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Skunk Season

skunk on the porch

skunk on the porch

Our skunk season started last week. At least one of them has been digging in the garden every night, and then one came up onto our porch during a rainstorm this weekend. This seems to happens each spring, coinciding, I think, with the time when their young are born. Judging from past years, we’ll see a lot of digging for the next few weeks, tapering a bit through the summer, then a lot more digging around late summer or early fall when the young skunks discover the garden. Project Wildlife has an info page with tips on living with skunks, but it doesn’t really mention gardens. From what I can tell, we do nothing to discourage or encourage the skunks, which pretty much sums up our attitude. They dig holes in the garden, but they’re cute, so it balances. It’s hard to dislike an animal that waddles when it walks.

Project Wildlife claims that “an estimated 70 percent of a skunk’s diet consists of insects considered harmful to humans,” so some of the digging is for a good cause. Things they eat include insects, earthworms, and slugs in our garden, plus lizards, rodents, birdseed, kitchen waste, and petfood elsewhere if they can find it. Established plants are not hurt by the digging and the parts of the garden that don’t get watered are almost completely ignored. The skunks seem to particularly like soft, recently dug, recently watered soil, which basically describes whatever spot I have just planted something, so I lose some transplants when I add them into the vegi garden; though if I check every morning, I can often replant the dug up plants without them being noticeably affected. So far this year, I haven’t lost anything, knock on wood.

Does anyone else get skunk damage? The skunks don’t directly target plants, so I’d never really thought of them as a possible garden pest. It took us a little while to figure out who was doing all the digging.

Below, I put a skunk portrait from around dusk yesterday and another photo of a hole dug through the woolly thyme planted in our patio. The skunks casually waddle away when we approach to photograph them, so we mostly get photos of the bushy tail and striped back. I’d like a photo of one threatening me with its tail raised, but so far I haven’t mustered the nerve and poor judgement to initiate that encounter. I actually like the smell when they spray next door, but I have a feeling I’ll feel differently if it pulls the trigger in our yard.

— Note — In case that was said with excessive bravado, let me say I don’t recommend anyone causing a skunk to raise it’s tail at you. I’ve had it happen twice in my life, though not here in our yard, most memorably when a motion sensor light clicked on to reveal a skunk about three feet in front of me and just about to move past the bluff stage. That moment got my heart racing as much as the time I accidentally touched a death adder. 

Though after three years of living with skunks in our yard fifty to a hundred nights a year, I can say that they have no intention of spraying and very little fear of me. That’s partly based on their absolute confidence in the effectiveness of the raised tail, that anything that can dissuade a hungry mountain lion should be sufficient to dissuade me. Like most animals, they prefer to bluff rather than fight, so leave them alone, and they will leave you alone, too. The one candidate likely to get sprayed is your dog, so if you have a dog, don’t have a dog door. You don’t want the dog able to come inside immediately afterward. At least one neighbor has learned that lesson the hard way.

— Note #2 — Just after posting the previous note, while I was potting up veggie starts, the skunk came into the yard and scratched around in the bamboo twenty feet away from me for about ten minutes and then wandered off. This was at around six o’clock, the third time this week that we’ve seen it in the daylight, and it’s definitely not rabid, just active and not particularly shy. I’m not sure what it was eating.

— Note #3 — The skunks have been particularly bad this year. We’ve realized that family with 7 young skunks is living under the neighbor’s porch. We’ve put rags soaked in ammonia around the garden to dissuade them digging. It has been somewhat effective. I did get a photo of one of the young with a tail raised, threatening me, though the photo is a bit blurry, no doubt from my shaking hands and submissive attitude towards the skunk.

Are you talking to me?

Are you talking to me?

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