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Farmers Almanac
The 2014 Farmers Almanac
Farmers' Almanac

Pest of the Month: Gray Squirrels

Pest of the Month: Gray Squirrels

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.

This month we’ll look at Sciurus carolinensis, the grey squirrel.

Habitat and History:
Gray squirrels are rodents that can be found from 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.

Diet:
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.

Reproduction:
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.

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.

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.

15 comments

1 Susan Sweigert { 10.28.13 at 4:48 pm }

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.

2 Jason { 09.08.13 at 10:21 am }

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!

3 Lee Falls { 07.25.13 at 12:42 am }

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!

4 Jim { 07.13.13 at 11:01 am }

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.

5 ron { 02.25.13 at 2:25 pm }

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….

6 Mr Paul { 07.06.12 at 5:21 pm }

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?

7 Nise5280 { 01.22.12 at 2:24 am }

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’….)

8 Shawn { 01.21.12 at 9:35 am }

That’s a great idea fonda. Got any pics? Would love to see those.

9 fonda { 01.20.12 at 4:29 pm }

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 çentered on wire. Squirrels would climb up posts and jump to feeders before I wrapped posts with the tin metal!

10 Shawn { 01.18.12 at 4:23 pm }

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.

11 heavy hedonist { 01.18.12 at 4:12 pm }

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!

12 Dave Anderson { 01.18.12 at 10:47 am }

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.

13 BARBARA DE BENEDITTIS { 01.18.12 at 9:58 am }

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.

14 Monica Russell { 01.18.12 at 9:52 am }

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.

15 Dennis Del Donno { 01.18.12 at 9:11 am }

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.

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