Article and photos by Rob Danforth  

In the plusses and minuses category, there are 2 critters which, while they cause problems, can help if managed properly.  Racoons and skunks can be problematic, but they also eat bugs (“the enemy of my enemy is my friend”?).  True, they both can overturn your new sod (large portion of a neighbour’s yard overturned so badly they had to re-sod) unless you peg it down or cover it with netting until the roots get well established, and in addition, racoons can eat your corn and break into your green bin, composters, and attic, while skunks can take up residence under your deck or shed, perfume your dog and make even just breathing unpleasant.  Skunks and racoons eat grubs including Japanese Beetle grubs which are maturing in your lawn – hence, the digging and overturning.  With a little care and ingenuity, you can have them work for you instead of against you.  Besides, both are creatures of habit and both are nocturnal – can you live with that? 

(Photo: Skunk or racoon damage – foraging for beetles) 

Birds eat bugs, especially when they have young to feed, and even seed eaters serve bugs to their young for the protein. 

Raptors (hawks and owls) will take rodents and other birds.  We have had raptors swoop down and take rodents from the garden, pigeons in flight, and even chickadees (snack?). From time to time, hawks have chased song birds into the lilacs and hedges nearby – they left empty taloned.  Nature’s lesson: shrubs and hedges offer protection for the birds you want to keep.  However, you must observe and know your birds.  A wine grower in Richmond Ontario uses guinea hens in the vineyard because they eat bugs and leave the grapes alone.  Turkeys, however, like both the bugs and the grapes so a vintner in Prince Edward County covers the vines with netting to discourage the bugs and the turkeys.     

(Photo:  Hawk on fence) 

(Photo: Guinea hens) 

 (Photo:  Grapes covered with netting in Prince Edward County) 

As a matter of interest, one vintner in rural Ontario uses a number of propane fired bird cannons scattered about the vineyard, each on a different time schedule, to frighten off the birds.  The noise is deafening and not at all neighbour friendly!  However, in the evening, we watched 70-80 birds lining up on the power lines on the edge of the property waiting for the time the cannons had to be silenced – so neighbours could enjoy some evening peace and quiet – and the birds could feast on the bugs, and, alas, the grapes. 

(Photo:  Propane fired Bird cannon) 

Bats are another night time insect feeder and catch bugs on the wing. We see them at dusk zig zagging over the neighbourhood yards, catching bugs on the wing.  You will not get very close to them unless you approach the nesting area.  They look for very narrow dark places to shelter them from the daylight.  One took up residence between the sliding door of our shed and the wall – a very narrow space. A “bat box,” purchased or homemade, placed in a quiet place and out of reach of people would be ideal.  

Toads and frogs like moist places.  Frogs prefer small ponds but toads like a damp environment in friable soil (they like to burrow down) and an overturned terracotta pot with a chunk out of the side as a door can serve as a toad cave – unless you prefer to purchase an actual toad home.  Unglazed terracotta breathes and is cooled by moisture evaporation from the clay walls.  Avoid any material like metal or plastic that heats up in the sun. 

(Photo:  Canadian tree frog) 

Tree frogs also prefer moist places – this tree frog visited us for two weeks and took up residence in a cache pot of sage.  The sage was in a round inner pot sitting in a square outer pot.  The frog hid from the daytime sun down the corner of the outer pot.  Interestingly, the pot was at the top of a plant tower 6 feet above ground.  In the evening, the frog made its way along the wall to the top of a fence which was covered in Virginia creeper.  At dawn it returned to the pot.  Sticky toes allow it to grip the side of the pot as well as the house siding – like spiderman. 

Snakes in the Ottawa-Gatineau area (garter, rat snake, ….) are not poisonous.  The Massasauga rattler is Ontario’s only poisonous snake (southern Ontario – for now!) and it is shy and retiring – but do not pursue it.  Encourage snakes or at least do not chase them away.  They eat either insects or rodents and are usually just hunters, passing through, unlike the different kraits I saw in Hong Kong that wait like spiders for prey to pass by.  Besides, snakes are not that fond of people anyway and if they feel the vibration of your footfalls, they will slither away in a hurry. 

Some gardeners use rubber snakes or snake facsimiles (small length of garden hose) to discourage critters but they have never reported any satisfactory observations.  Besides, if you do not move them about, then they appear inanimate and just another part of the landscape. 

(Photo:  Fountain with Jacuzzi in top bowl) 

Knowing your critters and their habits can give you ways to manage them.   

Critter managed garden spaces –  

  • Appropriate barriers to keep the critters from the things you wish to protect (e.g., hardware cloth, chicken wire, row covers, insect netting, & bird netting)   
  • Water features (e.g., bowl of water, bird bath, fountain, small pond) helps predatory insects, birds, and critters in your garden.  Our fountain was very popular – birds lined up on the fence to take turns bathing in the top bowl, where water bubbled up like a jacuzzi. After an initial trepidation, it became a favourite spa.  Some birds (esp. robins) were reluctant to leave!  Crows have washed food in the water. Reminder:  birds, critters, insects … they all drink.   
  • Insect hotel with a hardware cloth front to protect the insects from the birds, skunks, & racoons. 


(Photo: Insect hotel with hardware cloth front – NB hotels must be on the ground or close to the ground – maximum 1 foot above) 


  • Fall garden stubble left in soil to reduce erosion and provide homes for resident pollinators to overwinter. 
  • Bat box 
  • Toad cave 
  • Bird feeder and/or bird house 
  • Screen covered water barrels and the elimination of standing water so mosquitos do not have breeding grounds. 
  • Secured composters – composter on a hard surface (e.g., patio stone, plywood) or hardware cloth base and bungee cords to lock down lids. 
  • Outdoor pet food bowls removed after pets have eaten. 


(Photo: hornet drinking from our bird bath) 


As gardeners, we know that what will be, will be, and we must work with that. 

Whatever the challenge, don’t stress, keep calm, and carry-on gardening!  

Copyright:  © Rob Danforth; permission granted to print and/or post but not to edit.