In Detroit’s early days, the land around Raquel Garcia’s Southwest Detroit home was mostly forest, but that only partly explains why there are a dozen baby raccoons in her dining room.

Garcia is a professional environmental activist who also puts in long hours as a volunteer wildlife rehabilitator with a focus on raccoons. Raccoons in a chimney? She gets a call. Orphaned baby raccoon in a backyard? She’ll bring it home to the cages in her house, where she’ll feed it until it grows enough to survive on its own.

A small groundhog waddles onto a fenced porch in Detroit and take a close look at the wall and door before leaving.
A groundhog explores a front porch in Detroit. Image credit: Anita Thomas

Every time she brings in an animal, she believes she is saving its life.

Human-wildlife relations in cities are often uneasy, and tend to end poorly for wildlife. Earlier this year, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) added rabbits, possums and beavers, among other animals, to the list of critters a property owner can kill without a permit

People were rarely denied permits to kill animals such as muskrats or beavers, but the permits also weren’t issued quickly enough to keep wildlife from damaging property, said Rachel Leightner, a wildlife specialist for the DNR.

Luckily, there are many ways to deal with wildlife in Detroit short of cracking open a gun locker or hiring a pricey animal removal service.

“We live in Detroit, there’s lots of open land, and there’s gonna be wildlife,” Garcia said.

Her advice? “Just call someone who knows what they’re doing and leave the wildlife alone.”

There’s more you can do. Here’s a guide to relating to neighborhood fauna as cheaply and humanely as possible.

Deer Odocoileus virginianus What: Nimble, hoofed herbivore Look for: White tails that flash in flight Spotted: At Belle Isle, Rouge Park, Chandler Park, other wooded areas Eats: Vegetation, including from your garden Prevention: Fence in low-hanging shrubs and trees
Image credit: Outlier Media

Why wildlife thrives in Detroit

Cities are rough places for wild animals, which “get hit by cars” and “attacked by dogs,” said Cindi Russ, founder of Ferndale-based Motor City Possum Rescue. “In the fall, I get a lot of juvenile possums with rat trap injuries.”

A baby possum with a pink nose, black eyes and long whiskers opens its mouth in an apparently defensive posture revealing small, sharp, white teeth.
Baby possums are rescued by Motor City Possum Rescue, a wildlife rehabilitation group, and nursed until they can survive on their own in the wild. Photo credit: Cindi Russ

Still, some animals find ways to thrive in Detroit, thanks in part to our low population density and large parks. Beavers, muskrats, cottontail rabbits, skunks, possums, groundhogs, foxes, coyotes and more make themselves at home in Detroit.

Favorable conditions for wildlife can lead to conflict with humans. Just this month, the city held a meeting about goose and deer populations exploding in Rouge and Chandler parks and spreading into surrounding neighborhoods.

“The ecosystem in (those parks) has gone unbalanced,” said Jessica Parker, deputy chief operating officer for the City of Detroit.

Excessive goose populations can cause water quality issues at beaches, while deer have caused a growing number of car crashes in metro Detroit.

Local officials have raised the possibility of following East Lansing’s lead, tasking sharpshooters from the U.S. Department of Agriculture with killing a specified number of deer. Detroit residents can weigh in on the issue through a city survey. 

A meeting about wildlife around Palmer Park is set for 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Palmer Park Community Building, 1121 Merrill Plaisance.

City officials said the meeting is geared toward residents of the neighborhood, but the meeting is public and no registration is required. Department of Natural Resources officials will advise attendees on avoiding property damage by wildlife.

Enjoy the moment if possible

Like their human neighbors, Detroit wildlife tend to be most active between spring and fall. Detroiters are most likely to encounter wildlife during the spring mating season, and again in late summer when young animals strike out to look for food and new territory, Leightner of the DNR said.

In most cases, these interactions are of the “ooh look a bunny!” variety, and are entirely safe.

Wildlife in southeast Michigan are generally “petrified of humans,” Leightner said. “If you encounter one and you make loud noises, a lot of times that will make them flee the area and not want to come back.”

Some of these animals can be frightening or dangerous to small pets. Coyotes, in particular, may attack fowl and small pets.

But even the largest mammals that hang around Detroit are generally skittish around humans. While interactions might be unnerving for animals and residents, Russ said there are advantages to having coyotes and possums, in particular, nearby: They hunt pests like insects, mice and rats.

“They’re part of our ecosystem. They’re part of our world,” she said.

Possum Didelphis virginiana What: The only marsupial in the U.S., a tropical mammal Look for: White face, naked tail Eats: Almost anything — animals, plants, ticks, carrion Prevention: No need; typically don’t damage property, yet control pests
Image credit: Outlier Media

If there’s a problem, start with ‘hazing’

It may be difficult to think in terms of ecosystems when an unwanted animal visitor shows up in your attic.

Wildlife are mostly looking for a safe place to eat and rest. If they find it at your house, the DNR and animal rehabilitators recommend frat house-style hazing.

“If you turn on the lights and you turn on … really loud music, they’re going to want to leave,” Russ said. “If you have one in your attic, you can call a pest removal company, but they’ll charge a lot of money. You can haze them out.

“I would always recommend that people try that first because it doesn’t cost anything.”

The DNR’s list of hazing techniques for coyotes includes spraying water from a hose at the animal, popping open an umbrella, yelling and banging pots and pans together.

Beaver Castor canadensis What: The largest rodent in North America, known for impressive dams Look for: Large, flat tail Spotted: Near running water, especially on Belle Isle Eats: Bark, aquatic vegetation, roots
Image credit: Outlier Media

If that doesn’t work, get help

If hazing doesn’t work and you’re not up for shooting an animal, there is plenty of expert help.

The DNR licenses animal rehabilitators who can provide advice and remove animals who are injured or orphaned. Rehabilitators will give wildlife food and a place to live until the animal is ready to survive in its natural habitat. They generally don’t charge for their work.

For example, if you found a baby raccoon in your backyard that was abandoned and unable to fend for itself, you might call a licensed rehabilitator like Garcia to pick it up.

If the animal is causing a problem — building nests in your walls or killing chickens, for example — you can also call a licensed animal removal businesses, which can charge hundreds of dollars to remove animals. These companies usually trap the animal before either relocating or killing it.

If what you want is advice, there are plenty of Facebook pages operated by wildlife rehabilitators that can offer ideas in real-time, though online posters may not be experts. Russ recommended Livonia-based Halfway Home and Detroit-based Marley’s Castle.

Don’t call Detroit Animal Control to deal with the wildlife unless the animal has bitten a human or pet.

Raccoon Procyon lotor What: Husky, nocturnal North American mammal Look for: Black face mask pattern, ringed tail, five-toed paws Eats: Wide range of animals, some plants, garbage Prevention: Cover trash, cap chimneys
Image credit: Outlier Media

Make sure the problem doesn’t return

If you’ve had to remove an animal from your property, don’t stop there. If an animal gets inside your home, make sure to close up the hole that it came through after it’s gone.

Most wildlife isn’t aggressive, Leightner said. Animals are typically looking for food — things like seed from bird feeders and garden beds or food left over from a cookout.

“Just be mindful of cleaning up after yourself,” she said.

As long as the thing that attracted the animal is still there, others will likely be close on its tail.

Brush piles and open air garages can also provide appealing shelter for wildlife, Leightner added.

Coyote Canis latrans What: Member of the dog family, most active at dawn and dusk Look for: Pointy ears that stand up, tail held low Spotted: Especially around Rouge Park and Woodmere Cemetery Prevention: Yell or bang pots and pans if one comes near
Image credit: Outlier Media

What if the animal is acting strangely?

If a wild animal doesn’t seem startled or afraid of your presence, it could be injured or diseased.

“If you come across animals and you’re concerned that they’re not acting right, we strongly encourage you to contact your local wildlife biologist” for advice on handling the situation, Leightner said.

An earlier version of this story featured a graphic that scrambled an animal fact and picture. Deer are not, in fact, the largest rodents in North America. The beaver has been returned to its rightful place as rodent supreme. We regret the error.

Koby (he/him) believes that love drives people to fight for their communities, and that curiosity is food for love. He enjoys the many moods of the Detroit River.