Nutria, Possums, and Cats, Oh My!

rainydaywoman_z8(8)October 20, 2009

This summer I have had nutria chewing my bamboo, and possums leaving feces all over my yard with an especially large pile they return to in a blackberry bush. There are also tons of cats in my neighborhood. The squirrels avoid my yard, probably because of the cats.

Is there anything that can be done about the nutria and possums that you know of? I'm really sick of opening my front door at nite and seeing a possum on my porch. I think it was possums that ate my sweet corn and pulled over other plants to nibble on. The corn stalks were pulled completely out of the ground and carried off.

I really really want to attract birds---I have a very large yard with all the plantings, etc to make it bird friendly, but there are always cats prowling. Has anyone found a way to hang bird feeders and put up birdbaths that are safe from cats? Or will birds always avoid my yard because they know there are cats there, or can smell them.

Hummingbirds do come to my cannas, perch in the eucalyptus tree, & I can tell the neighbor's tree is where they must be nesting. Also, birds I can't identify occasionally hang on the 6-ft-tall mullein stalks & eat seeds (they are small yellow birds, & once I saw a black & white little bird with a red head eating). I live just blocks from a river, so there are definitely birds here. I would sure appreciate some advice on all my wildlife problems.

Sign me,

Longing for Birds

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So sorry to hear about your predicament! It is not fun to have unwelcome animals visit you and make you feel like you are a hostage in your house.

We are currently dealing with a skunk that has sprayed our dog four times since July. You open the screen door to go out on your porch, and "just when you thought it was safe to go back in the yard"(apologies to the Jaws movie) there's a skunk smell and your dog is howling and running up the stairs and into your house, which then reeks for days.

So I understand what it is to deal with unwelcome wildlife.

From what I've read, nutria are an invasive species and as such might be an animal you can get help with. It sounds like they do a lot of damage in wetland areas, and since you are near a river, you might want to let wildlife management people know you are dealing with this, and see what they say. I'm sure you're not alone with this problem.

I guess that otherwise, with the opposums, you want to make sure that, as with skunks, there are as few attractions as possible in your yard. No unpicked fruit hanging low to the ground, or fruit on the ground, no bird seed on the ground, no "cover" - brushpiles, overgrown shrubs, etc. for the opposums to hang out in (maybe the blackberry bush could be pruned down for the winter?). Also, do you have compost in your yard? That will attract them too, if it is not in a closed, secure container.

To discourage skunks, we have put out mothballs, and cups with rags soaked with ammonia, near all entrance areas to underneath our deck, to discourage the skunk, and it seems to work. We also are trying to diligently sweep up bird seed that the birds spill onto the ground. In other words, I guess you need to make sure your yard is not a "possum friendly" place.

If these approaches don't work, you might get help from an animal control expert who traps/gives advice. We will be at that point ourselves if this latest plan doesn't work. We have stopped feeding the birds for now, until it gets colder. I don't know how much snow you get, but if it gets a lot colder in your zone, that may take care of the problem for you for awhile and buy you some time.

As for the cat problem, I personally wouldn't put up a bird feeder until the possum/nutria problem is resolved, just because of the seed being an attraction, but someone else on this forum may have the answer to that question.

As for starting a bird habitat, you might want to check out the postings on the Bird Watchers Forum. The folks on that forum are very very knowledgeable and generous with their help. They have helped me immeasurably with starting out a bird habitat.

Best of luck with all this.

    Bookmark   October 20, 2009 at 10:21AM
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Thank you for the input; now I have something to go on---the ammonia & mothballs sounds like a good solution. Also not hanging the feeders until the nutria/possum are gone. (I'm so impatient---I want to watch birds now!) My brushpile is there for birds and snakes, but it probably is habitat for undesirable furry creatures instead.

You may also have an idea for how I can get the squirrels back---I like them, and if I put red chili pepper flakes in the birdseed, they won't eat it. I built a platform outside my dining room window where I used to feed the squirrels & watch them, but now a large cat sits up there in the sun & the squirrels left. Hope I don't sound like a whiner, but I do love my yard and garden, & now I feel invaded by aliens!

    Bookmark   October 21, 2009 at 9:53PM
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Min3 South S.F. Bay CA

There are pretty powerful kid's water guns that you can use to shoot ammonia water at that cat. Let it know that your yard is not a good place to hang out! min

    Bookmark   October 23, 2009 at 9:13PM
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I do not recommend mothballs, they are toxic to animals and birds.

Getting rid of cats are difficult, since they are pretty smart and can get around things you put in their way. However, Cats are also neurotic and that can work to your advantage.

A motion sensing sprinkler is very effective against cats. The most common seems to be a brand call Scarecrow. If you surround your bird area with sprinklers cats and keep your bird bath and feeders high, the cats will have to sit in the sprinkler area to get to the bird. The only downside is that they are expensive, but if you are tech-savy, you can probably hook up your own motion sensor. It may even work against squirrels, nutria, and opossums. Just be careful you don't get spray yourself.

To get rid of that pesty cat that sleeps on your platform, layer the top with pine cones. Cats are probably not going to sleep on top of pine cones because it's pricky and get sap all over the fur. I have heard that chicken wires will work too, but that's rather ugly.


    Bookmark   October 23, 2009 at 9:56PM
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lisa11310(z5 MI)

Im in Michigan and have never heard of a "Nutria"?

    Bookmark   October 23, 2009 at 10:01PM
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Nutria are rodents that are semi-aquatic (so sprinklers might not work with them). They are not native species and cause problems with demolishing vegetation, etc. They look like beavers with rat tails. They can eat up to a quarter of their weight in a day.

Also - I can understand why people might not think it is okay to use mothballs to deter pests. But we have used mothballs as part of our skunk deterrent program here, and it has helped. We used them under our deck, an enclosed area. We tested to be sure our dogs wouldn't eat them, just in case, and they wouldn't even go near the mothballs, they hated the smell so much. Skunks don't want to eat them, they want to stay away from them (and thus, away from our house).

    Bookmark   October 23, 2009 at 10:56PM
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The reason I warn about mothballs is that exposure to vapors overtime can cause kidney failure for cats. Not sure about dogs, they are bigger and it is outdoors. Birds are more sensitive; the vapors from a cooking Teflon pan can kill birds.

I have no idea how to get rid of Nutria (also call Coypu), but I figure the sprinklers will work on cats and probably Opossums.


    Bookmark   October 24, 2009 at 11:31AM
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cyn427 (zone 7)

I certainly would like that sprinkler if it would keep my dogs from digging up all my plants to get at the chipmunks and voles. They have killed more plants and dug out all the dirt under the stone steps to the lower yard. I am at my wits' end. I would need to adjust its spray, so the dogs could get down the steps from the deck, but be kept out of the garden next to the steps. Do you all think this would work?

    Bookmark   October 24, 2009 at 4:48PM
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It sounds like something worth trying. I guess it may depend on how focused your dogs get when they think they see a little critter in your garden. It sounds like they are pretty intent on catching them. If they are, they may just run through that sprinkler without thinking about it -or they may be really surprised by it coming on suddenly and move away.

It might be worth a try; if it saves your garden it would be worth it. Maybe as Paul suggested, you could rig something up with a simple sprinkler and sensor, so you didn't have to spend a lot of money just to try it.

Good luck.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2009 at 11:33PM
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I doubt sprinklers will work on dogs. When I had dogs, the love jumping into the creek :-).

There are a couple of possibility, you can may be bury ballons in the yard so when they dig it up, it will pop. Conversely, a proximity sensor that goes off with a loud sound may actually work against most animal until they get use to it. Burying chicken wire will also work, since they'll dislike digging into the chicken wire. Chicken wire is also use ful to prevent animals from digging into your plants, but won't work on critters that tunnel from below.

Where are you living where you get Nutria? I recall that they don't survive freezing tempature and usually only appear in warmer areas.


    Bookmark   October 25, 2009 at 10:55AM
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From the sound of your corn destruction you should add raccoons to your list of creatures as this is one of the ways they treat corn. The pile of feces in the berries also sound like raccoons rather than possums. Raccoon feces at least here is normally a very dark color and more of a splatter. Even though you see the possums your damage is not typical of what they do.

Since nutria are common in parts of the northwest contacting the DNR is a good suggestion but they will probably tell you that there is not much they can do. After they ate the bamboo it did grow back?

Birds will eventually get used to the cats and the cats used to the birds. Although it seems harsh you may have a bird or two caught but you are probably having more mice than that caught by the cats. I have a neighborhood cat I have been trying to tame and he will sit in a clump of grass 4 feet away from the feeder and the birds will continue to eat. Only when he moves his feet to stand do they flit away so having the cat in the area should not prevent you from enjoying the birds just take the feeders in at night.

    Bookmark   October 25, 2009 at 11:57PM
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Lots of good advice to my pondering about all the animals. I forgot to mention that I'm dealing with about 14 cats at last count! Nutrias were brought to various areas back in the '40s or '50s and raised in cages on farms for fur, to replace mink. When that didn't work out financially, the farmers let them out, and they have bred all over the US as far as I know. The nutria didn't kill many of my bamboo, they just gnawed the outer layers on newer stalks. My son went out on several evenings with a big stick and made lots of noise chasing the nutria, which seemed to help. Also, I read that the nutria, like beaver, HAVE to gnaw, because their teeth are growing---I think they are filing them back down. It is definitely not too cold for nutria-- Here in the pacific northwestern part of Oregon, it freezes a bit once in awhile in winter, but a snow or a real freeze is a big event here. It mainly just rains.

I now have a water gun ready to shoot cats, I've planted plastic forks--tines up around my garden and hummingbird feeder; at least there are Anna's hummingbirds here year-round, and I'm preparing to put bird feeders up on posts where no cat can go. I'm also getting rid of the brush pile that I built up as a wildlife habitat---guess I don't really want the wildlife in my yard---just selectively. I'm taking all of your advice, thank you.

Looking forward to a peaceful spring!

    Bookmark   November 5, 2009 at 12:21AM
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I think the best way to attract birds is to plant native plants that attract insects to your yard. These insects will provide food for birds and draw them in. I don't know if you do plant natives, but you mentioned a few exotics like bamboo and eucalyptus that North American insects do not typically feed on. Plant more natives and less exotics and you will have a healthier environment for all sorts of wildlife.

As far as the nutria and cats are concerned...A good .22 should take care of them right? :)

    Bookmark   November 11, 2009 at 8:28PM
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cyn427 (zone 7)

Paul, love the idea of burying balloons to keep the dogs from digging. I may just try that! Thanks, Cynthia

    Bookmark   November 13, 2009 at 8:40PM
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bernd ny zone5

I live in the Northeast, zone 5a.
I only want to comment that squirrels will be able to climb a pole to reach a birdfeeder. You then need to have a baffel below the feeder on the pole. For many years I used an upside-down plastic pale as the baffle with the pole running through a hole in the center of the pale bottom. Now I use one of those $200 black steel feeders with baffle. Nobody is harming any birds on my feeder. Cats are not interested.
I once had woodchucks under my deck, which I then fortified covering the space under the deck with chicken wiremesh, now there are only chipmunks. Dogs can not get into my backyard because it is fenced in (before that had once a German shepherd bite me).
There are probably other animals visiting my yard at night, like rabbits. I saw a heron get a goldfish.

    Bookmark   November 23, 2009 at 8:13PM
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