Ask Uncle Joe – SPRING 2007

Dear Uncle Joe:

I’ve got a major problem on my hands in the form of a woodpecker who is driving me completely out of my mind. He’s a beautiful bird (or maybe “he” is a “she?”) and I wish him no harm, but the constant early morning pecking makes me feel like checking into the local sanatorium. Is there anything I can do to get the little guy (gal?) to move from my house to one of the trees on the far side of my property (and close to the house of my neighbor who is a duck hunter)?

Alan R.,
River Vale, NJ

Dear Alan:

Thanks for contacting me for a solution to your woodpecker issues. The birds are protected under Federal Migratory Bird Act so they are given at least some measure of protection, but I can read in your letter that you would prefer that they migrate somewhere other than your house. That’s very understandable.

The distinctive “drumming” or “tapping” of woodpeckers is a territorial signal and is a true harbinger of spring. Unfortunately, often this activity happens on the wood siding of houses, creating headaches (literally!) for homeowners. This drumming tends to be more annoying than visibly damaging since they will rarely do more than put little dent marks in the things they are pecking against, but they do drill holes into trees for nesting, roosting and storing food. As is happening with you, woodpecker problems are most likely to occur in the spring when the birds are mating and nesting. Since this is just a seasonal behavior pattern, discouraging the birds for a few days or weeks can send Woody elsewhere in search of a more hospitable location.

Above all, maintain wooden shingles and siding to minimize insects and secure loose boards or those that sound hollow. Using ¾” netting as a barrier installed over the areas where they are pecking will keep them away. Before installing this netting be sure to fill in any holes (make sure a nest is not present!) with environmentally safe, non-toxic wood filler. If you don’t mind the way they look, hanging aluminum pans, plastic streamers, wind chimes, or Mylar party balloons where the bird is playing his concerto can cause him to go elsewhere. Strips of aluminum foil hung loosely from the eaves so that they flutter in the wind may also frighten Woody away.

As for getting them over to your neighbor’s house, have you tried hanging a sign near his property that reads “Free Birdseed”? That always seemed to attract the Roadrunner in the cartoons.

Uncle Joe

Dear Uncle Joe:

I was out back in the yard the other day feeding my chickens and I saw a skunk waddling around near where I feed Lenny, my old coon hound. Now I’ve seen skunks around here before but always closer to night time never in broad daylight. I paid him no mind because he wasn’t bothering me or Lenny or the chickens, but then I made the mistake of telling my wife Janey about seeing the skunk and I made a joke of how I told him to run in the kitchen and spray her when she was baking her famous apple pie.

Janey started going on about how if skunks are out in the day they must have rabies and now she wants me to get rabies shots and take Lenny to the vet. I told her that the skunk was fine and he just waddled along on his way, doing whatever his old lady told him to do. Janey wasn’t happy about that and she kicked me out of the house and said that she ain’t letting me in until I go down to see Doc McKneely and get one of them rabies shots. I think she’s a bit unstable to be honest and I’m not about to cave to the rantings of a woman who ain’t thinking right. What do you think?

Jake B.,
Medon, TN

Dear Jake:

Rabies is a serious issue and it is nothing to take lightly, so there are a few things to think about regarding your experience with the skunk. First, let me give you a little information on rabies.

Rabies is a viral disease that is uncommon in its behavior because it travels through the nervous system and into the brain without entering the bloodstream. That’s why there is no effective test for rabies without testing the brain matter of the suspected animal.

Rabies is transmitted when the saliva of the infected animal enters a break in the skin of the victim.

There are two forms of rabies: dumb and furious.

Dumb rabies is observed as wildlife that are too docile and do not run from humans.

Furious rabies is more common. This is the stereotypical rabid animal that is vicious and will attack without provocation. Foaming at the mouth and excessive saliva may not always be present, but if a mammal acts unusually aggressive or displays bizarre behavior, stay away!

Contrary to what Janey may think, skunks are not nocturnal; they are crepuscular, meaning that they come out mostly at dawn and dusk. However, they may come out any time of the day or night if there is food available. If the skunk was not displaying symptoms such as fearlessness, aggressiveness, paralysis or partial paralysis (particularly in the hindquarters) and disorientation, I would not be too concerned since rabies is only transmitted when signs of the disease are present.

It’s a good sign that the skunk you saw was behaving normally and wasn’t bothering anyone because a rabid skunk would likely have been attacking Lenny or the chickens.

Did you see any signs of an altercation? Any blood splattered or bite wounds on Lenny or the birds? If any of these were observed, wash the wounds thoroughly with warm soapy water for ten minutes with gloved hands, and then call your veterinarian or emergency animal hospital IMMEDIATELY. But even if Lenny has no wounds I would heed Janey’s advice and take him to the vet for a rabies shot – you’re better off safe than sorry.

Uncle Joe

Dear Uncle Joe:

We’ve got a groundhog who has taken to our yard and I’d love to trap and relocate him but I don’t know where.  I’m afraid he’s burrowing under the deck (chewing the wood, raising a family, whatever) and he really can’t stay there.  I have a trap but I don’t know what to do with him if I catch him.  Can you give me any ideas where to release him

Kathleen B.,
Salisbury, MD

Dear Kate:

Are you sure that the groundhog is chewing up your deck? It’s possible of course, but most of them do not do that (they are not beavers, you know). The critters also known as woodchucks do dig and tunnel incredibly well and depending on where they are choosing to excavate, they could make a deck a little unstable.  I wouldn’t suggest that you trap and relocate the woodchuck because there may be young present in the dens.

One thing you can do now is to try planting flowers that groundhogs have an aversion to such as lobelia, gaillardia, daylily, and columbine.

Wait until late summer or early autumn when you can be certain that any young who were living in the dens have been weaned and no longer need to depend on their mother for survival. Now dig out the burrow entrances, clear away any vegetation, and install a one-way door so the groundhog will be able to get out but not back in.

To ensure that the groundhog is indeed out, stuff the entrance to the den with hay, shredded paper or unscented kitty litter. If there is no disturbance in the barrier the critter has moved on.

To prevent the groundhogs from coming back you should consider installing a fence if possible. The fence should be three-feet tall or more and should be buried at least one foot below the surface. Burying some welded wire bent outward will prevent groundhogs from returning.

Uncle Joe


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