Living with wildlife: Even as areas become more urban, backyards still part of the natural world

Published: Tuesday, June 11, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, June 11, 2013 5:39 a.m. CDT
Caption
(Sandy Bressner – sbressner@shawmedia.com)
Fox Valley Wildlife Center volunteer Nancy Daws of North Aurora transfers starlings to a different cage at the center's facility in Elburn.

Bob Andrini is careful about wildlife, keeping his garbage inside the garage until pickup day to outwit raccoons.

“Raccoons are smart,” the St. Charles resident said. “Our dog was stupid three times, got sprayed by a skunk.”

After his late springer spaniel Cricket got sprayed for the third time, he called Phil Zavitz, who came out and trapped the nuisance skunk. Zavitz retired as Kane County’s animal control czar after 16 years to start his own company, Mr. Z Wild Animal Removal.

“Well, Cricket was safe in the backyard until another one moved into the neighborhood,” Andrini said. “It’s the same with chipmunks and coyotes. You move one out, another one moves in.”

With Cricket now in doggy heaven, Andrini said he lives with wandering wildlife just fine.

“When you put food out for the birds,” Andrini said, “you’re going to attract other stuff, and you accept that.”

Even as people become more urban and suburban, they and their backyards
still are part of the natural world – and that includes critters.

Sometimes human-animal encounters are noneventful.

Other times, like with Andrini’s dog, it’s an intense experience.

Sometimes encounters are more eventful for the wild animals, naturalists say, as development continues to encroach on habitat.

Ashley Flint, director of the Fox Valley Wildlife Center in Elburn, said more people are bringing in orphaned and injured wildlife than ever before.

“Two years ago, we took in 2,000 animals,” Flint said. “Last year we got almost 3,000. Probably some is awareness of us. People find these wild animals and they know where to take them.”

What the wildlife center’s website advises visitors is not to assume a nest of baby animals is abandoned. 

“Humans babies have to be with a mom or someone 24/7, so when we find baby animals alone and unprotected, we think they are abandoned,” Flint said.

“Wild animals, in order to protect their babies, actually stay away. The parents have a scent that babies don’t, and they are staying away so they are not attracting predators to their babies. Some moms only come around to feed the babies.”

She also welcomes calls with questions about whether to leave a baby alone.

Although the center’s population constantly changes, the current count is about 45 raccoons, 60 baby mallard ducklings, 18 goslings, four injured geese, a fawn, opossums, squirrels, baby birds and two injured great horned owl fledglings.

“One of the owl fledglings had an ulcer to his eye and we are treating it with medication,” Flint said.

“The other one was brought into PetSmart. They found the baby on the ground and said, ‘I had to bring it in somewhere.’ ”

The center will transfer the owls to a raptor rescue center where they can be safely released once they learn to hunt, Flint said.

“It’s constantly changing here,” Flint said. “Some animals are here only two weeks, some for six weeks. Any and all, almost anything you can name – we’ve had it.”

Sometimes wildlife and human life are just incompatible, said Zavitz, of St. Charles, who still is “chasing critters” for a living.

One thing to do is to try not to provide a habitat for them at your home.

“People don’t realize that a skunk will dig a hole under the concrete of a patio or stoop and have a litter,” Zavitz said. “They’re out of the rain. It’s like a condo to them.”

When Zavitz captures a skunk or raccoon, he takes it to be put down, as the law requires.

“A lot of times, raccoons and skunks are pretty sick, usually distemper. They’re walking sideways, and people think they have rabies,” Zavitz said.

“They are also potential rabies carriers. It’s against the law to trap and release them where they will cause problems somewhere else.”

When he’s not at work catching critters, Zavitz said he gets along fine with wildlife at his home – most of the time.

“I went to get a bag of cat food and birdseed and forgot to take them out of the truck, [and] there were all these little footprints on top of the black tarp when I went out there,” Zavitz said.

“A raccoon got in there and had a feast.”

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