Critter-sweet Dilemmas

Around 50 people gathered for a talk by Lauren Hamlett, wildlife manager for the Pasadena Humane Society & SPCA, on tips for living with urban wildlife at the South Pasadena Public Library on Aug. 14. Photos by Skye Hannah

From opossums to peafowl and coyotes to squirrels, the rich diversity of our furry, feathered and scaled neighbors in South Pasadena — and our sometimes fraught relationships with them — was the focus of a workshop by the Pasadena Humane Society & SPCA at the South Pasadena Public Library Community Room on Aug. 14.

Everyone doing their part toward coexisting with our “wild neighbors” is a key factor of successful community harmony, according to presenter Lauren Hamlett, wildlife manager at the Pasadena Humane Society (PHS) & SPCA.

She told the more than 50 residents gathered that education on what is considered normal animal behavior, and being empathetic to the wildlife, helps with keeping pets, property and people safe.

“Our neighborhoods are their habitats,” said Hamlett. “A lot of them are born and raised in our neighborhoods. They’re not coming down from the mountains. They do live here. So it’s important for us to figure how to be the best neighbors we can be.”

Although PHS is unique in the area for having both state and federal wildlife permits, the organization does not trap healthy wildlife, offer referrals to pest controllers or pick up trapped wildlife. All wildlife is ultimately under the jurisdiction of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW). PHS often responds to calls only to assess the situation and then consults CDFW for any further action.

Lauren Hamlett, wildlife manager for the Pasadena Humane Society & SPCA, delivers a talk on successfully coexisting with urban wildlife.

Hamlett addressed several misconceptions around the existence of wildlife in urban areas, such as the idea that if only the PHS would remove the animal, the issues would go away. Unfortunately, this only serves to inhumanely remove the animal from its natural habitat and doesn’t address the resource, such as food, water or shelter, that drew it to the area in the first place, according to Hamlett. There still will  be a draw for other animals, known as the vacuum effect. Removing these resources is referred to as human exclusion.

“Almost all nuisance wildlife issues are fixed with humane exclusion, deterrence and identifying what the resources are that are attracting these animals to your property and your neighborhoods, and identifying those, removing them or securing them, etc.,” said Hamlett.

A key point that was highlighted were ever-popular bird feeders. Hamlett called them “one of the biggest draws for all kinds of wildlife, not just birds,” and recommended removing them, along with bird baths. As seed falls on the ground, rodents are attracted, and in turn coyotes and other carnivores.

“It’s really important that we go around our yard and make our space unappealing to the animals,” said Hamlett.

Bird feeders also are a leading source of spreading avian conjunctivitis in songbirds gathered together in close contact. The condition has no cure and can lead to blindness in the birds. The infection causes birds to develop red, swollen and crusty eyes. Those who are dedicated to their feeder should wash and bleach it once a week to prevent spreading the disease.

Successful tips for helping to make a property unwelcoming for a large variety of wildlife include using motion-sensing lights and sprinklers, keeping trees trimmed away from roof eaves, keeping pet-food dishes inside or feeding only at specific times before taking the dish back inside, securing outdoor trash in airtight containers and never feeding wildlife at any time. 

In terms of handling birds or mammals that are found grounded and vulnerable, PHS offers several helpful flow-charts on assessing their condition on their website before contacting them. Hamlett said the situation of “nest-napping” is common, where people have good intentions but the animals are unknowingly taken from their home area, often when they’re healthy and still under parental care.

“The best thing to do is put them back in the nest,” said Hamlett. “It’s a common misconception that birds will smell their babies and reject them since they smell like people. Birds mostly don’t have a good sense of smell, so they’re not going to reject their babies.”

It’s also possible to create a makeshift nest out of a box suspended on a tree, in the same area where the animal was found. Often the parents will return after a time when humans are not present, to retrieve the baby or to use the box to establish a new nest.

For peafowl, typical damage from the large birds often involve eating gardens, jumping on cars, soiling lawns and being a messy nuisance. Property owners should avoid keeping open compost in the yard, and should plant foliage the birds dislike, including Birds of Paradise, Bougainvillea, cactus and ferns.

Coyotes are known as omnivorous and opportunistic hunters. They help control the rodent population and offer “free carrion removal service” as well, according to Hamlett. Trapping may seem like a quick fix but contributes to the problem. Killing or removing one or both of the alpha pair of a pack, often the only ones who reproduce, temporarily cuts population but then causes the pack to fracture, leading to more pairs reproducing, young coyotes having offspring sooner and litter sizes to grow. Hamlett recommends both “passive hazing’’ and “active hazing” to deter them.

Passive hazing involves property alteration and preventative measures, such as installing coyote rollers atop six-foot or higher fences, supervising pets outside and leaving ammonia/vinegar soaked rags or even a dirty sock near a suspected den area.

With active hazing, shouting, airhorns or having a penny can shaker on a walking stick can be effective in driving off a coyote if directly encountered. Consistency is key, and hazing must occur every time a coyote is encountered and until they run off — to successfully teach the animals over time. People should never turn their back on a coyote or run away, and small children and pets should be picked up when one is encountered. Hamlett also recommended taking hazing items along while out on walks and keeping pets on a leash of 6 feet or shorter.

Residents Carol Evans, a retired teacher, and Dave Kinnoin, a songwriter and producer, were among the gathered crowd. Evans said she came to the talk most concerned about the coyotes and found the point on removing bird feeders to be helpful.

“I just thought this is just not smart to encourage the animals to get food and birdseed and everything from your house because they should have a little natural fear,” said Evans.

Kinnoin said the presentation inspired him to spread word to his friends that those with bird feeders and bird baths should “rethink it.”

For more information on keeping you and your property safe, visit the Pasadena Humane Society & SPCA website at PHS can be contacted 24/7 at (626) 792-7151. Expert wildlife staff can be contacted at their Wildlife Helpline at (626) 792-7151 extension 110 or for assistance with non-emergency wildlife conflicts.