What is a skunk doing in my yard?
Slow-moving, mild-mannered, and severely near-sighted, skunks are nocturnal and nomadic. When they visit your yard, they’re either looking for food or shelter or simply passing through. Mice, grasshoppers, beetles, crickets and other insects are all important components of the skunk diet. Skunks will also eat eggs, berries, carrion, snakes, frogs, small birds, rats, rabbits, and other small mammals and, of course, garbage and pet food.
To a skunk, the dark, quiet, and often protected areas under decks, porches, and sheds all look like good places to bunk for the near term. Abandoned woodchuck or fox burrows, rocky crevasses, culverts, hollow logs, and lumber piles make suitable dens as well.
Skunks typically bear one litter a year of two to 10 young. The young are born in May or June and are on their own by fall. The normal home range of a skunk is less than 2 square miles, although breeding males may travel up to 5 miles each night.
Benefits and conflicts
Skunks destroy large numbers of garden pests such as grasshopper and beetles. But they can burrow under porches, decks, and foundations and slip inside buildings through openings as small as 3-4 inches. Loose in the vegetable garden, they’ll waddle over to the sweet corn and eat the lowermost ears. Searching for grubs near the surface of wet lawns, they’ll dig 3- to 4-inch-wide cone-shaped holes or upturn small patches of turf. Most annoying of all, when threatened they’ll spray to distances of 15 feet or beyond. To their credit, they give fair warning by arching their backs, raising their tails, stamping their feet, and shuffling backwards. Uncommonly, skunks also carry rabies.
Strategies for coexistence and control
Habitat modification: You can minimize skunk-related problems by:
- Keeping cellar, basement, and crawl space doors closed
- Sealing and covering all openings, including window wells
- Removing debris, brush piles, and lumber stacks
- Keeping pet food inside
- Covering garbage cans
- Reducing grub and rodent populations
- Preventing accumulation of ripe fruit on or below fruit trees
- Taking precautions before letting dogs out at night
Fencing: Fortunately, skunks aren’t skilled at climbing and a fence will normally deter them. They are, however, exceedingly skilled at digging so you’ll need a 2-inch wire mesh fence that’s not only 3 feet high but that extends 6-12 inches below ground and another 6-12 inches below ground bent outward at a right angle.
Frightening devices and repellents: No repellents or toxicants are registered for skunks, although ammonia-soaked rags, loud radios, and bright lights in denning sites may encourage them to seek shelter elsewhere.
Trapping: Call a professional wildlife control operator if you feel a skunk must be removed. Be aware that another skunk is likely to take its place, filling the vacancy that removing the first skunk has left in the environment.
Fore more information
- Prevention and Control of Wildlife Damage: Skunks, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Cooperative Extension Division