Encountering wildlife in your backyard isn’t necessarily a problem unless they become a nuisance. There are many common species of animals that are found throughout Florida, including raccoons, opossums, coyotes, alligators, and deer. The Florida Administrative Code (F.A.C.), 68-A-9.010 defines a nuisance animal as one that:
- causes (or is about to cause) property damage
- presents a threat to public safety
- causes an annoyance within, under or upon a building
Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission has specific rules for trapping or otherwise removing a nuisance animal from a property. Some animals, like the alligator, require special permits while others, like the armadillo, require special handling and humane euthanasia. You can learn more about the rules about any specific animal, or locate a wildlife trapper on the F.W.C.’s website at https://myfwc.com/
There are several methods a landowner can take to deter animals from their properties. If an animal becomes a nuisance, certain deterrents may work to dissuade the intruder from returning. Still, it is usually best to call in an expert to help remove the problem and prevent a return. Many of these animals are illegal to harass or feed. Be sure to familiarize yourself with the rules regarding common nuisance wildlife that may be vandalizing your backyard landscapes.
White-tailed deer are so named for the white underside to their tails which they will hold up when they are alerted to potential danger. Most deer are skittish and will run at the first sign of threat. Florida has four subspecies of the white-tailed deer, among the many species found in the state. These include the federally endangered Key Deer, the Virginia White-Tailed Deer, Coastal White-tails, and the North American White-Tailed deer, which is the variety most are familiar with seeing scattered along highways feeding at dusk or dawn.
White-tailed deer are usually not a problem until they find a good feeding spot that happens to be the expensive landscaping planted in your backyard. White-tailed deer feed on a variety of leaves, fruits, flowers, shrubs, and other foliage. They are strictly herbivores, so they will generally not attack pets or people unless it is in the height of the mating season when males become aggressive. Most scare tactics will work even in this scenario to scare off the offending deer. North American White-Tail Deer is the largest of Florida’s species, with males averaging around one hundred and fifteen pounds and measuring around three feet tall at the shoulder. However, depending on habitat, these deer can vary tremendously in size. Key deer, on the other hand, is a much smaller sub-species with males weighing in around eighty pounds and just about two feet tall at the shoulder, while females in all species being a little on the smaller side. It is easy to tell a male deer from a female deer because of the antlers that are grown each season in preparation for mating challenges. They do, however, shed these antlers each year and grow a new pair the following year.
Deer are easily discouraged from a property with repellants, fencing, or dogs. Deer become a nuisance when they find a preferred feeding ground and continually return to it night after night. Because deer do not have upper incisors, they cannot cut the leaves or stems of the plants on which they choose to feed. This ripping method of feeding causes damage to crops, ornamentals, and other timbers. Their method of feeding causes the plants to produce lower yields after initial destruction, and in the coming seasons, especially on fruit trees. Deer damage is easily spotted because of these torn areas. The damage is generally higher than other animals at about two to four feet from the bottom, instead of at ground level where you will see the damage from smaller animals like rabbits.
Cottontail rabbits may be cute, but the damage they cause can be less so. Cottontails are distinguished from other rabbits by their puffy, cotton-ball like white tail. They are mostly gray, averaging about fifteen inches in length and weighing approximately two to four pounds. Rabbit of all varieties is easy to spot, given their long ears and big eyes. Cottontails prefer to live in areas that provide cover, such as weed or briar patches, along the edges of cultivated fields and heavy brush wooded areas. They are quick and prefer hopping to walking, unlike the swamp rabbit, which prefers walking to hopping. Cottontails are most active in the early morning but can be about at night as well. It is legal to hunt them during certain seasons, but it is illegal to feed them.
Rabbits most often cause damage in vegetable gardens, as they prefer green vegetation. Still, when food sources are scarce in natural habitats, they will hunt for food elsewhere. Other plants they may damage include woody shoots and bark, including young tree shoots. Rabbit damage is identified by the clean angled cuts left in the greenery on which they have snacked. When they find a good food source, a rabbit will return to the spot until there is no more viable food option left, or it has been deterred by some other means. Rabbits generally aren’t much of a problem as they typically are light eaters and cause only small amounts of damage. But for a family garden, this may provide too much for the homeowner to lose. Having dogs around will typically prevent a rabbit from returning to a spot.
Moles, Pocket Gophers, Voles
Moles, voles and pocket gophers are common backyard and golf course pests. They can quickly become a nuisance with their tunneling behaviors. These critters dig various types of holes and tunnels under your lawn, which causes different types of damage. If your lawn is “squishy” when you walk on it, then you likely have moles. Moles do not have visible eyes, are dark brown, and have a long snout. They are also noticeably different than the other two species because they have distinguishable front paws that act as little paddles digging under your lawn and pushing the soil upwards, creating a “squishy” feeling when you walk on your grass. Moles can be determined when you see large piles of dirt where the critters have come to the surface. Voles, also known as field mice, actually dig tunnels through your yard, which are much more visible. These animals look very similar to mice with a light brown coloration, small eyes, ears, and tails. Gophers, like moles, also leave mounds and holes in your yard, but they are a little bigger due to the difference in the size of this animal. Gophers color depends greatly on the color of the soil they live in, but range from light to dark brown with a white or lighter underside. They are broad and stocky animals with a large flat head. The most distinguishable characteristic of a gopher is their “expandable” cheeks, which, when filled with food, extend all the way out to the width of their shoulders. All three animals weigh around or under one pound. Moles are about six to eight inches in length, voles are typically three to seven inches, and gophers are the largest at six to fourteen inches in length.
Each animal also causes its own set of damage as well. Moles damage under the surface with their tunneling. They can tear up roots of grasses and other plants, causing shifting to occur and eventually causing the plants to die. They can also disrupt irrigation or utility equipment underground. Voles eat the roots of grasses, which damages the stability of the plants and cause them to die or fall over. Aesthetically vole runways are unsightly, but not only are they ugly, but they also kill the grass where they dig them. Gophers do similar damage as that of moles. It is easier to determine pocket gophers, however, because they will pop up out of the ground more often as they tuck food into their cheeks for later noshing.
Deterring Common Nuisance Wildlife:
Wildlife enters your yard for a multitude of reasons; they are seeking what is necessary for survival. They are after one of four things: food, water, shelter, or space. Determining the type of animal causing damage can be done in multiple ways. First, look at the damage caused, can you tell by the bite marks or type of plant involved what animal it might be? Looking for tracks or scat in and around the damaged areas can help you quickly determine the animal as well. Each has a unique footprint. Learn about the different types of animal tracks on the F.W.C. website at https://myfwc.com/viewing/how/learn-to-detect/ or other learning sites on the web. If you can’t tell the problem you have, try contacting a wildlife trapper who is educated in this area and can easily detect your problem and help you come up with a solution.
Choose one of the following methods to help prevent future problems with nuisance wildlife. Remember, animals are after the necessary resources for survival, so you can take three steps to prevent future visits. First, and the easiest of the processes is to make modifications to the source of what they are after. If your vegetable garden is at stake, consider planting vegetation that closely resembles their natural food sources to discourage them from eating your prize cucumbers. Next, you can deter by putting up fencing or utilizing other deterrent methods based on the type of animal. Next, you can consider trapping or killing the animal. This method should always be your last resort. Remember, we all share the same planet.
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service: