water and bag it while wearing a face mask and gloves.

Skunks in San Diego

2. Skunks

Like raccoons, skunks are also nocturnal animals. Skunks hunt at night for insects, small rodents, snakes, frogs, berries and fruit, and will also eat pet food, bird food, and garbage. Skunks also love bird eggs.

Skunks live in burrows, brush piles, and hollow logs, but will also hunker down under decks, porches, or buildings.

Are They a Problem?

Well, as you’ve probably discovered once of twice in your life, skunk smell is awfully hard to un-remember. Really though, skunks become a nuisance when they “nest” under your porch, deck, shed, or house. They’ll also create some garden and/or sod damage by digging for grubs and other insects. The musky smell raccoons emit could be annoying if it’s prolific, and it tends to peak in February during the breeding season when male raccoons get in spray fights over females. Most importantly, rabies and roundworm is an issue with skunks as with raccoons.

How to Keep or Remove Skunks From Your Yard?

 Cut back overgrown shrubs

 Stack firewood tightly

 Pick up fallen tree fruit frequently

 Use garbage cans with tight-fitting lids

 Don’t put table scraps in compost bins

 Remove pet food at night

 Close off all possible entry points or openings under houses, sheds, porches, and/or decks with quarter-inch mesh hardware.  Bury the wire six inches underground to discourage digging.

 Secure pet doors at night

 Try repacking any den burrows you find with leaves or hay to discourage skunks from returning “home.” Used kitty litter has been known to work as well.

 Try using light or noise repellants around areas where you’ve observed skunks

Additional Notes:

 If you need to remove “skunk smell,” try mixing one quart of 3% hydrogen peroxide with 1/4 cup baking soda, and one teaspoon of liquid soap. Apply fresh (this mixture doesn’t keep) to items sprayed by skunks – including pets and people. After use, dilute the mixture with a lot of water and wash it down the drain. Rinse pets with water after treatment.

 Rats in San Diego

3. Rats

No doubt about it, rats are prolific creatures that can successfully live in most conditions. These rodents eat everything, and because their front teeth never stop growing, they like to chew on things to keep them worn down to a manageable size. Rats nest in quiet, dark and out-of-the-way locations and in suburban areas, tend to burrow under homes, in undergrowth, and even in gas barbecues.

Are They a Problem?

Rats carry several diseases that can harm humans, and in fact are the biggest transmitters of diseases than any other creature (except the mosquito), so it’s best to control your rat population if you have one. Check for droppings, tracks, burrows, and gnawed holes in areas under your home. Considering that rats can slip into spaces the size of a quarter, it’s rather easy for them to set up residence in areas you might think are impossible to enter. Common places to enter a home include heating vents, or water pipes.

How to Keep or Remove Rats From Your Yard?

 If you have a rampant rat population, traps (although none are completely humane), will remove rats you have. Poisons aren’t recommended in homes with children or pets.

 Seal holes and other openings leading to your home with heavy-gauge screening.

 Plug gaps in walls with copper mesh

 Seal cracks and pipe gaps where they pass through walls with caulking and wire mesh

 Remove any old wood or other piled up debris from your yard to discourage rat nesting

 Clean domestic pet droppings daily

 Remove pet food at night

 Keep garbage cans tightly covered

 Store wood and other materials one foot off the ground and away from the house

 After every use of your grill, throw out food packages, crumbs and drippings. Seal all entry points that rodents could use to gain access to the grill.

Additional Notes:

 Many homeowners have been surprised by a rat in their grill and to eliminate the risk posed by rat droppings, it’s best to clean your grill before use by using a metal grill brush to remove charred pieces of food, and cleaning surfaces with dish detergent and water. Disinfect tools after cleaning by using 1/4 cup of bleach to a gallon of water.

 Opossums in San Diego

4. Opossums

Opossums are marsupials (yes – like kangaroos!) and eat rodents, insects, snails, slugs, birds, eggs, plants, fruits and “people” food like table scraps as well as dog and cat food. Not dangerous animals in the least, opossums still may look like it when they growl or hiss when threatened. The animal will also “play ‘possum” when all else fails and act as if they were dead if they feel their lives truly are in danger.

Are They a Problem?

Not really, if fact opossums are virtually immune to rabies, and while they will eat the scraps left by a garbage-rooting raccoon, you normally won’t find opossums in your trash cans. Opossums are also often called “nature’s gardeners” because they eat the slugs, snails, and insects that can infest your garden. As a bonus, they also eat rats and keep them naturally in check. Finally, the non-aggressive opossums are nomadic and if you see some in your yard, they probably won’t stay very long.

How to Keep or Remove Opossums From Your Yard?

 Do not leave pet food out at night

 Do not leave garage doors, or pet doors open at night

 Remove any fruit that has fallen from your trees

 Cover garbage cans at night to discourage opossums following behind other animals for their scraps

 Prune and clear away dense bushes, woodpiles and other dark “hiding” places

Additional Notes:

 It’s actually quite common for opossums to fall into pools as they try to access water. If you can, keep swimming pools and hot tubs covered at night and if you want to be really welcome about it, put a bowl of water nearby so that the opossum will have a water source.

 Squirrels in San Diego

5. Squirrels

Although they’re much cuter than rats, squirrels belong to the rodent family, too. Unlike rats, most squirrels are vegetarians that eat nuts, seeds, buds, fruits, leaves, bark, and flower bulbs. If you take a good look at the wide open grassy spaces in San Diego, you’ll most likely see a squirrel (or many of them) running across fields and up and down trees.

Are They a Problem?

Gardeners tend to dislike squirrels because of the creature’s tendency to dig up flower bulbs. No part of the garden is truly safe with squirrels as they love to hide and root up their food later – making large holes in the process. Squirrels also often make holes in lawns, and chew on wooden decks and furniture. This tree-dwelling rodent is also famous for snacking in bird feeders. Finally, tree squirrels can carry diseases, like “rabbit fever” and ringworm, which can be transmitted to humans. They are also frequent carriers of fleas, mites and other undesirables.

How to Keep or Remove Squirrels From Your Yard?

 Keep tree branches trimmed to six feet away from your home’s roof lines

 Stop squirrels from climbing trees and power poles by wrapping a two-foot-wide metal collar (i.e., two-foot band of sheet metal) six feet up the tree or pole

 Lay chicken wire over planting beds

 Use squirrel-proof bird feeders

 If you do use traditional bird feeders, nail a corncob (squirrels love corncobs) some distance away as a welcome distraction to the feeder

 Keep squirrels out of open areas under your home by covering these areas with quarter-inch mesh

 If squirrels are gnawing on deck railings or wooden lawn furniture, the Humane Society of the United States recommends trying capsaicin-based repellents or lightly rubbing the exposed surfaces with a bar of soap

Additional Notes:

 Squirrels are most active toward dusk and daybreak

 Squirrels often travel along power lines and can short out transformers.  Stop squirrels from running along electrical wires by installing two-foot sections of lightweight, three-inch-diameter plastic pipe. Cut the pipe along its length, open it and fit it over the wire. The pipe will spin as the squirrel attempts to cross it and discourage travel along these routes.

Final Thoughts

There’s so much beautiful wildlife in Southern California, but sometimes their presence can be a nuisance in our backyards. If you’d made your peace with these creatures, enjoy them frolicking in your space; but if you’d like to keep tabs on the damage they can do to gardens, lawns, and homes, try some of the ways above to control their populations.

What creatures do you find in your backyard (heck, we didn’t even cover coyotes and rattlesnakes!); and how do you manage them?

Photo credits: Morgue File (http://www.morguefile.com/archive/display/881432); Morgue File (http://mrg.bz/bkz4dd); Morgue File (http://mrg.bz/I5tc64); Morgue File (http://mrg.bz/3jEHzC); and Morgue File (http://mrg.bz/xOysG3).