Skunks can be among the most unpleasant of unwanted animal guests. Any dog owner who has tried to wash the smell of skunk musk off a sprayed pet knows how persistent and pervasive that odor can be.

During the spring and summer when families and their pets are more active outside, skunk encounters are more common. But what about the colder months? Can you encounter skunks in winter? Do skunks hibernate, or are they just as active? Are they likely to join you on your property to escape the cold?

The answers to these questions have as much to do with skunk behavior as they do with other environmental factors that are within your control.

Do skunks hibernate?

While skunks do not hibernate, they do become significantly idler once temperatures begin to drop. During the winter, skunks mostly huddle in their dens for warmth. However, the skunk mating season usually takes place in February and March, and most skunk young (or kits) are born in April and May.

Skunks will seek out the most convenient locations for their dens. They’re looking for warmth and easy access to food and water, which most likely can be found on your property. In areas populated by humans, skunks will make their dens under houses, under decks, in basements, under woodsheds or woodpiles and anywhere else that provides shelter from the elements.

What do skunks eat in the winter?

Grubs are the staple of the skunk diet. So, like possums, armadillos and moles, skunks are diggers. A skunk can tear up a garden or lawn looking for insect larvae. Grubs are most plentiful in the colder months of the year, as they lay dormant underground or chew on roots in preparation for their spring and summer metamorphoses. Almost all skunks are nocturnal and do their burrowing and feeding at night.

Because skunks forage more infrequently during the winter, certain foods can entice them onto your property. The most common of these is unsecured garbage. Pet food left on a porch, patio or in a garage or shed can also be very tempting to a skunk. That food supply may in turn become a convenient excuse for a skunk to take up residence underneath or inside your home. And while skunks may spend more time in their dens in the winter, they use them year-round.

If you’re concerned about skunks making their winter home on your property, take measures to make your property a less attractive habitat. Look for patches of dead grass and eliminate any grub problems you may have. Make sure all seals and lids on your trash cans and recycle bins are secure, and periodically clean out these receptacles to remove odors and stray bits of waste. Finally, take the Human Society’s advice and cordon off any vulnerable areas around your home’s foundation using L-footer style fencing.