After a cold, wet, and seemingly endless Winter, Spring has arrived here in my corner of Virginia. The azaleas are in full bloom and it seems we have moved past the pine, maple, and oak tree pollinating season. The hummingbirds have returned and each morning is greeted with the musical sounds of chickadees, cardinals, wrens, sparrows, and towhee. Adding to the chorus are blue jays, mourning doves, robins and even crows.
Along with the sounds are the splendid colors of Spring.
Unfortunately the warming season also brings along nuisances and pests such as mosquitoes, biting flies, and wasps. Two other damaging critters that are here year ’round are voles and squirrels.
Squirrels are a pest because they raid the bird feeders; chew on fences, the shed, and occasionally the greenhouse; dig into and uproot potted plants; and leave “scent marks” as territorial markers. All actions which are perfectly natural for a squirrel, but highly irritating to humans. The only natural predators in this neighborhood are the electric wires as the birds of prey seem to be content picking off other birds. The wires average one kill per month or so. I know this because the power goes out in the neighborhood right after a loud “POP!”
Voles are destructive below ground. They burrow under leaves and chew the roots of trees, bushes, and flowers. You don’t know they’re there until plants begin mysteriously dying.
So how to get rid of these pests? Since my wife and I highly value nature in all her phases, we try natural remedies. Poison is an option for the voles and there are plenty to choose from. The problem is that poison kills indiscriminately. Our yard is a Natural Wildlife Habitat and we often see ducks, rabbits, raccoons, opossum, and the occasional fox roam through the yard.
For mosquitoes we have set up hummingbird feeders. Our flora attracts dragonflies and we are fortunate in having bats fly circuits around our yard each night at dusk. We do not use bug spray and I swear the mosquitoes actually laugh at citronella. We also ensure there are no stagnant puddles of water in the area. These steps encourage natural predators and has the added bonus of attracting predators that feed on other flying nuisances.
Wasps I normally leave alone unless they enter the greenhouse. Then they fall prey to the “Hand of God,” which is the fly swatter. That’s not their territory.
When we had a dog we didn’t have a squirrel problem. We also did not have a yard because that was trading one destructive problem for another. People kept telling us to get an outside cat. I can see where that would work, however, to have an outside cat it also has to come in occasionally. Three indoor cats have already claimed us and adding an outside cat to the mix would cause too many problems. The least of which is that four cats are too many (for us, at least).
So what are the options? I think I have found a solution. One that has already proven to be effective and one that fits with the natural order of things.
Peep is a Maine Coon that entered our lives one night after either escaping from or being abandoned by her previous owner. Her previous owner had removed her front claws and in my opinion, whoever performed the surgery really botched it. The surgery is bad enough and I discourage its use entirely. There are better ways of dealing with a cat that claws furniture. But Peep’s front paws were butchered.
It is a real shame because she loves to go outside. When we “found” Peep, she had been severely bitten by a dog. So severe the veterinarian looked questioningly at me when I told her to provide medical care and put Peep on the path to healing rather than be euthanized. With claws, she could have at least defended herself. Without them, she was a moving target.
One day we decided to try a leash and let Peep walk around the yard. She took naturally to a leash. It is a win-win situation. Peep gets to go outside and hunt once a day (dusk would be the best time) and with the leash I have a better chance of protecting the rabbits, lizards, ground-dwelling birds and nests from Peep’s natural hunting skills.
As she roams around the yard I joke that she checks the cat version of Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram. She reads her messages, checks her status and posts updates when she leaves her scent behind. This is key because my guess is that with enough trips around the yard, squirrels will pick up the scent of a predator and (hopefully) avoid the yard.