Squirrels: Unwelcome Houseguests

Centimeter for centimeter, the squirrel, a tiny furry mammal no taller than a tulip, can do a surprising amount of damage. Most people think of squirrels as happily flitting from tree to tree, gathering nuts for the winter hibernation. When holes appear in lawns, gardens fail to sprout seedlings, or a damaged wire triggers an electrical fire, the last creature they suspect is the winsome squirrel.

Damage to Lawns and Gardens

In nature, squirrels feed on a variety of foods including plants, seeds, tree nuts, other rodents, insects, small frogs and lizards. When squirrels cross paths with homeowners, however, well-tended lawns and gardens often pay the price. Squirrels can greatly reduce crops by eating seeds and emerging seedlings. They also have a tendency to chew holes in water hoses. Ground squirrels, a subset of rodents, which includes gophers, Belding ground squirrels, and chipmunks, burrow holes in the ground. Such holes in lawns can be unsightly as well potentially dangerous.

Damage to Homes

Squirrels raid bird feeders, fall down chimneys, and invade people's homes. Gray squirrels are quite common in Canadian suburbs. Gray squirrels live in trees or any adequate shelter available including your home. They will quickly chew out a small hole on the corners of a fascia or soffit to gain access. Their motivation may be to find food or simply a protected place to hibernate or give birth to offspring.

Squirrels in an attic create many problems more serious than the annoying sounds of scratching on the ceiling. Their urine has a powerful smell and can stain the ceiling. If they are not evicted immediately, parasites such as fleas can become a serious problem. The fleas may move onto family pets or even homeowners themselves. Squirrels love to chew on wood and electrical wires, creating the possibility of fire.

Repellents

Most squirrels are active during the day and return to the nest at dusk. When the animals are out on their daily feeding forays, seal all entrance holes with screen or plywood. Try to ensure that all the squirrels are out before trying this technique otherwise you could actually seal one up inside, causing more problems. (Squirrels have litters between March and June; to avoid trapping any offspring, seal up holes from July to October.)
One of the best ways to ensure they are out of your home is to place bait several feet outside the point of entry. Peanut butter spread on small chunks of break is hard to resist. Also try using peanuts, grains, walnuts, sunflower seeds and popcorn.

A chimney vent needs a screen cover in order to prevent leaves and debris as well as animals from entering. Inspect the cover at least once a year to remove any debris and check for holes. A squirrel that falls into a chimney may perish if caught on the damper or may find its way into your living room!

The scent of predators is another effective deterrent. You may not think of your lovable dog or cat as a predator; fortunately squirrels do. Squirrels will keep their distance from your home as well as your lawn and garden. If you normally keep your dog indoors, consider putting a fence around your property to keep Fido safe while reducing the damage done by squirrels.

If you have trees very close to your home, squirrels can easily climb up them and gain quick access to the roof, chimney, and rain gutters. To prevent the squirrels from climbing these trees, wrap smooth metal flashing around the bases. Squirrels have an impressive ability to leap; flashing should enclose the tree from a height of 30cm to 120cm from the ground. It may not be attractive but it works.

Cayenne pepper also makes an inexpensive and effective deterrent. Sprinkle a heavy dose of cayenne pepper around ground squirrels burrows and the base of fruit trees. If you have located a point of entry for squirrels into your home and sealed up the hole during the daytime, cayenne pepper will deter the squirrel from trying to regain entry. Squirrels may try to gnaw or scratch their way back into their home (your home); a deterrent such a cayenne pepper can spare you the expensive of a second repair job.

A tightly woven mesh fence can be an effective way to keep squirrels out of your garden. Bury the fence to a depth of at least 10 centimeters and to a height of a meter or more. Also visit a children's store and ask for shiny metallic toys that move in the wind. Anything that creates movement or catches the sun may frighten squirrels. You may find they rapidly become accustomed to the movement so move the toys to a new location in the garden once a week.

Trapping can be a dangerous endeavor; upon releasing or removing a squirrel there is the potential for injury from sharp incisors and claws. Squirrels can also be infested with fleas and parasites. If you find that you cannot adequately deal with a squirrel problem on your own contact a pest control company. Some methods involve poisons which can be toxic to pets, children and soil; ask about their methods and products.

Squirrels play an important role in the natural ecosystem. Our biggest challenge may be to find balance that works for both of us. Peanuts anyone?