Scottsdale Urban Wildlife

A lot of “Urban Wildlife” is misunderstood. Not only have I enjoyed my real estate career for over 20 years but I was born and raised here and I am passionate about all the “Valley of the Sun” has to offer. This includes our wonderful wildlife. It’s very simple to deal with the animals and reptiles here in the Phoenix / Scottsdale area. Most people will never have an encounter with the animals and critters we have here but remember if you do run into them and you don’t want them around, just chase them away. I’ve put together the best information available for living with and dealing with our “Urban Wildlife”.

Coyotes
Javelina
Rattlesnake
Snakes (non venomous)
Bobcats & Mountain Lion
Owls, Eagles, Hawks & Birds of Prey

Coyotes

Coyotes can be seen at golf courses, preserves, parks and other open spaces near residential properties. When developments are built, coyotes are not permanently displaced. They may move on to other areas or remain and adjust to their new environment.

Coyotes are usually timid animals and normally run away if challenged. On rare occasions, bold coyotes have bitten humans. Coyotes can be rabid, so it is important to avoid being bitten. Coyotes are a risk when they have become comfortable around humans. When this happens, they lose their natural fear and learn to see humans and their pets as food sources and backyards as safe havens. It is not normal for coyotes to attack or pursue humans, especially adults; it is a learned response to human indifference.

Small children are at risk from coyotes. Children should be well-supervised at all times, especially where wildlife may be a concern. Teach children to remain calm and not to shriek or scream if they see a coyote (this might sound like wounded prey to the animal) and to move toward an adult or group of adults.

Small animals (cats, small dogs, or rabbits) are seen as “dinner” to a coyote. Cats should be kept indoors permanently, or in an outdoor enclosed cat run. Keep your dog on a leash when you are in open areas. If your dog is small, be prepared to gather the dog up in your arms if you see a coyote. Then move towards an area of human activity while making loud noises and using big gestures.

To aggressively discourage coyotes from hanging around and feeling comfortable around your family and your neighborhood, you should:

  • eliminate food sources (pet food and small animals) from your yard and encourage your neighbors to do the same. This must be a unified neighborhood effort. If there is a regular coyote food source in one yard on your block, coyotes will be active throughout the neighborhood.
  • erect high fences (7 feet plus) flush to the ground discourage coyotes from entering yards. Eliminating the coyote’s ability to get a grip on the top of the fence or wall is the best means of prevention. Installing a PVC pipe that is free to spin around a tight wire is a good method to use.
  • discourage any coyote from entering your yard and make it aware that it is not welcome. Coyotes have been scared off properties by aggressive gestures: waving sticks or brooms at them, throwing stones or cans at them, or making loud noises. A simple deterrent you can make: fill an aluminum can with small pebbles or coins inside, wrap the can in aluminum foil, and seal with tape; shake this vigorously – it can make enough noise and “flash” to scare off a coyote.
  • deter a coyote if you see one in your neighbor’s yard. Having a coyote in a neighbor’s yard is the same as having one in your own.

If a coyote approaches you, you should appear as large and threatening as possible. Make aggressive gestures toward the animal by moving your arms and legs, shouting in a deep voice, throwing rocks, sticks or other objects at the coyote, or waving an object like a handkerchief or walking stick. Maintain eye contact and move toward an area that is full of human activity.

If these methods do not appear to be working, do not turn away or run. Keep constant eye contact with the coyote and continue to move toward other people, a building, or an area of activity.

For more information on the North American Coyote please visit:
http://theroamingnaturalist.wordpress.com/2010/09/07/coyote-leader-of-the-bad-rap-crew/

If you have a persistent problem with coyotes call the Arizona Fish and Game Dept. at 602-942-3000.

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Javelina

Javelina are sometimes seen in semi-urban areas near a wash or natural desert and even in urban settings where a food source is available. They have been known to damage ornamental landscapes and gardens, injure pets, and frighten homeowners. They can be belligerent when they are allowed to become comfortable in an area.

Javelina travel in herds of eight to twelve, although lone males are common, too. They may act defensively when cornered, to protect their young, or when they hear or smell a dog. This behavior may include charging, teeth clacking, or a barking, growling sound. Javelina occasionally bite humans, but usually only those people providing the javelina with food. A single javelina could easily kill a large dog, or do severe damage to an adult human.

Javelina have adapted to human presence by being more active at night to avoid human interference. They usually visit homes at night, but have been known to do so during the day in cooler weather. Javelina are known to choose daytime bedding sites where visibility is completely obstructed by dense vegetation and rocks.
Javelina visit neighborhoods because they are attracted to:

  • food – lush vegetation, flowers and succulent plants, like prickly pear cacti, that people place around their homes; also pet food, birdseed, table scraps, and garbage
  • water – javelina will chew on an irrigation hose or drink from a pool around a home
  • shelter – a porch, an area under a mobile home, a crawlspace beneath a house or any cave-like area.

To discourage javelina:

  • Use electric fencing to deny javelina access. Single-strand electric fencing 8 to 10 inches above ground level is the most effective around gardens.
  • Use block walls or chain link fencing about 4 feet tall around the entire yard. Use a concrete footer buried 8 to 12 inches into the ground to prevent digging under.

If you are not able to erect physical barriers, and are experiencing a javelina “invasion”, you should make it unpleasant for them to stick around. Because they are herd animals, you may only have to scare off one to make the rest leave.

  • Do not provide food for the javelina. Feed pets inside or only what they can eat at one meal. Do not leave food out or scatter birdseed. Pick up fallen fruits and nuts as quickly as possible. If you know someone who feeds javelina, let them know they are endangering themselves, the javelina and you.
  • Keep water sources out of reach of the javelina or behind strong fencing.
  • Secure garbage and compost containers with locking lids or by attaching them to a wall. Clean out cans with a bleach solution to reduce attractive odors.
  • Landscape with plants javelina do not like to eat. A list of these plants can be found at: http://cals.arizona.edu/pubs/garden/az1238.pdf.
  • Spray then javelina with water from a garden hose, or use a large squirt gun to spray diluted ammonia (10% ammonia with 90% water) at them.
  • Loud noises have been known to frighten javelina into leaving an area. Try making the can filled with pebbles, as described in the Coyote section.

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Rattlesnakes

A Homeowner’s Guide to Urban Rattlers: Basic information on behavior and natural history, with precautions for human family and homes.
Melissa Kaplan’s Herp Care Collection Last updated June 23, 2010

I have used this guide with people who have been concerned about the possible or actual presence of rattlesnakes around their homes. When rattlesnakes must be removed from a site, I always give out referrals to people who will live-catch the snakes and relocate them to remote local sites. With any luck, this guide will also reduce the needless slaughter of harmless king and gopher snakes as well as enable a more comfortable coexistence between the intruders and the native species. Note that the precautions and recommendations in this article can be used to reduce interactions between humans and other, innocuous snakes.

General Information
Rattlers have good vision to at least 15 feet away under moderate illumination. The eyes are set so far to the sides of the head that they have only a limited field of binocular (stereo) vision. This may result in their moving their head from side to side as they try to get a good picture of something.
Rattlers are too slow to outrun or dodge even the slowest of their enemies, thus the need for good long-range vision.
Like all snakes, rattlers do not have external ears or all of the usual internal ear structures; instead they feel vibrations transmitted through the ground, though more recent research indicates that many snakes are able to hear airborne sounds as well.

Rattlers tend to bask near an escape hole – a rocky crevice or animal burrow – to which they can go when they feel threatened. Their other methods of defense, in order of general preference, includes procrypsis (their protective coloring enables them to blend into the background especially when the snake is absolutely motionless); rattling; flight – escaping down it’s bolt hole or just away from the disturbance; withdrawing its body into a flat (along the ground) coil, hissing and rattling; drawing up into a striking coil, hissing and rattling; striking.

Spring is the period of greatest activity. Emerging from winter hibernation, they are hungry and looking for mates, as this is also the breeding season. During this time they will eat prodigiously, look for females to court, and will battle competing males. During these times of stress, and when trying to eat and when in their opaque stage several days before they are ready to shed, they are most likely to act in an aggressive manner when disturbed.

Snakes migrate to and from their winter denning site, so aggregations of them may be found during a short period of time during the spring and fall. Dens are usually in rocky outcroppings in the hills, or in deep animal burrows.

It is mistakenly believed that rattlers are active only during the heat of the day. Not only do they rest during the heat of the day, sheltered from the sun, they are adept hunters in the dark, their heat pits and sense of smell guiding them to prey. During periods of excessive heat during the day, many diurnal animals become crepuscular (active at dawn and dusk) or partially nocturnal. Thus rattlers are more nocturnal in summer than during the spring or fall, and adults are more nocturnal than juveniles. When out walking, hiking or camping, precautions should be taken from early morning to late evening, as temperature, season and humidity can all affect just when rattlers will be active.

Despite their need for heat to be able to function, rattlers can function at surprisingly cold temperatures – especially the Mojave rattlers and sidewinders.

Rattlers cannot move fast enough to overtake a person who wants to get out of its way. The only danger is that the person falls or trips in getting away, thus disturbing another snake, or falls towards the rattler rather than away.

They are not good tree climbers, but many are good swimmers.

Rattlers’ preferred habitats include (depending upon species) deserts, grassy plains, and brushy and rocky hills. In addition, there needs to be a suitable amount of prey, proper climate for the species, and places to hide and hibernate.

Rattlers’ main prey is small mammals. Those that live near areas with large populations of amphibians will also feed extensively on them. Others will feed on the eggs of ground nesting birds. Know your local wildlife!

The amount of venom injected into a bite is variable depending upon a number of factors – the age of the snake and how it perceives the threat; whether or not the snake has just envenomated prey, etc. Mortality rates in the 1950’s remain pretty much the same today – only 3% of bites are fatal, and the fatality generally is caused by secondary infection, alcohol poisoning, being bitten repeatedly and/or by multiple snakes, allergic reaction to the venom.

Symptoms of an envenomated bite include: immediate pain, swelling and discoloration, weakness and giddiness, difficulty breathing, nausea and vomiting, hemorrhaging from the wound site, circulatory disturbance such as rapid, fluttery or thready pulse and a drop in blood pressure. Bites on face or neck may result in difficulty in swallowing, numbness of lips and tongue, excessive thirst and cold sweats. Note that many of these symptoms are symptoms of shock and panic, and are not uncommon in the case of a person who is terrified of snakes (or who believes that all snakes are venomous) who is bitten by an otherwise innocuous non-venomous snake.

To prevent bites, take precautions such as wearing protective pants and boots, and look where you are walking and sticking your hands. Bites commonly occur in the following instances: picking berries or flowers; picking up kindling or firewood – even from neatly maintained stocks of firewood; reaching into brush to pick up animals or rocks, etc.; reaching blindly into tree hollows and animal burrows; turning rocks; climbing rocks, especially reaching for hand and toe holds without looking; walking and hiking through brush without protective clothing; cutting thick brush; picking produce from a heavily grown-over garden; moving around in the dark, picking up and moving things.

Do’s and Don’ts
Don’t move planks, rocks or logs by hand – use a stick or crowbar until you can see under it.
Don’t gather firewood in the dark. Do it in the daylight, or at night under well-lighted conditions.
Don’t reach into holes in the ground, rocks or trees, woodpiles, even abandoned buckets and tires.
When walking, stay in cleared areas (paths) as much as possible, and keep a visual and auditory look-out for rattlers.
Take most care when the temperatures are moderate, not only when they are very hot or cold.
Use a flashlight when moving about the yard at night.
Step on a log, not over it, so you can first look down to make sure there is nothing concealed on the other side.
If possible, avoid walking to close to rocky ledges.
Never put your hands and feet where you can’t see them.
When crawling under a fence, beat the grass or brush first to assure there is no snake lying there.
Look around before you sit on a rock or log.
Learn to recognize the venomous snakes. Avoid killing all snakes (even rattlers have an important environmental niche they fill), but at all costs, avoid killing non-venomous ones.

When you hear a rattle, freeze until you identify where the sound is coming from; you don’t want to accidentally step on it when trying to flee. Once you have spotted it, give it time to move away. If it doesn’t, move slowly straight away from it; don’t walk to one side or the other as that could be perceived as threatening. Look behind you before you start to walk backwards – you don’t want to trip over a rock, or another snake.

Don’t handle a dead or injured snake. Dead snakes may not really be dead. Muscle contractions can still cause envenomated wounds, even when handling the decapitated head of a rattler.

On instilling fear of all snakes into young children…      …(and why you shouldn’t do it ):

“Since most children cannot distinguish venomous from nonvenomous snakes, the inculcation of moderate fear of snakes is probably justified as a safety measure. But to instill such a horror and revulsion at the sight of a snake that, when they become adults, people cannot bear to look at a snake in a cage is a mistake. This insensate fear is so wide-spread–it is incorrectly believed to be instinctive–that senseless prohibitions against the ownership of harmless snakes, and the ruthless killing of harmless and agriculturally beneficial snakes ensues.

“The cultivated fear of snakes…[can cause] people to become so paralyzed upon encountering a rattler in the field that they cannot take the most elementary safety precautions. If bitten by a snake, they are in no condition to judge whether it was venomous or harmless…Even in areas of the United States–and they are extensive–where rattlers are the only venomous snakes [as here in Northern California], victims usually cannot even report with certainty whether or not the culprit had rattles on its tail. These are the people who destroy all harmless snakes–the natural competitors, and even destroyers of rattlesnakes–thus aiding in the protection and increase of the dangerous snakes they so greatly fear. So children should be taught to avoid snakes, not to be terrified by them, and eventually we may have a more understanding adult population.

“That the shock that can be caused by the bite of a harmless snake can be serious and even fatal is well authenticated. It is obvious that such an eventuality is more likely to happen to persons in whom the fear of snakes is exaggerated. Two such cases have been reported in San Diego county. In one, a man was bitten by a harmless gopher snake and almost died of fright; in the other a hunter was stuck by the barb of a wire fence, thought he was bitten, and barely survived the shock.

“Some of the exaggerated fears of rattlesnakes arise from equally exaggerated stories of their prevalence, their viciousness, and the inevitable fatalities from their bites. In truth, they are rarely as common as people think; they are timorous creatures that will bite human beings only if hurt or frightened; and a bite is rarely fatal if properly treated. In 1803, it was said that if the travelers’ tales of the danger from rattlesnakes were true, America would be uninhabitable.” – Laurence Klauber

Rattlesnakes: Their Habits, Life Histories, and Influence on Mankind. 1982. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA. pp. 350.

Snake-Proofing Home and Yard
The most effective way is to construct a fence which extends several feet below ground (to prevent mammals from burrowing through, which would give snakes access) and above ground. The fence must remain stark, as any decorative bushes or trees would give access to the snakes. And at best, these fences are not perfect excluders.

Since the main thing snakes are after is food, a hiding place and a basking place, the best things to do are to get rid of potential food and shelter. Keep grounds and trash areas clean and free of cover to dissuade the populations of mice, rats, ground squirrels, voles, and other rodents which are attractive to snakes. Plug up any holes you find in the ground; they may be burrows which can be used by snakes in the pursuit of prey and for sleeping. Keep brush, rocks, old boards and trash at a minimum, especially around the house. Make sure all access to the house is blocked up: vents covered by small mesh, and the foundation kept crack-free.

Now that you have eradicated, or almost eradicated, snakes from your property, do be prepared for an increase in rodents and, depending on the microhabitats in your yard, amphibians. Remove a natural predator, and you encourage an increase in the population of the prey animals on which they feed. As villages and towns (even Orange County, California, formerly a major agricultural center rapidly converted to a major metropolitan area south of Los Angeles) all over the world have found to their dismay, wiping out the snakes results in a population explosion of rodents….not to speak of sleepless spring and summer nights spent listening to all of the frogs calling all night long, safe from being snatched by a hungry snake!

Sources
Hodge, Guy R. (Ed.). (1991) Pocket Guide to The Humane Control of Wildlife in Cities and Towns. The Humane Society of the United States. Falcon Press Publishing, POB 1718, Helena MT 59624. 1-800-582-2665.
Grenard, Steve. (1994) Medical Herpetology. Pottsville, PA: NG Publishing Co.
Klauber, Laurence M. (1982) Rattlesnakes: Their habits, life histories, and influence on mankind. Los Angeles: University of California Press.
Stebbins, Robert C. (1985) Peterson Field Guides: Western Reptiles and Amphibians. Boston: Hougton Mifflin Company.

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Snakes (non venomous)

What most people don’t realize, is some of our non-venomous snakes like the Kingsnakes and Gopher snakes (below) eat Rattlesnakes. This helps keep rattlesnake populations in check. Not to mention all the little field mice and packrats they devour. So Please Do Not Kill These Snakes. They are harmless to you and will be on their way to keeping our critter populations down.

If you wish to identify a particular specimen, it is advisable to consult a guide such as Amphibians and Reptiles of Western North America by Robert Stebbins. A number of these snakes are pictured in the Reptiles section of the Arizona Ecological Field Services Office Image Gallery of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Arizona Mountain Kingsnake pictured to the left is one of the non-poisonous tri-colored snakes that resemble the coral snake. A close examination reveals that the red and light bands are always separated by black bands.

 

 

The California Kingsnake (shown right) is black and white without red or yellow bands. The pattern may vary in crossbands, stripes, or speckles. This snake is common in the desert, mountain and shrublands and is active during the day through most of the year. Kingsnakes are not venomous but kill their prey by constriction. Their diet includes lizards, rodents, birds and other snakes. They are able to kill and eat poisonous snakes because they are immune to venom.

 

The Gopher snake is one of the largest snakes in our range, reaching a length of as much as eight feet. People often confuse the Gopher snake with a rattlesnake but there is no rattle on the end of his tail. These snakes are active during the day in cool weather and at night in warm weather. They are an asset in helping control rodents, since they consume a large number of them. When not hunting, they will hide under rocks or in animal burrows.

 

Most of our other desert snakes are harmless, including the banded sand snake, the western shovel-nosed snake, the leaf-nosed snake, glossy snake, and the desert worm snake.

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Bobcats & Mountain Lion

The Bobcat is larger than a domestic cat but smaller than any of the other wild cats of the southwest. Bobcats hunt at night (mainly rabbits and rodents) and are seldom seen.

Bobcats are about 30 inches long. 5 of those inches being their stubby tail and they weigh 25-35 pounds when full grown. The mother Bobcat spends many hours helping the kittens learn to hunt, first by bringing home practice prey for them, then by taking them with her on short night-time hunting trips.

Mountain Lion
The mountain lion (or cougar) is found only in the western hemisphere. In the Americas its range runs from the Straits of Magellan to the Canadian Yukon. It is found throughout Arizona except for the extremely arid southwest region and the areas where there is dense urban development.

Since these big cats are top level predators, they do not normally exist in heavy concentrations. One single animal will have a large territory enforced by boundary marking for mutual avoidance and survival. Except at breeding time and when raising young, mountain lions are solitary animals. The young, which may be born at any time of year, remain with their mother 15 to 22 months and then leave to seek out their own territories. The almost two-year period of training by their mother is necessary if the kittens are to have the necessary skills to stalk and kill their prey without being fatally injured themselves.

Though they are rarely seen by humans, adult mountain lions can be expected to dwell anywhere that there are deer, their principal prey animal. These proficient hunters need to kill a deer-sized animal, weighing from 125 to 200 pounds, once every week or two. The lion will cover with leaves or debris whatever is left of the prey after the first feeding. A deer will generally be consumed in two nights.

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Owls, Eagles, Hawks & Birds of Prey

coming soon…