The call came in the afternoon while I was still working. My husband was on the line.
“We caught something in the live trap, honey, but you’re going to have to wait until you get home to find out.”
Not disclosing just exactly what was in the trap was his way of toying with me, and my imagination was off to the races. The usual suspects came to mind, most notably the masked bandit (raccoon) that had been attempting to raid the bird feeders for days. That little twerp just couldn’t resist the sweet temptation of the oriole/hummingbird sugar water and had tipped everything over, wrecking the feeders. For some odd reason, our orioles are very picky and prefer one type of feeder, which is no longer sold in stores. It was time for operation relocation! A wire live trap was set out to nab the offender.
A few (cats-in-the-trap) days later we finally caught our vandal. Only it wasn’t what we expected. An all too familiar pungent odor wafted around the house when I got home. A skunk! A few choice expletives may or may not have been uttered.
With an ability to spray up to 15 feet away, these malodorous critters are nothing to trifle with. What transpired next was a true comedy of errors, involving a very long handmade rebar pole with a hook on the end, and an ATV in high gear. Without going into details, let’s just say that a new sturdy, varmint-proof bird feeder system was installed soon thereafter. Tough lesson learned!
As I drove down the highway in mid-February, a black-and-white blob lay in the roadway ahead. Rushing past at 70 mph wasn’t fast enough. The smell hit me, and I realized it had been months since I was last exposed to that extra lovely scent of the striped skunk. Instantly, a flashback to the whole botched live-trap fiasco came to mind, and I chuckled to myself.
A few days later, a pair of skunks were bowled over just a mile down the road from our place. A stinky trend was emerging, but I was actually feeling pretty elated. Why? The noxious perfume of Pepe LePue in February can only mean one thing — spring is arriving!
Why the sudden skunk appearances? People aren’t the only ones that celebrate love in February. Skunks aren’t true hibernators, but they do sleep the long winter away, with females often denning in large groups together. Come early spring, skunks wake up hungry (they can lose up to half their body weight!) and, well … amorous. At this point, the male stinkpots roam far and wide to find a willing gal. If she doesn’t claim to have a headache, they get together and she then promptly kicks him to the curb, ready to parent on her own. This love walkabout period lasts until April, whereupon males have logged plenty of steps in their quest for amore.
After about 65 days, about three to 10 kits are born and arrive on the scene totally helpless and, like Telly Savalas, almost bald. As time goes on, the kits open their eyes, grow some fluffy fur, and actually appear pretty darn cute, especially when they travel single file behind mom! Adorable, right? However, each one of those charming little babies can spray that horrible odor in less than one month! It’s a dog owner’s basic nightmare.
After a blissful summer spent teaching the young ‘uns all about the skunky kind of life, like digging up Japanese beetle grubs in our pristinely manicured lawns, catching toads, snacking on birds’ eggs (and cat food!) and how to watch out for great horned owls (their main predator), it’s time for mom to read the riot act. The teenagers are sent packing to make it on their own.
Come October, those naïve youths will be looking for prospective winter real estate, maybe even right under your porch. Oh well. Don’t make the same mistake we did! Call a professional.
Until next time, watch out for black-and-white critters on the road, and keep those dogs on a leash (and be thankful we don’t have porcupines to worry about as well). It’s officially skunk season!
Melissa Gerken, and her patient husband Pat, reside in Zumbrota. She is a self-described bird nerd, astronomer wannabe and lover of all things wild. She enjoys sharing her passion for nature with others.