Living with wildlife: Skunks
Skunks are shy animals, known for their offensive odour and distinctive black and white markings. They are nocturnal animals but may occasionally be active during the day.
These interesting creatures combat enormous hardships as their habitat continues to be destroyed, which is something we must consider when learning to co-exist with these animals. Skunks must compete with humans for food, shelter and space. With a little understanding, patience, a few precautions and common sense steps, we can co-exist with the wild animals who share our backyards and cities.
The natural habitat of a skunk includes forest borders, brushy areas, and grassy fields. Skunks are burrowing animals. In urban areas, you can find them under buildings, porches and in culverts.
Skunks, like raccoons, are omnivores. Their diet consists mainly of insects, but also includes mice and other small mammals, eggs, fruits, nuts, vegetation, carrion, and garbage. This varied diet is one of the reasons that skunks have adapted so well to living in close proximity to humans.
Skunks breed in late winter to early spring and usually give birth in May or June. They have between three-to-10 young per litter and the young remain in the den for six-to-eight weeks before venturing out with their mother.
For more info on skunks visit the Canadian Wildlife Federation’s information page, Striped Skunk
How can I get rid of a skunk that has taken up residence under my porch/shed?
If this problem has arisen in the months of May to July, the skunk is most likely a mother with young. In this case, we encourage the homeowner to be tolerant and patient. Young do not leave the den until they are six-to-eight weeks of age. Do not put any exclusion methods in place until you notice the young leaving the den.
Homeowners should also not attempt exclusion in the winter months because it is a difficult time of year for the skunk to find an alternate den site and food sources. If the skunk is unable to find food and shelter, the skunk may perish in the winter weather. The best time to exclude skunks is late summer or early fall. The most effective steps involve using deterrent methods to encourage the skunk to move and then preventing future access.
When dealing with skunks, noise and light are highly effective deterrent measures. Female skunks select den sites that are quiet and dark because they offer her a sense of security for her young. Therefore, introducing noise and light to the site will encourage her to seek an alternate den site. Place a battery-powered radio tuned to an all-talk station near the den. You can also place a battery-powered light shining towards the den and go out several times a day and make noise. These methods will disturb the skunk and make her feel less secure and more likely to move out.
The most effective exclusion technique is the installation of an L-shaped galvanized screen around the perimeter of the porch or shed, but leaving the entrance/exit hole open. To do this dig a one-foot-deep by one-foot-wide trench around the perimeter and place the screen in the trench to form an ‘L’. The base of the ‘L’ should be at least eight inches wide. Fit the screen tightly against the building then fill the trench in with dirt.
How to test if a skunk is still around
To determine if the skunk is still using the den, place a ball of newspaper in the entrance/exit or cover the hole loosely with dirt. The skunk is still residing in the den if it moves the newspaper or dirt. Thus, you can continue the above deterrent techniques. You can take steps (described above) to permanently seal the entrance when the dirt or newspaper has not disturbed for several days.
Note: if you see a skunk pacing and digging frantically to gain access to the den, assume there are young inside and immediately unseal the entrance hole.
I have a skunk trapped in my window well. What should I do?
Slowly and carefully lower a rough board into the window well, at a gentle slope to serve as a ramp. The skunk can use this to climb out of the well. Keep people and pets away from the area and the skunk will use the ramp to escape.
To prevent this situation from arising again, the homeowner should place a tight-fitting cover over all window wells around the house. If you see an injured skunk, do not assist it in escaping. First, contact your local licensed wildlife rehabilitator to determine whether rehabilitation is required.
My dog/I got sprayed by a skunk. Do you have any suggestions to get rid of the stench?
Skunks employ warning signs before they spray, such as stamping their feet, fluffing their fur, and raising their tail. If the skunk’s spray is unavoidable, there are several solutions that can be used to help the smell fade. However, only time can permanently eliminate the odour. Here are some suggestions:
- • Hydrogen Peroxide Solution (find the recipe HERE)
- • Carbolic soap – use only on human skin and clothes
- • Use commercial products such as shampoos for animals which can be purchased at vet clinics
If you or your dog get sprayed in the eyes, you should immediately flush the eyes with cool water. Skunk spray in the eyes is painful and irritating, but not expected to cause blindness. If irritation does not subside, seek medical advice.
By being attentive to your surroundings, keeping an eye on your dog during outdoor time, and taking steps to reduce denning opportunities and food sources for skunks, you can help reduce the chances of a close encounter with a striped visitor.
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