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Rodents Invade Engine Compartments


Question: I live on a street where many people have the same problem. Tree squirrels or rats take up residence overnight in the engine compartments of cars parked outside. They defecate and urinate there, and the uric acid and other filth make the engine compartment look a mess, short-circuits wires and corrodes aluminum parts. What can we do?


Pacific Palisades

Answer: Sounds like rats. And believe me, you're not alone. You can get a free, professional assessment of the situation by calling the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services' vector management program at (323) 881-4046.

They'll send an investigator to your house to get an idea what's going on and how to stop it.

The investigator will want to look at feces and any evidence of cuts and tears in rubber hoses and wires, so don't clean up before they get there or it'll be a little like cleaning up a crime scene before the detective arrives.

He or she will also look at your neighborhood's topography and your yard's landscaping to see where the rats are living and what they're eating.

The goal will be to help you eliminate or alter areas harboring the rats. Because rat problems are usually not restricted to just one house, the investigator will need to talk with your adjacent neighbors.

In fact, the department tells me the investigator is required to talk with them, although it insists the policy is nondisclosure. In other words, for folks who might be skittish about their neighbors' attitudes toward a possible rodent infestation, mum's the word from the investigator.

According to Frank Hall, chief of the vector management program, the investigator will not only assess your situation, he will show you how to use traps if necessary, and provide rodenticide, complete with instructions on its use and a disclaimer to sign.

Because rodents are such quick breeders and many homes are adjacent to wild areas, getting rid of rodents altogether can be pretty difficult.

The truth is, you may have to accept their presence outside and be content with keeping them out of the garage and house.

Mourning Doves Make Flowerpot Home

Q: Last April, two mourning doves made their home in a half-empty flowerpot on my balcony. I'm not sure how long it was before the two became four, but soon the parents started leaving together for a few hours, then all night. Then they'd reappear. What in the world were they doing, and is it possible they had another nest?

Also, another couple moved in just days after the first seemed to have left for good. Are they, in fact, the same pair or a new couple?


Los Angeles

A: Mourning dove males are real family men. Typically, the males bring nesting materials to the nest for the female to build with, and incubate the eggs during the day while the female takes night duty.

Once the young are born, both parents feed their young with crop milk, a super-nutritious substance produced in the crop, a food-storage chamber near the esophagus.

After two weeks or so, the young birds, now fledglings, learn to fly. But unlike what children's cartoons would have you believe, it's more a process than an event.

In fact, it can take several days for fledglings to learn how to use their wings well enough to avoid such dangers as cats. During this period, the parents stick close by their young.

As way of explanation for their seemingly erratic comings and goings, many young birds, still being carefully watched over by their parents, may return to the nest the first few nights to roost. A parent may accompany them or not.

Although some species of birds can have more than one nest at a time, if conditions permit, mourning dove males do not. But they commonly have more than one clutch a year, often reusing the same nest with the same mate. So the second couple very likely may have been the same pair.

Bloodmeal Is a Dandy Rabbit Repellent

A Reader to the Rescue: I thought I'd offer a tip for other readers with rabbit problems. Sprinkle bloodmeal around the yard and flowerbeds to keep them from getting at the plants and eating them. The rabbits hate it, but it won't hurt them.


Laguna Hills

A. How right you are! Bloodmeal is, indeed, an effective rabbit deterrent.

Certain groups of animals will react similarly to offensive tastes or smells. Researchers have discovered this principle holds true for two seemingly unlikely cohorts, rabbits and deer.

Both herbivores, they have an absolute disdain for odors that result from protein degradation. That's to say, rotten eggs, predator urine and, as you pointed out, bloodmeal.

But if you've had a tough time keeping deer out of the yard with just bloodmeal, there's a spiffy product that foresters use to protect saplings called Deer Away Big Game Repellent. Although it won't keep them out of the yard, its immediate repellency will keep them away from the plants you spray it on.

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