The first time you notice a baby bunny peeking out from under your deck or a squirrel running across your patio, you have to admit, these critters are darn cute. A few weeks later, however, when your lawn has bald spots of chewed-up grass and new burrow holes surrounding your deck, you probably won’t think these little guys are that adorable anymore.
That’s when it’s time to take action.
Name That Critter
First, you want to correctly identify the kind of animals that reside under your deck. Look at the size and shape of the tracks, how deep the holes are, and what types of droppings you see. A tell-tale sign of a bunny nest under your deck is matted fur on the ground near the deck edge. As most of your burrowing animals are nocturnal, you’ll also want to keep an eye on the entry holes around dusk when they are scurrying back and forth from their burrows.
The four main kinds of burrowing animals in Colorado are voles, pocket gophers, prairie dogs, and Wyoming ground squirrels. Rabbits also are a huge issue, especially in suburban neighborhoods. And don’t underestimate mice, skunks, and raccoons. Since all these critters love to make their homes in dark, dry, secluded areas away from predators, the space under your deck is prime real estate for them.
Interlopers Be Gone
Second, consider how you need to lure these unwelcome guests out from under your deck or porch. One way for getting these guys to surface is to make their lives uncomfortable. Spraying a hose under the deck to drench a nest or clearing away natural barriers to make the area more open and accessible are standard methods.
Consider baiting a trap with the animal’s favorite treat for a tried and true method of capture. Raccoons have a sweet tooth and really like marshmallows, while bunnies love fresh carrots and dark leafy greens. Gophers prefer your flower bulbs, root veggies, and seeds, and skunks enjoy oily meats like fish and chicken.
Baby bait works great, too. Before you freak out, let me explain – if you have a nest full of babies, you can wait for mom to leave and then gently relocate the little ones and their nest to a comfortable cage with a one-way door. When mom comes back, she’ll naturally go straight to her babies, and you will have safely caught the entire family.
Of course, there are other less humane options, but as a top-tier Colorado custom deck builder, we feel like you decided to create your outdoor space to enjoy nature more, not to destroy it. That’s why we are big fans of humanely trapping these cute but insanely annoying creatures and rehoming them elsewhere.
Last One Out Is a Rotten Egg
You’ll want to do a few things to make sure every living thing is out from under your deck before putting up any barrier. Not only is it horrible to think of trapping a living creature under there and condemning it to a slow and painful death, I really can’t emphasize enough how the stench of a dead skunk or bunny can quickly kill the vibe of your outdoor dinner party.
Some good ways to check are to spread a little flour at the entrance of the burrow holes, place sticks in the ground around the holes, or stuff a wad of newspaper in the entrance. Then watch and wait for a few days. You’re most likely good to go if the little sticks aren’t knocked over or bent to the side, the newspaper is still in place, and the flour doesn’t have any tiny paw prints.
If you hear rustling or you’re still concerned, leave an opening in your barrier that feeds directly into a baited cage with a one-way door. Again, you may have to leave it there for a few days, but whatever’s still underneath your deck will eventually find the only way out.
And (Please) Don’t Come Back
Once you’re sure all the things living under your deck are chased away, it’s time to put up a barrier to those burrowers. The most effective way of doing this is to dig a trench between 8 inches and 12 inches deep around the edge of your deck. Cut ¼- to ½-inch chicken wire into pieces 12 inches wider than the space you need to cover (between the ground and the edge of the deck). Then bend the bottom 6 inches out into an L-shape, facing away from the deck and lying flush with the bottom of the trench. This will keep animals from burrowing under the chicken wire fence. For extra stability, you can stake the bottom part of the chicken wire into the ground. Nail or staple the wire mesh to the bottom of the deck, fill the trench with soil, and you’re done.
To ensure your unwelcome guests don’t have a reason to return, it’s a great idea to clear any leftover food off your deck, move pet food bowls inside at night, and secure the lid on your outside trash bin. If you have a bird feeder, we recommend installing a seed catcher tray and sweeping the area under the feeder often. Your backyard will be infinitely less enticing with nothing around to eat.
If you’re looking at putting in a new deck or other outdoor structure, consider consulting with our expert decking installers at SRI Decks for more tips and information.