We’ve all smelled it at night. That unmistakable stench that comes from those black and white weasels commonly known as the skunk. Similar to that of rotten eggs meets stagnant pond water. Gross. But what does it mean to see one of these critters during the day?
Contrary to the popular belief that skunks are solely nocturnal, they can come out during the day. In truth, skunks come out during the day to hunt, gather and avoid nocturnal predators such as owls. Most skunks will primarily be out during the night in accordance with their circadian rhythm.
Here you’ll find some information about what it means to see a skunk during the day, taking a closer look at their appearance and behavior to make the correct conclusion. Let’s dive in!
What Does a Skunk Look Like?
Most of us are familiar with the look, and most commonly the smell, of these cat-sized weasels.
The striped skunk is mostly black with an unmistakable white stripe along its head and back. They are about 2 feet long including their tail and max out at about 14 to 16 pounds. The males are usually bigger than the females.
Compared to some weasels, skunks have smaller black heads, eyes, ears, and noses, but share feet similar to that of raccoons and bears with hairless pads and non-retractable claws.
Most skunks have silky long fur and are quite cumbersome in their gait, almost looking like a waddle. They can run at an awkward gallop but don’t usually like to. This is why they use noises to deter threats first. They’ll use hisses, growls, squeals, smacking, and even coos.
Like cats, they’ll also puff themselves up to look bigger and more intimidating in hopes their predator will move along.
They do not have great eyesight, hearing, or sense of smell in comparison to other wildlife, but can feel with their paws very well. As we all know their last resort defense is spraying when threatened.
Where Are Skunks Normally Found?
Depending on where in the world you are in, you might not have to worry about running into these particularly pungent creatures at all! Also if you are in a more populated and loud area, chances are you will not run into too many skunks, but they have been known to dumpster dive along with their friends the raccoon and the fox.
Additionally, it is important to know where they typically like to make their dens, depending on where you live.
Let’s find out where you can expect to find these odorous critters to best avoid them. That way we can tell whether or not to raise the alarm if one is spotted during the day.
If you’re looking to keep skunks OUT, you can read our article on the best skunks repellents here.
In the northeast of the United States skunks like to hang out in quieter areas, but can often roam into more populated areas if the food is abundant. They have been known to dig around in the trash at night for some tasty scraps if they want food badly enough.
The striped skunk, which is the most common type of skunk among the four species, can be found in North America, primarily in the United States and Canada. In fact, they can be found in every state in the lower 48 and even some parts of northern Mexico!
Depending on the species of skunk, their range varies. It’s important to look up what kind of skunk you saw, whether it be spotted, hooded, striped, or hog-nosed, as a particular one could be a rare sight in your area.
Your local fish and game department is a great source for this kind of information as well.
Skunks, like a lot of us, just want a quiet place to raise their young. And can you blame them? They look for sheltered places with cover to protect them from predatory birds and land predators. Their primary habitat is forest or wooded and brushland areas where they like to search for insects and small rodents. Yum.
Though skunks like the woods, skunks also reside in prairies and cornfields. The tall grasses in these areas provide cover from larger birds of prey, like owls and hawks. They also like areas with rivers and rocky areas and even make dens in the side of smaller dirt mounds.
According to a wildlife note published by the Pennsylvania Game Commission Bureau of Information and Education Department, the skunk’s habitat is mostly determined by the amount of cover and food. But there is a wide variety of places they like to call home.
In suburban areas, skunks have been known to den in road culverts or possibly under your shed in the backyard if you don’t use it very often. Be sure to check your specific region for the population of skunks to know if you are in a high-traffic area.
Unlike the striped skunk, the spotted skunk is more of a rare sighting. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources strongly encourages anyone to report to their department if a spotted skunk is seen since they are endangered in Iowa.
Again, it is always a good idea to check to see what animals are most present in your area to be aware and use preventative measures to keep wildlife in the wild.
What Do Skunks Eat and When?
Since we know skunks like to hunker down in dens close to their food source, it’s time to learn exactly what they eat. Skunks are primarily nocturnal creatures but sometimes hunt during the day depending on their prey and time of year, which we will get into later. Skunks are omnivores which means they eat both plants and meat.
More specifically, they are mesocarnivores, which means their diet consists of about 50% to 70% animal meat, adding a more nutritious variety to their diet. Other examples of mesocarnivores are foxes, pine martens, and mongooses.
Skunks diet includes but is not limited to, grasshoppers, beetles, grubs, small rodents, vegetation (berries or acorns), crickets, bird eggs, small rabbits (depending on where you live), lizards, snakes, chipmunks, and even bees.
As you can see skunks aren’t very picky. And though their sense of smell isn’t great they know where to look for their grub!
If you’re interested you can read our article about how skunks have even been known to eat tomatoes!
In the spring and summer months, most of the skunk’s prey are active during the daylight hours, so it would make sense that skunks would be active when their food is out and about.
Insects and vegetation are not around during the winter months, but moles and shrews are, and that makes a great winter snack when the pickings are slim.
Primarily though, during their most active months skunks are nocturnal, hunting under the cover of darkness. We are starting to see now that daytime encounters with a skunk are not a cause for alarm.
What Time of Year do Skunks Come Out?
The time of year is important in determining when you will see these little black and white weasels. If anything though, you’ll smell them first even if they don’t spray! You’ll have plenty of warning that they are nearby.
According to an article in The Handbook: Prevention and Control of Wildlife Damage, mature female skunks deliver their babies from early May to June. They can also birth young as late as August, though it is not as likely.
If it’s a beautiful springtime evening or early morning, especially during May, chances are you have run into a mother skunk looking for food.
During the warmer months of the year depending on where you are in the country, skunks prefer to gather their food at night and your chances of running into each other are not high.
In winter, skunks do not hibernate but do den together and remain inactive during the coldest months of the year. Like most animals getting ready for winter, they eat as much as they can to store fat reserves for when they are mostly dormant in the middle of winter.
If that means a skunk needs to hunt during the day for food to fatten up, it will do so.
Primarily, however, skunks are going to come out at night. Here’s what it means if you see a skunk at night.
You may find them rummaging around your property at that time or even your gardens. Since we now know they eat rodents and other bugs that can be harmful to plants, it might be worth dealing with the stink and let the visitor help with pest control.
If you have birds such as chickens and turkeys though, be wary – remember they like eggs!
This leads us to our next tip: when best to call the professionals for a troublesome skunk.
When To Call A Professional for Skunk Control
As with any animal, some signs tell you whether you should seek the help of a professional to take care of the animal or just let it be and go your separate ways.
Oftentimes, wildlife professionals can tell us a combination of symptoms and mannerisms that we all need to be aware of to determine if our striped pal is not acting the way it should.
You must know exactly what to look for to determine if your daytime skunk encounter is a need for concern or just a hungry mother looking for food for her kits.
Noises and Vocal Warnings
Like most animals when they encounter humans, skunks issue a variety of warnings before resorting to spraying you or your pet on your walk. These warnings are normal, even during the day.
You’re walking with your dog and about to round a corner when, suddenly, you see a flash of black and white – an unsuspecting, now startled, skunk! Of course, your dog is curious, but it is important to stop advancing as quickly as possible and check your pet.
The skunk will turn around, most likely puff up and make a series of noises to warn you away – often hisses, snarls or growls. Sometimes he will stomp his feet to show his agitation and smack his teeth. Heed those warnings and go your separate ways.
A majority of pet sprayings are due to the pet advancing on the skunk, and not listening to the skunk’s cues to back off. Normally, if you leave it alone they go off to continue what they were doing.
Behavior to Watch Out For and What To Do
If a skunk is exhibiting erratic or aggressive behavior, foaming at the mouth, matted or dirty gross fur, call your local animal control professional right away.
As you may remember from before, skunks are similar to cats, often grooming to maintain a healthy, silky coat. A matted coat is not a good sign and is certainly cause for concern.
If the skunk seems confused or disoriented, walking as if it does not have a purpose, do not approach it! Instead, tell a professional your observations and keep an eye on the direction it goes.
Be sure to keep your pets inside as well. As we stated in the section above, pets, especially dogs, do not know how to take a hint. Their curiosity gets in the way of their better judgment. Until you know the skunk has moved on, best leave your pets inside or highly supervise them to avoid any spraying mishaps!
Fun Fact, Skunks Aren’t as Bad as You Think!
Skunks are sometimes nice to have in your backyard when they aren’t causing harm to your cucumbers of course! They not only eat up the bugs that you might not want on your plants, but they also eat the rodents that might also want to nibble on your veggie garden.
Skunks are pretty docile, but if they get too destructive, call a professional.
So, Why Are Skunks Out During the Day? Let’s Sum It Up
Skunks are usually inactive in the daylight hours but there is no need to raise the alarm if one is spotted. Contrary to common belief, when skunks are seen during the day it does not necessarily mean they are being mischievous or ill.
Chances are, the animal is looking for food for its young, or kits. Remember, skunks like insects and other critters that are often active during the day. So if a mother skunk needs the extra food to produce milk for her young, she will use every chance she can to gather it.
If you encounter one, no need to panic especially if it lifts its tail. That is one of their warning signs before they resort to spraying. Daytime skunk sightings are most likely linked to prey activity. The important thing to remember is how the animal is acting!
Be sure to check with your local wildlife professional before doing anything that could get both you and the animal hurt, or you SPRAYED! Best to stay back, regardless of what time it is or what season!
Amspacher, K., Jiménez, A. F., & Nielsen, C. (2021).
Skunk. (n.d.). All Things Wild Rehabilitation. Adult Skunk.
Knight, J.E. (1994). Skunks. The Handbook: Prevention and Control of Wildlife Damage.
Fergus, C. (2001). Striped Skunk. Wildlife Note. Pennsylvania Game Commission.
James, E. T. I. (2009). Striped Skunk: North Carolina Wildlife Profiles. North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.
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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