Identifying Nocturnal Mammal Activity

Animals like raccoons, skunks, and opossums may be difficult to observe live since they come out at night, but if you know what evidence to look for, you can figure out where they've been even during the day.  Knowing the pathways and habits of animals in your yard and neighborhood can help you observe them more easily, and also inform your strategies to avoid human-wildlife conflict.

Trampled Pathways

You can learn a lot about wildlife activity in your yard or another space by looking at the routes animals are following at night.  Animals often follow the same pathways multiple nights in a row, so these areas tend to be well worn and identifiable.  Look for trampled-down grass and debris, or pathways on the ground where the grass doesn't seem to grow as well.  

Step 2: Identify and Remove Food Sources

After eliminating entry points on structures, or as a first step if the rodent problem is not in a structure, find out what has been attracting the rodents.  Most often, this is a food source- such as a fruit tree, birdfeeder, compost pile, or food bowl for a pet.  Once you have identified the attractant(s), take steps to prevent rodents from accessing them.  For example, if you determine that a birdfeeder is attracting unwanted visitors, you could take it down and replace it with one that is less of a draw for rodents, such as a thistle feeder. (Clean up any leftover birdseed from the ground, too.)  If the rodents in your yard are being attracted by a fruit tree, try to harvest the fruit more frequently.

Rodents in your chicken coop?

People who keep backyard chickens often experience conflict with rodents because chicken coops provide not only an endless supply of chicken feed, but also the perfect shelter for rodents to keep safe from predators.  See the Wildlife-Proof Chicken Coops page to learn how to exclude rodents (and other wildlife) from your coop.

Step 3: Habitat Modification

The next thing to do, once you have removed or reduced the main attractant(s), is make the rodents feel less safe in your yard.  Cut back vines and other greenery, especially near buildings, to eliminate cover.  Rats and mice tend to avoid venturing out in the open where predators can find them.  You can even make your yard more desirable to natural predators such as owls, or encourage your cat or dog to establish its presence there to deter rodents.  Don't attempt to relocate animals such as snakes into your yard however.  If they are not already there, it means the habitat is not suitable for them, and they will likely die or leave before they start lowering the rodent population.

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Step 4: Remove Stragglers

Traps are not necessary for every rodent problem.  However, if you have rodent-proofed a structure and find rodents inside that were closed in by the rodent-proofing efforts, you will need to trap them.  You can either capture them in livetraps and release them outside (on your own property, since releasing them in an unfamiliar environment is inhumane), or use snap traps, which are a relatively humane form of lethal control.  Never use glue traps or poison, both of which are cruel and pose dangers to humans and pets. 

Use the traps, whichever kind you choose, until you remove any rodents that were left inside a structure.  Don't try to control an outdoor rodent problem with traps because you will never be able to trap all the rodents (and even if you could, more would come for the same attractants).  Instead, keep up with attractant removal and habitat modification, and remember that having a few rodents on your property- as long as they are not in a building or causing other problems- is unavoidable and okay.