As the weather warms up, so do the skunks. They begin to emerge from winter sleep and search for food and a mate. In southern Idaho, there are two species of skunks, the striped skunk and the spotted skunk. Their names are descriptive of their looks and the striped skunk is more common than the smaller and more elusive spotted skunk.
Skunks are quiet, beneficial creatures; feeding on soil grubs, grasshoppers, crickets, wasps, and other insects. They will also eat mice, moles, fish, reptiles, fruits, vegetables, meat scraps, eggs, and fowl. They will dig three to four-inch cone-shaped holes in gardens, lawns and other areas in search of grubs and other insects. Skunks like an easy meal, and they love pet food. Bowls of food left out after dark are the fastest way to attract skunks. Skunks are nocturnal in habit and most active at dawn and dusk.
A foul odor accompanies these docile creatures, their “spray” being a self-defense mechanism developed over the millennia. If not disturbed or threatened, they will not use this weapon. However, once alarmed, the striped skunk will raise its tail and turn it toward you before they let go with their spray. Spotted skunks have an interesting dance they do on their front legs with their back legs held out straight above. Watch out for this, for soon after they will spray! This spray is a yellow sulfur compound that can be aimed and shot to a distance of 10 feet behind the animal. It is highly irritating, particularly to the eyes. Flush with water and contact your vet or physician if this occurs. Getting rid of the obnoxious smell is no easy matter either. There are some home concoctions recommended, but with conflicting effectiveness. In my experience, the best control is obtained using a commercial deactivating product. These can be used for clothing and surfaces where skunks have sprayed. Look online or in local farm stores for these. Get them before they are needed. Air movement and time will also dissipate the odor in the air.
Skunks can carry rabies and distemper. Any sluggish skunk, particularly one active during the daytime, may be infected with rabies and requires particular caution. Any skunk bite, whether to you or a pet, requires examination by a physician or a veterinarian. If you kill a skunk, or find a dead one, move it with a long-handled tool (do not touch with bare hands) and bury it promptly in a deep hole. Shallow holes are subject to being disturbed by dogs, coyotes and foxes.
Skunks often take up residence under houses or outbuildings. Be on the lookout as they emerge to mate, generally in March. If you cannot rid your property of skunks at that time, expect more in May and June when the babies are born. Even if there are many skunks in your neighborhood, they will vacate your premises if they: 1- have nothing to eat and 2- have nowhere to live.
Eliminate any dog or cat food, garbage, fruit, grains, or vegetables accessible to skunks. Remember, they feed at night. Control rodents, since skunks will go hunting for a mouse meal. Keep your chicken houses sealed to keep them out. They can squeeze through a surprisingly small opening. They are very destructive to chickens, often killing multiple birds, eating the head and leaving the rest to rot. Eggs eaten by skunks are opened at one end and then crushed inward. They also can be extremely destructive to beehives.
Deprive skunks of a place to live. Plug all holes under buildings. If necessary, use wire sunk into the ground with the bottom bent in an outward “L” to discourage skunks from digging under it. Clean up all debris piles. Not only will skunks live there; they will be attracted to the rodents living in such areas.
As long as skunks have food and shelter, they won’t just “go away”. At that point, trapping and lethal methods are your only recourse. Live traps are most commonly used to trap skunks. The publications listed at the bottom of this article contain good information on how to trap and dispose of skunks. An easier way to rid your property of skunks is to call a professional exterminator who offers services for rodent and small mammal control.