QUESTION: I live in a two-story house that has a clay tile roof. Although we have birdstop--pieces of sheet metal fitted into the ends of the tiles on the edges of our roof--finches are nesting in gaps between the roof and the birdstop. We've tried balloons and flags to chase them away, but to no avail. We are concerned about mites and about nesting material plugging our gutters and downspouts. Do you have any suggestions?
ANSWER: When installed properly, birdstop is usually an effective control. It sounds as if yours was installed incorrectly or the tile roof isn't aligned properly, which would create gaps between the birdstop and the tiles.
To remedy the problem, remove the first row of tiles and realign them so the birdstop will fit properly.
If the whole roof is poorly aligned, birdstop will not help. In cases like this, some homeowners fill the holes in the first row of tiles with cement, which they then waterproof. Others have used expandable foam to fill the holes.
Most birds in Southern California are federally protected (sparrows and pigeons are two exceptions), so be sure there are no juveniles or eggs that might become trapped once your repairs are made.
Keeping Pets Inside Can Deter Coyotes
Q: I live up in the hills, and last year, my cat was killed by a coyote. After talking to my neighbors, I learned that everyone's lost a pet or two to coyotes. How can we get rid of them?
A: You can't. Give up trying to eliminate them and start outsmarting them.
Coyotes are in our yards because development pushes them out of more favorable, natural areas.
If your neighborhood provides the three basics that coyotes depend on--food, shelter and water--their needs are satisfied and you can expect to see them around.
Even if you do somehow succeed in getting rid of the first coyote, its food supply--rabbits, rodents--would only become more numerous. Soon, another coyote would move in to take advantage of the pickings.
In general, urban coyotes stick to brushy, unpopulated areas during the day and hunt at night. Although they prefer rabbits and rodents, they also attack pets, and there have even been a few attacks on young children over the years.
The only way to safeguard your pet is to bring it in the house at dusk and don't let it out until at least 9 the next morning. Shut outdoor cats and dogs in the garage for the night. Lock any pet doors.
If a pet must go out during the evening, you should stay with it, even in the backyard. Keeping your dog, or cat, on a leash is also a good idea.
Also, be sure to cover trash cans and bring in any pet food.
If your backyard abuts a wild space, fence it off and bury the bottom of the fence at least 6 inches deep in the ground. Coyotes are good diggers.
Secure chickens, rabbits and other vulnerable animals in a wire cage. Make sure the cage has a solid back, one solid side and at least a partially solid bottom.
Hungry Deer Hoof It to Her Garden
Q: Foraging deer are a big problem in Southern California, especially for homeowners like me with backyards at the foot of brushy slopes. I am willing to have them eat the ivy on the hillside, but can you suggest anything to keep them out of the garden? They are particularly fond of agapanthus.
A: As you've seen, deer are very adaptable eaters. In a drought, they eat what they can get, even food they've dismissed in previous years. When times are better, they prefer tomato plants, apple trees and tulips, which are like ice cream to a deer.
There are a few techniques you can use to repel deer and reduce damage to a tolerable level in the garden. However, a solid, eight- to 10-foot fence is your only long-term solution. For many homeowners, that is not an option because most municipal zoning ordinances ban fences of that height.
A very high solid fence is needed because although deer are super jumpers, they're reluctant to jump over what they can't see through.
If a fence is not practical for you, here are some home remedies, but understand that most will have limited success and will work better together.
The trick is vary your irritants, so the deer don't become used to them.
Some people report success with fishing line strung at knee level. When the deer feel it, they panic and bolt.
Another tactic is to mix two eggs in two gallons of water and spray it on your plants. The egg mixture will become rotten, and the odor is said to offend a deer's sense of smell, but it cannot be smelled by humans. Be sure to wash your fruits and vegetables before eating them.
Another tactic is to create a deterrent by hanging strips of shiny Mylar tape on stakes. Pie plates sometimes work as well.
Any readers who have found things that work are welcome to share them.
Odor May Be Caused By a Dead Animal
Q: My problem is an odor, possibly from a dead animal, coming out of an air-conditioning vent adjacent to an attic vent, protected by a wire screen. This has happened before, and each time it takes as long as five weeks for the smell to clear. How can I prevent this from happening again?
A: I'll bet you're right. The smell you describe is probably from an animal that has fallen down between the walls, become trapped and died. Mice, rats and opossums are the usual suspects. Raccoons would tear the place apart, so we'll assume they're not the culprits.
Animal-proofing your house and attic is the best way to prevent this from happening again. But before you seal up, check to make sure there aren't any animals currently living in the attic.
First, look for entrance points under the eaves, around vents, the chimney and other piping near the foundation and on the roof. Next, search the attic in the cool morning hours wearing an air filter mask. Look deep in the soffits and in the insulation, and inspect exposed wires and wood.
If you've got rats and mice, you'll probably see fur and grease marks and circular tunneling in the insulation where they den. Also look for gnaw marks. Rodents' ever-growing front teeth require constant pruning.
To get rid of rats and mice, you can set traps yourself, but use gloves. However, I recommend calling a pest control company because the rodents carry diseases and breed so quickly that they get out of control.
You're in luck if you've got an opossum. Despite their vicious reputation, these cat-sized marsupials are really quite shy and retiring, rarely do much damage and are easy to chase away.
They may look for a cozy spot to sleep and raise babies, but they are known wanderers who don't stay in any one place too long.
Once your attic is pest-free, screen pipes, vents and other access points with 1/4-inch hardware cloth. Expandable foam works like a charm at sealing cracks and small holes. Both are available in hardware stores.
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Problems With Critters?
Having troubles with urban wildlife? Got questions about homeowner-critter conflicts? Let us help.
Send your critter queries to Andrea Kitay at P.O. Box 2489, Camarillo, CA 93011, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please include your name, where you live and as much detail as possible about your problem.
All questions will be considered for use but cannot be answered individually.
Also, readers are welcome to share their own solutions to pesky wildlife problems.