Backyard Buddies
Brushtail Possum

Photo: Ken Stepnell/OEH

Brushtail Possum

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You can recognise a Brushtail Possum by its thick, bushy tail which distinguishes it from the smaller Ringtail Possum. Brushtails live in backyards and the bush all across Australia and are frequent backyard visitors.

If your resident possum is feasting on your flower beds, plant a good selection of native shrubs for them to feed on instead and this may stop them eating all your rosebuds.

To discourage possums from running over your roof at night, trim any overhanging branches that come within 1.5 m of the gutter.

Possums prefer to reside in tree hollows, but many animals, birds and insects of both the native and non-native variety want to live in them too. As more mature trees get cut down from our suburbs, there are less and less natural homes for possums and other creatures.

This encourages Brushtail Possums to seek alternative nest sights – such as in your roof.

You can help them find a new home by building a nesting box and encouraging them back out. Tempt the possum to the new tree-house by putting some fruit near it. When you're sure your roof is empty of possums and any other creatures, block up the entry holes. Your buddies should soon find the nest box and establish themselves there.

Their main predators include dingoes, pythons, foxes and cats. As pythons are also common in roofs and backyards, possums can often be its main food source.

Brushtail Possums love:

Eucalyptus, which they feast on as well as a range of other leaves and berries and fruit.

Tree hollows where they can nest and sleep in safety. But eucalypt hollows take over one hundred years to develop, and competition for them can be stiff.

Night-time. They especially enjoy the first half of the night, when they head out to search for food.

But they don't like:

Changing locations. When a possum is taken away from their territory it is very stressful for them – most don't survive.

Stinky plants. They don't like chrysanthemums, mint bushes, geraniums or daisies – so they're safe from being eaten. They also dislike spiny grevilleas, hakeas, woody banksias and tea-trees.

Bright lights. They avoid spotlights, porch lights or party lights.

Try to:

Build or buy a nest box that can offer your possum buddies a hangout for daytime naps or a safe place to sleep through winter.

Drive carefully down tree-lined streets at night.

Keep your cat or dog inside at night, as this is when possums come out to feed.

Keep a lid on your garbage and compost.

Avoid:

Cutting down trees with hollows in them. These are prime locations for native animals to sleep and have their young in – when there's no room in the trees, they start to move into your roof and walls.

Feeding the possums. Possums are wild animals and should remain self-sufficient.

Touching or handling possums. If you find a possum that you think may need assistance, call your local wildlife rescue service or Council for advice.

Don't be surprised if Brushtail Possums:

Like to keep to themselves. They're generally solitary creatures, and like to stay within their home range.

Dance on your roof at night. Really they're just foraging for food, but they can cause a bit of a racket.

A few more Brushtail Possum facts

Brushtail Possums are marsupials. The mother is pregnant for 17 days before her young is born. The newborn possum finds its way to its mother's pouch and attaches itself to a teat. The youngster will stay in the pouch and with its mum for about 7 months before it heads off on its own.

These possums mark their territory by smell, coating tree branches with a scent released from glands on their chests.

Brushtail possums are a pest species in New Zealand, where they were introduced in the 1800's but are protected in Australia.

Brushtail possums vary in size and colour – in Queensland they have a reddish hue and are quite small, while in Tasmania they are a dark grey and tend to be larger and furrier.

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Photo: OEH