While autumn sees the end of the main bird breeding season, some of our other natives are still quite busy and our native Brushtail Possum is one of them. Each year Bohollow receives many calls about possums in roof and wall cavities which people would like us to remove. This time of year is major peak time for this species to breed, so often people become more privy to their presence due to the squabbling and fighting between possums which can cause quite a racket.
Brushtail Possums are a wonderful example of our unique Australian wildlife. They are a marsupial, possessing a pouch and are one of the very few marsupials that have successfully adapted to living in suburban areas. Due to their ability to utilise roof and wall cavities, as well as sheds and garages to camp during daylight hours, in some cities and towns they have become abundant. Sadly, the situation in their natural environment is not so rosy. Their numbers have declined radically across their natural habitat range on mainland Australia and populations in much of the natural bushland which they always inhabited has become worryingly low and in some areas they have totally disappeared. The cause for this is predominantly clearing, particularly of old growth trees which possess the tree cavities and hollows this species require to hide safely during the day. In the Northern Territory, the Common Brushtail is actually listed as endangered. In parts of New Zealand, where the possum was introduced, they have become a major pest species.
The Brushtail Possum diet consists mainly of leaves, flowers and fruits, both of native and introduced pants and trees. Unlike our native Ringtail Possum which is totally vegetarian, the Brushtail will also raid bird nests for eggs and nestlings as well as scavenge from rubbish tips and bins in urban areas. They are able to tolerate the toxins in eucalyptus leaves which make up a large part of their diet. To avoid predation from foxes, they rarely roam far from the safety of trees when they forage on the ground.
A female Brushtail can give birth to one to two young a year, the main breeding time being in autumn but having another peak of breeding in spring. Females can live for up to ten years or more. Young possums are kept in the pouch for four or five months before emerging to ride on their mother’s back for a further one to two months before weaning. Brushtail Possums are mostly solitary animals, apart from breeding time and many young possums perish in the dispersal time during which they are evicted from their mother’s home range and must find an area they can call their own.
What can we do if we wish to remove a possum from our roof or wall cavity? Many possums choose to camp in tree cavities if available during the warmer months but move indoors when the cool weather hits. To be honest, who wouldn’t take advantage of the warmth our buildings provide on our chilly winter days if they are readily accessible.
First of all, trapping and relocating to a different area is a certain death sentence for a possum. Studies show that most possums that are trapped and relocated usually die within three days of relocation. For this reason, it is actually illegal to trap and remove. Another aspect of this method is that it is proven to not work. Another possum will just move in almost immediately. Remember all the young possums that have to find a home. There is always another possum ready to move in when a space becomes available.
The only way to effectively deal with the problem is to firstly work out where they are getting in. Usual entry points are holes under eaves, in walls, removed roof tiles and sometimes even through a wall cavity at ground level where there may be a hole to enter. Fur, scratch marks and sometimes staining can all be indicators of where they are getting in. Trapping the possum, sealing up entry points and then releasing the possum back into the garden at night is one option.
An alternative option, which is the better option and least fuss option, is to make a one way flap out of metal or perspex and place at the entrance point. These flaps are hinged and only able to open from inside the roof or wall cavity. The possum will exit of its own accord. If it is a female with a babe on board, the babe will be carried safely out with mum, and once out, they will not be able to get back in as the flap cannot be pushed open from the outside. This is a great way with less stress to yourself and the animal.
As the number of tree cavities and hollows can be pretty scarce and may be the reason you have a possum residing in your roof in the first place, the best thing to do is to provide a few nesting boxes around your garden for them to move into as they will still obviously require a place to rest during daylight hours. Nesting box specifications can be found online; just make sure you pick a design suitable for a Brushtail Possum as design, size and position placed plays an important role in prime possum real estate, just like it does in any home.
Remember to ensure it is actually a possum in your roof which is making all that noise as 60% of calls for possums in a roof turn out to be introduced rats!
I realise that for some, possums may seem like just another wildlife species which can cause us problems….but there are solutions and it is possible to co-exist with these amazing creatures. With the pressures put on their natural habitat, they are just trying to survive in an environment much altered and anything we can do to assist them to live alongside us in harmony is one step closer to a better place for us all.
For injured wildlife contact Kirsty at Bohollow on: 0447 636 953