Habitat loss to fragmentation, urbanization, and expanding agricultural production means urban and suburban areas will increasingly become options for wildlife searching for homes. Song birds, snakes, lizards, coyotes, foxes, raccoons, deer and even bears are becoming common visitors to urban and suburban backyards.
People may not realize the benefits of backyard wildlife. For example, snakes eat insect pests as well as rodents that can serve as hosts for parasites and infectious diseases that may be passed to humans.
Most people aren’t worried about a cute raccoon eating out of the cat’s outdoor food dish. However, that same animal could be a carrier for rabies, parasites, influenza, salmonella or other pathogens that are issues for people and household pets.
This does not mean people should be afraid of wildlife. People generally do enjoy watching wild animals, especially unfamiliar ones. Instead of being fearful, people should be aware and respectful.
What should people know about backyard wildlife? Wild animals are seeking food, shelter, and water. Providing those essentials will attract more and varied wildlife species. Bird feeders, pollinator plantings, water features, and native trees and shrubs can be artfully incorporated into landscaping to provide beauty and wildlife habitat.
For those who don’t want wildlife in their yards, care should be taken to avoid providing the food or shelter animals are seeking. Common examples are outdoor pet food bowls, stacks of firewood or open spaces under homes or sheds.
If wildlife does appear in the yard, the best option for peaceful encounters is space. Wild animals, if not used to humans, will either escape or hide until the coast is clear for them to leave. It is when people move in closer, whether intentionally to help or harm or accidentally through unawareness, that a wild animal may try and defend itself.
If an unwanted guest does not move on, it is best to contact local wildlife experts for their assistance. Not only will this avert any unwanted injuries to people or animals, it will also prevent violations of the state and federal laws that protect most wildlife in the U.S.
Backyard wildlife is a mixed blessing. Coexistence is possible when common sense and research based management practices are used to protect both people and wildlife.