The sweetness of skunks
Leave me alone!
Quite often this time of year when we open our front door to embark on our early morning walk, we are welcomed by the smell of a skunk or, more likely, skunks. This is because January to March is the time of year when skunks mate. While we may not care for the odor, it is perfume to the skunks.
Male skunks are on the move looking for mates, even leaving their own territory. They are excitable and spray more often, as there are sometimes territorial disputes with other males. Females will spray males that they aren’t interested in. Sadly, this is also the time of year when we see a lot of dead skunks on the road. In their quest for a mate they are distracted, possibly in unfamiliar territory, and being black and nocturnal makes it difficult for motorists to see them.
Skunks get a lot of bad press, which is unfortunate because they are placid, retiring animals who do a lot of good things. Aside from spraying each other during mating season, they won’t spray unless frightened, annoyed or surprised. Having said that, you don’t want to get on their bad side.
In California, we have the more common striped skunk as well as the spotted skunk. Spotted skunks are smaller and more unusual, but occasionally they do come in to Wildlife Rescue. The adult striped skunk is cat sized (6-12 pounds) with a huge beautiful, bushy tail about the same length as their body. They have very poor eyesight and hearing, and they can’t climb, but they have very long nails, which makes them excellent diggers.
Skunks are very adaptable, which is one reason they are such a successful species. Other than humans and all their baggage (dogs, cars, etc.) the skunk’s only real enemies are the larger owls, who apparently have no sense of smell. Favorite hangouts for skunks are hollow logs, wood and rock piles, brush piles, and underneath buildings.
The natural diet of skunks is insects, mice, voles, worms, bird eggs, grubs, berries, nuts, frogs and carrion. A special favorite is cat food, so if you don’t want a skunk hanging around, bring that cat food in from dawn to dusk. Don’t worry about your cat being sprayed, as they are usually savvy enough to know not to mess with a skunk. Dogs, on the other hand, never seem to have learned this lesson, even those that have been sprayed on multiple occasions.
Mimi, our precious pooch, had a run-in with a skunk one night when we let her out quite late. I heard barking, then saw Mimi backing up a path with the skunk running up the path facing her. Mimi had been sprayed and it was way too late to bathe her, so we had to put up with the stink all that night. Needless to say, Mimi was not very popular. If this ever happens at your house, throw out the tomato juice. It is pass for dealing with skunk odor. Soap and water won’t do it either. The following formula is what is used by most folks these days:
One quart of three percent hydrogen peroxide, 1/4 cup baking soda, 1 teaspoon liquid detergent (preferably Dawn). This is enough for a 30- to 40-pound dog. Mix a double batch or more for larger dogs.
Remember: skunks are nice and are beneficial. Best advice: leave them alone.
Sharon Ponsford is a a longtime volunteer with Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue and a former board member of the California Council of Wildlife Rehabilitators. She lives in Glen Ellen. If you have questions or would like to ask her about our local wildlife, please email her at email@example.com.