Skunk love is in the air: Stinky critters are extra troublesome right now, but for good reason
Stinky critters are looking for mates this time of year and can make for troublesome pests
Love is in the air in the animal family Mephitidae, and it reeks.
February and March mark skunk mating season, and Yampa Valley residents may get a whiff of the annual routine as male skunks spray their musky odor at each other when competing for a female suitor. Adding to the stench, a female that has already been bred will spray any additional unwanted suiters, said Travis Kistler, co-owner of Valley Varmints in Hayden.
Skunks are not the top animals by volume that Valley Varmints traps for residents in the Yampa Valley, but skunks can be a top request by residents for removal this time of year.
Since Chuck Kistler started Valley Varmints in 2000, the wildlife damage control company has trapped and removed an estimated 1,500 skunks — about 75 a year — largely the more common striped skunks, said the father and son co-owners Chuck and Travis Kistler.
The heavy snow this winter may be stressing skunks even more to find food, and the same messy measures that attract bears to humans’ homes, such as bird seed falling out of hanging feeders, can attract scavenging skunks as well.
Routt County resident Travis Benzing found out how hungry the skunks may be when he watched two skunks clawing near his front glass door twice during one evening on March 6. The skunk visitors may have been attracted to the home’s entrance because Benzing sometimes feeds his large dog outside on the front wooden porch.
“I was a little frustrated, mainly by the fact that my dog ends up getting sprayed at least once a year,” Benzing said. “Ever since that first year, I don’t let her off leash after dark.”
Colorado Parks and Wildlife Officer Kyle Bond said Routt County is home to a “robust” population of skunks.
“We’ve certainly got plenty of them,” said Bond, who emphasized the need for residents to remove wildlife food attractants from outside their homes.
The Kistlers note homeowners can use bleach to get rid of the smell of skunk spray on hard surfaces. To bathe pets that are sprayed, the effective mixture recommended by the American Kennel Club is one-fourth cup of baking soda, a teaspoon of mild dishwashing detergent and one quart of 3% hydrogen peroxide solution.
Because skunks do not hibernate in winter and are nocturnal, pet owners unfortunately often end up washing sprayed dogs late at night. Even cats have been sprayed by skunks, according to Routt County residents, who note the pain of washing cats thoroughly.
Two houses down from Benzing in the Steamboat II subdivision, Valley Varmints trapped a skunk two nights in a row last week inside a fenced backyard. The skunks had been trying to dig under the reinforced edge of a shed near the homeowners’ backdoor.
The Kistlers say the best measure is to seal under sheds and homes where skunks frequent. Skunks can squeeze through holes about 3.5 inches in diameter or less. Travis Kistler advises installing an L-shaped section of welded wire at the exterior edge of buildings. Use welded wire with 1-inch by 2-inch holes or smaller, bury the wire sections at the exterior wall 4 inches deep vertically and then underground 10 inches horizontally away from the building. Wooden sheds with raised floors can be a favorite denning spot for skunks, Chuck Kistler said, and skunks can use their long claws to dig under boards and rocks placed around sheds.
The Kistlers move very quietly, slowly and carefully when removing their sealed skunk traps. They slowly tilt the sealed trap with the door on top so that the skunk slides to the bottom. They slowly move and load the trap in back of their pickup with a full metal topper.
Valley Varmints also trapped a skunk that entered into a vacant home through the dryer vent into the laundry room to eat and drink from cat bowls on top of the dryer.
In 23 years of varmint removal work, Chuck Kistler said he has only been sprayed twice by skunks. One time was early in his career when his cell phone on his waist rang as he was moving a skunk in a trap. The skunk sprayed him in the face. He drove home to Hayden, where his wife would not let him in the house. She handed him the supplies to clean up in the creek on that winter day.
Travis Kistler also has been sprayed by skunks twice in his 15 years on the job, both times when the pest was reportedly a raccoon. In one instance, he was crawling under a house in search of a raccoon when he was sprayed in the face by a skunk.
The Kistlers want to dispel the myth that a skunk facing a target with the skunk’s tail down will not spray. If threatened, the skunk will swiftly bend its body in a U shape and spray. A true warning sign before being sprayed is when skunks stamp their front feet.
Another common misconception is about the residual smell. Skunks do not smell unless they spray, and a skunk can live under a house all winter without the homeowners knowing it, the Kistlers said. So, if homeowners smell a skunk’s odor, that means there may be more animals in their neighborhood than those noticed only by smell.
Bond said residents who might want to relocate a wild animal should work with CPW for advice and a relocation permit first.
More information about living smart with wildlife can be found online through CPW and Colorado State University Extension.
To reach Suzie Romig, call 970-871-4205 or email sromig@SteamboatPilot.com.
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