The Critters Are Coming!

When the crowds head home, the squirrels, skunks, and geese move in.

Spring brings more than daffodils and crocuses to Island properties. Along with the welcome bursts of color after too many gray, wet days can come the discovery of a down-and-out home invasion – not teenagers searching the liquor cabinets of shuttered seasonal homes, but raccoons, squirrels, and, out by the shed, a litter of baby skunks.

Look closer and an unlucky homeowner might spot tiny holes bored by carpenter bees, and an entire trim board torn up by a woodpecker who’s gone to town looking for the larvae the bees leave behind. 

Conditions on the Island, it turns out, are ideal for critters and pests. Mild winters and bumper acorn droppings probably account for the abundance of gray squirrels, for instance. And the number of seasonally unoccupied homes offer easy access to shelter.

Walter Wlodyka of, a nuisance animal control agent who has been trapping and humanely killing skunks, raccoons, and squirrels for thirty-seven years on the Island, says it’s the gray squirrel that can do the most damage inside a home.

“They’re off the charts right now,” he says. “They’re basically rats. I call them tree rats and they’re everywhere. What happens is they get inside through a soffit or a dryer vent or through the ceiling and then they freak out. They literally go to every window and they chew the sill and the bottom sash of every single one. This goes on for a couple of days before they expire.”

Naturalist Gus Ben David says he’s been to homes where squirrels have caused tens of thousands of dollars in damage.

They’re not the only animals that can rack up a hefty bill. Spring brings with it the return of Canada geese, which can do a real number on yards, farms, and golf courses. Those magnificent V-shaped flocks pose such a problem that they inspired Luiz Fogaca to open Geese Partners last spring.

According to Fogaca, geese rarely travel in packs of less than ten to fifteen, and each one leaves about two pounds of droppings per day. “In the spring, they look to nest and that means they stay around the property the most,” he says. Fogaca treats affected turf with a natural or organic product application, intended to encourage them to seek out another home base with untreated turf. Depending on the size of a lawn or area, the cost runs $250 to $750 per application. For lawns mowed every week, Fogaca recommends two applications a month. It’s a worthy investment for some.

“We’re trying to keep the poop away from people, and there are people who spend thousands of dollars, maybe $250,000 on their landscaping, and see it turn into a salad bar,” says Fogaca. “We give people their lawns back.”

Time will tell if the goose-deterrent business takes off, but there’s no question that Wlodyka is keeping busy. Wlodyka is one of just two licensed trappers on the Island. The other is T.J. Hegarty of All Island Pest Management. It’s no small thing: there’s insurance, the licensing of traps, a daily activity log, multiple state forms, and maintaining and covering large animal graves out of harm’s way. And yes, state law requires that every animal trapped must be humanely destroyed.

Still, business is booming. Wlodyka, who’s had Lyme disease four times and considers ticks and the diseases they carry the most dangerous part of his job, often gets hired to sweep whole neighborhoods. He’s trapped as many as 140 skunks over a two-to-three week period in a single neighborhood. Skunks, raccoons, and squirrels, in that order, comprise the majority of homeowner calls, he says. He charges $120 for one night of successful trapping, regardless of the number of animals he catches. If the traps are empty, there’s no charge.

While skunks are more pervasive and can ruin a yard looking for grubs with their Captain Hook–like nails, Wlodyka says raccoons are the literal killers. Just ask any Islander with hens in the backyard, or a family raising rabbits or pheasants and quail. If they’re not penned up securely every night behind raccoon-proof fencing, the Island dad raising chickens can wake up to a bloody massacre in the morning. 

Sometimes raccoons even make their way from the hen house to the home. Wlodyka has answered calls from seasonal homeowners who return in the spring to find a litter of baby raccoons on the king-sized bed in the master bedroom.

The best way to keep animals out of your home is not to let them in in the first place, so experts say chimneys should be capped and homeowners or their caretakers should take an inventory and screen or seal any holes, soffits, or vents. Joan Jenkinson, former longtime animal control officer for West Tisbury, keeps it even simpler: don’t feed the birds. If you’ve got birdseed on the ground, you’ve got skunks, raccoons, and squirrels, she says.

As for how skunks came to the Island in the first place, plenty of theories abound. One often repeated legend has it that the late Craig Kingsbury of Tisbury is responsible for bringing skunks to the Island. Ben David says Kingsbury denied it to his grave. More likely, he suspects, skunks arrived slowly, probably beginning in the sixties when people kept skunks as pets.

According to Ben David, while no longer allowed, people used to have the scent glands removed. “Back then, a lot of people had skunks for pets.

“A lot of off-Island people would bring them here because we didn’t have them naturally. I personally know people who had them, and I had a beautiful de-scented skunk when I had my wildlife farm.”

Raccoons, it seems, same story. Ben David says in the 1940s, ’50s, and ’60s, “a lot of old timers would try to balance things out by bringing in other animals. The story around Kingsbury goes that he wanted to bring [skunks] over here because they like to eat snapping turtle eggs and he wanted to deal with snapping turtles.” 

Well, no one’s dog has gotten sprayed at midnight by a snapping turtle. But you better keep the skunk spray handy. Wlodyka has a recipe for one on his website.