Wildlife Pest Identification
The chimney swift is a medium-sized, sooty gray bird with long, slender wings and short legs. Like all swifts, it is incapable of perching, and can only cling vertically to surfaces. The chimney swift feeds primarily on flying insects, but also on airborne spiders. It generally mates for life. It builds a bracket nest of twigs and saliva stuck to a vertical surface, which is almost always a human-built structure, typically a…. you guessed it …. chimney.
The mourning dove has a thin, delicate-looking bill, a neat head, and a long, graduated tail bordered with large white spots. The colors of the female are duller than the gray-brown adult males. At close range, adult males can be distinguished by purple-pink iridescent feathers on the neck and light pink on the breast. The upper part
of the throat is whitish. Legs and feet are dull red or purplish red. Largely seed eaters, these soft-footed birds do not scratch for their food so the seeds must be plainly visible and readily accessible. Mourning doves feed mostly on weed seeds and waste grain from cultivated fields.
These birds are common in WNC and love to make their nest in the eaves of your home or garage.
Both males and females are a bright, unpatterned reddish-brown above and warm buffy orange below, with a long white eyebrow stripe, dark bill, and white chin and throat. The Carolina Wren creeps around vegetated areas and scoots up and down tree trunks in search of insects and fruit. It explores yards, garages, and woodpiles, sometimes nesting there. This wren often cocks its tail upward while foraging and holds it down when singing. Carolina Wrens defend their territories with constant singing; they aggressively scold and chase off intruders.
Big Brown Bat
Big brown bats are considered “large” for an American bat. They have brown to glossy copper-colored fur on their back with the belly fur being lighter. Their ears are small, rounded, and black in color as are their wing membranes and tail. Their lips are fleshy, and their nose is broad for the size of their face. These bats are so widespread because they are very hardy and can withstand conditions that other bats cannot. Those that hibernate will do so in caves, mines, walls, attics, or other buildings. Some may migrate short distances to find an appropriate location for hibernating.
These bats are insectivorous. They prefer eating beetles over other insects, using their powerful jaws to chew through the beetles’ hard exoskeleton. They will also eat other flying insects including moths, flies, wasps, and flying ants all of which they capture while in flight.
Little Brown Bats
The little brown bat is a species of mouse-eared microbat found in North America. It has a small body size and glossy brown fur. It is similar in appearance to several other mouse-eared bats, including the Indiana bat, northern long-eared bat, and Arizona myotis, to which it is closely related. Despite its name, the little brown bat is not closely related to the big brown bat, which belongs to a different genus. It is nocturnal, foraging for its insect prey at night and roosting in hollow trees or buildings during the day, among less common roost types. It navigates and locates prey with echolocation. Humans frequently encounter the little brown bat due to its habit of roosting in buildings. Colonies in buildings are often considered pests because of the production of waste or the concern of rabies transmission. Little brown bats rarely test positive for rabies, however. Some people attempt to attract little brown bats to their property, but not their houses, by installing bat houses.
The copperhead gets its name from the coppery-tan color found mainly on its head and throughout parts of its body down to the tail. An adult copperhead’s average length ranges between 2 to 3 feet but can reach 4 feet. Since the copperhead is a pit viper, you will notice a very distinctive triangular-shaped head. Some people call it an “arrowhead-shaped” head. These wider parts of the head allow for space to fit the snake’s fangs and venom glands. Parts of the pattern of the copperhead resemble an hourglass and is one of the most diagnostic traits of all. The hourglass shape lays somewhat “sideways” on the copperhead’s back; the wider portion of the shape starts on one side of the body, thins towards the middle-top edge of the back (closest to the spine), and then widens back out to the opposite side of the snake. The snakes typically feed on mice and other rodents, but will also go after small birds, lizards, and frogs. After biting their prey, the serpents often hold it in their mouth until the venom has done its job. Copperheads live in a range of habitats, from terrestrial to semiaquatic, including rocky, forested hillsides and wetlands.
North Carolina is home to three rattlesnake species: the eastern diamondback rattlesnake, timber rattlesnake and pigmy rattlesnake. These, along with the cottonmouth and copperhead, are pit vipers.
Up to 6 feet; very heavy-bodied. Average 28 dark, diamond-shaped markings with pale borders. Triangular-shaped head with dark bands masking eyes. 2 light lines running along sides of head. Rattle on end of tail.
Timber “Canebrake” Rattlesnake
Up to 5 ½ feet; large, heavy-bodied. Dark crossbands on a lighter background. Tail usually black. In Mountains, usually yellow, dark gray or black. In Piedmont and Coastal Plain, light brown, gray, tan, or pinkish background. Rattle on end of tail.
The pigmy rattlesnake is the smallest rattlesnake in North Carolina, found mostly in pine flatwoods and scrub oak habitats in southeastern Coastal Plain, Sandhills, and a few portions of the southern Piedmont. Small; average size 15-21 inches. Dull gray with a row of dark spots down center of the back and a smaller row of spots along sides. Snakes from outer Coastal Plain counties often have a red or pinkish background color. Small rattle; often sounds like an insect buzz.
Both the black and gray rat snakes can be found in North Carolina, and these feed on things such as lizards, mice, rats, copperhead snakes (venomous) and more. These rat snakes are exceptionally good in keeping the numbers of dangerous snakes down (and away from residential areas) as well as keeping rodent numbers down too. The snake sometimes looks a little like the copperhead snake to some people but the two should not be confused – the rat snake is not venomous whereas the copperhead is. As youngsters, you may spot rat snakes around suburban areas – outbuildings, garages and sheds tend to be quite popular as well as getting inside residential properties too.
The black racer, light racer and young racer are all common snakes of North Carolina, snakes that grow to around 70 inches in length and look a little like the black rat snake. Living in meadows, rocky hillsides, and brushy areas, the it eats lizards, frogs, mice, eggs, and insects, often bringing it closer to homes and outbuildings, much like the rat snake.
These snakes make for great pets and are common snakes of North Carolina, coming in a wide range of colors, patterns, and sizes. Usually incorporating shades of tan, brown, red, beige, yellow and orange with black borders and often a diamond-shaped design running along the length of it, it is docile and does not usually snap. Often confused with the copperhead, a venomous snake, and even the rat snake, there is nothing dangerous or aggressive about this little guy, often found slithering along the ground in a diverse range of habitats.
Both the common garter snake and the striped garter snake can be found in this state, one that can come in many designs and colors just like the corn snake. Found more often than not in the mountain regions, they eat frogs, toads, and other water-swelling creatures, meaning they can also be found in moist vegetation. They will lash out if threatened, releasing a musky, foul smell, but there will not be any lasting damage and there is no venom to worry about.
A long and thin snake that’s given a great name because of its ability to whip its body and move incredibly fast, sandhills, grassy dunes, flatbeds and forests surrounding water are all preferable habitats, providing an easy source of food like lizards, other small snakes, birds, mice and eggs again.
Another snake you probably will not see because of its secretive nature, the ring neck snake will have a variety of colors ranging from creamy yellow to blacks, oranges, reds, browns, greens and more. The name is given because of the highly visible ring around its neck. Feeding on newts, toads, frogs, slugs, worms and other moist and water-dwelling animals, you will often find it among watery areas but prefers to be hidden in the bark loose on trees, under log or rock piles, and even within the soils or moist vegetation.
Also known as the ‘false puff adder’, the hognose snake swells its head up much as the name suggests, looking much scarier and life-threatening than it actually is. Even when handled, this snake rarely bites, preferring to make a noise rather than fight.
A snake that seems to be quite common in most places of south eastern USA, the eastern king snake or king snake, is a docile snake that can often be found hunting for prey in residential areas. Although quite large, it prefers the taste of lizards, mice, eggs, and even other snakes including the venomous copperhead. It is rare that you will see this snake.
Northern flying squirrels and southern flying squirrels are the only two native flying squirrel species found in North America. They are both gray-brown, but the northern flying squirrel has belly fur that is gray at the base, and for the southern flying squirrel the belly fur is all white. Size is another way to tell northern and southern flying squirrels apart. The southern species is smaller, about 8 to 10 inches in length. Northern flying squirrels are 10 to 12 inches long. Flying squirrels live in deciduous and coniferous forests and woodlands. They make their homes in snags, woodpecker holes, nest boxes, and abandoned nests of birds and other squirrels, and in eaves and attics of homes. Flying squirrels are omnivores. They eat a variety of foods, including seeds, nuts, fungi, fruit, and insects. Southern flying squirrels are considered one of the most carnivorous squirrels because they supplement their diet with eggs, birds, and carrion.
Raccoons are round, fuzzy creatures with bushy tails and a black mask of fur that covers their eye area. These animals may look like cute, cuddly bandits, but they can be quite fearsome when approached. Raccoons are about as big as small dogs. They grow to about 23 to 37 inches (60 to 95 centimeters) and weigh 4 to 23 lbs. (1.8 to 10.4 kilograms). Raccoons are found in North and Central America, Europe, and Japan. They are very adaptable, so they live in a wide range of climates and habitats. They typically make homes, called dens, in trees or caves, though they will also make homes in barns, abandoned vehicles and other man-made locations. They can be vicious when approached by humans. Humans should be particularly cautious of approaching raccoons because they are common carriers of rabies, roundworms, and leptospirosis. They are nocturnal and sleep during the day. As omnivores, raccoons eat vegetation and meat. The vegetation in their diet consists of cherries, apples, acorns, berries, peaches, citrus fruits, plums, wild grapes, figs, watermelons, corn, and walnuts. When it comes to meat, raccoons consume more invertebrates than vertebrates, the raccoon’s favorite animal treats are frogs, fish, crayfish, insects, rodents, and bird eggs. When food is scarce, raccoons are not above scavenging human trash or eating roadkill.
Opossums get a bum rap. Often seen as a pest and accused of everything from knocking over garbage cans to killing chickens, these quiet marsupials are rarely a threat and easily sent on their way. They are often accused, but rarely responsible for getting into garbage cans or gardens. They are certainly game to stop by and clean up the mess left by other wayward critters, though! They are often accused of killing chickens, something that happens very rarely. Most people complain about opossums just being there, rather than for any problems they cause. Opossums are not aggressive: their open-mouth, defensive hissing is merely a bluff to look vicious. And if that does not work, they play dead when really scared! But far from being a nuisance, opossums can be beneficial for your garden, eating snails, slugs, insects, and sometimes even small rodents. They will even clean up spilled garbage and fruit that has fallen off trees.
Groundhogs, also called woodchucks, are large rodents. In fact, they are the largest members of the squirrel family. From head to rump, groundhogs are 17.75 to 24 inches long. They weigh around 13 lbs., which is about twice the average weight of a newborn human baby. Like other squirrels, groundhogs have long tails that grow around 7 to 9.75 in long. These round creatures look like little bears when they stand up on their hind legs. Groundhogs also have sharp claws that they use to dig impressive burrows in the ground. During the warm months, a groundhog’s incisors grow about a sixteenth of an inch each week to keep up with their frenzied eating schedule. Groundhogs are found only in North America, from Canada down to the southern United States. They like woodland areas that bump up against more open areas. They dig burrows that can be 6 feet deep, and 20 feet wide. These underground homes can also have two to a dozen entrances. Groundhogs are solitary creatures. A groundhog typically sticks close to home. They usually do not wander farther than 50 to 150 feet from their den during the daytime. These rodents are herbivores, which means they eat vegetation. A groundhog’s diet can include fruit, plants, tree bark and grasses. They are known for damaging crops and gardens and many consider them pests.
The coyote is native only in North America and, of all wild canine species, the coyote has the widest range in this country. This predator is arguably the hardiest and most adaptable species on this continent. Coyotes in North Carolina look similar to red wolves, but coyotes are smaller, have pointed and erect ears, and long slender snouts. The tail is long, bushy, and black-tipped and is usually carried pointing down. Color is typically dark gray but can range from blonde, red, and even black. Size is also variable, but averages about 2 feet tall at the shoulder and 4 feet in length. Adults are about the size of a medium-sized dog and weigh between 20 and 45 pounds. The coyote is classified as a carnivore, but it is an opportunistic feeder, meaning it will feed on a variety of food sources, depending on what is most readily available and easy to obtain. Primary foods include fruit, berries, rodents, rabbits, birds, snakes, frogs, and insects. They will scavenge on animal remains, including roadkill, as well as garbage and pet food left outdoors. Like many wild animals, the coyote’s diet varies with seasonal changes.
The bobcat is a stout-bodied, medium-sized feline, with a short, “bobbed” tail (about six inches in length), prominent cheek ruffs, and tufts of black hair on its pointed ears. The sides and back are generally the same color with faint black spots, grayer in winter and tan in summer. The underparts are white. The tail may have one to several indistinct dark bands and a tip that is black on top and whitish below. Adult males typically weigh between 18 and 35 pounds and measure from 32 to 37 inches in length. Adult females typically weigh between 15 and 30 pounds and measure from 28 to 32 inches in length. Bobcats can be found in hardwood (deciduous) forests and mixed hardwood-softwood (coniferous) forests. They have a preference for brushy lowlands and swamps, as well as brushy and rocky woodlands broken by fields, old roads, and farmland. The diet ranges from cottontail rabbits, woodchucks, squirrels, chipmunks, mice, voles, snowshoe hares, white-tailed deer, birds, and, to a much lesser extent, insects, and reptiles. Deer that are taken by bobcats are most likely sick, injured, young, or old. Bobcats also prey on domestic animals, such as poultry, small pigs, sheep, and goats.
Feral Swine (Wild Boar)
Feral swine have been labeled as, “the greatest vertebrate modifiers of natural plant and animal communities.” Simply put, feral swine are a non-native invader in North Carolina capable of severe impacts on the state’s native wildlife and plants. Feral swine coloration and coat pattern can vary greatly and may include combinations of white, black, brown, and red. Piglets are often striped or spotted, but lose this coloration as they mature. The body is covered sparsely with stiff bristle hairs and a fine undercoat. Although usually longer and leaner, feral swine closely resemble domestic hogs in appearance. Feral swine are highly adaptable animals that can live in urban, suburban, and rural areas from the mountains to the sea. Feral swine are opportunistic feeders and are omnivorous, meaning that they will eat most anything. Insects, worms, and a wide range of vegetative matter are common in a feral pig’s diet. Larger animals are also fair game, like snakes, turtles, and lizards, as well as the young of ground nesting birds like quail and turkey, and the occasional deer fawn.
North Carolina is home to two species of foxes, the gray fox, and the red fox. The gray fox is probably as common in North Carolina today as it has been over the past million years. Regulated hunting and trapping activities do not appear to affect overall mortality in gray fox populations. Foxes reproduce well and are able to disperse annually into areas where they have been harvested. The gray fox is slightly smaller than the red fox and is much darker in overall coloration. Gray foxes are sometimes confused with red foxes because of a reddish or rusty coloration on the sides of their necks and on their legs. The overall coloration is best described as a salt and pepper gray with a dark streak extending down the back, along the top of the tail and ending in a black tail tip. Adults may weigh as much as a red fox (7 to 15 pounds) but their shorter legs and shorter fur make them appear smaller. Gray foxes thrive in diverse habitats and are able to exploit many different habitat types. Gray foxes are most dense in the more productive areas of the state such as the Piedmont and northern Coastal Plain. Although they are often present in large, connected tracts of wooded areas, they also thrive in open farmland. Like other canid predators, gray foxes forage on a variety of prey such as mice and rabbits. They also eat a significant amount of wild fruit and agricultural crops such as corn and peanuts.
The red fox is the one of two types of foxes found in North Carolina. The other is the gray fox. The red fox is named for its reddish or orangish coloration. The tail, body and top of the head are all some shade of yellow-orange to reddish-orange. The undersides are light, and the tips of the ears and lower legs are black. While rare in North Carolina, red foxes can occur in other color variations, such as black, silver, or a cross between red and silver, commonly known as a “cross fox.” The tail is long (about 70 percent as long as the head and body length), bushy and has a white tip. Adults are the size of a small dog and weigh from 7.7 to 15.4 pounds. Red foxes, like other wildlife species, prefer a diversity of habitats rather than large tracts of one habitat type. Preferred habitats include farmland, pastures, brushy fields, and open forest stands. They frequently hunt the edges of these open habitats. The red fox forages on a variety of prey, but mice, meadow voles and rabbits form the bulk of its diet. It will eat insects, birds, eggs, fruits and berries in spring, summer, and fall. Since the red fox is also a scavenger, it may also eat carrion and garbage in some locations.
The beaver is the largest rodent in North America, weighing between 35 and 50 pounds as adults. However, beavers weighing up to 90 lbs. have been reported. Beavers are 2-3 feet in length, with an additional 10-18 inches for the tail. Males and females are similar in size. Beavers have short front legs and webbed hind feet with a double claw on the second toe that the beaver uses to comb its fur. The beaver’s fur is chestnut brown to blackish, depending on the individual. Two noticeable features are its four large yellow incisor teeth used for cutting bark and chiseling trees, and its large flat hairless tail. The beaver uses its tail for swimming, for communicating warnings, for storing fat and also for support. Beavers are slow and clumsy on land, but agile and quick in the water. The most frequent misunderstanding about beavers is that many people think that beavers eat fish. Beavers are strict vegetarians adapted to a diet of the inner bark of woody plants and herbs. Agricultural crops of corn and soybeans are also eaten.
Minks are small mammals with long, thin bodies, short legs, pointed snouts and claws. These soft creatures are related to ermines, ferrets and weasels and look much like their relatives. There are two species of minks: European minks and American minks. They were once classified in the same genus, Mustela, but recent research has led to the American mink being classified separately in the Neovison genus, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). American minks are the larger of the two species. They weigh 25 to 56 ounces and are 18 to 27.5 inches long. Minks are found near bodies of water, such as streams, lakes or ponds that have nearby tree cover. They make their homes by digging dens or by living in hollow logs. They often make their dens a little cozier by adding grass, leaves or fur leftover from prey. They are crepuscular, which means they are most active during the dawn and dusk hours, spending their time marking their territory and looking for prey. When they find a potential meal, they bite down on the creature’s neck to kill it. Minks are carnivores, which means they eat meat. Muskrats, chipmunks, mice, rabbits, fish, snakes, frogs and water fowl are all part of the mink’s diet.
The muskrat is a small mammal that flourishes in North Carolina. It is highly adaptable and establishes colonies in riverbanks and marshes. The muskrat’s burrowing activities can cause damage to dikes, roadbeds, and dams and muskrats will harm crops. However, muskrats are virtually harmless to humans and can entertain anyone who stops to take time to appreciate them. The muskrat has two basic color variations— brown and black. Jet black and blond varieties do exist, but both are rare. An excellent swimmer, this large rodent spends much of its life in water. It has a long, naked tail that is flattened vertically and webbed hind feet, which, for swimming purposes, are much larger than the front feet. Its ears are short, and its fur is thick and soft. It looks like a small beaver with a thin tail. Adult muskrats’ range in size from 10-14 inches and weigh about 2 pounds. Muskrats require a permanent supply of water. They occupy a variety of wetland habitats including fresh- and saltwater marshes, canals, ditches, ponds, lakes, rivers, and other streams. Primarily plant eaters, muskrats feed on the roots, shoots and leaves of various aquatic plant species. They sometimes build platforms of vegetation for feeding activities in ponds and marshes. Mussels and clams are also a food source. Piles of shells from freshwater mussels show where muskrats feed frequently, usually on rocks and along the banks of rivers and streams. Other food items are bark, acorns, frogs, and small fish. In agricultural areas, feeding muskrats can damage soybeans and corn. Feeding activities are primarily nocturnal, but muskrats are often seen during daylight hours.
Nutrias are a non-native rodent that were imported into the United States from South America in the early 1900s as a way to control noxious plant species. They live in aquatic habitats along the banks of marshes, swamps, and impoundments, and beaver ponds in areas of eastern North Carolina. They are larger than a muskrat but smaller than a beaver. They have small eyes and ears, well developed whiskers, and large dark orange protruding incisors. The tail is long, rounded, and almost hair-less. The fore legs are small, and the front feet have five un-webbed toes, one of which is claw-less and reduced in size. The hind legs are much larger and four of the five clawed toes on each hind foot are webbed. The fur is coarse and ragged and may vary in color from yellowish brown to dark brown. The chin is often white, and the belly is pale gray. They are primarily herbaceous and feed on the roots and rhizomes of aquatic marsh plants. Cord grasses, cattails, three square, and pickerel weed are some favorites. Nutrias may also feed on agricultural crops such as rice, corn, and cabbage.
The American river otter is a graceful and beautiful addition to many North Carolina rivers. Sighting one can be an exciting occasion because of the creature’s secretive nature and relative rarity in some waters. The animal slides down mud and snow seemingly for the sheer delight of it. It has a sleek body with a short blunt snout, a thick neck, and a thick tail that is flattened on the top and tapers to a point. The small eyes and ears are located high on the head for surface swimming and the whiskers are extremely sensitive to aid in the capture of prey in murky water or on dark nights. Otters’ nearsightedness may be an adaptation to improve underwater vision. The otter’s feet have five toes with nonretractable claws and webbing between each toe. The heel pads on the hind feet are adapted to provide better traction on slippery surfaces. The waterproof fur is short and dense. It is generally dark brown with light brown coloring under the neck, chest, and stomach. Otters are excellent swimmers and are able to swim forward or backward. They often tread water to look and listen to their surroundings. The otter’s primary diet includes fish and crayfish.
The most common skunk seen today is the striped skunk and these animals have distinctive markings. They are often black with a white stripe, though some can be brown in color. Head and body: 8 to 19 inches; tail: 5 to 15 inches Weight: 7 ounces to 14 pounds. Skunks are legendary for their powerful predator-deterrent—a hard-to-remove, horrible-smelling spray. A skunk’s spray is an oily liquid produced by glands under its large tail. To employ this scent bomb, a skunk turns around and blasts its foe with a foul mist that can travel as far as ten feet. Skunks usually nest in burrows constructed by other animals, but they also live in hollow logs or even abandoned buildings. Skunks are opportunistic eaters with a varied diet. They are nocturnal foragers who eat fruit and plants, insects, larvae, worms, eggs, reptiles, small mammals, and even fish.