The Fox, Opossum, and Deer Are Out This Breeding Season at JoCo – Here’s Advice for Owners

By Josh Marchand

The Kansas City area is home to more than 2 million people, driving to work, tending to lawns and gardens, and enjoying parks and green spaces. As the region grows, so does KC’s urban wildlife population, which simultaneously thrives on cohabitation with humans while coping with shrinking habitat.

Under patios, in trees and attics or buried in gardens, a variety of mammals, reptiles and birds live close to humans. And while seeing a baby fox or a bird’s nest in the wild can be enjoyable, the interactions can be dangerous for people and wildlife.

As the breeding season for many species is underway, urban wildlife experts have shared some best practices to ensure everyone gets along as safely as possible.

Prevent road accidents and help injured animals

The most dangerous areas for urban wildlife in KC may be roads surrounded by wooded areas and green spaces. While these places can provide excellent habitat, unfortunately most wildlife don’t understand the dangers of a busy street until it’s too late.

Tori Fugate, Communications Manager at KC Pet Projectt, warned that dawn and dusk are the most common times of day to find animals in the middle of the street.

In more urban neighborhoods, Fugate said, motorists are most likely to encounter possums. They’re well-suited to cities, so drivers should watch the roads carefully when driving in places like Westport or the Crossroads neighborhood, she said.

If drivers encounter an injured animal on the street, Fugate suggests checking to see if traffic permits. She also suggested checking the area in case the injured animal had babies. A possum could carry infants in its pouch.

If an animal is dead, a concerned human can call 311 to have the body removed. If a creature is injured, the best resource is the Wildlife Hospital at Lakeside Nature Centeroperated by the Kansas City Department of Parks and Recreation.

Jacque Blessington, director of the Lakeside Nature Center, said if infant opossums survived in the pouch of a deceased mother, bringing the mother’s body in a towel-lined box may allow wildlife rehabilitators to save the infants. .

Turtles may also require special attention. Blessington said if a turtle is in the middle of the road, it is best to place it on the side of the road it is walking towards, otherwise the turtle will turn around and try to cross the road again.

Leave food for urban wildlife in KC

If families see a lot of wild animals near their homes, it’s probably because the animals regularly find food there.

It can be a bird feeder, pet food bowls, or a vegetable garden that can provide a nice dinner for deer, raccoons, or birds.

Blessington said those culinary attractions aren’t necessarily a bad thing. She likes to leave leftover food outside to feed raccoons and possums. However, not all foods are good for all animals.

“For example, giving waterfowl bread is a horrible idea because it’s not (nutritionally) good for them,” she said. “There are mixed reviews about feeding corn to deer in the winter, as their digestive physiology changes with the season.”

Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and kale are almost universally bad for local herbivores. These vegetables can give rabbits or deer gas and damage their digestive system.

Generally, native plants are the safest for KC’s urban wildlife, as they are the plants they have adapted to for thousands of years.

The benefits of allowing KC’s urban wildlife to live as neighbors

Georgiane Hayhow, who lives in Leawood in Johnson County, Kansas, first discovered a den of foxes living on her porch in April.

The first fox she saw was the mother, who was snooping around her garden. Over the next few weeks, Hayhow would discover that this fox had six kits in its den as they grew and began to play in the lawn.

Two of the foxes are playing in Hayhow’s back lawn. She was very careful to let her children know that it wasn’t safe to get too close, so they were always watching from within. Photo courtesy of Georgiane Hayhow

It quickly became a fun activity for his family. They placed a camera outside the den so they could all watch the baby foxes from a distance, and she said her four children had told all their teachers and friends about it. They left dog toys for the foxes to play with, and the foxes returned the favor with cute paw prints on the patio furniture.

“They really like a lightly seared salmon, flavorless of course, and fresh blueberries and a bit of brown rice,” Hayhow said.

Hayhow made sure to research what foods were healthy for the foxes, and she had fun cooking for them from time to time. On Easter, when her children dyed eggs for an Easter egg hunt, the mother fox stole all 15 eggs to feed her kittens.

There were, of course, some downsides to living with foxes. They left rabbit carcasses in the den, leaving an unpleasant smell, and she had to pick up fox droppings from the grass.

But overall, Hayhow found it to be an experience his family will long remember.

“It was a little upkeep, but more than worth the payoff for the experience,” she said. “I loved them. The kids absolutely loved them. The grandparents would come and we would all watch them together.

When the foxes were old enough to start making her cat nervous, she decided it was time to gently push them away. After trying a few options, she finally filled the den halfway and left a stick of Ax deodorant inside. Needless to say, the foxes quickly moved away.

“I really believe it’s our responsibility to take care of the wild animals that are here too,” Hayhow said. “My kids are well trained to know that if we’re outside, you don’t touch anything… If I can provide a safe haven for (wildlife), and that’s fine with me, I’m happy to host.”

Should someone move an animal that lives on their property?

Although fox family accommodation has worked out well for Hayhow, who lives in an open suburban area, it’s not an option for everyone.

If owners need to remove an animal from their yard, Blessington said forcibly removing the creature should always be the last resort. She encourages Kansas City residents to consider what would be the least invasive option.

“The first, least invasive option for wildlife is to let them, especially if it’s a family, because they’ll move on,” Blessington said. “If you can let mum raise these babies safely, she’ll move on and they’ll probably all scatter once they’re big enough. This is still the easiest and safest option for wildlife.

The same goes for opossums, which are a generally nomadic species. They will rarely set up a permanent den near a house or apartment.

If wildlife is disturbing a home, disturbing pets or children, or destroying furniture, Blessington said the best option would be to encourage animals to roam by gently making their yard a less comfortable home.

She said there are a variety of products available for this purpose, including noise machines, motion-sensor lights, or even leaving an ammonia-soaked rag in a holed Ziploc bag. Or, as Hayhow discovered, a powerful deodorant.

Once the family has migrated, it’s important to make sure they can’t come back, Blessington said. This means closing all possible entrances to an attic, filling an empty den, or fixing a fence.

If all else fails, Blessington said relocation may be a last option, although sometimes it can have adverse consequences for the animal.

“You shouldn’t move a groundhog in October and think it’s necessarily going to survive,” she said. Indeed, they need a very specific habitat in winter for hibernation.

“These are questions we are asking owners to consider. Is it breeding season? Are there babies there? Are they getting ready to go into hibernation?

Josh Merchant is the Kansas City Beacon’s local government reporter. After graduating from Seattle University, Josh attended Columbia Journalism School, where he earned a master’s degree in investigative journalism. Originally from Colorado, Josh has contributed reporting to the Seattle Spectator, South Seattle Emerald and THE CITY in New York. He’s a former Beacon intern.