Skunk Alert!

March 4, 2016

Skunk Alert!

            A distinct odor greeted me as I parked in my driveway and walked towards the house when I came home from a meeting the other evening. I just hoped I’d make it to the back door before I discovered the source of that odor. (I made it!) Between that and seeing a dead skunk along the road and I’d say that skunks have become more active in the last week or two.

            This is expected because the breeding season for skunks runs from late February to late March, with young being born in May to early June. A skunk’s home range is usually about one-half to two miles. But during the breeding season they may travel four to five miles each night. That’s why skunks may show up in unusual places this time of year and the mortality rate is higher along highways.

            At this time of year, skunks may randomly pass by your place in search of a mate, but if they persist around your home, you probably have something they want... food, water, or shelter. They'll take advantage of a deck or an old building to hide under, pet food left out overnight, or water.

            Cat food is one of their favorite entrees, and skunks tend get along fairly well with felines. However, don't leave cat food out where they can readily get it. Skunks are nocturnal critters, so feed your cats in the morning and remove any food in the evening.

            Dogs, on the other hand, are a bit too curious, and they can get into some stinking trouble. If the skunk is frightened or annoyed, it gives fair warning first. It will growl, stamp its feet, and spit! If those techniques don't work, up goes the tail and out comes a caustic cloud. That spray is pretty accurate and can nail the enemy as far as 15 feet away.

            So what's a homeowner to do? Limit whatever is attracting them to your property. If you have a deck or old building they get under, fence it with half-inch mesh hardware cloth. Bury the bottom foot of fencing about 6 inches deep with the bottom six inches bent out at a right angle so they're not going to dig underneath it and get under the fencing and find shelter.

            You can also modify their habitat by properly storing or disposing of garbage or other food sources that will attract skunks. Skunks are often attracted to rodents living in barns, crawl spaces, sheds, and garages. So controlling rodents may be necessary to eliminate this attraction.

            Debris such as junk cars or equipment as well as piles of lumber, fence posts, railroad ties or firewood can provide shelter for skunks and may encourage them to use an area. Clean up these areas to discourage skunks.

            Perhaps the greatest concern about skunks is they are the primary carriers of rabies in the Midwest. Avoid overly aggressive skunks that approach you without hesitation. Any skunk showing abnormal behavior, such as daytime activity, may be rabid and should be treated with caution. Avoid any skunk you observe that is acting suspiciously or destroy it if you can do so safely.

            Skunks do have some value. They have a hearty appetite for insects and grubs and may also consume mice and baby rats. However, their appetite for grubs can also cause conflicts for homeowners when they decide to dig for grubs in the front yard.

            For more information on skunks and their control, contact your local Nebraska Extension office.