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Animal facts that will help you avoid potential problems:

Learn more about the animals in your area! Below are some helpful animal facts that may help you avoid animal control problems. Choose your animal of interest:


 

raccoon pictureRaccoons: These masked animals are one of the most recognizable of suburban wildlife. These highly intelligent and resourceful animals are fantastic climbers and extremely strong. Raccoons do not construct their own dens but rely on nature (hollow trees, wood piles, abandoned animal holes) and on human construction. They will scale walls, climb trees and porches, bend attic vents and pull off soffit and siding to gain entry to house attics and fireplaces to make their home. Mating occurs from January to March with a litter arriving a little over 2 months later consisting of 4-6 babies called cubs which will remain with the mother for up to one year. Raccoons are nocturnal animals that eat both plant and animal matter (omnivore) consisting of fish, eggs, frogs, insects, berries, and nuts but are opportunists when in suburban environments feeding out of dog/cat bowls, bird feeders, and garbage cans.

*Raccoons are considered a vector species in Pennsylvania meaning that they have the potential to carry the rabies virus. They are also carriers of feline and canine distemper and raccoon roundworm.

 

squirrel pictureSquirrels: There are four types of squirrels that live in Pennsylvania. They are the red, gray, fox, and flying. These agile and energetic rodents, (yes they are rodents), live their lives in nests or dens that they make in trees. They will gather leaves, twigs, and other plant materials to construct nests, or use a cavity, hollow tree branch, or an abandoned woodpecker hole to make their home. Squirrels are also very capable of entering an unsuspecting homeowner’s attic. They are ferocious chewers and will make short work of wooden trim, box gutters, soffit, facia, and siding. They also enter attics using the vents and fans that are available to them. They are capable of doing great damage by chewing wires and soiling insulation.  Squirrels are active in the early morning and late afternoon with the exception of the flying squirrel. Flyers are nocturnal creatures with their large eyes adapted for their nightly excursions. It is usually the squirrels’ high level of activity that alerts the home owner that they have unwanted tenants. Squirrels breed in late winter and early spring and after a 44 day gestation will bear a litter of 4-5 young in late February, March, and early April.  There will also be a second litter born in July and August if the conditions are right. A squirrels’ diet consists of early spring buds, seeds, fruit, and nuts and in the suburbs a bird feeder is an excellent food source.

 

groundhog pictureGroundhogs (Also known as Woodchucks, or in the South, Whistlepigs): Groundhogs are the largest member of the squirrel family with a brownish coat, short legs, a stubby tail, and strong claws used for digging. They are solitary creatures that come together to mate in the early spring. The female will deliver a litter of 2 to 6 babies approximately one month later. The mother tends to her young for the next 6 weeks and they then are weaned and ready to seek their own homes. Groundhogs live in underground burrows and dens where there is a main entrance and one or more ‘escape routes’ since they are generally timid creatures. These dens are located in wooded areas, grassy fields, or beneath sheds, patios, decks, and other structures. One common factor is that the den is located close to a food source. Groundhogs are mostly herbivores that eat clover, dandelion greens, grasses and other plant material. They will discover a great source of fresh fruit and vegetables if they happen to settle in the vicinity of a summer garden. Groundhogs will feast all summer in preparation of settling into a winter den for a period of deep hibernation where it will live off fat reserves until spring arrives.

 

skunk pictureSkunks: One of the most recognizable animals of the suburbs with the familiar black and white fur and a legendary smell.  They make their homes in holes abandoned by other animals, in rock piles, haystacks, hollow logs, and tree stumps. In urban areas they are quite comfortable with a concrete roof and will live under sidewalks, front stoops, patios, and porches. Skunks are non aggressive and nocturnal animals that have a varied diet consisting of fruits, plants, worms, frogs, bird eggs, and even small mammals. Skunks will eat a large amount of insects so they are quite beneficial to the environment. Lawns however may be damaged in late summer by skunks tearing up the grass in search of larvae. Breeding occurs in late winter-early spring, with a gestation period of 60 to 75 days bringing the birthing time to May and June. Skunks will have their litter (with as little as 2 or as many as 10 young) that will be weaned from the mother in 7-8 weeks. They will then forage with the mother for food though generally skunks are loners. Homeowners are usually aware that a skunk has taken up residence by its strong odor. Young and adolescent skunks have a greater tendency to spray because they do not have full control of the gland that produces the noxious smell but an adult will spray when threatened so care should be taken when encountering a full grown skunk.

 

bat pictureBats: One of the most misunderstood creatures is also one of the most fascinating and beneficial. Bats are the only mammals that can fly. Their wings are thin membranes of skin attached from the front leg to the hind leg and then from the hind leg to the tail. 9 species of bats occur in Pennsylvania with 2 rare species that visit from the South. The most common species is the Little Brown Bat. All PA bats are insect eaters and night flyers. They search for food during dusk, evening, and early morning. It is during this time when one of the great benefits occur. A solitary bat can consume up to 25 percent of its body weight in insects during a single feeding! They catch their prey in flight using a series of high pitched squeaks which echo off of objects and bounce back to the bat’s well developed ears.

During daylight hours they will roost, or hang upside down, in dark secluded spots such as hollow trees, rock crevices, or caves. Man-made structures are often inhabited too. Church steeples, barns, attics, and abandoned buildings are favorite spots for bats. They assemble in singles, pairs, large or small groups, all depending upon the species. Bats will mate in late summer or early fall, though some species will mate in winter. The female stores the male’s sperm until fertilization occurs in spring. The litter consists of one young bat that is blind and hairless. Being a mammal they are nursed by their mother and are usually full grown in size and self sufficient at 6 weeks of age and ready to leave the colony.

When fall arrives, some species will migrate from Pennsylvania to warmer areas in the South.  Most species will move from their summer home to their winter home which is usually a mine shaft, tunnel, or cave. Here they will hang from the ceiling and hibernate, living off of their fat stores until they emerge in the spring. A bat will continue to return to the same summer and winter roost year after year.

It is illegal to kill the Little Brown Bat in Pennsylvania. If a homeowner is experiencing problems, exclusion is used to remove the bats from the property. There are only certain times of the year that this can occur so to assure that the young are not in danger or separated from their parent. The structure must be thoroughly inspected, excluders are installed, and when the bats are gone, the building must be securely sealed for they will try to regain entry.

Bats are truly amazing animals!

 

Birds: There are certain species of birds that are urban pests. The House Sparrow, Pigeon, Starling, and Chimney Swift are the leading nuisance birds in Pennsylvania.

sparrow pictureHouse Sparrows: It is a highly adaptable bird that has few natural enemies. They build their nests in gutters and drainage pipes and other structural openings. The nests can cause water damage from obstructing water flow and the feces build up can actually cause damage to the building from the uric acid. There are also bacteria, fungi, and parasites that pose a health risk that are present in the feces.

pigeon picturePigeons: This familiar, urban bird lives in small groups called flocks and favors human built structures such as buildings, window ledges, signs, and under bridges to make their nests. They have a diverse diet and adapt to the presence of humans well. Pigeons mate for life and will breed throughout the year including winter. They lay 1-2 eggs with the eggs hatching in 16-19 days and may have 4-5 broods a year. The young pigeons, or squabs, are fed “crop milk” from both parents. Crop milk is a substance which is a secreted from the lining of the crop, a sac-like food storage organ unique to birds. The squabs are ready to fly at 4-6 weeks, but will remain with their parents for a week or two longer before heading out on their own. Pigeons are the number one pest among all bird species for urban areas. Debris from roosts can cause water damage when gutters and drains are blocked and clogged. Their nests can damage machinery when it gets entangled within the machine. The uric acid present in bird droppings is highly corrosive and causes considerable structural damage. The feces also contain bacteria, parasites, and fungal parasites that pose a health risk. Pigeons are also portrayed as ‘dirty’ birds and project an unclean urban/suburban image.

starling pictureStarlings: Starlings are muscular birds, with an iridescent speckled coat in winter and a drabber coat in summer, with a long, slender bill and short tail. They are considered a nuisance due to their highly aggressive nature which can drive native birds out of the territory. They are well adapted to urban life with the abundance of nesting sites and food sources. The female starling will lay 4-6 pale bluish eggs in April. With both parents incubating the eggs, they hatch in 12 days with the young ready to leave the nest in 3 weeks. Starlings will gather in large numbers during the flocking phase with numbers often reaching in the thousands. With such a large number of birds congregating in one place, structures and trees can be overwhelmed with the debris and feces. Extensive property damage is the result and the health risk of bacteria, parasites, and fungai in the droppings is present.

Chimney Swifts: These birds are approximately 5 inches long with stubby bodies and long, narrow wings and are a sooty gray color. They are thought to mate for life and will arrive to Pennsylvania in May. Breeding occurs in June and July with 3-5 eggs being laid. After an incubation period of 18-21 days, the eggs will hatch and the young will be reared by both parents. A month later the fledglings will be ready to join feeding flocks. In the past, hollow trees and caves were where they nested. Today, Chimney Swifts earned their name by nesting exclusively in man-made structures, namely chimneys. They will also nest in silos, shafts, and wells. These birds head south in August and September to spend the winter months in warm weather.

 

molesMoles: People think that moles are rodents such as mice or rats, but they are actually members of the order that includes shrews and bats. They grow to 4-8 inches in length; have velvety black or brownish fur, small ears and eyes and prominent forefeet. These almost resemble shovels with sharp, digging claws. Moles are solitary animals unless it is the breeding season that falls from February through March. The gestation period for moles is 4-6 weeks and the mother can give birth to 5 young. Young moles are ready to leave their mother at 6 weeks and are sexually mature at the end of their first year of life.

A mole lives its life underground in two types of tunnels. Those near or at the surface are feeding tunnels and are normally not used more than once. That is where he daily eats his weight in worms, snails, slugs, and insects. A mole expends so much energy tunneling that he must feed day and night. The second type of tunnel is much deeper and is the ‘highway’ that connects the feeding tunnels to his living chambers.

A mole can be both a nuisance and a benefit to the homeowner. It consumes large amounts of pest insects (such as Japanese beetles and their larvae) that can affect the landscape. A mole can aerate the ground with its tunneling and loosen and mix and soil. However, it can damage the root system of lawns with the surface tunnels and accidentally dislodge flowering plants and bulbs. It is up to the homeowner to decide if the mole should stay or go.

 

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