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Peaceful Coexistence
squirrelbaby squirrel black small squirrel squirrel in tree

SQUIRRELS

 Squirrel Facts

Squirrels are one of the most successful mammals in accommodating to human-altered environments. They are among the top vote-getters for presenting problems to people.  They are also among the best-loved animals.   There is something about their big eyes, bushy tails and silly antics that tugs at the heart-strings of many.

There are several species of squirrels in North America, but the gray squirrel is usually the one involved in homeowner conflicts.  They are about 8 to 10 inches long with a tail that is almost the same length.  Their color can vary from a reddish tint to almost pure white.  There is even an all black form.

Gray squirrels traditionally depend on trees, especially oak trees, as places to bear and raise young, take shelter from the weather, find food and escape from predators.  However, anything that looks like a tree can be used, including the pilings around marinas, nest boxes set out for woodpeckers and kestrels and many places on and in houses.

The diet of squirrels varies with the season and the availability of the plant material that is the basis of their diet.  It includes nuts, acorns in fall and winter, flowers and buds in spring, fruits in summer.   Summer can be the hardest time for squirrels.  Occasionally they will take bird eggs or nestlings and have even been known to pounce on and kill small birds at feeders.

Squirrels have two litters a year, the first between February and April and the second in August or September.  After mating the female drives the males away and raises the two to five young by herself.  The babies are born naked and helpless and do not venture out of the nest for seven or eight weeks.  They are weaned at ten to twelve weeks.  The spring litter is usually driven away by the mother shortly after weaning and as the next breeding cycle begins.  The fall litter may stay with the mother in the nest through the winter until well after the winter courtship season.

Squirrels use two basic types of natural dens – tree cavities and leaf nests and they take liberal advantage of shelter provided by humans in attics and other crawl spaces.  They become active at first light, rest in the middle of the day and become active again later in the afternoon.  They have a home range of less than four acres.

Problems and Solutions

Squirrels cause damage by nesting in buildings, digging in lawns, eating ornamental plants and bulbs and stealing food from bird feeders.  The most serious problems, however, involve adult females entering buildings through open chimneys or attics through unscreened vents or openings left by loose or rotten boards to establish nests.  A homeowner’s first sign of the squirrel’s presence is usually the sound of scampering in the attic or above the fireplace.

The first approach to dealing with squirrels is to establish limits of tolerance, accept them for what they are and be patient enough so that if they need to be excluded from an attic or prevented from stealing bird food, this is done in a way that does them and their young no harm.

To remove squirrels from the attic: Thoroughly inspect inside the attic to find the opening(s), where the nest is and to determine whether there are any babies present.  Concentrate the search where the noises were heard.  If there is no access to the attic, inspect the outside of the eaves, vents and roof until the opening is located.

If the nest can be seen and there are no immature squirrels, attempt to frighten the squirrel outside by banging on the rafters inside the attic, or wait until you are sure all squirrels have left as they usually do during the day.   Then seal up the opening with l/4-l/2 inch mesh hardware cloth or sheet metal flashing, securely fastened.  Extend the metal patch at least 6 inches beyond the hole in all directions to prevent the squirrel from gnawing around the patch.  Seal any other weak spots or potential entrances in the same way.  Listen carefully for the next day or so to be sure no squirrel is trapped inside or has regained entry. Watch closely to see if the squirrel is persistent in attempts to regain entry.   Mothers will go to extreme lengths to reunite with their young and can cause extensive damage to houses when doing so.

There is an excellent invention called "Squirrels-be-gone" ~ a simple, safe, humane, inexpensive and environmentally friendly, way of getting rid of squirrels in your attic. It can be bought at

Squirrels-be-Gone
2327 S. Nash St
Arlington,
VA 22202

If for any reason, it cannot be determined if the squirrels are outside, do not seal the entrance.  Instead install a one-way door and leave it in place until no more sounds are heard inside the attic for several days.  The door can then be removed and the opening patched as described above.  The one-way door allows animals to leave their dens but does not let them back in.  These doors are available from the

Tomahawk Live Trap Company
P. O. Box 323
Tomahawk, Wisconsin 54487
Tel: 1-800-272-8727.

If the nest is inaccessible or out of sight and there is the likelihood of babies, wait until the young are grown enough to come out on their own.   At that point, a one-way door may be installed over the opening and left in place until no more sounds are heard inside the attic for several days.

To remove squirrels from a chimney with a fireplace:  It can be assumed that the squirrel heard scrambling in a chimney is trapped unless there is clear evidence it is able to climb out on its own. DO NOT TRY TO SMOKE A SQUIRREL OUT OF A CHIMNEY – a trapped squirrel or babies may be killed.   If the squirrel is not trapped, proceed the same as with a nest in the attic as described above.

If the squirrel is above, or has access to the flue damper, a means of escape may be provided by hanging a inch or thicker rope down the chimney.   Be sure to tie one end of the rope to the top of the chimney before lowering the other end, and make certain that it reaches the damper or smoke shelf.  The squirrel will climb up the rope and escape, usually within a few (daylight) hours.  After it is certain that the squirrel has escaped, remove the rope and screen the chimney, preferably with a commercially-made chimney cap.  One company that sells these caps is

Chim Cap Corp.
120 Schmitt Boulevard
Farmingdale, NY 11735
Tel.# 1-800-262-9622

If the squirrel is down in the fireplace (presumably behind the fireplace doors or screen), try tapping on the door and scaring it back up above the damper.  If successful, close the damper and proceed as above.  If the squirrel cannot or will not leave the fireplace, the next best option is to obtain a suitable live trap, bait it with peanut butter and set it very carefully inside the fireplace.   Close the doors and leave the room to wait for the squirrel to enter the trap.   As a precaution, before opening the doors of the fireplace to set the trap, close any interior doors in the room and open an exterior door or window in line of sight from the fireplace.  In the event that the squirrel gets out of the fireplace, DO NOT CHASE IT; just sit quietly. It will instinctively head for the light of the open door and go outside.  After the squirrel has been removed, screen the chimney as decibed above.

To remove a squirrel that is loose in the house:  A squirrel that has entered a house has done so by accident and does not want to be there.  If its exact location is known, close interior doors to limit its movement and open a window or exterior door in the room.  The squirrel will find the opening if it is left alone.   If for some reason it is not possible to give the squirrel an exit, set a baited live trap on the floor near the squirrel and leave it alone for a few hours.   Squirrels can be captured in a blanket if trapping is not an option.  Approach the squirrel with the blanket covering your body so that it does not see a human form.   Drop the blanket on the squirrel and roll it up, taking care not to put too much weight or pressure on the animal.  Then take the blanket and squirrel immediately outside and unfurl it, letting the animal escape.  Once the squirrel has been removed, it is important to discover how it got into the house and prevent it from happening again.  Look for tracks in soot or dust around the fireplace or furnace that may indicate that it came down the chimney, and check the attic for evidence of a nest or entrance hole that may need attention.

Keeping squirrels away from bird feeders:  There are various types of specialized feeders available that can keep almost all squirrels at bay.  Some are designed to respond to the greater weight of squirrels and larger birds by closing a metal cover over the birdseed when they climb onto the feeder.  Squirrels have difficulty raiding a feeder hung from a tree branch on a wire that is more than 10 feet long.   The feeder should be positioned at least 8 feet away from any limbs or structures from which the animals might leap.  If a squirrel does slide down the support wire, a plastic or metal umbrella-shaped commercial or homemade baffle can be mounted over the feeder.

Preventing squirrels from damaging plants:  Squirrels rarely do significant damage to plantings, so when damage is observed, the first step is to make sure it’s not being caused by another animal.  Squirrels are only active during the day, so it should be possible to observe the damage happening.  If it is determined that a squirrel is responsible, consider the possibility of preventing access to the affected plant.  For instance, one or several fruit trees that are isolated from surrounding trees may be protected by wrapping a 2-foot band of sheet metal around the trunk about 6 feet off the ground.  Branches growing below 6 feet may have to be trimmed.  Small fruit and nut trees can be protected by netting the entire tree for the short period of time when squirrel or other damage is most likely to occur.

To learn more about squirrels, visit
Squirrel Wildlife Rehabilitation.

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