With cold weather here, raccoons, squirrels and other animals will seek shelter in your home. Here's how to keep them out.
That odd scratching sound coming from your chimney might not be Santa Claus, stuck from his recent visit.
It might be coming from a more local visitor: a raccoon, bird or squirrel, for example.
Just as cold weather forces people indoors, it also can prompt wildlife to seek warmer refuge to wait out the snow, ice and wind. For homeowners, than can mean some unwelcome visitors in their attics, chimneys or under their porches if they aren’t properly protected.
The No. 1 nuisance problem in the area, according to local wildlife control operators, is raccoons.
“Raccoons have no natural enemies, so there’s nothing really to curb their population,” said Tom Magro, a licensed wildlife trapper who has been in the nuisance control business since 1989.
“People don’t raccoon-hunt like they used to. There’s still people who do that, but it’s nothing like it used to be 25 to 30 years ago. And with all the towns expanding farther into the countryside, their natural habitat has been depleted.
“But they are very adaptable animals.”
Springfield, Ill.-based Magro, 59, said that he’ll remove a couple hundred raccoons from people’s homes each year. Typically, they enter a home by climbing up old TV antennas or right up the corner of the house if it has brick siding. If any trees on the property have overhanging branches, raccoons also can use those to get onto a property.
“There’s not a lot of places they can’t go if they decide that’s where they want to be,” he said.
Once they get into a home, raccoons can be destructive. They can rip out soffits, damage drywall, start a family in the chimney or insulation, and more. Sometimes, they can cause so much damage in an attic that homeowners will have to rip the insulation out completely and reinsulate, Magro said.
Travis Pierceall, a 32-year-old licensed wildlife control operator from Rochester, Ill., who has been trapping for most of his life and owns and operates an A-All-Animal Control franchise, said raccoons also can be hard on attic vents.
That’s a common way they enter the attic, though he noted that a determined raccoon could also chew through the roofline to get inside.
“Right now, when it’s cold … they’ll get in and semi-hibernate, and they’ll come out to feed when it starts to warm up and go right back in and semi-hibernate again,” he said. “They’ll get in through the attic vents or actually pull soffits down. Most of the time, behind the attic vents there’ll be a window screen, and they’ll just shred that, and they’ll get in.”
Raccoons also can create a health hazard to the homeowners, Pierceall said.
“They’ll leave all that feces behind, and then that carries a parasite called raccoon roundworm. About 70 percent of adult raccoons carry it,” he said. “When it’s in the larvae stage and it becomes dry, it becomes airborne and it gets into your vent system and you can inhale and ingest it, and it’s real hazardous to humans.”
Pierceall said squirrels are difficult to remove from a home. They can chew up electrical wires and can get into the walls of a home.
Often, squirrels enter via attic vents that aren’t screened properly or aluminum soffits that are down, or sometimes they’ll chew through wood soffits if they are desperate enough and can find a weakness in the wood. Squirrels often seek refuge in homes beginning in mid-January as they prepare for their first breeding season, Pierceall said, and will drag in nesting materials.
Wildlife also can damage the skirting and flex ducts in mobile homes; pull down or break off louvers; and dig burrows under decks or into the foundation of your home, he said.
What you can do
Here are tips Pierceall and Magro suggested to prevent any unwanted visitors and any subsequent damage to your home:
If you suspect an animal has entered your home, Pierceall and Magro suggest contacting a licensed wildlife control operator to remove the critter properly and humanely while following all state laws and regulations. Amateur trapping often leads to an unsuccessful venture, and can be unsafe or even illegal.
After an animal has been removed from your property, be sure each and every critter is gone before taking the next step of sealing the home to prevent future wildlife visits, Pierceall said.
“It is vital that if somebody does notice something, to have the animal removed first,” he said.
On the Web
Visit the University of Illinois Extension Web site at http://web.extension.uiuc.edu/wildlife/ prevent.cfm for more tips on protecting your home from wildlife damage or dealing with nuisance critters on your property.