There is nothing quite as unsettling as waking up in the middle of the night to the stench of a skunk—this wretched smell spreads easily and can be difficult to remove from hair, fur, and clothing.
Once skunks settle into new territory, they will stay indefinitely in the same approximate range. Female skunks, for instance, tend to live in the same 0.5 to 4-mile range their entire lives. Despite their small home range, skunks generally only stay in the same den for a few days.
Understanding where and why skunks set up their homes is key to keeping your property skunk-free.
What Is a Skunk’s Typical Range of Territory?
Skunks are part of the mephitadae family. They’re distantly related to weasels and raccoons, so pest behavior goes far back in this family tree.
Skunks are primarily nocturnal, but will occasionally venture out during the day to avoid predators.
The most common skunks in North America are the striped skunks and spotted skunks— and both of these types of skunks tend to be homebodies.
According to Maine’s Wildlife Damage Control, striped skunks tend to live in the same .5-4 mile range their entire lives! (Males are more mobile than females since they mate competitively, not monogamously.)
Because they live in such a limited range, a family of skunks can pester you and your home for quite some time. This is because skunks settle down in dens.
What They Heck Do Skunks Use Their Den For?
Skunks have a number of predators, including large birds of prey like owls, cougars, foxes, and coyotes. Because so many fearsome animals consider them a tasty meal, skunks have two ways to protect themselves: their spray and dens.
Skunks have stink glands to protect them from predators. They can spray a very unpleasant scent when they are making their escape. This spray can either be directed or dispersed as a cloud behind them as they run.
In cartoons and other media, skunks are often depicted as rascals that spray continuously. But skunks can only spray a few times before their stink glands need to replenish – which takes about 8-10 days.
Because they need time to reload, skunks also rely on hiding to protect themselves, which is where their dens come in.
Learn more here about the signs of a skunk den and how to find them!
Skunks Make (Or Find) Suitable Dens for Safety
Skunks find or make dens to hide in during the day or even to retreat to at night when they sense a predator.
Some skunks make their own dens by digging with their front paws. The entry point tends to be very narrow (about eight inches) but the hole is deep enough for them to hide.
Their dens can go as deep as two feet. Sometimes a skunk will also create bedding around the burrow for outdoor comfort in warmer months.
Other skunks take over abandoned dens or burrows. These can include fox or weasel dens, some of which can be above ground in brush or tree trunks.
Unless they have babies, skunks only stay in the same den for a few days at a time. But they often return to old dens—more on that later.
Dens Protect Young Skunks
Dens are especially important for protecting young skunks. Adult skunks are more active, frequently leaving their den between spring and fall to scavenge for food and find mates.
On the other hand, baby skunks (known as kits) need dens to protect them while their mothers scavenge for food.
Kits are born blind and deaf, entirely reliant on their mother for food. Mother skunks need to eat a lot during the first few weeks after birth, and will frequently leave their dens to find food, leaving their helpless kits alone.
After three weeks, the kits’ eyes open and they’re able to hear. Even then, they still rely on their mom. They won’t be able to forage for themselves until their teeth grow in, at about seven to eight weeks of age.
Because dens are so protective, kits stay in them until they’re weaned. During this time, it is very rare for the mother skunk to move dens.
Skunks Can Stay In The Same Few Dens For Most Of Their Life
Skunks rarely stay in the same exact den, but some skunk families alternate between a few dens for their entire lives.
First, it’s important to know what skunk families look like. Unlike some other animals, skunks don’t pair off. Instead, the males mate competitively and leave females to raise babies by themselves.
Skunks are very shy and skittish. Because of that, they don’t tend to adventure very far and instead rely on well-known dens, or dens that appear safe.
Basically this means that if you do have a skunk den on your property, they probably won’t leave on their own.
What If I Find A Den With Baby Skunks In It?
That means that only the mother is nearby. The father could be miles away, as males have a larger home range and move around more frequently.
Female skunks will create or find a den for their litter. For the first 2-3 weeks, kits don’t leave the den as their eyes are closed.
Once their eyes are open, skunk families may move between dens—female skunks have a limited home range and will have several safe dens in that range to move between, according to the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.
Where Do Skunks Prefer To Den?
If you find an empty den, that doesn’t mean the skunk won’t return. Think of it like a seasonal home.
Here are some major factors in where a skunk will choose to den.
Skunks Chill At Home During The Winter
Like many animals, skunks change their behavior based on the weather. They slow down in winter months and will select deeper dens than in the spring or summer.
In cold enough areas, skunks even enter dormancy. Dormancy is a low-activity state, similar to hibernation. During dormancy, skunks are resting. They sleep often, don’t eat as much, and their body functions are overall lower.
Dormancy usually lasts about a month for skunks during the coldest time of the year. Because they need to be able to enter a dormant state, they need to eat enough to keep their energy up.
Skunks Den Near Food
Skunks are omnivores, meaning they both eat meat and plants. They are also opportunistic eaters. They don’t have any qualms about eating from your garden or stealing eggs from an unattended coop.
Unlike many other animals that den, skunks don’t store food in their homes. Instead, they bulk up before winter because they need to be ready to enter a dormant state.
That said, skunks do pick dens near food. In urban areas, for example, they might search for dens near dumpsters.
In rural or suburban areas, they may stay closer to humans than expected if there are opportunities for food, such as gardens, hen houses, or bird feeders.
With den basics in mind, let’s break down why skunks leave dens, for how long, and how you can get them skedaddling.
When Do Skunks Move Between Different Dens?
As covered earlier, skunks often alternate between dens on their home range. These dens are often secluded and well-hidden, which means that if you find one den, there are probably several more nearby.
An empty den doesn’t mean that skunks won’t return. But there are a few ways to tell if a skunk is going to move out permanently from their den, as well as a few ways to encourage them to leave.
Skunks Abandon Dens That Have Been Discovered
Skunks are very aware of anything interfering with their den. If you find an empty skunk den, carefully cover it with leaves or other nearby foliage – about a day later, the skunk will move that material and settle in if the den is still in use.
If you keep interfering with the den, the skunk is very likely to abandon it. That’s because they aren’t willing to risk anything for that site when there are several other places they can safely rest.
A simple solution to get rid of skunks is to close off their den. You can fill it in with dirt, or you can send a stronger message by sealing off their den with Steel Wire Mesh like this.
Of course, do make sure that the skunk isn’t in the den before you cover it.
To prevent getting sprayed, don’t make loud noises as you approach dens, and consider setting up repellants prior to removing the den. Luckily, there’s an easy way to do that.
Skunks May Move Dens If They Sense Predators
Skunks are very skittish and have a lot of predators. If they sense their den is in danger, they will leave it. There are a few things skunks are on the lookout for.
First, skunks have absolutely horrible eyesight but great senses of smell and hearing. If they smell predators, they’re very likely to skedaddle—quite ironic since their stench is also repulsive. This means you can use predator smells to drive skunks from their dens.
If you notice a skunk den, you can splash predator scents in the surrounding area. This will cause skunks to move to their backup dens or even find a new location!
That being said, if you’d like to capatilize on this sense of smell and repel them, you should check out our list of smells and scents that skunks dislike!
Skunks Move Dens To Find New Food
Skunks are omnivores who both hunt (namely insects and small mammals) and scavenge. They are also very enticed by food made available by humans, such as birdseed, pet food that has been left out, and even chicken eggs from coops.
If they move in when food is plentiful, it also means that skunks move out when food becomes scarce.
If you notice that skunk smells more in the winter, it’s because there is food in the surrounding area. Make sure to seal off chicken coops, remove bird feeders, and secure pet food. This will dissuade skunks from setting up shop nearby.
During the winter, skunks are actually more likely to move closer to humans who can be relied on for regular food. During the summer, they may venture further out into areas that have more insects and foliage.
Skunks Move Dens When Having Babies (To Be Further Away From Other Skunks)
Skunks mate between February and April, and have a gestation period of about two months. During mating season, you may smell skunks more often as disinterested females will spray unwanted suitors. (Seriously!)
Between April and June, you’re more likely to find long-stay dens that have babies in them. Unlike other skunk dens, these may be farther away from other dens. That’s because female skunks look for seclusion during their pregnancy.
Kits will stay with their mothers until they’re about 2-3 months old, when their teeth grow in and they’re able to hunt and forage for themselves.
In most areas, that means skunks move out of home between August to October.
If you find a den with babies, it may be tempting to try to repel the skunks then—but mother skunks are only able to move their babies if they’re older. That means it may be wise to wait a little bit and make a game plan for when you’ll repel the family.
Once they leave, young skunks strike out on their own. They’ll live by themselves in most cases, except in cold months.
Skunks Move To Larger Dens in the Winter (To Be Closer To Other Skunks)
Most of the time, skunks lead very solitary lives. Males rarely congregate with other skunks, and females usually only live with their kits.
However, during the winter some female skunks will live together for warmth. A study in the Journal of Mammalogy found that in winter months, female striped skunks were more likely to live in a den together as opposed to alone. Male skunks, on the other hand, live alone even in cold winter months.
Female skunks benefit greatly from these communal dens. Nearby friends means their bodies are better able to handle the cold, and therefore they’re more likely to survive winter.
After winter is over, these communal dens will split up. But it does mean if you see a lot of skunks during cold months, there is a nearby communal den.
Of course, there are times when skunks live a little closer to home….
When Your Home Becomes A Skunk Den
Skunks are most likely to live near humans in colder months when they need more food and safer shelter, or when they are about to have babies. There are a few places you may find skunks in your home.
Wood or Rock Piles Can Hide Skunks
Sometimes skunks will look for debris or materials to burrow under. Rock and wood piles are two common places for skunk dens. In fact, if you consistently smell skunks on your property wood or rock piles might be the first place to look.
Habit modification is the best way to prevent skunks in this case. Be sure to clear any wood, debris, and construction materials from your property. Try to keep firewood organized and even tucked away in a shed if possible.
Crawlspaces And Porches Are Notorious Den Spots
Skunks only need about a foot of clearance to get into a space, which makes it very easy for them to move into crawlspaces or underneath porches. And because coverage offers more protection, a pregnant skunk is more likely to move into these spaces.
Prevention is key in cases like this. Cut off entrance points by repairing damage and covering holes or vents. Skunks are not chewers, so fencing like this Galvanized Chicken Wire can be used to protect your crawlspace or porch.
Skunks Den Under Foundations
Crawlspaces and porches are low-hanging fruit for skunks, but they’ll also den in surprising places such as under the foundation. This is more common in suburban or urban hours, but skunks are capable of digging under broken, elevated, or outcropping foundations.
This behavior can damage your home, so again: prevention is key.
Because skunks are drawn to secluded areas, they may look for areas that are near brush or foliage. Keep the sides of your home clear and repair damage to your foundation.
Repellents can be a good defensive approach as well. Check out our list of the best skunk repellents!
That’s All We’ve Got!
Skunks love dens, but they aren’t attached to them—unless they are nursing young or surviving the winter, skunks will move between dens pretty regularly. While that does mean it can be hard to repel these stinky beasts, it does also mean you can eliminate dens with careful planning.
That said, it’s always wise to contact a Wildlife Expert for help removing skunks from your property.
Hopefully these tips will keep your property smelling fresh and skunk-free!
Arts, K.J., Sprayberry, T.R., Cornelison, W.C., & Edelman, A.J. (2021). Observations of easter spotted skunk reproduction, mortality, and behavioral interactions in Alabama, 20(11), 119-125.
Harris, S.N., Doonan, T.J., Heweet Ragheb, E.L.H, & Jachowski, D.S. (2019). Den site selection by the Florida spotted skunk. The Journal of Wildlife Management, 84(1), 127-137.
Zack is a Nature & Wildlife specialist based in Upstate, NY, and is the founder of his Tree Journey and Pest Pointers brands. He has a vast experience with nature while living and growing up on 50+ acres of fields, woodlands, and a freshwater bass pond. Zack has encountered many pest situations over the years and has spent his time maintaining and planting over 35 species of trees since his youth with his family on their property.
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