Wildlife in the Backyard? Proceed with caution…


Photo credit: Russ Campbell

The more humans expand our turf, the more likely the animals will want to share. Sometimes it works – we have foxes in the back yard, and they keep our chipmunk population under control.

But what if your visitors are bigger or meaner, like deer, fishers or bears? Here’s a list of what to do – and what not to do – when you encounter wildlife on your home turf.


Alaskans are used to seeing signs like these

Alaskans are used to seeing signs like this one

People in our town are giving up on their bird feeders, or bringing them inside at night (though that didn’t stop this fellow). If you do see a bear, be sure to stay in the house and call your local animal control or fish and wildlife agency. Sometimes noise like banging pots will drive them away, but do not leave food (including pet food and bird feeders) or trash where they can get it or try to approach them in any way. Coolers are not bear proof.


Photo credit: Russ Campbell

Photo credit: Russ Campbell

They’ve been munching on tulip buds, begonias and young hostas for a few weeks now – garden experts advising putting out moth balls or Irish spring soap to keep them away. Once the danger of frost is past, strong-smelling herbs can also keep deer away from tender annuals. Also, planting fragrant among your tulips will keep the deer from nibbling them next spring.

Some towns have so many deer that they allow them to be hunted on certain stretches of land which can sometimes be near conservation lands with hiking paths. In Massachusetts, hunting is not permitted on Sundays, but if you walk on an autumn Saturday be sure to wear bright colors and know if hunting is permitted where (or near) you are walking.

Foxes, Chickens and Snapping Turtles

SnapperSometimes dealing with one animal problem can create a different one. One local family put up some chicken wire to protect their chickens from a fox – only to discover that they were in the path of a snapping turtle on her way to lay her eggs on the other side of the fence. Snapping turtles are so cool and prehistoric-looking (this turtle has probably been laying her eggs in the same spot for decades) but they’re called snapping turtles for a reason. They can snap a broom handle or a finger with a quick grab, so if you get the idea that helping a snapping turtle off the road is helpful (and this time of year in New England you see them a lot), the best way to move them is to scoop them up with a snow shovel and deposit them on the side of the road they were facing when you found them. If you put them back on the side they were coming from they will just turn around and walk right back onto the road. Do not attempt to keep snapping turtles as pets, or any turtles in New England, as many of them are endangered.

Meanwhile, keeping foxes out of the chicken coop is a challenge. Some backyard chicken keepers lay chicken wire under the ground beneath the coop so predators (like foxes and fishers, too) can’t dig under the fence.



Photo credit: Russ Campbell

If you grow vegetables, tending them in raised beds can keep the bunnies from nibbling the lettuce. Chicken wire also works for them and can keep the deer out, too. It’s not a good idea to adopt a wild rabbit as a pet. If you happen upon a nest with bunnies in it, do not disturb it and keep domesticated pets away from it.


240px-Fisher_(animal)Sometimes called fisher cats, fishers  are part of the weasel family, and they can be fierce predators taking on animals larger and more prickly that they – they are particularly fond of porcupines. Not known to be harmful to humans, they can prey on domesticated pets (usually house cats) so if you have outdoor cats in areas that fishers live, bring pets in at night. Fishers sometimes scream in the night, and they can sound very human. The first time we heard one, we called the police, who had us put the phone up to the window and told us it was a fisher.

Be careful out there!

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Comments (One Response)

  1. Penny says:

    My son who works at the local Audubon camp reports that last night the fisher in a cage next to an owl managed to reach through and decapitate the owl. Pretty gruesome.