“I feed the birds, and scatter some on the ground for the larger birds that can’t fit on the feeders. We have a skunk that’s been coming all summer and visiting. However, now it’s getting cold out and the skunk needs to be moving along. What can we do?”
So, here we are again. The long warm days of summer have given way to the crisp cool nights of fall. It won’t be long now until the leaves have fully dropped and the ground is covered in a blanket of snow for a long winter’s rest.
Our furry friend, unfortunately, is about to have a rather rough transition time. To cut right to the chase, the best thing that can be done for the skunk is to cut off its dependency to food. I’m sure for many out there, the thought of cutting cold him off cold turkey sounds horrible. Your right. Anyone that cares about other species could relate. Lets look at some other options though.
- Feed it all winter. This is ridiculous to start with. Wildlife is meant to be wild. Wildlife was never meant to be dependent on humans, unless the goal was domestication. In which case we as humans are using those animals for some value or utility. Even if that modern day value is purely emotional. Like a chihuahua that lives in a purse, or a cat on a lap, or my pigs that become my bacon.
Minimizing the interactions between humans and wildlife though is far easier talked about than practiced in reality. In the wild, natural fluctuations of food sources, along with weather, daylight, temperature, etc. all cause hormonal and physiological shifts in animals that signal it’s time to get ready for winter. By artificially feeding wildlife, we disrupt those natural cues, and deprive the animals of expressing their natural instincts. Hibernation and torpor is a natural state of energy conservation.
Best bet, don’t feed wildlife at all. If you have created a situation where an animal is acting unnaturally, and dependent on you for life, don’t cut it off in the middle of winter. Luckily for our skunk, the ground isn’t even frozen yet and there’s still plenty of natural forage for it.
- Trap and relocate. I get this all the time. Folks honestly have really good intentions. Sometimes it is perfectly acceptable to relocate wildlife. However, fall is not that time.
When an animal is relocated into a territory it is unfamiliar with it’s in an instant state of survival. It does not know where any food, water, dens, or competitors may be. Plus, the stress along from being so closely handled and moved can be rough on animals. It takes time for them to recoup and adjust. Now stack the odds against them with a diminishing forage base, freezing weather, the ground beginning to freeze, fighting and energy expenditure from competitors, and a questionable food source and you’ve really set the stage to make them suffer while they eke out an existence.
It doesn’t do any good to relocate an animal, knowing that it’s going against the odds, and will most likely suffer, and has a low likelihood of survival. It’s for this reason that I don’t do any relocation’s in the fall, winter, or early spring. If it’s a situation where the animal must be removed, they are euthanized.
When I send death, it’s quick, fast, and over as pain-free as possible.
When mother nature sends death, it’s slow, dragged out, and uncaring. Disease, starvation, and injury are not how I would want to go, or wish upon others. Human or animal.
- Last option: Kill it. While most folks don’t like to accept that as an option, it really depends on the nature of the situation and the variables being considered. As we talked about above, sometimes it’s inappropriate and just plain wrong to relocate animals. You can do much more harm than good.
Euthanization is always an option, as much as relocating or doing nothing are options as well. In our situation though, it’s really unnecessary. A skunk around the bird feeder is really a problem of perception. It’s cute in the yard, until it decides to den under the house and then sprays mid February and floods the house with skunk essence.
I’ve never met anyone that had a house full of skunk essence say they wanted to let the guys stay under the house. Guess what, relocating in the middle of winter is a good way to ensure the animals will slowly freeze to death. Not humane by any standard. So a situation like that, yes, I euthanize. But every situation is different, there is no black or white answer unfortunately. It’s a little of give and take.
So for our little skunk in this situation, he’s going to have a rough fall. However, he knows the habitat. He knows the terrain, and food sources, and den sites, and watering holes, and garbage that the lady down the street leaves out. Hard as it may have sounded at first, the best thing that could be done for the little guy is cutting the strings of dependency and letting him go about his ways. The sooner the better.
Doing the right thing, and the hard thing, are often one and the same.