How to discourage wild critters from getting too cozy

Last Updated: 
December 9, 2010

Raccoon photo by courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Autumn is the time when wild critters most want to get into human-built structures such as crawl spaces, attics, sheds and eaves.

Wild animals can be discouraged from staying in many of the same ways you might discourage dreaded human guests. In a nutshell – provide no food, make it uncomfortable or downright inhospitable and then make it easy for them to leave.

Here are some things to take care of to help keep critters away from your house, in their own territories, from OSU Extension wildlife biologist Dan Edge and Jeff Picton, director of the Chintimini Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Corvallis.

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. Try these methods:


  • 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.

To truly know if your furry guests have vacated the premises, listen for sounds of animals moving around. 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.

It is better to make your home habitats inhospitable in the first place, rather than having to poison or trap and relocate wild animals, say Edge and Picton.

"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