Are you sharing your home with Sonoma County's wildlife?
It's a dark night in June. You wake up at 2 a.m. to use the bathroom and hear mysterious noises coming from the bathtub. They sound like birds or purring. Are you dreaming, or is this really happening?
Actually, you're experiencing baby season. This is the time of year when wildlife like to move into human homes in search of safe, warm and dry places to have their babies.
Common home invaders are raccoons, opossums, bats and skunks. Raccoons and opossums will go for a cozy attic or beneath the house, while skunks usually stick to sub-floors.
If you think you might have an unwanted wildlife tenant, here are some things to check.
Inspect your vent screens
Most homes have screens near the base of the foundation to allow for air flow under the house. Gently tug on them. If they come off, wildlife can rip them off, too. Secure them with screws, and replace worn or broken vent screens with new ones. They are very inexpensive, available at most hardware stores, and they are well worth the security and peace of mind a secure house can provide. Replacing and securing vent screens can save you hundreds in damage caused by wildlife living under your house.
Make sure to check for vents under your decks, too. They are less visible and easy to overlook, but decks provide excellent cover for wildlife while they are trying to get inside.
If you see a hole in the vent, don't replace it until you check to see if an animal is already living under your house. Do that by plugging the hole with loosely balled up newspaper and watch to see if it is disturbed. If it is, you have company and you will need a different strategy.
Look for burrows in the ground
Wildlife also dig to get under houses. If you see signs of an animal digging near yours, don't just pile rocks on top of the hole. You could trap an animal under your house.
Start with the newspaper test. If an animal disturbs it, you can install a one-way door over the opening that will allow the animal to get out on its own but not return. This works only when there are no babies inside. This time of the year, pesky neighborhood raccoons may have babies. By trapping them, you will orphan their kits.
If babies are involved, they will need to be removed by a wildlife expert before the one-way door can be installed. Don't attempt to do this yourself.
Never trap and relocate wildlife. It is illegal
There are pest control operators who will trap and euthanize animals, but be warned. They are expensive and do not permanently solve the problem. By trapping a pesky neighborhood racoon, you may orphan her kits. For more details, see scwildliferescue.org/ca-trapping-laws.html.
Although Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue can rehabilitate orphaned animals, it's expensive and they must be released back where they came from, so it won't help reduce the neighborhood raccoon population.
Once the animals have been safely removed from beneath your house, the area around their opening should be trenched to prevent them from re-entering. The trench should be six to eight inches deep, with ¼-inch hardware cloth attached to the house and buried in an L-shape.
So, have you figured out your bathroom mystery? Raccoons love to nest in the bathtub cavity. It's well insulated and warm, making it the perfect nursery.
The chirping/purring sound is raccoon kits calling for their mother to feed them again. She has probably left your house to forage for food. Sometimes this takes longer than anticipated and babies wake up hungry and begin to vocalize.
Baby season is a wonderful time to observe wildlife as they raise families. With a little effort, you can be sure to watch these babies outside the house, not under it.
You can get help from Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue, a nonprofit that does not receive any government funding. The agency offers fee-based wildlife services that start at $115. All the income is used to save wildlife and provide education about ways to co-exist with and support wildlife.
For advice or services, call (707) 992-0276.