Early spring blamed for spike in backyard skunks
The skunk population in the Chicago area is on the rise. | File photo
Updated: September 10, 2012 12:49PM
Along with causing sweet-smelling flowers to bloom sooner the year’s early spring triggered the arrival of a less-welcome aroma: skunk.
The tuxedo-colored creatures are making more appearances than usual this time of year due a shortened hibernation season and, now, record-breaking temps.
“Some years it’s bad and some years you don’t see any at all,” said Peter Babikan, an operational-service officer with the Niles Police Department.
This summer “we’re seeing more families of skunks roaming around,” he said, adding that raccoons and opossums are also out and about.
Babikan said animals that reproduced in early-spring might have two litters before the year is over.
As the number of critters increases so does the frequency of run-ins with residents, particularly during long stretches of hot weather.
“They are more desperate for food and water,” Babikan said, noting it is common for wild animals to raid gardens and bird feeders, as well as frequent standing bodies of water.
Despite the apparent spate of skunks in neighboring communities, Laura Dee, the city of Park Ridge’s environmental-health officer, said this is simply the season when skunks are out in abundance as mothers teach their spring-born young how to survive on their own.
“The skunks are going out with mom to figure out how to look for food and how to stay away from animals that might be dangerous to them,” Dee said.
Skunks seen digging in yards are looking for grubs and insects, she added.
“It’s all normal stuff,” Dee said.
Local wildlife rarely stray in broad daylight. When they do it doesn’t necessarily mean they are sick or rabid, Babikan said.
Young and small animals that wander don’t know any better and are “still learning the ropes,” he said. Adult animals make daytime appearances typically after getting uprooted from their shelter.
Babikan provides phone assistance to residents who encounter unwanted critters.
Before joining the Niles Police Department as a civilian officer a decade ago he worked as an assistant naturalist and veterinary technician, and undertook formal training with the National Animal Control Association.
He worked solely on animal control for the Police Department for a number of years before the village began downsizing the program in 2010.
Joe Penze, Niles Police Division commander of administration, reported that the Police Department in fiscal year 2011 had an animal-control budget of $14,620 and an officer dedicated to the work with an annual salary of $52,000.
Last year village officials eliminated the full-time position and limited the program’s expenses to $9,000. This year’s budget is $4,000.
Niles reassigned Babikan to desk work related to criminal processing and record-keeper. He fields calls for help with wildlife and gives self-help instructions, but rarely goes on site himself to contain an unwanted animal.
He said most people are able to shoo away wildlife and prevent their return without extra assistance or equipment.
“Trapping and removal should be the last possible option,” he said. “It just doesn’t work.”
Babikan had occasionally set traps when he was called in, though some situations warranted a private company’s work — for instance when a raccoon was stuck in an attic.
“We don’t go on a roof and that’s where you set the trap,” he said of the village’s animal-control work.
He said raccoons that invade a house often get euthanized because of the likelihood that they’ll try to return.
Skunks, the second-most-common carrier of rabies, are required by law to be euthanized if captured, Babikan said, and there are no restrictions on opossums.
“Animal-proofing” homes, garages and other places into which wildlife can sneak is the best way to curb uninvited guests.
According to information from the Morton Grove village website, securing garbage lids, removing tree branches overhanging a roof and utilizing a chimney cap help minimize that possibility of an animal intrusion.
If a wild animal does make it inside a building, Babikan recommends keeping outdoor-access points unobstructed and making a commotion to scare the animal into leaving voluntarily.
If that doesn’t work, both Morton Grove and Niles recommend contacting a professional animal-control company.