Early one September morning a disturbing sight greeted us. The metal post holding a suet feeder high off the ground was bent. The feeder was gone. After a search we finally found it where our nocturnal thieves had abandoned it after devouring the suet.
Many people are frustrated when daytime squirrels gobble up feeder seed, but other mammals visit feeders unseen after sunset. Not all are as rough on feeders as raccoons and all night visitors are interesting but they can also be frustrating.
Raccoons are strong and hungry.
Up in the wee hours sleepless or just to get a snack? Shine a flashlight beam on the feeder. You may spot raccoons, deer, flying squirrels, or even a bear! They all like birdseed and some relish suet.
Raccoons live nearly everywhere, even in big cities. Our son once sent a picture he took of one raiding a dumpster in New York City. Occasionally they are out on cloudy days but mostly they are nocturnal.
Raccoons are common, numerous, powerful, and gregarious. Sometimes a whole family visits a feeder after dark. Excellent climbers, if they can’t shinny up a slippery metal pole to reach seed, they might just bend it over as they did at Winding Pathways. They love suet but also eat corn, sunflower seeds, and many other foods people put out for birds.
One of the most endearing animals to visit feeders are flying squirrels. There are two species but both are nocturnal and are almost never seen during daylight. Flying squirrels often live in big dead hollow trees and are more common than most people realize.
Flying squirrels are misnamed mammals. They can’t fly. They should be called gliding squirrels, for they spread loose skin on their sides and glide from the top of a tree to the ground – or bird feeder. These mammals weigh only about two ounces, about half that of an Eastern chipmunk. In comparison, a mature gray squirrel is ten times heavier at about 20 ounces.
Flying squirrels are shy and beautiful. Seeing one is a thrill.
Deer In Garden Photo by S. Fehsinger
Like raccoons and flying squirrels, deer love birdseed. Sometimes they visit during the day but we see them more often after dark. If a feeder is well seed stocked in the evening but is empty come morning deer are likely culprits. Look for their tracks and droppings to confirm the visit.
Bears make themselves at home anywhere.
Gads. Bears at the feeder! Could be. We don’t live in bear country but they are common over much of the United States. Mostly nocturnal, they love birdseed and suet. A 300-pound bear can rip down the most armored feeder and they’re skilled trash can scroungers as well.
A ‘possum snuffling for food. Photo J. Jones
Skunks, Possums, and Rats
Skunks, opossums, and Norway Rats all love birdseed. Like flying squirrels and raccoons, they are nocturnal. Skunks and possums are native animals that can be comical, but no one wants rats around. They are dangerous pests capable of spreading disease and gnawing on houses.
REDUCING NOCTURNAL FEEDER VISITORS
There’s an effective way to discourage nocturnal feeding wildlife. It’s a two-step process:
- Only put out the amount of seed birds are likely to eat in a day. Empty feeders may attract nocturnal animals but pickings are slim and discouraging.
- Better yet bring all feeders inside by sunset. Store them overnight in a metal trash can with a tight-fitting lid to keep mice from being tempted to raid it even if it’s indoors.
Feeding birds is entertaining and educational. We love having colorful activity just outside our window. We’re not thrilled when raccoons tear up the feeders, so when midnight raiders help themselves, we bring feeders in each evening.
Nancy Garberson shares these observations and photos with Winding Pathways.
This time of year, we call it “wild kingdom” in our backyard because we see deer every day. All kinds of birds and tracks in the snow from the nocturnal creatures dot the snow as well. Our dog is fascinated by the steady entertainment. It’s funny but she never chases them, she respects them as if they were family.
Watching deer roam in our yard can make us feel as if we are living in a natural paradise. Our neighbor has a pond and we have connecting woods. We think that’s what attracts the deer to our area. The deer feel safe and they have lots of water and natural food, as well as our feeder supply, to keep them happy. Another neighbor has an apple tree, which appears to be another draw for the deer. Even the bucks walk in nonchalantly to feed.
So, not only are we enjoying the winter wonderland, but we also have a steady showing of wildlife to enjoy on winter days.
Abby takes in the scenery.
The deer come to the feeder in the late afternoon.
Buck in antlers
Spotting the deer.
What fun hosting Bankers Trust staff and clients and welcoming an out of town visitor to the Phoenix Harmony Labyrinth. Tuesday, July 11 was steamy and threatening storms. But, the hardy crew engaged in lively discussions and asked probing questions about the more simple lifestyle we embrace at Winding Pathways. Now, simple does not mean easy. Tending a large yard and five circuit labyrinth are work. Rewarding work. And, people are curious about chickens, managing small gardens, maximizing space, retaining water on our property, heating with wood, and creating diversity that welcomes wildlife. Topics like ways to save energy which saves money to be invested or used caught their attention. And questions on managing pests like ground hogs and deer. We touched on a lot and had a great time.
Go to 1080 Labyrinth for a photo album of the afternoon and evening.
Then, with storms obviously to the south showing off cumulus and anvil clouds but no threat, all walked the Phoenix Harmony Labyrinth. Mike T’s comment summed it all up. As he and Terri entered the center a cool breeze touched their faces. Mike paused and said, “I never want to leave.”
Thanks Terri Doyle for organizing and promoting!
Nature is not all sunshine and roses, cute baby animals and gentle breezes. Sometimes nature is rough, sometimes vicious, sometimes other creatures simply clean up carcasses of fallen animals. This spring the Heartland has had its share of hail, winds and heat. The front yard maples and Phoenix Harmony Labyrinth’s budding Bur Oak survived by bending with the winds. With the variable weather comes casualties. The last video graphically shows the scavengers cleaning up a fawn carcass that showed up on the back lawn after a night of cold, wind, and heavy rain. It’s sad but we have to remember than Mother Nature’s clean up crew will benefit from the loss. And, life goes on.
A variety of fencing keeps deer and rabbits out of the garden.
Like millions of American homeowners we at Winding Pathways have a love/hate relationship with deer. Few animals are as beautiful as a peaceful doe nursing her fawns or as majestic as a powerful buck sporting husky fall antlers. But a love of deer only goes so far. Anger mounts quickly when they devour flowers and vegetables, girdle valuable trees, or dart in front of the car on a dark night. Last year we planted a small river birch that was growing well until a buck utterly destroyed it while rubbing his antlers on it. Frustrating!
Until about 25 years ago deer mostly lived in large forests and rarely ventured into town or suburbia, but as their rural population grew they moved right into town. Most suburbs have plenty of wooded pockets where deer can hide and nutritious forage in parks, gardens, and yards. Today deer are amazingly abundant in suburbia, where they prance up and down streets and dine on valued vegetation.
Deer generally do two types of vegetation damage. One’s relatively easy to prevent, while the other is more challenging.
RUBS: Antlers form during warm months as a blood rich skin, called velvet, nourishes fast growing bone like antlers that are mostly calcium. By September, antlers have reached full growth. Velvet dies and dries, and bucks remove it by rubbing antlers against small trees. They prefer saplings a few inches in diameter. Rubbing often girdles and kills the tree, and deer always seem to attack the most valuable tree in the yard. It’s infuriating and costly. Although velvet is mostly gone by early October deer continue to bang and rub their antlers against trees throughout the fall.
The Cure: Fortunately there’s an easy way to prevent rubbing.
At Winding Pathways we use heavy wire in 2” X 4” mesh that we buy in 50 foot rolls. It’s relatively easy to cut an eight foot length of fencing using wire cutting pliers. Once we have the section cut we ring it around the tree and hold the ends closed with cable ties. Usually one metal fence post driven 18” into the ground will hold the wire in place. Sometimes two posts placed on opposite sides of the tree are needed. We attach the wire mesh to the post using big cable ties. The wire stays in place year round until the tree is at least 4 inches in diameter and no longer threatened by rubbing.
Attache zip ties firmly to a post.
What You Need to Make a Wire Ring
- Wire: We buy rolls of 2”X4” four foot tall galvanized wire mesh from a farm or building supply store. Many brands and types of wire mesh are for sale but we prefer Red Brand. It is stiff and strong and we usually only need one fence post to hold it up. Red Brand fencing is made in the US. Less sturdy wire mesh is cheaper but bends easily, rusts more quickly, and usually requires a few fence posts to hold it in place.
- Pliers: We unroll about eight feet of the wire roll on the driveway for cutting. Any type of cutting pliers will work to cut off a section but we find “Bernard” pliers perfect for the task. These are usually made for anglers and have a wire cutter and spring that automatically opens the pliers after a cut. They make slicing off a section easy and fast.
- Fence Post: With stiff wire mesh one fence post will hold a ring of wire in place around a tree. Wire mesh that readily bends may need two or three posts. We buy 6 foot posts, called T posts, at farm or building supply stores and pound them 18 inches into the ground 12” to 20” out from the tree’s trunk. A small sledge hammer makes a handy pounding tool. We then form a circle of the wire panel around the tree and fasten the ends together.
- Cable ties, sometimes called nylon zip ties, make joining the ends of the wire mesh and attaching the wire to the fence post easy. The ties come in various sizes. It takes big ones to run through the wire mesh and secure around the post. Twist wire also works to hold the ends together or attach the wire mesh to the post.
Putting a ring of wire around valuable young trees is almost certain to protect them from rubbing and browsing. Just be sure to do it before damage starts.
At Winding Pathways deer come into the yard. We protect young trees with fencing as seen in the back to the right.
LUNCH AND DINNER WITH BREAKFAST TOSSED IN: Deer love eating many landscape and vegetable plants. Although they have preferences, the hungrier the deer, the more likely they are to even eat plants they generally dislike. Garden books often list species of plants that deer do and don’t like to eat but beware, like humans, individual deer have food preferences. Although most deer may not like a particular plant species, others may consider it a dining delight. Deer seem to have regional tastes, so the plants they don’t like in Connecticut may be gourmet fare in Alabama or Iowa. Unfortunately, many plants that deer relish are the same ones homeowners like to plant, so protecting them is vital to success.
Damage to trees by rubbing is seasonal and normally only happens in the fall. In contrast browsing damage happens all year with deer generally eating softer vegetation during warm months and twigs during winter.
The Cure: Preventing deer from eating valued vegetation is difficult but here are some ways to either eliminate or stop it:
No doubt about it. A sturdy fence keeps deer away from plants and prevents damage. Fencing has downsides. It’s expensive, often unsightly, and it requires maintenance. A fence can ring an entire property or just an area that needs protection, such as around the vegetable garden. Generally there are two types of fence used to prevent browsing.
- Electric fences work well. Many newer ones are moveable and easy to install. Electric fences don’t need to be very tall. They are relatively expensive but their biggest disadvantage is that they sometimes give a shock to a careless homeowner or even a child. Many towns ban electric fences, so be sure one is legal before you buy one. We like fences made by Premier.
- Nonelectric fences work well to exclude deer but also have disadvantages. They are laborious to install and are relatively expensive. They can be made of heavy duty nylon or wire mesh. Deer are amazing high jumpers and can clear a six foot fence, so a deer proof fence should be eight feet tall!
A good fence will prevent deer damage by keeping hungry animals away from desirable plants. Repellents are less certain but can help reduce damage. Repellents are most helpful when temporary protection is needed or where fences won’t work and they are less expensive. They have these disadvantages:
- Need to be reapplied often and always after a rain.
- Sometimes smell strongly.
- May not be suitable for use on vegetables.
- Only somewhat deter deer from snacking.
Our good friends Dave and Sue Kramer own Kramer’s Flower Farm and produce thousands of varied colored day lilies every year. Visit their farm in mid-summer and it is a sea of blooms. People love looking at colorful flowers but deer consider them lunch. Kramer’s farm is surrounded by woods, so they have to be vigilant in keeping deer way from their crop. Dave uses a home-made spray that keep deer at bay.
Kramer’s Deer Repellent Recipe
One gallon of water.
Three egg yolks
One teaspoon garlic powder.
One teaspoon cayenne pepper finely ground
Add ingredients and shake well. Leave in the sun for a couple of days. Shake again and filter through an old nylon stocking to remove lumps or they will clog the sprayer. Put in a standard sprayer and spray plants. Treatment needs to be repeated often and after every rain.
Deer don’t like the smell or taste of rotten eggs. Who would? Anyone who would rather not make their own egg based spray can buy commercial mixes. The one we use is called Deer Stopper and is made by the Messinas Company. The label says it’s made of putrescent whole egg solids, rosemary oil, mint oil and several inert ingredients.
After buying several inexpensive sprayers that clogged we bought a Stihl brand sprayer that works well and seems less likely to clog.
Whether using a home-made or commercial repellent remember it needs to be reapplied relatively often and always after a rain.
Winding Pathways is near Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Several years ago the City Council approved allowing citizens to hunt deer using archery equipment. Hunters need to prove proficiency with their equipment and special rules are in place to ensure safety. Each year hunters convert several hundred suburban and urban deer into chops and steaks. Deer meat is “free ranging, local, organic” and delicious.
Each year we harvest a deer from our property. This doesn’t stop deer damage but does provide us with food, and if enough people each take a deer, their population density and, thus, damage will decline. So, if it’s legal in your area, consider converting a deer to food. Normally a state and sometimes a local permit is needed. Look for a future Winding Pathways blog on how to harvest and dress a deer.