The striped skunk is an interesting mammal with a unique striped black-and-white coat, bouncing walk and an air of confidence. The confidence is the result of a remarkable defense system: Glands beneath the skunk’s tail produce an oily, sulfurous substance that it can spray, with dismaying accuracy, up to 10 feet, temporarily disabling the senses of a potential attacker and allowing the skunk to escape.
Skunks are nocturnal, burrowing members of the weasel family, with a diet that includes insects, other small animals, fruits and carrion. Many of the insects skunks eat are bothersome to humans.
Living in Your Yard
Skunks are at home in a variety of habitats but prefer forest borders where water is nearby. Cities and suburbs provide adequate food and shelter. Common den sites include abandoned woodchuck burrows, hollow logs, and wood or brush piles; openings under buildings, elevated sheds, concrete slabs and porches; and crawl spaces under houses.
- Do not encourage skunks by feeding them.
- Keep pet food and water dishes inside, especially at night.
- Do not allow spills to accumulate below bird feeders.
- Keep grills and barbecues clean. Even small food scraps may attract skunks.
- If possible, do not keep garbage cans outside.
- Use welded wire to prevent animals from accessing openings under decks, elevated sheds, concrete slabs and porches. Secure outside access to crawl spaces.
- Place lighting, such as bright flashlights, flood lamps or blinking strands of holiday lights, in the den. It is best to leave the lights on 24 hours a day. If this is not possible, the lights must be on during the day to disturb the animal’s sleep.
- Play a radio, portable alarm clock, noisy children’s toy or anything that makes noise repeatedly either in or near the den. It is best to have the sound on for 24 hours a day. If this is not possible, the sound must be on during the day to disturb the animal’s sleep.
- Place ammonia-soaked rags in the den for one week. (Ammonia has an irritating smell.) Over time, the ammonia will dissipate, so it is important to resoak the rags daily. Do not use ammonia-soaked rags March through August; they may injure infant wildlife too young to escape.
For deterrents to be successful, it is important to use all of the techniques at the same time. To determine if an animal has left a den site, wad up newspaper, and pack it into the den entrance. (This also helps to hold in ammonia fumes.) If the animal is still using the den, the newspaper will be pulled out. If after a few days the newspaper has not been disturbed, securely repair any openings. Failure to do so may result in another animal moving in.
The simplest way to keep animals out of garbage cans is to bring the cans inside where the animals cannot reach them. If this is not possible, pour 1 cup of ammonia inside the can, sprinkle black pepper on the top bag, or place ammonia-soaked rags on top of the lid and secure the lid with bungee cords. Use these techniques for five to seven days or when placing garbage on the curb for pick up.
The best way to keep skunks out of your garden is to surround it with a 3-foot-high chicken-wire fence, placing an additional foot underground to discourage digging.
Taste deterrents work, such as spraying a mixture of 1 gallon of water and 2 tablespoons of hot sauce or garlic puree onto the plant, but they need to be reapplied after a heavy dew or rain. Nurseries or home centers may carry commercial products as well.
Skunks and raccoons may tear up lawns in search of grubs. Place cayenne pepper and ammonia-soaked rags in the affected area. Another option is to mix 8 ounces of Dawn dish soap, a handful of chewing tobacco and water in a lawn sprayer and spray on the affected grass area. Contact the Cooperative Extension Service of the University of Illinois at (630) 653-4114 for more advice.
Skunk in a Window Well
Place a roughed board at a 45 degree angle into the window well. Make sure the board is long enough to act as a ramp to the top. If you do not have a roughed board, wrap a towel or carpeting around the board to provide traction for the skunk. (They are not good climbers.) Place fish-scented cat food, Twinkies or cheese at the top of the ramp to entice the skunk. Skunks are active at night and may not leave the window well until then.
Attach a string or rope to a 5-gallon bucket handle. Place food inside the bucket to entice the skunk, and lower the bucket into the window well. Place the bucket on its side so that the skunk is able to walk inside. Once the skunk is inside, slowly raise the bucket to ground level, and place the bucket on its side with the opening away from you so that the skunk can walk out. Try to stay out of the skunk’s sight.
Public Health Concerns
While rabies is rare in Illinois, skunks and bats are the two wild animals most likely to be infected with the virus. Skunks can carry the rabies virus for a long time before exhibiting symptoms, and infected female skunks can pass the virus along to their young. Because of the exposure risk, never handle a skunk, adult or juvenile.
If you find a skunk with visible wounds, call the police department. Do not capture the animal. The seriousness of rabies has led the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to require that all wildlife rehabilitators, such as Willowbrook Wildlife Center, euthanize any captured skunks.
What Not To Do
- Trapping and removing an animal is not always a solution to the problem. Removing the animal is illegal without the proper permits and only creates an open space for another animal. A trapped adult may also leave young behind to die of starvation in an inaccessible area. Focus on removing the attraction, not the animal.
- Never move young from a den.
- Do not use poisons. They are inhumane and may be illegal. They can also result in secondary poisoning of raptors, wild scavengers and neighborhood pets.
- It is illegal to keep wild animals, even for a very short time. They have specialized nutritional, housing and handling needs that you are unlikely to be able to provide. Inexperienced individuals who attempt to raise or treat them inevitably produce unhealthy, tame animals that cannot survive in their natural habitats.
Willowbrook Wildlife Center
If you come across a wild animal and are concerned, leave it alone. Call Willowbrook Wildlife Center for advice at (630) 942-6200. The center is located at 525 S. Park Blvd. in Glen Ellyn and is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day except select holidays. Recorded messages provide general information for callers when the center is closed.