Skunks are beneficial, non-aggressive creatures with a unique system of self-defense. If you’ve noticed the persistent faint smell of a skunk, you may have one living around your home or yard. Look for a 4-6 inch diameter hole near buildings or woodpiles, or for a den under a porch or deck. Skunks are omnivorous, primarily eating insects, grubs, fruit, eggs, human garbage, and sometimes even small vertebrates such as mice.
Skunks have adapted well to human environments and live happily under porches, patios, sheds, and decks as well as in hollow logs, wood or rock piles, and abandoned burrows. Young are usually born in May or June, and remain in the nest for about two months before accompanying the mother to forage. Except when young are present, skunks are usually solitary animals. They are primarily nocturnal and can be active throughout the year.
Because skunks don’t see very well, they are unlikely to notice you unless you harass them. If you encounter a skunk, back away slowly and quietly and you should be able to avoid getting sprayed. Skunks are used to being preyed upon from above by owls, so be careful not to frighten them. Signs that a skunk is about to spray include stamping the ground with her front feet, shaking her tail, and fluffing her fur.
POSSIBLE CONFLICTS & SOLUTIONS
To discourage skunks from moving in with you: Block or screen entry points to the spaces under your home and other buildings using material that extends 8 – 10 inches underground as skunks are good burrowers; fill openings under concrete structures with dirt; and remove all brush piles from your property.
If a skunk has already taken up residence under your porch or shed, there are several humane harassment techniques that can be used to encourage the skunk move on.
First, however, to ensure that babies are not orphaned, it is critical to check if young are present. Listen for noises that will indicate the presence of young, such as squeaking, whining and rustling. Remember not to touch or approach any young that you find, as your scent may deter the mother from returning and claiming her young. If young are present, please tolerate them until they are old enough to accompany the adults out of the den.
If tolerance is not an option, place loose straw or grass in front of the opening to the den, place items with a strong human scent (i.e. dirty sock or old sneakers) at least two feet from the entrance to the den and not blocking the entrance to the den, or turn a flashlight and/or radio on near the entrance to the den. Make sure to turn the radio and flashlight off at regular intervals so that the mother can feel safe re-entering the den to retrieve her young. The mother should move out in a day or so, depending how long it takes her to locate a new den.
If these harassment techniques do not work, try using commercially available repellants to encourage the skunks to move on.
As a last resort, in a well ventilated area, pour a small amount of ammonia on a rag and place the rag in a plastic bag. Place the bag at least 2 feet from the entrance to the den and to the side of the entrance. Do not put the rag closer than two feet from the entrance and do not put it directly in front of the entrance, as the ammonia fumes could injure any young who may be present and could deter the mother from re-entering the den to remove her young.
Once it is certain that there are no young present, install a one-way door over the entrance to the den. This will allow skunks to leave through the door but will prevent them from re-entering through it.
After a week, when it is certain that all animals have left the den, seal up the entry hole with construction materials to prevent other animals from moving in and taking advantage of the available good habitat.
If a skunk is caught in a window well, carefully and quietly place a rough board in the well so the animal can climb out. Skunks are not good climbers and need something to grip onto. After the skunks has climbed out of the window well install a window well cover to prevent other wildlife from becoming trapped in the window well.
Skunks are notorious for getting their torpedo-shaped heads stuck in things, specifically yogurt cups (remember to crush yogurt cups and dispose of properly). This can be a big problem, as it could cause the skunk to suffocate. If a skunk’s head is stuck in a cup, call a wildlife rehabilitator, and they will be able to walk you through the steps to remove it, or will come to help. If a rehabilitator is not available and you want to help, you can slowly approach the skunk and place an old blanket over the skunk. Watch the lump in the blanket to see where the head and cup are, then grab the yogurt cup and gently pull the cup off the skunk and back away. The skunk, now able to see, should crawl out from under the blanket and walk away without spraying.
The following recipe to neutralize skunk odor is safe for pets and clothing: Combine 1 quart of 3% peroxide, 1/4 cup baking soda, and 1-tsp. liquid laundry or dish soap. In addition, using liberal amounts of tomato juice, lemon juice, or vinegar will make the odor tolerable. Avoid getting this solution in your pet’s eyes.
PUBLIC HEALTH CONCERNS
Like any mammal, skunks can carry rabies.