A woodchuck in a furnace. Raccoons in walls. Bats and birds in attics.
That's just a normal day at work for businesses that catch wild critters for a living, and many are so swamped with calls they are booked for days, scheduling for spring or turning away new customers altogether.
Kelly Voelker, who owns the Omaha location of national franchiser Critter Control with her husband, Jeff, said this is the busiest time of year because of heat and the local bat population emerging from nests after the breeding season in June and July.
“Every year, this time of year, we can pretty much count on it,” Voelker said. She said the business would not turn away any customers, but wait times may be longer than usual, currently three to four days. “We'll get them in as soon as we can,” she said.
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Bats that then eventually make their way into living areas are the biggest problem this time of year, Voelker said. But the business also deals with other pests, including mice, raccoons, skunks, squirrels, opossums, woodchucks, moles and voles.
“This time of year is always big on bats,” Nebraska Humane Society spokesman Mark Langan said.
Langan said the Nebraska Humane Society will deal with bats or other critters in your living space. But if they're in the attic or you can hear them scratching in the walls, the organization will refer complaints to one of four local companies — Critter Control, Kenny's Critter Removal, Critter Gitter and Critter Ridders Wildlife Management.
“If it poses a danger or it's injured, then we remove it. If not, we refer them to these companies,” Langan said.
Tony Skov, who owns Lincoln-based Critter Ridders with his wife, Jayme, said it has been a crazy year. Bats typically come out from hibernation around March, he said, but with the cold, wet spring and fluctuating warm and cool weather, the year started out slow.
“But now it's rebounded, big time,” Skov said.
He's now putting bat calls off until next year because it's unlikely he'll be able to deal with them before the animals go into hibernation, typically after a hard freeze and insects have died. Another of the businesses, Critter Gitter, isn't taking new customers at all because of high call volume during the breeding season, said Jackie Hall, who owns the business with her husband, Brian.
“Right now, we've been so busy with what we booked over the summertime,” Hall said.
A typical bat removal can start at about $700 and can get as expensive as $1,400, depending on the size of the house and how many points of entry there are. That covers removing the bats, bat-proofing the house and a one- or two-year warranty guaranteeing that if they do return, the company will come back and deal with them.
“Basically you're dealing with a mouse with wings,” Skov said, and they can fit into any opening the size of a dime.
If a customer simply wants a bat removed, Skov charges a $95 inspection fee, which tells the homeowner when and where the problem is. Removal of critters can range from about $50 to $125, depending on the animal and the company.
Robert Corum of Lincoln had his house bat-proofed by Critter Ridders last spring. He and his wife heard scratching in the walls. Skov came, did an inspection and informed the Corums that it was a bat problem, not a mouse problem.
“It seems like it's kind of a bigger issue than almost what everybody thinks it is,” he said of the bats. “I had no idea.”
Timing can matter. When bats have their young in someone's attic, wildlife management companies avoid putting in exclusion valves, which funnel the bats out but don't allow them back in, because their young are not strong enough to fly out. The young can start flying about the second week of August, which is when bat work can begin again.
The heat also plays a part, Skov said. When temperatures climb, bats often will leave the attic in search of air conditioning or make a wrong turn into the ventilation system, where they then end up in someone's living area.
Raccoons, on the other hand, are usually just looking for cover and maybe somewhere to have babies. Other critter problems: woodchucks burrowing into homes' foundations, raccoons in the attic or walls, birds and, of course, mice. Voelker said that this year a woodchuck was discovered inside someone's furnace. It had found its way into the ventilation system when the home was under construction.
On top of bat calls, Skov said, he has removed 60 to 65 raccoons out of homes just this year. The strangest thing he's seen so far was a six-foot-tall bird nest in an attic, a nest that had probably been there for years.
Kenny Sousa of Kenny's Critter Removal doesn't deal with bats, but he does trap raccoons, woodchucks and opossums. He met his wife, Colette, working at the Humane Society, and the couple started their own business earlier this year, which they run part time. Sousa said he was receiving about a call per day earlier in the summer.
Critter Control also is a husband-wife team. Kelly and Jeff Voelker have had the business in Omaha since 1996 and bought the Des Moines franchise in 2000.
Jeff Voelker said the hardest part of the business is the fact that people are sensitive when it comes to wild animals, sometimes crying about the discovery. “Dealing with the animals is the easy part. The only hard part is dealing with people.”
Kelly Voelker said the company has three people in the field in Omaha, including Jeff, but lately it's been so busy that she's also been donning a pair of Kevlar gloves to catch critters.