How to help wild critters leave the attic or basement

Last Updated: 
February 19, 2003

CORVALLIS - Countless homeowners have had unwanted guests come and stay, both the human and the furry kind. Fortunately, it is easier to encourage unwanted animals such as squirrels, opossums, raccoons and skunks to leave your attic or woodshed than to politely ask your obnoxious uncle to vamoose.

How do you make uninvited animal guests leave your house and outbuildings on their own?

The same way you might discourage dreaded human guests, according to Jeff Picton of the Chintimini Wildlife Rehabilitation Center (CWRC) and Dan Edge, Oregon State University wildlife specialist in Corvallis.

In a nutshell - provide no food. Make their life miserable. Then make it easy for them to leave.

Many times, homeowners unwittingly provide food for wild animals. Is your pet food outside? Put it in the house. Are there bags of oats or corn in the shed? Store them in animal-proof containers. Are bird feeders accessible lunch counters for mammals too? Make feeders impossible to access except by fly-in diners.

Then make it intolerable for furry guests to stay one minute longer. Use a combination of bad odors, loud noises and bright lights to inspire animal exodus. Here are some ideas:

  • Place ammonia-soaked rags in the corners of the attic, crawl space or shed. Or use mothballs. Both are noxious smells to mammals.

  • Leave a radio tuned to a 24-hour station with loud music in their vicinity.
  • Keep a bright light on in the space.

How do you know if your furry guests have vacated the premises? Listen for sounds of animals moving. Sprinkle flour on the ground outside the one opening left unclosed. Check for tracks leading out. Or cover the opening with a light plastic that the animal can break through when it leaves. Or construct a one-way door over the opening that allows the animals to leave but prevents them from returning.

Once they have high-tailed it out of there, close off openings so they can't return. It is essential that you are certain that the animals have left before you seal off any openings; otherwise, these animals may starve to death and then you will end up with a big odor problem.

Rather than kill wild animals by trapping or live trapping and relocating them, it may be better in the long run to make space inhospitable to wild house guests.

Why discourage rather than trap?

"Even though one animal is relocated or killed, other animals may simply move in to take the previous critter's place," explained Picton. "Also, live trapping and moving a wild animal to a new territory often means death for that animal. A relocated animal will be on unfamiliar ground, and will not know where to find food or shelter. It will also have to compete with resident populations for existing resources, and will be at a definite disadvantage.

"With a little effort, a 'nuisance' animal such as a squirrel or opossum can be encouraged to vacate your property while still remaining in familiar territory where it knows where to find food and shelter," Picton added.

If you care about the fate of your wildlife guests, before evicting an animal make sure that it has no babies in its nest. In spring and summer, there are likely to be babies around. If you are patient, allow the mother to raise her babies, then encourage her and her offspring to leave.

In general, when dealing with unwanted wild animals, it is best to wait until they have moved off on their own accord before sealing openings under eaves or porches, said Picton.

"If the creatures are doing no harm, a little patience on your part will reduce the stress for all involved."

Author: Carol Savonen
Source: Dan Edge, Jeff Picton