Repellents for Animal Damage Control

Understand the strengths and weaknesses of repellents before you buy the hype.

See also Harassment

One of the most common questions I receive goes like this, "I am having a problem with such and such an animal doing xyz. I don't want to hurt him, I just want him to go away. Is there anything I can spray that will keep him away from my property." I often respond, "The short answer is no."

Let me take this opportunity to explain why repellents don't work the way people want them too. The first problem with repellents is that free roaming mammals can simply walk past a smell that disturbs them. Think of all the times you have smelled bad and repulsive odors. Did it stop you from going where you needed to go? Probably not. Now consider it from an animal's point of view. He has a choice. Continue to eat and smell a bad smell or not smell a bad smell and starve. Which path do you think he will take?

The second problem lies with familiarity. Let's say theoretically you find a repellent that does drive the animals away from your property. (We would call this a perimeter repellent). Chances are it would work on the principle of fear of a predator. For example, if you used coyote urine you may reduce woodchuck damage because coyotes eat woodchucks. The problem however is that over time the woodchuck will realize that he is smelling coyotes but he doesn't see them. Or if there are actually coyotes around, then he has the choice of getting eaten or starve.

A third problem with repellents is how often people attribute effectiveness to them when in fact the repellent didn't work at all. Too many people believe that if they do X and Y happens then they assume that X caused Y. Here is the problem with that. Let's assume you have a skunk under your deck. You listen to someone who says through moth balls at the entrance. You do. Two days later you discover the skunk is in fact gone. Therefore you assume that the mothballs drove the skunk away. The problem is that you didn't notice that your skunk got hit by a car two streets away from your house. The mothballs had nothing to do with his removal. I am sure you can consider other scenarios.

One of the reasons why people continue to think that repellents will solve their animal damage problems lies in their faith in the Chemical industry. Chemistry has solved a number of problems in America and since animals use their noses a lot, why couldn't a smell keep animals away? As I said earlier, repellents rarely work the way people think they work. Most repellents are used in Agriculture. Here farmers have hundreds of acres. If they can reduce crop damage by 10% through the use of a repellent then they can save a substantial amount of money. The problem is that urbanites (including so called suburban people) require that the damage stop completely. So even when a repellent has been shown to work, it only works in an agricultural setting where the standards of success are substantially less than 100%.

Yet another problem with repellents lies in the restrictions surrounding their use. For example, you shouldn't use a taste repellent on plants you are planning to eat. You can use them on plants that you don't eat to stop/reduce animal browsing, but if you spray them on food you plan to eat, be careful. If you notice that your mouth is getting hot then you know you sprayed the wrong plants.

Still another difficulty with repellents is that they wash off in the rain. While there still may be some residue left on the plant, it may not be enough to stop browsing. Thus you will need to continue to reapply repellents after a rainfall. This is a task that many property owners don't wish to do. Even if they don't wash off, if new growth appears on the plants it will be repellent free. Thus you will need to reapply to the plant to make sure that new growth is covered. This is one of the reasons why people don't get desired results with deer repellents on their bushes. They forget to keep adding the repellent after their bush grows.

I hope this gives you some insight on why repellents don't work the way people expect them to. While repellents have a place in animal damage control, one needs to use these chemicals in certain specific situations. They are not a cure all.

Now that you have the low down on to why repellents rarely work for homeowners, I want to turn the discussion into places where repellents may be able to work for you.

Taste Repellents: These are products that are sprayed on or taken up into the plant through it roots that will reduce the tastiness of the item being gnawed on. These type products can actually be quite effective when wishing to protect plants or items that you have no intention to eat. Products of this type include Deer Away and Ropel to name a few. Just don't forget that these products will need to be replaced etc. For info on Deer Repellents Click Deer.

Visual Repellents: These are products that rely on flashing or predator images to scare nuisance animals away. You have probably seen the owls to scare pigeons. The predator images tend to only work, if they work at all, for only a couple of days. They work better when moved around and not left in one spot. Flashing lights work better for woodpeckers. This is why irri-tape is used to repel them. Just remember, its not 100 percent. Scary-eye

Auditory Repellents: These are sounds of distressed animals or the noises of predators that are used to frighten animals. These are also short term but the effectiveness can be quite good. Down side is they can be potentially expensive and annoying to your neighbors. Rent before you buy is my advice. For pricing on the models click Distress You should know too that at the present there is no evidence that ultrasonics work in the real world. http://www.wildlifedamagecontrol.net/ultrasound.php

Olfactory Repellents: These are the holy grail of repellents and like the holy grail just as elusive. You may have heard of using fox or coyote urine to drive away woodchucks. While it can work, generally, the woodchuck will adapt especially if there aren't' any predators around. You also have to consider the threat that animal urine or smells may be to your nose or health. Remember, urine is urine. Mothballs are a common repellent. Yes, they are avoided by animals. But rarely will they repel an animal. There is a debate about snakes however. Click Snake Repellents. For all an animal has to do is walk by. Also mothballs placed at den entrances just have to be pushed out of the way. I can't tell you how many clients had to hire me after they tried this silly technique. Save your money. Raccoon repellent can work for female raccoons but again it isn't 100%. e-mail for more information.

Tactile Repellents: These are products that harass an animal's desire to touch. Sticky products are used to repel pigeons. They don't like to get their feet gooey any more than we do. While they work, the down side is that what can stick to feet also can stick to dirt. So after a while they can collect dirt and look dirty smears on your building. They also run the risk of holding smaller birds that land on them which can result in some cruelty. This is especially true if you don't know how to apply it properly. I advise people to put the goo on a board or substance that can be tacked to the surface you are trying to protect. Then when the animals leave, you can remove the substance and you won't have damaged the building you were attempting to protect.

I hope these tips help save you money and sanity as you deal with too much nature on your property.

 

 

2/27/04

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