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OUTDOORS: Skunks don't mix well with others

WORTHINGTON -- I have had a lot of feedback on my bee keeping 101 column which was printed a few days back.

I had no idea just how much interest there as in my experiment.

We have just about completed our hive construction and the additional equipment will arrive in a few days. We should be up and running within two weeks.

I have spent a fair amount of time in wildlife habitat in the past week with the warmer weather. I have seen a high number of skunks and other nest predators. I, with the research that I have done in the bee arena, have come up with yet another reason to hate skunks.

Skunks really like to eat bees. They are considered a viable bee predator. A skunk will sit at the opening of the hive and sweep their front foot over the opening and gather up the bees as they exit. The skunk will then proceed to eat the bees until they are full.

I wonder why they are not affected by the stings. I have to imagine that they get some.

I hate skunks for a wide variety of reasons, but the fact that they now want to dine on my new bees just adds another reason to the list.

The way to prevent this predation to your hive is to take a roll of chicken wire and roll it in to a 4-5 inch cylinder and attach it over the hive opening.

This prevents the skunk for sweeping the opening and gathering up dinner. The bees can just walk through the wire with no interruption. You can also take a section of tack strip and attach it at the base of the hive opening.

Tack strip is a one inch wide piece of 1/8-inch plywood that has a bunch of very sharp tacks nailed into it. It is used in carpet laying and holds the stretched carpet securely on the angled tacks. The skunk finds the sharp tacks a serious pain or injury, and will leave the hive alone.

Skunks are one creature that anybody with a hunting dog will learn to hate. Every new dog seems to have to have at least one encounter before they figure out the ending is always bad.

With two new puppies coming up the chain, I am assuming that I too will be a spectator in the education. I do have one 10-year-old (Decoy) that has never been sprayed and my dog, Ace, that died last December at the age of 4 1/2 was also smarter than most, and had never been sprayed.

Skunks will eat just about anything. Insects, fruits, mice and other dead animals all are found on the skunks' menu. The favorite menu item that skunks really like that bothers me the most is pheasant eggs. It is for that reason I exterminate skunks whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Skunk removal is carried out by any method that I can use that is legal. A .17 caliber rifle works really well as does traps of differing designs. Traps baited with sardines seem to work the best for me.

The extremely hard winter that we have just completed has resulted in very high pheasant mortality. Some non-experts report losses that exceed 60 percent.

I remove skunks in any year, but this year is seems all the more important to do so. That are not protected and can be taken year round.

They mate in March and the average litter size is six. For every skunk removed it has to equate to a large number of saved pheasants.

It is not just pheasant eggs that are saved. One of my very favorite ground-nesting prairie birds is a meadow lark. They are very few and far between in southwest Minnesota. If a skunk can find a pheasant nest, they can certainly find these nests and the nests of waterfowl and other ground nesters.

Song bird populations are in serious decline all over the United States. Skunk populations are not in trouble. I will lean on the side of protection of ground nesters.

The other reason that everyone should care about skunks is that they are probably the No. 1 carrier of rabies. Rabies needs no explanation. If reducing the skunk population can reduce the transmission of rabies, then fewer skunks there should be.

Skunk reduction is a very smelly job and a box of really good heavy duty disposable rubber gloves are a necessity. I get mine from Jerry's Napa on Oxford Street although I am sure they are available elsewhere.

I will do my part in predator control as the weather warms.

Spring is a great time of year and I am looking work to my habitat improvement projects and other outdoor activities including, but limited to, skunk removal.

Remember that the Worthington Area Firearms Safety and Hunter Education program starts Tuesday at the Worthington campus of Minnesota West.

It is only offered one time per year so this is that opportunity. Start time is 7 p.m. and no pre-registration is required. Class costs are $8 and students need to be 11 years old to participate. Parents must sign a form on the first night. This is a firm requirement.

See you there.