Household Pests: Gray Squirrels – Problems and Solutions
Squirrels may be cute, but they can also be destructive! Our wildlife specialist offers tips on how to evict them without harsh chemicals.
Wild animals are part of what makes nature so magical, and watching them can be highly enjoyable. While it’s important to coexist with animals in relative peace, they can cause countless problems when they take up residence in our homes or gardens. In this series, our Wildlife Management Specialist, Shawn Weeks, will educate us about some common household pests, and share some strategies for keeping them under control without dangerous chemicals.
Habitat and History
Gray squirrels, Sciurus carolinensis, are rodents that can be found as far north as Quebec, Ontario, and New Brunswick, as far south as Florida, and west into eastern Texas and Manitoba. They have also been introduced into Washington, British Columbia and Vancouver Island. In addition to suburban and urban settings, gray squirrels prefer upland, hardwood forests.
Despite their name, gray squirrels exhibit various colors, including black and red, though they are primarily gray, with white sides and underbellies. They generally weigh from one to one and a half pounds and can be anywhere from fifteen to twenty one inches long. They have bushy tails that are usually as long as their head and body.
Gray squirrels are active year round. In the fall they gather and bury their winter food supply. This burying is done randomly. They will dig for their food supply as needed, using their sense of smell to locate and dig for it.
They live in trees, either in cavities or leaf nests they make and suspend in the treetops. They are extreme climbers and jumpers who, when on the ground are very cautious, wary, nervous, and excitable. When they sense danger, they will immediately head for trees to escape danger. Gray squirrels have keen senses of smell, hearing, and sight. They are somewhat social, as opposed to their very territorial red squirrel cousins, and will tolerate other squirrels in their habitat.
Gray squirrels are a popular small game species throughout much of their range.
Gray squirrels eat a variety of mast including maple seeds, acorns, hickory nuts, butternuts, and beechnuts, along with mushrooms, berries, and some field crops, such as corn and pumpkins.
Gray squirrels mate in late winter and early spring. They have a forty four day gestation period, and bear litters of two to seven young. They are born blind and helpless, but are swiftly weaned and are independent at eight to ten weeks. There is usually a second litter in mid summer. The young are born in the parents’ nest.
Problems, Solutions, and Health Concerns
The most common problem associated with gray squirrels is their ability to take up residence in people’s homes. They associate holes in eaves, soffits and roofs with a tree cavity, their natural nests, and move right in. Once inside, they consider it theirs, and they can be very difficult to get rid of.
Gray squirrels will tear up insulation in an attic and use it to make a nest. They will also chew through electrical lines. If gray squirrels are in your dwelling or building, it’s usually because of an existing problem, such as a small hole in a soffit or eave. One could also have a rotted louver that enables them chew through to gain access to your attic. Scratching, gnawing, and pitter-patter sounds are a sure clue that you have a squirrel problem.
An Ounce of Prevention
Prevention is key to keeping gray squirrels, or any other animal, from taking up residence in your home or building. Keep trees and overhanging branches away from your structure. Make sure all parts of the exterior of your building are maintained, and repair any rotted or damaged areas of eaves and soffits. Also, make sure your roof is in good condition.
The best approach to take, if you have an infestation of gray squirrels, is to live trap them at their access point, if possible. Nail a live/box trap at the opening and bait it with peanut butter, nuts, apple slices, etc. If heights aren’t your thing, you can place the traps in the heavily traveled areas they are using to gain access. Once you’ve caught a squirrel, check to make sure there are no young or other squirrels inside your home.
It is critically important that you check for more than one squirrel before sealing up any opening. They are very excitable and will cause extensive damage if trapped inside. Also, no one wants to leave behind defenseless young in a nest. The young will most likely die, and the adults will try to gain access to the area by any means, leaving you with more damage than you had before you started.
If you’re certain your home is free of squirrels, permanently seal up any openings with galvanized 1/4” wire mesh, plywood, new siding, etc. Once the opening is sealed, it should be safe to release the gray squirrel from the trap, so long as you have made sure to eliminate any factors that might helping them to gain access.
If a gray squirrel somehow gains access to the living area of your home, do not attempt to snare or noose it. As mentioned before, they are very excitable creatures. If you run around a room or house trying to catch a squirrel, they will tear up, knock down, and basically demolish your property and furnishings. Instead, try to calmly and swiftly enter the area and open a door or window. Then immediately leave the room and wait outside for the squirrel to calm down and leave on its own.
Gray Squirrels: Bird Feeder Raiders
Another common problem associated with gray squirrels is their propensity for raiding, and sometimes even damaging, bird feeders. To prevent this problem, make sure when installing bird feeders that they are placed on steel poles at least six feet off the ground and far away from bushes and overhanging branches. Install a metal, cone shaped baffle at the base of the feeder. Do not hang bird feeders from anything. Squirrels have no trouble climbing down ropes, wires, cables, and heavy duty strings to get what they want.
One other problem that is encountered from time to time is that gray squirrels will sometimes get stuck down inside a chimney and find themselves unable to climb out. The best solution for this problem is to drop a rope down the chimney until it hits the bottom. Then place the other end outside on the ground. Weigh this end down, or tie it off. The squirrel will be able to use the rope to climb out. Once the squirrel exits the chimney, pull the rope out of it from the ground. Then install a chimney cap to keep squirrels, or any other animal or bird for that matter, from entering the chimney again.
What do squirrels have to do with the upcoming winter? Find out!
Shawn is a lifelong New Englander. He lives in Canton, Conn., with his wife Tami, mother, sister, and her three children. He and his wife have two grown children and two grandchildren. Shawn is an avid hunter, fisherman, and gardener. He is also a writer, a nuisance wildlife professional, small scale farmer, and scout leader. You can email him at [email protected].
Frustrated because Squirrels Keep Digging Up and Eating Sunflower Seeds I Plant in the Soil Around My House. I’ve been trying to grow sunflowers from seeds for years now, But I haven’t figured out how to outsmart squirrels. Every day when I arrive home, I notice a pile of broken shells from the sunflower seeds I planted the day before. Dried Chili spice, Cayenne Pepper and other hot dried spices don’t work at all.
Any other suggestions? I’ve already wasted alot of money buying seeds plus my free time planting sunflower seeds over and over again.
i hate you squirrel go die.
Squirrel digging in my annual planter – no bulbs; just spikes, petunias and vinca…
Should I put my 6″ owl statue there? I usually keep it in the house.
In my area we’ve only been able to grow daffodils as bulbs. The squirrels don’t eat them. But forget about tulips – they are like candy to them. Tahiti Daffodils are much prettier and hardier than regular daffodils – they are strong and study and stay in bloom for more than two months. Plus the color on them is amazing and they spread and naturalize wonderfully. It’s all I plant now. Plus I have some Pink Charm Daffodils I planted years ago. They too are pretty and unique looking.
Hi Sally, we’d love to see pictures! You can share them with us on Facebook!
Soot them with an air rifle. Bag them and dump in trash. Or bury them. I have tried relocating them also. Too much work. Some come back even from 15 miles away.
They eat my fruit (peaches, plums, pears). Now they built a nest in an ash tree. Will it help to try to destroy the nest?
I have squirrels that have attached my cars digging up the insulation under the hood. They have even chewed up some wiring costing me money at the shop. We have tried ammonia, cayenne pepper, tar paper, but they are not deterred. We have finally gotten some really nasty smelling spray that you can smell driving down the road. It’s horrible to have to go through such measures. I don’t know why all of a sudden we have this going on.
a five dollar rat trap baited with peanut butter will clean them out one at a time.
Shooting with a 177 air rifle is even better. Use hollow point pellets. Massive stopping power.
A gray squirrel started chewing on coarse hair door mat & would not leave it alone. I poured vinegar on the mat …squirrel left the mat. Next, the squirrel started chewing on the brick border to my garden. The dismantled the brick border and was trying to carry the brick to the tree when I saw him and tried to scare him away…the animal screeched at me… Ok, that was the final straw. My friend gave me an eighteen inch bobble-headed owl and I placed it on the front step, which is near the oak tree. The squirrel moved to the Oak Tree way in the back of my yard. The squirrel stays away from my house now….
Me neighbor has one of those. They still eat her tomatoes and raid her bird feeder.
I use Slinky Toys on my shepherd hook bird feeders. Slip them down the pole, hooked at the top with the feeder hanger. The squirrels cannot climb the pole. They slide or fall off when they encounter the Slinky. I have used these for many years. No greasing needed.
I recently discovered a baby squirrel and he made its way underneath our carport.I love him and woundnt harm him but he will not leave though I did feed it some peanuts and he sleeps out side by our door.I do enjoy a good Crockpot meal though.LOLI don’t think we will be eating him though to cute when they are a baby.I don’t see any problem with squirrels as long as you can feed them with a feeder.That’s all they want is food.Afterall it’s there home too to share
I love them, too. However they don’t need to damage my neighbor’s tomatoes. Mothballs keep out the rabbits ?.
what do you do with a squirrel that is trapped inside an interior wall?
Hi Willie, this happens a lot with flying squirrels, especially. Unfortunately, the only way to get them out is to cut into the drywall. Here’s something we found online: http://www.aaanimalcontrol.com/squirrelwall.htm
Just put Safflower seed in your feeders. Squirrels don’t like it. Always feed them away from your home. I am a wildlife rehabber for squirrels and I’ve released many and have never had any problems.
Do they return home every day or sporadically?
I live on the 3rd floor of a 3 storey building with a balcony. A squirrel climbs down the wall from the roof and has destroyed EVERYTHING on the balcony, including plants, bulbs and some of the vegetables that I grow out there and also keep out there. I have heard that pepper is a deterrent also spraying water? Please help. Kate UK.
What you need is something like a Crossman or Gamo 177 air rifle. Shoot those squirrels. Use heavy pellets around 10.5 grain. Immense knock down power. They made holes in my roof…my garage and under my eaves and even in my shed. I sealed them. They still damaged my shed again. I destroy these little destroyers now. No guilt. This place in USA is over run with these pests!!!
Yep that’s what I do. I use a Gamo .177 caliber air rifle to hunt them once they come into my garden. They destroy my crops, fruit trees and everything else they get the grubby little paws on. Just the other day one of them started to bark at me in an attempt to scare me off my property. I got him this morning!
I have bird feeders hanging from standard shepards hooks (6ft). Once a week a smear baby oil on the poles. It fun to watch the squirrels climb up about 3 feet then slide back down. Its worked quite well for me for the last five years. You may have to apply more or less often depending on your hot and cold seasons.
Get a competent cat. I call mine affectionately The Mighty Squirrel Hunter – ever since he caught five young squirrels over a three-day period (he brings his prey home to Mom as many cats do). He’s an indoor-outdoor cat, adopted as a young but friendly stray, but he had to feed himself for much of his pre-adoptive life. Now he has kibbles available 24/7, but still likes to hunt – he takes care of the mice, voles, and rats in my yard & garage. Yes, he does get occasional birds & because of that I do not have bird feeders. Unlike the rodents, he usually doesn’t kill the birds before bringing them in – where he just lets them go. Not out of the goodness of his heart – just so that he can chase them all over again. At any rate I then shut him in a different room, catch the terrified bird which is virtually always completely unhurt & can be released. I do understand the problems with loss of birds, and at some times of year I keep him indoors for that reason.
I will agree that squirrels can be fun to watch at times but they can be a pain also. They carry fleas from yard to yard as they move about and I mean a ton of them. They will chew on anything also. I caught one chewing on the soft top on my Jeep. Needless to say that was his last meal. In many urban enviroments squirrels do not have many natural predtors like owls and hawks so they can quickly get over populated and out of control. Due to flea problems and property damage I have went into rodent pest control as of late. Thank god for Crosman!
I agree 1000% I have a crossman too. I see them tumbling from trees now. After a long time of introspection and dealing with time wasting trapping and relocation..I finish them off quickly even when I trap them. In the trash they go or inside ground.
Squirrels are a pleasure and can be friendly and do not deserve the awful treatment some of you are talking about. I say the squirrels and the deer should get guns and shoot you!
When I lived in West Virginia my dishwasher Duane Dwayne use to sit in his backyard and shoot squirrels and his mom would make squirrel pot pie from them. They would saute the squirrel brains in butter and eat them atop Ritz Crackers. Of course they were country squirrels.
Just shoot them and thats it,they get run over by cars all the time,and no one says peep..i find it funny that people will spend all kinds of money and calling in wild life removal people for the job,what the goverment has done once again is turn a small problem into a major problem at the expence of the tax payer,a 50 dollar pellet gun will take care of any squirel from 40 to 50 feet away.and if you know what your doing safely even in city’s….
I agree. A good pellet rifle like crossman costs over $100 now…but worth it. I call it my favorite pest control tool.
so someone told me to take treble fish hooks and tie them strategically on the wire holding the bird feeder–when the squirrel comes down to climb on the feed the sharp hooks poke them and keeps them from coming further….and feasting on the birds food….has anyone tried this? does it work without hurting/hanging the squirrel?
Yep. I grew up feeding squirrels in my back yard & watching them get smashed from eating these (fermented) little red berries on one of my Mom’s shrubs. Adorable….until this year when 3 made my attic their home sweet home. We tried am talk radio, squirrel repellent (home-made), squirrel stink-bombs (cat urine in cloth knots) – but their favorite ‘toy’ was the electric rodent-be-gone sensor my husband bought & tried. They ate it. Seriously, they ate it. (HAHAHA) We finally found one of those ‘squirrel-goes-inside-for-the-peanut-&-the-door-slams-shut’ traps, and got all three re-located to some parkland far, far from my house. They aren’t nearly as cute when they are eating your electrical wiring & phone lines. 🙂 (just sayin’….)
That’s a great idea fonda. Got any pics? Would love to see those.
I put sunflower seed/corn kernal mix in a squirrel feeder away from my bird feeder. Bird feeder is 2 – 4x4x6 posts each wrapped with 5′ heat duct metal I bought @ recycle shop for $3. Each post topped with used tin popcorn cans secured with eyescrews and a wire line across. Each end near poles has wire running through 3 – 2liter soda bottles. They spin critters off before they can reach feeders Ã§entered on wire. Squirrels would climb up posts and jump to feeders before I wrapped posts with the tin metal!
Yeah “Heavy”. I wouldnt be back either if I were that squirrel. Pretty smart Monica. I tried that years ago with my son. It never worked. He would eat all his food AND everything else in the house!! hahahaha. Thats great Barbara. Ive seen people use pie tins, upside down cups, pots and large saucers. I have actually run into folks who have used hubcaps on their poles, under the feeder. And to Dennis…. Ive even seen them hang from twelve inch pieces of twine upside down to get to a feeder. Then they let themselves fall. The next thing you know, they are climbing back up again!
One thing is for sure…… they are determined little critters.
Somehow, a gray squirrel made it into the vent above my stove fan a few years ago. My cat discovered it, and wouldn’t leave the kitchen for watching. Luckily, with my BIL’s help, we were able to remove enough hardware to give him an out, and coaxed him to try with food. He made it back outside unharmed; we never saw that particular squirrel in our yard again!
I love grey squirrels and enjoy watching them, as well as the birds. I feed both in the same “sanctuary” of our yard. I discovered a long time ago that squirrels are voracious eaters and clever “opponents”. I decided then not to try to deny them access to the feeders, but rather to place food for them within easy access. Like most creatures, they will take the easy way out. So birds, squirrels and humans live in peaceful co-existence in our little corner of the world.
YEARS AGO A BIRD MAGAZINE I ORDERED TOLD HOW TO PUT A HOLE IN THE BOTTOM OF A SMALL PLASTIC BUCKET AND FORCE IT UPSIDE DOWN ONTO THE BIRD FEEDER POLE. IT DOESN’T LOOK PRETTY BUT WHEN THE SQUIRRELS RUN UP THE POLE THEY FIND THEMSELVES IN THE BUCKET AND NO ACCESS TO THE BIRD FEEDER. WE HAVE DONE THIS MORE THAN 15 YEARS AGO AND IT STILL WORKS GREAT.
We have a lot of Grey squirrels around our property and they are really good at getting into my bird feeders. I went will the “if you can’t beat ’em …..join ’em”. I set up two pole feeder systems, one that was much easier for the squirrels to climb. On this pole I have two feeders filled with a cheaper seed mix. The squirrels spend most of the day “hanging” around these feeders and leaving the other feeders alone, for the birds. I also leave out peanuts for the Bluejays. I leave a separate bile of peanuts for the squirrels which allows the Jays exclusive access to their own peanuts. Bottom line everyone gets to eat and is happy.
Outside the fence of my property are several large oak trees which attact many grey squirrels. I don’t mind their presence except for the fact that they are constantly digging up my backyard lawn to find the acorns, peanuts, or whatever they have buried in the past. My bird feeder hangs from a six foot metal hook and the squirrels still manage to climb up the metal pole and hang onto the bird feeder for an easy treat. Other than that, they are fun to watch while doing their thing in my backyard.