Below are answers to questions that are frequently asked of the Rutgers Wildlife Conservation and Management Program. For more information, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sometimes when going to throw out our trash in the dumpster, we are startled to find a raccoon staring back us with an equally surprised look. Even though it may be broad daylight, the animal is not likely rabid. Raccoons are highly attracted to the smells emanating from dumpsters, and eagerly enter accessible bins. Once inside, raccoons, especially juveniles, have a difficult time getting back out because they can't climb the slippery sides. This problem can be easily solved by placing a wooden board, sturdy branch, or other ladder-like object into the dumpster and leaning it against one of the dumpster walls. When the raccoon finishes its meal, it will be able to leave. Making sure that dumpster lids remain closed and secured will help to deter raccoons from jumping inside.
It is quite common for ducklings to fall through the opening of storm sewer grates. A mother duck can walk across the grate without a problem, and she may not recognize the inherent danger of leading her offspring across it. It is heartbreaking to watch a mother duck frantically circling the grate, calling to her young. Fortunately, we can lend her a helping hand. Using a long steel rod or crowbar for leverage, lift the sewer grate. Then use a kitchen strainer or other readily available tool to scoop up the ducklings and return them to their very appreciative mother. If you do not have a strong enough metal bar, or you cannot safely lift the grate on your own, call your local sewer authority or fire department. They are often very willing to help.
If a bat makes its way into your living area, it is most likely a confused juvenile who went the wrong way. It wants to get out of your house just as much as you want it to! First, do not panic. A bat flying around your home will not attack you. Waving your arms (or any other object) in the air will only make the situation worse. Confine the bat to one room, open all the windows, and dim the lights. The bat most often will detect the change in air current, and leave through the window. We suggest that you remain quietly in the corner of the room to make sure the bat leaves. Bats will sometimes seek refuge behind furniture, where it is dark and quiet, causing you to mistakenly think the bat has exited the house.
If the bat lands on a wall or floor and you are wearing protective gloves, you may attempt to cover the bat with a large coffee can or bucket, then gently slide cardboard underneath. You can then release the bat outside.
IMPORTANT: Despite the misinformation persistently provided by the media and other sources, bats flying in the living space do not cause a potential rabies exposure and should not be trapped and euthanized for testing. If you were bitten or scratched by the bat, clean the wound with soap and water, and go to the hospital immediately for post-exposure rabies vaccines. Only in this case should bats be captured and given to the NJ Department of Health and Senior Services Rabies Laboratory for testing.
Birds often collide with windows because they mistake the reflection of trees and air as open flying space. During the breeding season, some birds, particularly males, become highly territorial and aggressively defend what's theirs against rivals. In some cases, birds will mistake their own reflection in a window, mirror, or chrome car bumper with another bird and will repeatedly attack. This may become incredibly annoying to you, and it is not especially healthy for the bird, either. The key to preventing window attacks is to break up the reflection. You can do this by placing stickers, decals, mylar tape, paper strips, or other materials directly on the window. Note that only using 1 or 2 strips will not be effective. You can also try soaping the exterior of the window, or covering the window with frosted contact paper. Standard window screen material also does the trick. If the bird is attacking your car, try moving the car to another location, which may change the reflectivity of the surfaces or may be outside the bird's territory. You can also try to make your yard less suitable for birds by removing feeders and birdbaths. If all else fails, keep in mind that window attacks will be temporary, lasting only through the breeding season.
While woodpeckers can cause damage to manmade structures, the loud noises associated with it is usually the bigger problem. Woodpeckers peck at manmade structures for several reasons. To attract mates and defend their territories, male woodpeckers will “drum” loudly on surfaces and at a very rapid rate. While their preferred instrument is a hollow branch, gutters, loose siding, and metal vent pipes make suitable alternatives. Tightening loose boards or hanging shimmery objects near the activity site may deter drumming behavior. If you see holes drilled into the siding or trim of the house, woodpeckers may be foraging on insects that have bored into the wood. If so, then treating the insects will eliminate this problem. On rare occasions, woodpeckers may be excavating a nest cavity, in which case the hole will eventually become large enough for the bird to enter. Placing bird netting or another type of barrier across the opening may deter the bird; however, birds excavating nest sites are often very persistent. Installing a woodpecker nest box near the excavation site may be your best option.
In many cases, it is perfectly normal to see a pre-fledgling (just learning to fly) on the ground. Although your first instinct may be to rescue it, you may actually do more harm than good. First, identify whether the bird is a nestling or fledgling. Nestlings will have very little feathers, or mostly soft down (no flight feathers). These birds may have fallen from the nest, or the nest was destroyed. If you find a nestling, you may attempt to put it back into the nest, taking care not disrupt other the other nestlings. If the nest has been destroyed, you can create a makeshift nest with a small basket or other artificial object lined with soft material. Just be sure that it can drain water effectively. Once you have replaced the bird, walk away from the nest so that the adults feel comfortable returning.
Fledglings are usually fully (or almost fully) feathered, but they have very short tails and premature wings. These birds may be able to take short flights, but primarily they hop and flap on the ground. If you approach the fledgling, pay close attention to the distress calls of the parents, who are usually not far away. Trust that they are taking good care of their young bird. If the fledgling is in a dangerous spot, such as on a roadway or near free-ranging animals, you may choose to move the bird to a safer spot. Pick a location close to where you originally found the bird, and keep the bird in plain view of the parents so that they can continue to care for the fledgling in the new location. Move away from the area to allow the parents to return.