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Shocking Way to Ward Off Furry Invaders


QUESTION: Could you provide us information on a low-volt electric critter-deterrent as a solution for possums, raccoons, squirrels and rats?

N.M., Beverly Hills

ANSWER: Electrified fences are an excellent way to minimize some wildlife damage, particularly in the case of raccoons that ransack backyard fish ponds and for skunks, opossums and squirrels that make themselves at home in your garden and trees.

Assuming the animals can't get into your garden via another route, like jumping from a nearby tree limb or dropping down an adjacent wall or other structure, a well-placed double electrified fence will work wonders.

A caveat is in order: With animals that dig, like skunks and squirrels, you'll need to bury heavy-gauge wire mesh fence in the soil in addition to the electric fence.

Don't expect to keep moles and gophers out, because their network of tunnels can be very deep. And cottontails usually squeeze their way under or even through the wires, so stick with a traditional fence if they're your concern.

Safety is paramount when using an electrified fence. Give careful thought to who else might get zapped besides your target animals. And you'll need to be sure municipal ordinances permit this type of fencing if you're installing it on a property line.

The components of an electrified fence system are a charger, enough wire to string around the area twice, a 6-foot grounding rod, fiberglass fence posts and clips or pins to attach the wire to the posts.

It's important to buy a high voltage output, low amperage charger that says "low impedance" on it. It'll pulsate rather than have a continuous charge, and your fence will have a lot of kick but not a lot of power behind it.

The animals will get a nasty shock they'll avoid the next time, but they won't be harmed. Having been accidentally zapped myself once, I can attest to how unpleasant a shock can be.

String the wire at 5- and 10-inch heights, making sure weeds and other plants don't touch the wire, or they will diminish the shock. Follow the manufacturer's directions, install warning signs on each side of the fence, and don't install it where children can get zapped.

Check with the manufacturer about any additional safety precautions if you want to add electrified wire to an existing post and rail or other fence.

With the obvious exception of both tree and ground squirrels, most urban wildlife is nocturnal, so you can turn the fence on at dusk and off in the morning.

In fact, most gardeners find they can turn off their fences altogether after a fairly short time--it's that effective a deterrent.

I had to call three home improvement centers in my area before I found one that carried electric fencing, so you may need to be a bit persistent in your search. Or try a farm supply store, which you can find in the Yellow Pages.

Catalogs that cater to ranchers and wildlife professionals sell electrified fencing. You can reach Gallagher Power Fence Systems (800) 531-5908 or Margo Supplies Ltd., P.O. Box 5400, High River, Alberta, Canada, T1V1M5, (403) 652-1932.

Red-Tailed Hawk Sightings Common

Q: I am very interested in learning more about a pair of red-tailed hawks in my neighborhood. It's so amazing to me that they could actually be living in such an urban area. Can you suggest some good reading on the subject?

J.G., Los Angeles

A: Red-tailed hawks are among the most common raptors in the country and live in almost every habitat, including urban areas.

One of the most famous pairs of red-tailed hawks, Pale Male and First Love, lived on the ledge of a building next to New York's Central Park. To read about them, pick up "Red-Tails in Love" by Marie Winn (Pantheon Books, 1998, $24 hardback). Or check out the book recommended by the experts at UC Davis' California Raptor Center, "Hawks, Eagles, and Falcons of North America," by Paul Johnsgard (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1990). At $49, the hardback is expensive but crammed with information and beautiful color pictures.

You can reach the California Raptor Center at (530) 752-6091 to arrange a tour of its facility.

Books Give Insight to Animal Behavior

Q: I live in a condo in the center of Sierra Madre, and I'm frustrated by intrepid mice, sassy squirrels, frenzied mockingbirds and several scrub jays. I have searched through several books trying to find out how long birds live, how far they travel from their nests, etc. Instead I learn about their habitats, colors and size. Can you suggest something on their behavior?

D.R., Sierra Madre

A: One very good book that I've used often is "The Birder's Handbook" by Ehrlich, Dobkin and Wheye, published by Simon & Schuster. Birds are listed by species, and each species' section has not only basic field-guide information but also wonderful essays on some aspects of the bird and additional references to related essays in the book. It also references papers in scientific journals.

As far as mammals go, "Wild Mammals of North America," edited by Chapman and Feldhamer (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982), remains, hands down, the most comprehensive book on our native wildlife. All the other field guides on the market put together don't cover North American wildlife the way this book does.

It may go out of print one of these days, so if you're interested in purchasing it, now's the time.

Critter conflicts? Send your queries to wildlife biologist Andrea Kitay at P.O. Box 2489, Camarillo, CA 93011, or via e-mail at Please include your name, where you live and as much detail as possible.

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