Originally Published: March 12, 2012 3:03 p.m.
People generally enjoy seeing animals in the wild, but sometimes they're not as thrilled to see wild animals in their yards.
"If you have uninvited wildlife around your home, ask yourself, 'What is the attractant?'" the Arizona Game and Fish Department advises on its website.
Wildlife is attracted to yards when the yards have something that helps wildlife survive: food, water and/or shelter.
"Only we can change our behavior," Game and Fish notes.
If someone wants wildlife to leave, the easiest way is to get rid of the attractant.
For example, if you have a lot of mice in your yard, you're going to get predators such as snakes, owls, coyotes, bobcats and foxes. Your own small pets can be attractants for some of the larger predators. Never leave cats and small dogs outside alone, especially at night.
Sometimes someone else's pet is the problem, such as a neighbor's cat. They kill birds and other wildlife while spraying plants with urine. To keep them out of his plants, Yavapai County Extension Agent Jeff Schalau simply puts lots of pinecones between bedding plants and pokes sticks up out of the ground.
The most common question Schalau is asked at work is, "How do I kill this @#* insect?" he related in one of his "Backyard Gardener" columns. But most often, the insect in question is either benign or beneficial, Schalau said.
Sometimes the person who asks this question already has applied a chemical insecticide in his or her yard to kill the bug. This approach can kill beneficial predators and pollinators such as bees and ladybug egg masses.
Spiders, for example, eat insects and other arthropods. While a couple Arizona spiders are quite poisonous - black widows and browns - they generally avoid people.
Integrated pest management is the key, Schalau said. Monitor pest activities and damage levels before taking action. If the damage is unacceptable, first identify the pest species. If you don't see them, try identifying them by their tracks, droppings, trails, burrows or tooth marks.
Then learn about the pest's behavior and biology, use prevention techniques, apply direct control strategies, and monitor their effectiveness so you can revise them as necessary.
For any pest, try to remove attractants such as food, water and nesting materials before taking more drastic actions. Pesticides and traps can kill pets. Recently someone has been placing loose illegal traps in Prescott Valley, and a cat was seriously injured in one.
Other applicants that are less toxic include horticultural oils, dormant oils, soap sprays, sorptive dusts and sulfur dust. Catnip is emerging as a promising repellant for all kinds of pesky insects.
All but three birds are protected by laws that make it illegal to harass, trap or kill them. The only exceptions are starlings, English sparrows and pigeons. Exclusion methods using bird netting is the best way to keep birds out. Frightening birds with decoys or noises only works temporarily, Schalau said.
Most mammals also are protected by law from harassment and killing, Schalau noted. The exceptions include Norway rats, house mice, gophers, packrats and rock squirrels. Trapping and/or removing attractants is the best way to control these three mammals, he said.
Exclusion also is the best way to keep deer, rabbits, skunks, raccoons and javelina away from yard vegetation, Schalau added. Use fencing, covering, hardware cloth and sheet metal to keep pests out.
Electronic frightening devices have not been proven to work on mammals or insects.
Honeybees are great for pollinating the world's crops, but watch out for nests of the more aggressive Africanized bees. If bees are flying at your face or buzzing over your head, they're probably trying to defend their nests. Leave the area and call a beekeeper for help.
For more information about controlling specific pests, visit the Yavapai County Extension Office's website at extension.arizona.edu/Yavapai. Readers can search the Backyard Gardener columns for those pertaining to specific pests.
The Arizona Game and Fish Department's website at azgfd.gov has lots of information about how to co-exist with urban wildlife.
Other sources for information include the Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management at icwdm.org, and the Berryman Institute at berrymaninstitute.org.