Squirrels in their natural environment can be fun to feed, beautiful to watch, and enjoyable to photograph. However, when they decide to nest in your attic or other parts of your home these critters become a serious pest. Squirrels can damage your property and become a health hazard. Here is everything you need to know about them and the best way to get rid of squirrels.
Squirrels belong to the Sciuridae family of which 200 species are known to exist. The Sciuridae family also includes chipmunks, marmots and prairie dogs. They are small to medium size rodents, ranging from 5 inches to 3 feet.
Below are some examples of Tree Squirrels:
- Size: Body 15-20 inches / Tail 6-9 inches
- Weight: 1.0 to 1.5 pounds
- Lifespan: 2 to 7 years
Squirrels can be classified into three groups; tree squirrels, ground squirrels, and flying squirrels. Of those three categories, there are many different types. Some of the common ones in North America are the Eastern Gray Squirrels, Fox Squirrels, Southern Flying Squirrels, and Northern Flying Squirrels.
For the purpose of this article, we will be focusing on the Eastern Gray Squirrel, which is commonly thought to be a pest when nesting around your home.
The Eastern Gray Squirrel
Eastern Gray Squirrels are quite beautiful animals. They are a medium size squirrel and can grow 15 to 20 inches in length. They have bushy tails adding 6 to 9 inches to their overall length.
Gray Squirrels weigh about 1 to 1.5 pounds and vary in color depending on their geographical location. Most gray squirrels are covered with gray to brown fur with a white underbelly.
However, in Canada, Gray Squirrels can be quite dark in color appearing almost black. This difference in color is a camouflage adaptation to the vegetation differences throughout North America.
What is the Gray Squirrels Habitat?
Gray squirrels are tree squirrels and typically live in wooded areas with thick tree cover.
Squirrels will build a nest called a drey in the valley of branches of a tree using twigs, leaves, and other material high up to provide shelter for raising babies called kittens and protection from predators.
Furthermore, they have become highly adaptive to different environments an are commonly seen in city parks, suburban neighborhoods, and other areas.
What are Natural Predators of Gray Squirrels?
Besides humans, natural predators of squirrels are mostly hawks and owls, but also include animals such as skunks, weasels, foxes, and large snakes.
What is the Grey Squirrels lifecycle?
The average lifespan of Eastern Gray Squirrels is between two to seven years. Some in captivity can live up to 20 years. A female squirrel will breed twice a year around February or March and again between August and September. The gestation period is about 30 to 60 days. Each litter averages 2-8 babies called kits or kittens. The kits are born without fur, are blind and will depend on their mother for two to three months.
What is the Behavior of a Grey Squirrel?
Eastern Gray Squirrels prefer to travel in trees but will adapt, especially in urban areas often using utility wires as a means of getting about. Squirrels are very agile and with their sharp claws and rotating hind legs and feet enabling them to turn on a dime or move down vertical surfaces.
Squirrels are also great jumpers and use their padded feet as shock absorbers from jumps and falls. While climbing and jumping, they will use their long tail for balance. In additional to balance, tails can be used for swimming in water and shield them from the elements of weather like an umbrella.
What do Gray Squirrels Eat?
Although squirrels usually forage for food such as nuts, acorns, berries, other fruit, tree bark and flowers, squirrels are omnivores. When food is scarce they may eat insects, bird eggs, and even baby birds. Squirrels eat about one pound of food per week and like to store food usually by burying stashes in the ground to ensure they have food in the winter months. It is due to this stashing and caching behavior of walnuts, acorns and other seeds that squirrels are considered a great asset to re-planting of forests.
Why Do Squirrels Enter Our Homes?
Squirrels usually show up around our homes to find a food source. An oak tree or even a bird feeder provides a good supply of acorns and nuts. Once around, a pair of squirrel’s will quickly mate and start to look for nesting areas. Being opportunistic creatures instead of making a nest in a tree, a squirrel may sometimes utilize abandoned nests of other animals or use areas of our homes to raise their young. A garage, attic or roof space is a warm, dry and a safe environment that is ideal for squirrels to nest.
How Do Squirrels Get Into Our Homes?
Squirrels will usually find a small hole or gap on a roof space and squeeze in to access the attic space or a wall of your home. If a hole is too small, they will use their long, sharp front teeth to chew a larger opening. They will also make new holes and chew there way in. Once in an attic or wall, they will build a nest out of leaves, twigs or other debris such as pieces of clothing, hair or other trash.
How Do Squirrels Damage Property?
Besides chewing holes in walls or your roof, a squirrel can chew electrical wires in a wall or the attic that can be a potential fire hazard. Furthermore, the materials squirrels use to create nests are made of dried leave, twigs, pieces of cloth are also highly flammable. Other areas squirrels cause damage is in a vegetable garden or by raiding fruit trees around our homes. They will frequently visit bird feeders, raiding the seeds meant for wild birds.
Do Squirrels Transmit Harmful Diseases?
Squirrels can pose a health risk to humans and our pets. They are carriers of parasites such as fleas and ticks. Some well-known disease transmitted by a tick are Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Lyme Disease, and Tularemia. Fleas were also known to be the transmitter of The Plague.
In addition to parasites, Squirrel droppings or feces can harbor Salmonellosis, which is the bacteria that causes Salmonella, and Leptospirosis which is carried in the urine of squirrels. According to an article found on The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), flying squirrels may transmit Leptospirosis, which can cause symptoms such as headaches, vomiting, fevers, rashes, and liver damage.
In rare instances, squirrels may even carry rabies, which can be passed on to humans through a bite or scratch from a squirrel.
How To Tell If You Have A Squirrel Problem?
Attics or roof spaces are common areas where gray squirrels may be found in our homes. We tend to not go into our attics regularly making it an ideal area for a squirrel to make a nest. The first and most common sign of squirrel activity is scratching sounds coming from a wall or ceiling. If you hear scratching sounds usually in the early morning or evening, indicates pest activity and should be investigated. If you find them before they start having kittens they will be easier to remove.
What Is The Best Way To Get Rid of Squirrels?
As with any pest, there are different ways to get rid of them. The best way depends on where the pests are. If a squirrel has entered your roof space, you will definitely not want to use poison. If the squirrel dies in your attic or wall and you cannot retrieve the dead body, you will seriously regret using poisons when the body starts to smell terribly in your home. Below are the options to get rid of squirrels and what are the best ways.
Options to solve squirrel problems are:
- Hire a Pest Removal Service
- Use Poisons
- Use Traps
- Prevention Methods
Should I hire an Exterminator or a Pest Removal Service to get rid of squirrels?
An exterminator is not the right option for removing squirrels. You will need to hire a pest removal company or service. Hiring the right professional can be a good option, but it will come at a significant cost. As a general rule of thumb, it can cost $250.00 to $500.00 dollars to have squirrels removed from an attic and can be higher depending on the repairs required to complete the job. However, if you are a bit handy and physically able, you can get rid of them on your own and save money in the process. If you decide to hire a Pest Removal Service, make sure they are licensed and insured professionals following all local and state laws.
Should I use Poison to Get Rid of Squirrels?
Using poison to get rid of squirrels is not recommended. If you are leaving poison outside to get rid of squirrels, you may end up poisoning the wrong animal such as a dog or cat. Also, a poisoned squirrel could be eaten by natural predators such as owls, hawks, and eagles leading to poisoning them as well. Squirrels usually enter your attic or roof space to raise young. The babies rely on their parents for several months, without them, they will suffer from starvation. In addition, if you are unable to retrieve the dead animals, your home could smell for several months. Using poison is just not a humane way or a good method for getting rid of squirrels.
Should I use Kill or Live Catch Traps to Get Rid of Squirrels?
When considering traps for squirrels, you need to decide if a kill trap or a live catch trap is the right choice. The first and most important thing to consider when making this decision is to find out what your local and state laws are for trapping, killing and relocating squirrels. With that in mind, trapping squirrels can be more challenging than you think. If a squirrel is in your attic or roof space, kill traps and live catch traps are both not effective. Unlike mice or rats, squirrels tend not to eat where they nest. Since squirrels will not be looking for food in the attic, a trapping campaign is almost always useless.
What is the Best Way to Get Rid of Squirrels From Your Attic or Roof Space?
The best option to get rid of squirrels in an attic or roof space is to use a one-way exclusion trap door. These devices are mounted at the entry/exit holes that squirrels use to get in and out of your attic. When the squirrel leaves the nest, the one-way exclusion door will let it out but prevent the squirrel from coming back in. See the video below of a squirrel that was evicted using a homemade one-way trap door. If you don’t want to make your own one-way exclusion door, check out the Tomahawk Excluder for squirrels on Amazon.com.
Once all of the squirrels have left the attic, seal up the holes so they cannot return. You must remove all baby squirrels after the adults have been evicted. If you cannot remove the nest, you should wait till the babies have grown up before starting the eviction process. Ensure you clean and disinfect the nesting area to discourage squirrels from returning.
What Are Prevention Methods for Squirrels?
Preventing squirrels from entering your property is nearly impossible, however, there are things to can do to keep them away from your vegetable garden, fruit trees and out of your attic or roof space.
How To Keep Squirrels Out of Your Garden?
In your garden, you can use a scarecrow sprinkler device. It is a motion activated sprinkler that sprays water to scare away animals and works well with squirrels. This is an effective way to protect your yard or garden. Check out the video below of an example of a motion sprinkler in action.
If you are interested in a motion activated sprinkler like the one in the video, you can check out the Orbit Yard Enforcer on Amazon. They also make the Orbit Garden Enforcer on Amazon that is mounted higher up on a tripod that works well for vegetable gardens.
In Addition to motion sprinklers, hot pepper sprays with capsaicin can be sprayed on plants or bird seeds to discourage squirrels from eating them. Pepper sprays add additional nutrition to the seed and will even attract more wild birds. Here is a video of a squirrel reacting to pepper-sprayed seeds.
The birds are not affected by the hot flavor, but mammals are. Just add some to your bird seed mix or on the opening of the feeder where the seeds dispense. Once a squirrel gets a taste of the hot flavor they will be running for the water cooler. A good brand to use is Cole’s FS16 Flaming Squirrel Seed Sauce available on Amazon.
Another method to get rid of squirrels in your yard is to use a live trap. Once caught you will have to relocate the squirrels’ several miles from your home. A great live trap is the Squirrelinator Multi-Catch Live Trap. It works well with bird seed. Place a 1/2 cup of seed on the ground and put the trap over the top. The squirrels will find the oneway door and enter the trap getting stuck inside.
I found this video on Youtube.com of the Squirrelinator in Action. Here is a link to The Squirrelinator on Amazon.com
How To Keep Squirrels Out of Your Attic?
The best prevention techniques for keeping squirrels from entering your attic or roof space is to ensure there are no entry points. Check around your home and roof to make sure all holes are repaired. This will prevent critters from entering. Also, if any trees are hanging too close to your roof, a squirrel can easily jump onto it. Try to keep branches trimmed back to discourage squirrels from getting onto your roof. If squirrels get into your attic or roof space follow the steps below to get rid of them.
The Best Way To Get Rid Of Squirrels In An Attic Or Roof Space: The Removal Process
- Inspect inside the garage, attic, crawlspace, and outside of the home for entry points. Remember these holes can be as small as a 1″ wide openings. Also, trim any tree branches too close to the roof to discourage squirrels from going on to your roof. If your dealing with them outside use a motion sprinkler, live trap or capsaicin spray to keep them away from plants and vegetable gardens and fruit trees.
- Seal shut all holes with the proper materials such as steel wire mesh and leave the main entry/exit point open.
- Install a one-way exclusion door for three to five days at the main entry/exit point to ensure all squirrels exit the attic or roof space.
- If you are trying to relocate squirrels, check your local laws before setting live catch steel traps outside near the main entry/exit point. Bait with peanuts in the shell or bird seed in a shady area to prevent animals from overheating when caught. Live catch traps must be checked regularly and squirrels need to be properly relocated or euthanized. For help with euthanasia check the American Veterinary Medical Association Panel on euthanasia guidelines. When relocating ensure squirrels are moved 10-15 miles from the original nest.
- Check and re-bait as needed regularly. Once you do not see squirrel activity, trapping is complete.
- Inspect the Attic or Roof Space for nests that may have young still in the nest. Remove the kittens and follow local laws for euthanasia or relocating.
- Once all the squirrels are gone, remove the one-way exclusion door and seal the remaining hole with the proper materials. Steel mesh works best to prevent squirrels from chewing a new hole.
- Clean and decontaminate the space with a Virucide Disinfectant Sanitizer to kill bacteria, viruses or mold spores. Follow the direction on the product packaging. You may have to let the Virucide sit for several hours or days before removing the droppings and nesting materials. Clean Up Tip: Never Sweep or Vacuum Droppings. This will cause virus particles to get into the air where they can easily be breathed in.
Finally, remember the best solution is usually the cheapest and easiest one. If you take action quickly and are persistent you can resolve the problem with minimal work and damage to your property. Keep in mind that it may take several campaigns to rid your home of squirrels. If you become overwhelmed with the situation and feel your efforts have not worked you can always call in a professional.