Talking to Animals in the Backyard

There's a robin nesting in the hanging basket on my deck. Three eggs. A beautiful, sturdy, out of the rain, nest. And the geranium seems happy enough to house its guest.

There's an opossum family under another deck and rabbits under the front. Chipmunks ate the rubber wheels off of our outdoor grill.

A fox ran through the underbrush in our backyard last week. And Neighbor Norm found a bear dining on his bird feeder.

And, in the State House mail, there's a folder on "Living with Wildlife," from the MSPCA. That's the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Now, it doesn't tell me how to keep the dogs from pooping under my mailbox-don't they have a mailbox at home? And it doesn't tell me how to get the neighbors cats away from my windows and doors either-or how to keep them from spraying whatever it is they spray right into my house.

But, it does kick off the MSPCA's campaign to promote "lasting, humane solutions to human-wildlife conflict, and provides practical resources for homeowners, property managers, and municipalities-anyone living too-close-for-comfort with their wild neighbors."

Take note, in case you didn't know, that the MSPCA takes care of more than dogs and cats. They take in another 2,350 wild animals in an average year.

Why, you may ask, your dark eyes flashing, should you care?

Well, Massachusetts loses at least 40 acres of land every day to development. That means more creatures-from the moose killed on the MassPike last week to the skunk under your porch-are looking for new homes.

Toss in squirrels-the "little people of the trees"-along with mice and chipmunks, raccoons and beavers, geese and, well you get the idea. It's a problem.

Each region of the state has its own problems. Coyotes on the Cape for example, raccoons and skunks in Boston. And spring and summer are the most common times for human-wildlife conflicts.

The MSPCA can help you resolve those conflicts. (Buying a llama to ward off coyotes is probably their least helpful idea. Using a mixture of peroxide, baking soda and dish soap to de-skunk your dog is among the most helpful.)

Other ideas to get the critters out of your yard include placing ammonia-soaked rags to repel animals that may make their home in your window wells or under your porch. Use peppermint oil and chew-proof food containers to deter pantry-raiding mice.

Or, castor-oil based repellents and buried hardware cloth to turn away tunneling moles.

My favorite-which I've used to keep squirrels out of planters and, unsuccessfully, to heat up the little butts of those confounded cats-is to spray the area with cayenne pepper extract.

You might be able to get rid of unwanted animals by playing a radio near a nesting site or continuously shining light on an area.

They suggest Mylar balloons or pinwheels in the yard to frighten pigeons and other birds. And Epson salts on plants to deter woodchucks.

But don't, the MSPCA asks, try to kill or trap them. It's only a temporary fix. And, especially this season, don't shut up entryways and leave babies shut inside. Another no-no--if it's a bear, don't imitate his growl or make animal noises.

The MSPCA information includes other interesting facts. Like, bats can enter buildings through cracks less than half an inch wide. (But, bats can eat 600 mosquitoes an hour.)

Want more? Go to www.LivingWithWildlife.org <http://www.LivingWithWildlife.org> or call the MSPCA. You can even e-mail them at info@livingwithwildlife.org <mailto:info@livingwithwildlife.org> for more information.

Or, just enjoy your new friends. After all, most

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