Fox News Weather Center

Cold Can Drive Unwelcome Wildlife Indoors

Cold weather can drive critters that are looking for shelter and food indoors this time of year.

Recent bouts of arctic air have been driving as far as the southern Plains, Gulf Coast and East. Snow and freezing rain have already reached the major cities such as Oklahoma City and New York City.

Parts of Montana and Wyoming are expected to have below-normal temperatures throughout the winter season, according to AccuWeather Lead Long-Range Forecaster Paul Pastelok.

Homeowners can take a number of steps to keep critters outside in the wild and free from causing problems indoors.

Raccoons, skunks, squirrels, bats and mice are some of the animals that get inside homes.

"It's not necessarily lack of habitat or plummeting temperatures -- It's more about proximity, opportunity and seasonality. Animals look at what meets their criteria for a shelter or den site and it being man-made doesn't disqualify it. In fact, most people would be surprised at how many homes have openings through which animals can gain entry into attic and wall voids," John Griffin, director of Humane Wildlife Services for The Humane Society of the United States, said.

As temperatures drop here in the Washington, D.C., metro area, there is an increase in call volume as different species of animals search and locate winter den sites, Griffin said.

Spokesman Travis Lau of the Pennsylvania Game Commission said he personally gets mice in his house during winter and believes the weather plays a role.

"And while we don't get a lot of reports about wildlife in homes, bats make their ways in, as do opossums, raccoons and squirrels, on occasion. I should point out that bats in homes are more of a summertime phenomenon," Lau said.

Bugs can even be an issue this time of year. Some residents in Tarrant County, Texas, reported an invasion of what was determined to be Hackberry Nipplegall Maker insects, according to CBS 11 News.

The insects, resembling tiny cicadas, live on hackberry trees. They can become abundant in the fall when they are attracted to homes, often crawling through window screening, seeking overwintering habitat, according to an Texas A&M University entomology website.

Wildlife incursions can be prevented, Lau said.

"Many times when wildlife does end up in a home, it's because they have a way in - a hole in a wall, space around a window, an open chimney. Addressing those types of issues is going to lessen the chances of incursions," he said.

Make sure there are no animals inside before closing up any potential entry points.

"The way a house can amplify and route sound can be misleading. For instance, the movements of a mouse might sound loud enough for us to imagine a squirrel and a raccoon can sound like a human being loose in an attic on a quiet night. It is important to pay attention to when and where you hear activity and see if a pattern develops," Griffin said.

The biggest mistake homeowners make is taking immediate action in the form of trapping or by closing up entry points or holes without knowing what kind of animal it is that got in and whether or not there might be dependent young present.

"Many people resort to a trap, a method that can be fraught with problems that include: catching animals that are just happening by, leaving young to die inside when mom is removed and not addressing the real cause of the problem -- an opening on the house," Griffin said.

Suspected entry points should be plugged loosely with insulation, paper or cloth so an animal inside can easily get out. If the material hasn't been moved, the opening may be sealed.

"Generally speaking, wildlife in Pennsylvania is protected. But in many cases where wildlife is damaging personal property, protection is removed, meaning property owners are permitted to deal with problems," Lau said.

"They are permitted to set traps in attempt to catch nuisance wildlife, and we are available to take possession of that wildlife if the property owner doesn't want to release it near their home, or otherwise doesn't know what to do with it. Our role there is a small one."

Taking steps to wildlife-proof your home is important, but there are also things you can do in and around your yard.

"Food is the number one attractant and cause of wildlife conflicts -- so take care to control trash, feed pets inside and reduce spillage from bird feeders," Griffin said. "Picking up fallen fruit from trees and reducing access to gardens can also help. When there is a conflict outside the house, there are many effective repellents and simple habitat modifications that can solve your issue without having to resort to more drastic measures."