When cold weather hits, winter wildlife go in search of three things: food for their bellies, water to quench their thirst, and warm shelter to keep them safe. When the going gets tough, these winter pests have to get creative in order to survive – often by making their way into your attic, chimney, basement, or crawlspace. While it’s beneficial for them, it can cause serious damage to both your home and your health to have them sharing space with you.
How do you know if you have a stowaway for the winter? Common signs of wildlife include:
- Scratching sounds coming from your walls or attic
- Chirping or squeaking sounds coming from the walls, vents, or attic
- Garbage cans and bags that have been broken into
- Chewing or gnawing marks in the basement or attic, or through wires or cardboard
- A foul smell that lingers even after cleaning (which could be urine or feces)
Now that you know what to look for, what kinds of animals can cause these signs? Some of the most common winter wildlife include:
- Raccoons: These nocturnal omnivores use their hands to dig for food, especially in your garbage cans. Raccoons are the largest carriers of rabies in Georgia (along with skunks, bats, foxes, and coyotes). Raccoons can damage property, spread rabies, and spread ringworm. They are most likely to nest in chimneys and attics.
- Rats and mice: These rodents like to live in crawlspaces and between the side beams in your walls. They will venture out to make trips to your kitchen in search of food. Rats and mice carry and spread salmonella, along with fleas, ticks, and lice. Their droppings also contain pathogens that can be dangerous to humans. They are avid chewers and will often chew through electrical wiring, causing property damage and increasing the risk of fires.
- Squirrels: These are the most common rodents in Georgia with populations in the millions. These pests like to take up residence in attics and basements and will bring in tons of acorns to store for the winter. Squirrels, like their rodent cousins, also carry diseases and pathogens, both on themselves and in their droppings. They can also chew through wires.
- Birds: Although less common than other winter wildlife, birds can be just as dangerous. Birds like to infest chimneys and attics to nest and lay their eggs. Their droppings can cause quite a mess and also harbor diseases and parasites. They can also cause severe damage to roof lines and chimneys. Many birds are protected so bird control and bird nest removal are usually best left to the professionals.
- Bats: Bats like to roost in attics where they can hide during the day and venture out at night. They carry disease like rabies and can spread them to humans through their bite. Bats are a protected species in Georgia and killing them is prohibited.
1. Inspect Chimneys
Chimneys provide a great hideout and also a gateway for wildlife to get into your home. Make sure the top of your chimney has a grated screen that is in good repair with no holes. Check above the flue panel for any leaves, debris, droppings, or animals before sealing it up. Make sure your chimney is secure.
2. Inspect Foundations
Small holes, cracks, open pipes, etc. in your foundation provide easy routes for wildlife to get into your home. A careful inspection of your foundations should be performed every season throughout the year. Seal any openings as you find them.
3. Inspect Roof and Siding
Any tiny cracks or openings in your roof or siding means easy access to your attic. Check the entire exterior of the roof, starting with the intersections and siding. Make sure to also check the flushing seams on the roof. Siding that connects to the roof should not be warped or pulled away. Be sure to check around exhaust openings and for loose vent screens, as well.
4. Inspect the Attic
Many wildlife critters love to hide out in the attic. Use a flashlight or headlamp and thoroughly inspect this space, checking for openings or chewed up or damaged areas of wood. Seal any holes you find but always make sure the animals are not still present before you do.
5. Secure Trash Containers
Your trashcans offer a buffet of food sources for pests. Use cans with tightly securing lids, avoid overfilling them, and wash the bins regularly to get rid of food waste.
6. Maintain Landscaping
Branches and limbs offer squirrels, raccoons, and other creatures a bridge directly into your home. Keep trees and shrubs trimmed away from the house. Prune shrubs to keep them at least 12″ from the sides of your home. Trim any branches that overhang or touch your roof, as well.
7. Clean Up Food
Leaving food sources outside your home will just attract wildlife in. Try to avoid leaving pet food outside and tossing scraps or pouring leftover grease in the yard. Pick up any fallen fruit. Protect your gardens with fences that are designed to keep animals out. Clean up any spilled birdseed from feeders and bring them in overnight.
Wildlife control is an ongoing process that needs special attention and consideration, especially in the cold winter months. If you have a problem with winter wildlife, contact your local pest control company for an inspection and appropriate treatment or wildlife exclusion plan.