Winning the squirrel wars
They may be cute, but they can do plenty of damage. Here’s how to boot the destructive pests out of your home and yard – and keep them out.
They’re furry. They’re cute. One of them even pals around with a moose named Bullwinkle.
Squirrels — those acorn-nibbling symbols of the leafy American suburb. But they’re not always as charming as Rocky the cartoon character. For homeowners, squirrels can be a real pain in your attic. Or your lawn or garden, for that matter.
“Once they get into a house, they’re basically a rat, and they do all the damage that a rat does,” says Jeff Jackson, a certified wildlife biologist and retired professor of wildlife management at the University of Georgia, and now a wildlife management consultant.
If he becomes a pest, Rocky must be stopped. Here’s what the experts say you need to know to boot squirrels out — and keep them out — of your home and its surrounding area.
The Trojan squirrel
Seeing them up on a branch, nibbling a nut, you might not think squirrels have anything to do with you. And while humans and squirrels can coexist, the latter have the potential to do lots of damage.
They can walk along power lines and short out transformers, Jackson has written in a popular primer on the rodent. They can damage lawns when they bury their nuts, and when they search for them later. They chew the bark on trees and shrubs. They dine at birdfeeders. They are most active toward dusk and near daybreak, often waking a home’s occupants by running on the roof or in the attic.
That’s not all. According to the University of California’s Integrated Pest Management Program, tree squirrels can carry diseases, such as tularemia (aka “rabbit fever”) and ringworm, that are transmissible to people. They also frequently have fleas, mites and other ectoparasites.
“But the real concern is the fire hazard,” says Scott McNeely, owner of McNeely Pest and Wildlife Solutions in Winston-Salem, N.C. “Because of the rodent nature of squirrels, they tend to chew. And they can be a major concern to electrical wiring” once they enter a house.
How do you know if you have a squirrel problem? It’s not so hard, experts say:
- Look for them: They’re usually visible creatures, active during daylight hours.
- Listen for them: If you worry about having squirrels in the attic, listen in the early morning and at dusk; that’s when they’re most active and likely to be scrabbling around.
- Look again: Check around your house — in the eaves, soffits, overhangs — for small places where a squirrel could have slipped inside. Go up into the attic and look for signs of nesting and food (and possibly baby squirrels).
- Follow the teeth marks: “They’ll also sometimes chew on decks” as well as the edges of shutters, window casings, etc., because some paint additives use salts that squirrels like, McNeely says.
An ounce of prevention
The best way to keep squirrels away is to thwart them in the first place. There are several effective ways to do this:
- Cut back: “Squirrels can climb wood siding or brick siding pretty effectively, but the most common thing they’ll climb is tree limbs,” McNeely says. So a good rule of thumb is to cut branches until they’re six feet away from a home’s roof lines — too far for most (nondaredevil) squirrels to leap.
- Collar that tree: Stop squirrels from climbing trees or even power poles by wrapping them with a 2-foot-wide collar of metal, six feet off the ground, says the University of California: “Attach metal using encircling wires held together with springs to allow for tree growth.”
- Trip up tightrope-walking rodents: Wildlife expert Jackson says you can stop squirrels from running along electrical wires by installing 2-foot sections of lightweight, 2- to 3-inch diameter plastic pipe. Slit the pipe lengthwise, spread it open and place it over the wire. Since this outer pipe fits only loosely, it spins on the wire, and squirrels can’t cross it.
- Fix that feeder: If the home’s birdfeeder is the attraction, put an end to that by buying one of several varieties of squirrel-proof feeders. Or, give the squirrels something else to target: Nail up a corncob farther away, Jackson suggests.
- Block ’em out: You need to seal out the varmints so they won’t waltz back inside. How? “Areas of concern should be covered with metal flashing, or quarter-inch mesh or even half-inch mesh,” McNeely says. Extend the patch several inches beyond the hole in all directions to stop the squirrel from gnawing around it.
Caution: “One should always make sure that the squirrels are not present before sealing a hole,” he says. Translation: Don’t accidentally block them inside! Here’s how to make sure you don’t: Ball up a newspaper. Put it in the hole the squirrels have been using. Now wait, probably two days. If the newspaper remains intact, McNeely says, you can be more certain the squirrels are outside. Now seal up the hole.
Bing: Search & decide
People badly want to believe in a magic bullet — or make that a stinky bullet — some product that drives away squirrels because it smells bad, tastes bad or imparts fear.
- Hot sauce: There are products on the market that use capsaicin, the “hot” ingredient in pepper, to discourage squirrels from gnawing, for example. But the experts are skeptical about the effectiveness. “That may have some effect,” Jackson says of a pepper-based spray.
- Sticky stuff: Products that contain polybutenes, or sticky materials that can be applied to buildings, railings, downspouts and other areas to prevent squirrels from climbing, may also be effective because animals don’t like to walk on them. But it’s not exactly desirable to have strips all around your house like a sticky moat.
- Mothballs: The University of California says that napthalene (mothballs) used at a rate of five pounds per 2,000 cubic feet of air space may temporarily discourage squirrels from entering attics and other enclosed spaces. However, the smell of mothballs also can irritate humans, and some experts don’t advise this.
In short, “a repellent is a temporary thing,” Jackson says. It’s not a long-term fix.
Hey dizzle42, So u got cat problems? My next door neighbor, who I have lived next door to for twenty years recently decided for what ever reason to start feeding a stray cat. Before I say much more, this person had a large dog that she allowed to run free in the neighborhood. It terrorized everyone. (it didn't bother me because I made a point to be nice to it since it was a puppy) However since I knew this person was a nut case, I always appeased her. And when this dog crapped in my front yard (daily), I said nothing to her because she's a complete nut. She gets nasty if you find her at fault for anything. But when she started feeding the stray cat, all the other strays in the neighbor hood began to show up, and that included skunks, raccoons, and possums. (which are not nearly as bad as cats!). Also, I am a bird photographer by hobby. I have created a well planted yard with trees and shrubs to attract birds. All these cats began to camp out in my yard and even on the roof of my house and my brand new car. Claw marks now on the hood of by new car! Cat s_h_!_t everywhere. etc.etc.etc.Then one day, the neighbor was going out of town and wanted me to take over feeding the cats while she was away. I refused. Now she yells at me whenever she sees me in the front yard. The war is on.
Here is how I deal with the cats now. NOTE, I am extremely good at handicrafts.
To keep them from sleeping on my car. I set up water sprinklers and a motion detector near my car. When a cat gets up on the car, the motion detector turns on the lawn sprinkler and douses the car and cat. The down side of this is a wet car and driveway and windy days keep the water works on pretty much all the time. But this trained the cats to stay off the car (mostly). Then the cats started using the car as a quick way to get on the roof of the house, by jumping on the car, then from the roof of the car to a nearby tree, and from the tree to the roof of the house. So then I went to home depot, and bought 8 rat traps. Since I have a work shop in my garage, I was able to modify the rat traps by imbedding magnets into the bottom of the traps. Then I put a section of plastic tubing on the business end of the slam bar (so that the device would not maim the cats) but it sure would hurt them when they stepped on it. Then I put plastic tarp on the hood of my car each evening and set the rat traps on the hood of the car. They were held in place by the magnets, and the tarp and rat traps tended to be pulled off the car when ever a cat tried to jump up on the hood. This gave the cats a really bad experience. In two weeks, the ten or so cats involved stayed away from my car. (never any harm to my car from the rat traps)
Unfortunately, nothing kept them from dining on birds in my backyard. So I started trapping cats in a live catch trap and taking them twenty miles outside of town. The city animal control guy is the one who told me to do that! He said, just be aware that now you are basically providing food for coyotes.
Now if only I can think what to do about this neighbor!!!!
First of all Zig, It looks a bit pathetic when you are making repetative posts, even supporting and giving props to your own!
Second, have you ever had to deal with the results of these cute innocent animals? I have, and paid way too much money to repair damage caused by these rodents chewing through my electrical wires and insulation. If they make their home in a tree, or whatever, away from my house, who cares. However, when they venture to my home, they do so at their peril. They may look cute and harmless, but they can still spread disease like any other animal.
Third, they may have been here before us, but so were their natural predators. When we moved into "their" environment, many of the animals that kept the population in balance moved to safer areas. Argue with me all you want whether we killed them, moved them, or they left on there own, but I don't care. We are the apex predator on this planet, and I will do what I need to do to control the population of wild animals on my property whether they seem menacing or not. Evolution is a bitch for the weak I guess.... DEAL WITH IT!
Feeding your bushmaster Wolf ammo should be considered cruel and unusual punishment to a nice rifle. You paid good money for it, provide it with a more appropriate diet. On another note, a Ruger 10-22 is a far cheaper option.
Since becoming unemployed, I have become obsessed with the punks, as they got into an eave and had a nest. In 6 mos. I have trapped 75 and removed them (suburban neighborhood-10 miles away). Every time one is trapped, it seems that 2 more take their place! Have to let it go or it's going to drive me crazy!