Another visitor that so few folks welcome to the backyard any time of year is the skunk. These gentle creatures are so misunderstood. With a little understanding–and of course the caution that all wildlife should be respected, never fed, and carefully observed at a respectful distance, let me tell you why I am the champion of these gentle critters.
I have written about them at length before, mostly in summer, for the good things they do in the yard, particularly with respect to hornet and yellow jacket nests. You can read one of those posts here.
I thought I had written about skunk behavior but I can’t seem to find that post so perhaps I’ve just talked, ad nauseum, to anyone who will listen to me about skunk behavior. So here are some thinks you might not know that makes me such a champion of these creatures.
The first thing to know is that while these creatures can occasionally carry rabies, just seeing a skunk out in the daytime does NOT mean it is rabid. Skunks can and do venture out in the daytime, particularly when they have young to feed. A skunk behaving abnormally is the best indicator of rabies. To learn what might be “normal” for a skunk, here is a fact sheet from the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental protection.
Next, skunks really are not aggressive. But they do not have terribly good eye sight. The best way to avoid being “skunked” or “sprayed” is to make the skunk aware of your presence.
The skunk will often return the favor. If it feels it has no choice but to spray, it will first stamp its little feet. Next it will raise its tail. If you see that behavior, that’s the point at which it is about to spray and your best move is to retreat.
I have peaceably co-existed with skunks in my yard for years. I have always spoken quietly and softly to them, telling them that I was nearby while watering or pruning, and then I would often just move slowly away while the skunk foraged in my shrubbery. Skunks eat amazing amounts of insects, including the things we do not want in our gardens like grubs and slugs–and they will remove hornets nests from the ground for us. What’s not to like about this?
Finally, about the odor. It certainly can be pungent and stinging to put it mildly even if it is only unleashed nearby. And it can be unleashed even this time of year when a skunk awakens from its torpor. Skunks have young as early as April but they mate in late February or early March so they can be active on warmer days.
This year should you see–or smell them–try to remember the good that they do in the garden and tolerate them for that reason alone.