WHAT’S THAT NOISE IN THE ROOF?

Like so many other people in Australia we have possums living in our roof. Not just one possum but at lest three seem to have come to an uneasy truce and are sharing our roof space. I can hear them scrambling and squabbling as they leave to go on their food patrol each night and again on their return just before the sun rises. What a noisy bunch they are!!  They certainly don’t seem to care too much about stealth like we cats do!

For the most part, my family don’t seem to mind sharing the roof with the possums and even seem to like the fact that there are native animals living with us. But lately I have heard my family talking about the possible structural damage that the possums can cause in the roof space.

We know that some people aren’t too fussed about having possums around and try everything that they can to ‘get rid of them’. They seem to be successful, but I think that their possums end up coming to live with us as they have no where else to go once they are forced out of the nice, comfortable and safe nests that they have built in other people’s roofs.

As the possums’ habitat becomes smaller and smaller, they have less and less suitable tree hollows to live in and food to eat and are faced with more and more predation by domestic pets as well as their usual predators like owls, hawks and eagles. It’s a difficult situation and that’s for sure! Most of our neighbours have one or two dogs and often more than one cat and they seem to like to cut down trees quite a lot too. What is a homeless possum to do?

Possums are very controversial animals as it turns out and I decided to find out more about them and how humans can learn how to share living space with possums.

There are two main types of possums that we see in our garden – the Common Brush-tail Possum and the Common Ringtail Possum.

Image of animalCommon Brush-tail Possums

Brush-tail Possums are protected animals. They prefer to live in hollow logs or dead trees during the day and come out at night to search for food. In cities and residential areas their natural homes are often scarce and they will take advantage of broken roof tiles, loose iron sheets and unfinished building structures to shelter in ceiling, wall and floor cavities of houses.

Brush-tails are sturdy-looking possums with greyish fur and a long black bushy tail, large ears and pointed faces. They are very strong and use their clawed, front paws for climbing and holding food while they eat.

 

rintailpossumRingtail Possums

Although there are many types of Ringtail Possums, the Common Ringtail Possum is the one we most often see in our part of Australia. It has a dark brown or grey coat over its back with a creamy under-belly. Its ears are short and rounded, its face is short and it has a white tip on the end of its tail, which unlike the Common Brushtail, is not fluffy.

Ringtail possums are much smaller than Brushtails ranging from 600mm to 800mm (including tail length) and weighing around 1kg as adults.

Ringtails live in hollow limbs of trees or in spherical nests made of shredded grass or dense vegetation. They feed mostly on leaves, flowers and fruits. And are very cute!!!

 

Are There Really ‘Lots of Possums” Around?

Like most animals that live in the wild, possums have good times and bad times. When rain has been scarce and food sources are poor, possums will not breed so prolifically. On the other hand, when there has been enough rain their food sources in the following season will be plentiful and it is then that possums tend to produce more offspring and it seems as though there is a ‘possum plague’. It is then possums discover that the roofs of houses make very secure and comfortable places to build their nests.

Sometimes people hear scratching and gnawing in the walls and the roof and think that its the possums but it’s more likely to be rats, so we have to be careful not to blame possums for all the racket that we may hear in the roof at night!

 

Status of Possums

Possums are protected native animals in New South Wales and people have to have a license from the National Parks and Wildlife Service if they want to trap and remove a possum from their roof or from their property.
Relocating possums to new territory is a last resort and is generally undertaken by an officer of the NPWS.

Generally, possums are not permitted to be moved more than 50 metres away from their place of capture as they have very clearly defined territories to which they become very attached. If you move a possum out of its territory into that of another possum, chances are that it will die of starvation as the original possum will strongly defend its piece of turf (or tree). Also, if access to the roof space is not closed up another possum will simply move in once the original possum has been removed.
The best idea is to make friends with your possum and ensure that it has an alternate place to live on your property once it is removed from your roof. This will discourage other possums from moving in.

 

What Do You Do If You Have Roof-Dwelling Possums?

Being nocturnal animals, possums keep different hours to humans and as they are also noisy (not exactly light-footed anyway), possums and humans tend to come into conflict. Possums also have a habit of getting stuck in chimneys and wall cavities and have to be rescued. These tend to be the main reasons that humans don’t like possums living in their roofs. So what can you do to discourage possums from moving into your roof or to remove them once they are there?

 

To Discourage Possums

Firstly, ensure that there are no places under the eaves or between your roof tiles where possums can squeeze through into the roof cavity. The spaces that possums can get into can be surprisingly small even though possums themselves can grow to the size of a large cat. If you discover an opening, make sure that it is closed up securely and repair any broken or dislodged roof tiles. Ensure that there are no possums already living in your roof before you close off any access points.

Secondly, don’t feed your possums. If you want to provide them with food it is better to grow possum friendly food trees in the garden at some distance from the house.
Thirdly, put possum boxes in some of your trees. (More about possum boxes and how to make them below).

 

To Remove Possums from Your Roof

The following are some steps that you can take to humanely remove a possum from your roof WITHOUT TRAPPING:


  1. Provide an alternative home for your possum by constructing a sturdy, weatherproof possum house (see directions below);

  2. If possible, get inside your roof and try to locate the possum’s nest. The nest material, which has the possum’s scent in it, should be placed into the new house to encourage the possum to use its new home;

  3. Securely fix the possum house to a tree in or near your yard. Place it at least 4 meters (12 feet) from the ground so that the possum will be out of reach of domestic pets.

  4. To encourage the possum to investigate its new house, put some apple or banana in or near the new possum house;

  5. Trim any branches that over-hang the roof to prevent access to the roof;

  6. Spread 8 blocks of camphor or 1-2 boxes of moth-balls throughout the roof cavity to repel the possum. DO NOT USE BOTH AS THEY REACT CHEMICALLY TO EACH OTHER.

  7. Place a light in the roof cavity and keep it switched on for 3 days and 3 nights. The combination of light and the smell of the camphor should drive the possum out of your roof and hopefully into the possum house you have provided;

  8. If you do not hear the possum for a few nights it has probably found a new home. To prevent the possum from returning, block off the access points into your roof with timber, chicken wire or both. Night time is the best time to block off the access points as the possum will have left to forage for food. DO NOT block off the access points unless you are SURE that the possums have left your roof.

  9. If the above steps do not deter the possum then you may have to trap it.

 

TRAPPING POSSUMS

Possums can be removed from your roof by a licensed Pest Control person, but they must be ‘disposed of’ legally. Your local wildlife authority will be able to give you the names of Pest Controllers who are licensed to remove possums. Traps can be hired from local councils or wildlife rescue group.


  1. Put up one or two possum-houses in your garden and follow steps 2-7 above to make it attractive to the possum.

  2. IN NEW SOUTH WALES, YOU MUST HAVE A LICENSE OR GET A LICENSED PEST CONTROLLER TO TRAP THE POSSUM.

  3. Once the possum is trapped it is removed from the roof and remains in the trap until it is released. The possum must be released back onto your property within 24-36 hours.

  4. While the possum is in the trap it must be kept in a cool, dark place to reduce any stress on it.

  5. Release the possum back onto your property at dusk as soon as you can.

 

Benefits of Possums in Your Garden

Possums eat insects, nectar and fruits. In the wild, they help to pollinate flowers and spread seeds for the regeneration of natural woodland plants.

In your garden, possums can help to keep insect pests down and to pollinate flowers of native plants. This enables plants to produce fruits that may also serve as a food source for the possums themselves or for other native wildlife.
It can be great fun to sit and watch the possums scampering around your garden at night and kids love to go spotlighting in the garden at night to watch and learn from the possums.

Making Possum Boxes
See Diagrams A & B
You will need:

  • One or two good sized trees to put the possum boxes in
  • A metal strip 350mm long
  • Two heavy gauge flat head stainless steel nails
  • A length of sturdy wire/chain sheathed in a piece of old garden hose
  • 12mm plywood (not particle board) of the following dimensions
    • 1 x 320mm x 270mm for the roof panel
    • 1 x 300mm x 270mm for the floor panel
    • 2 x 300mm x 420mm x 470mm for two side panels
    • 1 x 470mm x 270mm for the back panel
    • 1 x 270mm x 420mm for the front panel
  • Cut a hole 120mm in diameter in the top 1/3rd of the front panel as an entry/exit hole for the possum.
  • A sturdy length of branch to attach to the front of the box below the entry hole.
  • 1 x 270mm length of rubber weather-strip for the rear edge of the roof panel.
  • Drill four 5-7 mm holes in each corner of the floor panel to allow for drainage.
  • Put nesting material or a few hands-ful of dead leaves into the box for comfort and insulation.
  • Several small galvanised nails to nail panels together. (We thought about the possibility of using wood glue as well, but feel that this might not be a good idea due to possible toxicity of the glue material and the smell of the glue that may put the possums off using their new home).

POSSUM BOXES

Possumbox

Diagrams courtesy of New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service, 2009. Picture 1 Brushtail Possum; source:http://www.pbase.com/sheila/image/5689787 Picture 2 Ringtail Possum; source: The Animals of Australia (1998) eds: R. Strahan, New Holland Publishers Pty Ltd, Sydney, Australia