Homes Editor David Wallace’s dog looks at a nest of baby bunnies in his backyard in 2015. Even with the temporary fencing, someone always went out with the dog to make sure he did not get closer to the nest.

Homes Editor David Wallace’s dog looks at a nest of baby bunnies in his backyard in 2015. Even with the temporary fencing, someone always went out with the dog to make sure he did not get closer to the nest.

Photo by David Wallace


Know what to do when wildlife moves into your yard

Also learn steps to make your yard less attractive to animals

By: Kristyne E. Demske | C&G Newspapers | Published April 18, 2018

 The baby rabbits huddle together in the nest in 2015. They stayed for around two weeks and then left the nest.

The baby rabbits huddle together in the nest in 2015. They stayed for around two weeks and then left the nest.

Photo by David Wallace

METRO DETROIT — Spring has sprung, and while it may be nice to get back to nature, sometimes nature can get a little close to metropolitan backyards.

Early spring can find deer munching on sprouts from bulbs, mother rabbits making their nests in inappropriate places, and skunks or raccoons burrowing under decks.

But with a little precaution and understanding, local naturalists say residents can enjoy nature without it becoming a nuisance.

To prevent rabbits from making their nests in a yard accessible to dogs or in the middle of the lawn, modify the habitat, recommends Holly Vaughn, wildlife communications coordinator for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Detroit Metro Customer Service Center.

She explained that rabbits love brush piles and spruce trees where branches reach all the way to the ground. By eliminating places for rabbits to hide, they will be less likely to stay in the yard. Protect gardens with fencing that is 3 feet high and sunk about a foot into the ground to keep Peter Rabbit and his friends from digging under the fence to get into the garden. Stones placed around the fence border also make it more difficult for the rabbits to dig underneath, she said. 

“Rabbits love grasses, clover, vegetables, fruits and some flowers, so be sure to protect any plants that might be tasty to the rabbits,” Vaughn said in an email message.

Rabbits don’t stay in the nest very long, said Barb DiVizio, a naturalist interpreter at Stony Creek Metropark in Shelby Township. 

“Two weeks and they’re gone. They’re not there that long,” she said. “If you don’t want them back again, you could put a piece of fencing on the ground so they can’t dig it up again.”

Naturalists say to leave baby rabbits, ducks and birds alone if you find them. They may seem abandoned, but they’re not.

“The adult doesn’t stay at the nest with the baby rabbits. An adult deer, also, she will try to hide the fawn, but she doesn’t stay with it. The adult has a scent that will attract predators. The baby, when first born, doesn’t have any scent,” said Debbie Williams, lead naturalist at Stage Nature Center in Troy. 

What looks like an abandoned baby or nest is really being watched carefully by the animal’s mother, she said.

“When no one is around to see her, she’ll sneak in to feed them,” she said. “Once the rabbit is about the size of your hand, their eyes are open and they’re fully covered in fur, those are not babies that have been abandoned. Those are young rabbits that are on their own. They’re able to take care of themselves.”

Birds also may leave the nest at an age that humans think is too early. When they are fully feathered but can’t yet fly, the nest begins to get crowded. To protect themselves from sharing diseases or insect infestations, baby birds might leave the nest and hop around on the ground. 

“It’s perfectly normal for them to leave the nest and hop around. You’ll see an adult bird come over and feed them,” Williams said. 

“Live and let be” applies to duck nests as well, Vaughn said.

“If you have a duck family nesting in your garden, leave them be and keep pets away from the nest,” she said. “They will lead their young to water shortly after they hatch.”

This is the time of year when animals will emerge from their dens and sometimes look for a place to hide from humans, like under a deck, Williams said. She recommends buying hardware cloth from a hardware store, which is flexible but has smaller holes than chicken wire, and digging a trench around the bottom of the deck. Install the hardware cloth in an L-shape, making it extend out 6 inches away from the deck after going down about 6 inches below the surface to prevent burrowing animals from just digging underneath it.

Making sure that garbage is secured and no dog food is sitting outside also will keep away pests like raccoons, Williams said. 

To protect plants, small animals can be kept away with fencing, but deer can jump fences, so the best bet is to plant things that deer don’t like to eat. The Michigan State University Extension has a list of plants, trees and shrubs that deer rarely damage, occasionally damage, seldom damage and frequently damage. Visit www.canr.msu.edu/outreach and search for “deer resistant plants” to find the list. Larkspur, foxglove, lavender, coneflower, marigolds and snapdragons are at least somewhat deer-resistant, according to the list.

“When planting spring bulbs, plant more daffodils than tulips,” Vaughn recommended. “(Deer) love tulips but will only eat the daffodils if they are really hungry.”

Home improvement, hardware and garden stores may also carry deer repellents, but homeowners have to be diligent about reapplying them after it rains. Vaughn said that bovine blood repellents seem to be very effective. Deer can also be scared away with loud noises, but they may become accustomed to the sounds in city settings.

While complete control or elimination of the problem is not always possible, there are a large variety of options to help both humans and animals enjoy the spring and summer months to come.