Birds aren’t the only hungry creatures living among us. There are many different animals that can be attracted to readily available food sources like bird feeders. One such group of these animals are nocturnal mammals. Raccoons, skunks and opossums. These forest dwellers have had their habitat significantly reduced by humans, and are learning how to survive in their increasingly urban environment.
All three of these mammals are omnivores, which means they eat both meat and plants. In the wild they will eat most anything they can get; insects, plants, fruit, eggs, small reptiles, rodents, fish, crayfish, frogs, etc. For them, taking advantage of the buffet in your backyard is a no-brainer! Let’s take a look at how and why to keep raccoons, skunks and opossums from raiding your feeders.
How to keep raccoons, opossums and skunks away from your feeders
1. Bring your feeders in at night.
This is one of the best ways to avoid problems. All of these animals are nocturnal and like to forage at night. If they really like your feeder, they may come during the day as well. However it will likely be at nighttime when they first find your feeders. If their food source disappears when they are out looking at night, they will eventually move on.
Continuing to bring the feeders in nightly will avoid problems long term. But if that is a hassle you are probably ok with doing it for about 3-4 weeks and then seeing if you can leave it outside again after the critters have lost interest in your yard and moved on.
2. Put out only one days worth of food
One way to get around having to bring your feeders in at night, is only put out as much food as your birds will consume by nightfall. This will mean you will have to refill daily, so it may or may not be any easier than just bringing the feeders in at night.
3. Use a LARGE baffle on your pole
These are larger animals than a squirrel, and a small baffle just won’t work. So you need to make sure that your baffle is too large for them to get around. The main type of baffle recommended is a stovepipe or torpedo baffle. These are long cylinders that fit over the pole and wobble. The wider and longer, the better. I’ve often seen 8 inches wide and 24 inches long as a recommended size for raccoons & opossums.
You can also buy a whole pole system that includes a nice tall pole and a large cylinder baffle. I personally had this at one house and would buy it again. Never had trouble with squirrels. I can’t say if it was effective against other animals, I never witnessed any try.
This Audubon Torpedo Steel Squirrel Baffle is 6 inches wide by 15.8 inches. A little smaller than ideal, but inexpensive and might be enough. Especially when paired with a large wrap-around baffle above it like this 18 incher.
If you are handy and like to try a little inexpensive DIY, you can make a stovepipe baffle or large cone baffle yourself. I’ve even seen people fashion a baffle out of an upside-down 5 gallon plastic bucket from Lowe’s or Home Depot. Get creative!
Increasing the distance your feeders are from the baffle is also going to increase the baffles success. A taller pole will give you more distance between baffle and feeder. Also, choosing a top piece that has straight or upturned hooks, as opposed to the typical hooks that curve down, will give you and extra inch or two of height.
4. Keep seed off the ground
Seed on the ground attracts everyone. Without food on the ground, the skunks won’t stick around and the raccoons and opossums will be less attracted to the area and alerted of the feeders above. You can try seed catching trays under your feeders.
But the easiest way is to buy a no-mess seed mix. These seeds have their shells already removed, which means the birds don’t have much to pick through and toss aside. A higher percentage of seed gets eaten at the feeder, and what little falls to the ground is usually quickly snatched up by doves and other ground feeding birds. Lyric, Wild Delight, Wagner’s, and Kaytee all make waste-free mixes. Or you can try hulled sunflower chips.
5. Keep feeders isolated
Raccoons and opossums are very at home in trees and are great climbers. Position your feeders away from trees, the house, decks and tall shrubs by at least ten feet so they can’t access it from dropping down from above or a short leap.
7. Specialize your food
Many mammals aren’t much of a fan of thistle seed. Feeding only thistle might keep away many pests. However not all birds enjoy it either, so this may not be a good option depending on what bird species you are hoping to attract. Just remember if you do try thistle, it is very tiny and will fall through many feeders and it’s best to use a thistle feeder.
Another thing mammals are not a fan of is spice. Animals are sensitive to hot peppers just like we are, while the birds are not affected by it at all. Buying hot pepper suet, hot pepper seed mix, or adding hot pepper oil to the food might make them think twice about if your food source is worth the burning and irritation.
8. Motion Activated Sprinklers – the “startle method”
Suddenly getting sprayed with water while looking for any type of food is often enough to scare animals off. After a few times your yard might seem like too much trouble. Here’s a motion-activated sprinkler you can get on Amazon that has both day and night detection modes at a good price. Remember you need a night detection mode as these are mostly nocturnal animals.
Spraying or sprinkling smelly repellents to the bird feeder area may work for some, but odor-based repellents in general do not have a great track record, especially for these animals. Opossums in particular are known to not be bothered by any sort of smell you throw at them. Raccoons and skunks, maybe. All repellents I saw on Amazon have very mixed reviews, it seems very hit or miss. Here is a popular, inexpensive brand if you want to give it a try.
10. Give them their own food
If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Some people enjoy having a diversity of wildlife in their yard and want to help feed these mammals, they just don’t want their feeders getting emptied and damaged. If that is the case, leave out bowls of food away from your feeders. Some inexpensive cat or dog kibble works great.
Also your leftover food scraps, peanuts, or fruit that is getting too ripe. Most animals will go for the easy food on the ground, and will associate the bowls you leave out as “their bowls” and leave the bird feeders alone. Once you feed them they’ll be hard to get rid of and your yard may become a hot spot for all sorts of critters – just keep that in mind!
11. Keep trash secure
These furry critters all LOVE your trash. If you keep trash outside overnight, it will attract them with its enticing aroma of your uneaten food. Make sure it is in fully enclosed bins. Large, heavy bins they can’t knock over, and you may even need to put some kind of lock on the lid to keep the raccoons from opening it. Best to keep trash inside until trash day, or in your garage with the doors closed. Don’t give them a reason to come snooping around your yard and discover your birdseed.
12. Trap and Release
In most states it is actually illegal to trap wild animals, even for the purposes of transporting them away from your home and releasing them. Any trapping must be done by people holding permits or licenses. Some states have strict rules about any relocation at all, due to the risk of spreading diseases. If no method is working for you to deter the animals from your property, call your local animal control or google “licensed wildlife control” in your area. Stay safe and let the pro’s handle it.
Raccoons are found throughout most of the United States and have adapted fairly well to life in close proximity to humans. They are a medium sized mammal averaging 24-38 inches and 14-23 pounds. The five toes on their front paws are very dexterous and can function much like human fingers. In fact raccoons most acute sense is their sense of touch and they often examine things with their front paws.
They are especially suited for life along riverbanks, and the sensitivity of their front paws increases underwater, likely to aid in hunting for shellfish. They like to examine objects in water. (This is why they can also be troublesome in bird baths) They are very opportunistic eaters and will eat just about anything from your birdseed to your trash to your pet koi.
They can be incredibly clever and agile when trying to get food. Performing gymnast level feats and opening the trickiest containers with their dexterous hands. Whereas squirrels may chew your feeders a little, raccoons tend to knock them down, take them apart and cause serious damage. In some cases if the feeder is small enough they may run away with the whole thing!
Check out this great video of one climbing a shepherds hook pole, getting around the baffle, then unscrewing the feeder!
I think they need a taller pole, with more distance between the feeder and the baffle (and a bigger baffle).
Skunks are small to medium sized mammals, 8-19 inches long and 7-14 pounds. Similar to a house cat. The skunk common to southern Canada, throughout the United States and northern Mexico is black with large white stripes (striped skunk).
What we all know skunks for is that terrible smell. When very threatened, they can spray this noxious oily substance from special glands under their tail up to 10 ft. This substance isn’t actually harmful, but the smell is so potent it will disarm their opponent quickly.
They are also attracted to birdseed. Skunks have long claws they use for digging. They dig out their dens as well as dig in the ground for grubs and other insects. These claws are great for digging but bad for climbing. Thus, they are unlikely to climb up your feeder poles or jump from trees to get to your feeders like a squirrel or a raccoon. Typically they like to forage on the ground. So if you have skunks at your feeders, they will probably be eating the seed off the ground.
The main reason you may not want them in your yard isn’t damage to your feeders or eating all your seed. It is their smell. Even if they don’t spray, their musky odor tends to follow them around. You also might fear your pets or family members being sprayed. Skunks are not aggressive and don’t tend to spray unless they are protecting babies or are really fearing for their life. But they still make most people nervous at the possibility.
Opossum (real name) or possum (nickname), whatever you call them, are the largest marsupials in the Western Hemisphere. The only species that is found in Canada and the United States is the Virginia opossum. Their size is about that of a house cat, between a squirrel and raccoon.
They have grayish-brown coats, white faces and long tails developed for grasping and holding (prehensile). An interesting quirk about them is their ability to play dead. They can be nasty fighters, but as a last ditch effort to escape a predator they can enter a coma-like state, drop their heart rate and even emit “rotten” odors to appear dead.
Opossums present much of the same trouble at your bird feeders as raccoons and squirrels. They are great climbers, can chew and scratch your feeders, and eat a lot of seed.
Check out this video where you can see their climbing ability (and large chewing mouth!)