Although some people think opossums are pests, they are in fact useful little animals in your garden. They eat real pests such as slugs and small rodents and rarely cause problems themselves* (see bottom of page). Opossums are also entertaining to watch because of their agility and intelligence. As with other wildlife, much of the natural habitat of opossums has been lost to development and agriculture.
Opossums inhabit a wide variety of habitats and are not at all territorial. They naturally prefer deciduous wooded areas near water sources, but can also be found in farmlands or marshes. They have become very common in urban, suburban and farming areas. They are wanderers, highly nomadic, and do not staying in one specific territory. Even mothers with young will spend only a few nights in any given place. They reside in a variety of homes including abandoned burrows, tree cavities, hollow logs, attics, garages or building foundations. They are not adept at digging, so they often utilize burrows that another animal, usually a skunk or woodchuck, may have excavated. They may even share dens with other species, including rabbits, skunks, raccoons, other opossums, and small mammals.
Here are a few ideas for attracting opossums the right way...
Encourage other wildlife to provide opossum prey by gardening organically and planting a dense variety of plants. Opossums need to obtain most of their food from natural sources.
It’s best not to attract wild animals, including opossums, into an area with food. That is a good way to create a nuisance animal that ends up being killed. Food left outside may also attract mice, skunks and raccoons, which can quickly become pests. If you do decide to leave food for opossums, it can be as simple as a couple of bowls on the ground. Omnivorous opossums appreciate meaty treats such as cat kibble as well as fruits and vegetables. DO NOT LEAVE HUMAN FOOD, especially junk food. Opossums may well love such food, but it is not good for them. Ideally, put the food out in the evening, watch the opossums feeding, then remove the food bowls so you don't wind up feeding rodents.
Providing shelter material or habitat is the best thing to do to attract opossums, but due to their nomadic nature this may not be successful. In many states it is not legal to transport/relocate wild animals. If this is to be done, the animal should be trapped humanely in a havahart trap and taken several miles away to a forested area near a water source (stream or pond). If the animal was a nuisance, near a barn or chicken coop, cleaning up all food that would attract opossums, will solve the problem. Opossums do not need to be lethally trapped in order to discourage them.
Install a opossum nest box to mimic the tree holes that opossums use for nesting. An opossum nest box is essentially like a large bird box with a 5-inch diameter hole near the top. The Australian government provides detailed instructions for making opossum boxes, which are the right size for North American opossums as well. Attach the nest box 6 to 10 feet up in a tree.
Provide an underground burrow or den. Some opossums prefer to nest in the abandoned burrows of other animals, so make an artificial one. Dig a trench about a foot deep and a foot across, then cover with sheets of scrap wood. Leave an entrance gap of a few inches. Cover the wood with anything you like, such as plants, a small shed or a pile of scrap wood and branches to provide a refuge from other wildlife.
(Much of this information was taken from Hunker.com article by Judith Willson)
More information to be added in the coming days...
Opossums have been known to kill small chickens. Learn more here.
Opossums can spread the EPM virus which can be fatal for horses. Learn more here.
Keep pets inside at night and supervise them outside during the day. Cats and opossums are rarely a threat to each other, but a large cat may attack opossums and could discourage them from visiting. A dog is a threat and may kill opossums if unsupervised.