Squirrels can create a number of problems for homeowners, but there are humane solutions for any number of issues that might occur.
Squirrels may eat flowers and trees, dig holes in lawns, and even chew on wooden decks and furniture. Squirrels are only active during the day, so you should be able to catch a squirrel in the act to ensure you have the right culprit.
Small fruit and nut tree can be protected by squirrels by netting the entire tree for a short period when squirrel damage is most likely to occur. Fruit trees may be protected by wrapping a two-foot band of sheet metal around the trust about six feet off the ground as long as the squirrels cannot jump on them from adjoining trees.
Do not leave the bands on any longer than necessary, since insect damage might occur and the trunks of sensitive trees may get sun scald if bands are removed after a long time.
Squirrels will dig up and eat tulip and crocus bulbs, but they do not like daffodils, so consider investing in plants squirrels do not favor. You may also soak bulbs in a repellent with Thiram as the active ingredient before planting. Lay chicken wire over the planing or use wire bulb cages.
If you have tiny holes in your yard about the size of a quarter, they are most likely the sign of squirrel activity. Squirrels bury their winter food supply and rely on their sense of smell to relocate it. Any “damage” they create from this is likely to be slight, so we suggest tolerating it. The lawn will heal itself by spring.
Wood Decks and Furniture
If squirrels are gnawing on deck railings or wooden lawn furniture, try capsaicin-based repellents or lightly rubbing the exposed surfaces with a bar of soap. Please use caution with capsaicin, as it can be transferred to your hands and cause intense irritation if it gets into your eyes.
Squirrels can jump over ten feet, so place feeders far away from trees, wire, porches, gutters, and other launching points to make it more difficult for them to get to your feeders. You can also place a wire cage around a bird feeder that a squirrel could not fit through but smaller birds may. This also can help prevent larger bully birds from accessing the feeder.
Installing a baffle can prevent squirrels from reaching your bird feeders. You can buy baffles or create your own setup, as follows:
- Attach your bird feeder to a wire between two trees, posts, or any convenient structure.
- Find clean, empty soda bottles (one liter or more).
- Puncture a hole in the bottom of each bottle.
- Slide three or four bottles on the wire on each side of the feeder.
There are also many new bird feeder designs that can prevent squirrels from successfully feeding, so finding a more advanced model may help. For example, some have openings that close when any animal as heavy as a squirrel tries to reach the entrance.
Another approach is to fill your feeder with foods that squirrels do not want, such as safflower seed, nyjer thistle, or a birdseed mixture that includes a large amount of white proso millet seed. Additionally, squirrels are sensitive to the perceived heat of pepper, while birds are not. Adding cayenne pepper or similar spices to birdseed can deter squirrels. However, cayenne can be washed off and must be used consistently for the best results.
Finally, keep the area around your feeder clean and remove debris and spilled seed from the ground that may attract squirrels. This also ensures that ground-feeding birds do not eat old, contaminated, or rotting seed that could harm them.
In Your House
If you find a squirrel loose in your house, do the following:
- Place any pets in another room and close all interior doors. Open a window or exterior door in the room where the squirrel is located. Leave the squirrel alone, so they can hopefully find their way out.
- If there is no possible exit, set a humane trap baited with peanut butter on the floor near the squirrel and leave them alone for a few hours.
- If you do not have access to a humane trap, try this method:
- Put on heavy gloves.
- Slowly approach the squirrel with a blanket held in front or your body, so that they do not see a human form.
- Drop the blanket on the squirrel and quickly roll it up, taking care not to put too much weight or pressure on the squirrel.
- Take the squirrel in the blanket immediately outside and gently open the blanket on the ground, letting the squirrel escape.
Once a squirrel is removed, look for the entryway and take steps to keep it from reentering by sealing all holes. If you are unsure if the squirrel has left, stuff holes with newspaper, and if the newspaper stays in place for three days, the squirrel has moved and it is safe to repair holes.
Squirrels living in attics is concerning because squirrels may gnaw on boards and electrical wires. The most serious problems generally come from nesting adult females who will build their nest near openings, such as unscreened vents or loose or rotten trim boards.
To deal with squirrels in your attic, do the following:
- Find the point of entry by thoroughly inspecting the inside of the attic to find any openings. If there is no way into the attic, inspect the exterior eaves, vents, and roof.
- Find out if it is a mother squirrel with young. Try to locate the nest, which will probably be made of readily available materials like insulation, cardboard, and leaves. If it is February through may or August through October, you can be sure that babies are present. If that is the case, it is best to wait a few weeks until the babies grow old enough to leave with their mother as they will not survive without her.
- Remove the squirrels. If you cannot wait until the mother and babies leave on their own, hire a professional who knows how to reunite mothers with their offspring. If you find the nest and there are no baby squirrels, you can try to frighten the adult squirrels into leaving, which might be as easy as banging on the rafters or going into the attic and speaking loudly. You can also try putting a bright light in the attic and leaving it on, playing a radio around the clock, or putting rags soaked with cider vinegar in the attic.
- Keep them out. Install metal flashing to keep squirrels from reopening access points into attics.
- Listen carefully after excluding to make sure no squirrels are trapped inside or have gotten back in. Watch closely to see if a squirrel keeps trying to get back inside, as it may be a mother squirrel desperately trying to get back to her babies. If you notice any of this, remove the patch and wait until the squirrels have left.
Sometimes squirrels enter chimneys and are unable to climb back out, which forces them into a fireplace or basement duct. Assume that any squirrel in a chimney is trapped, unless you have clear evidence that they are able to climb back out on their own. For any trapped squirrels, do the following:
- Provide an escape route by hanging a three-quarter inch or thicker rope down the chimney to give them a way to escape. Tie one end of the rope to the top of the chimney and make sure it reaches the damper or smokeshelf. Usually within a few days, the squirrel will climb up the rope and escape. Once you are certain that the squirrel has escaped, remove the rope and cap the chimney with a commercially made cap.
- If the squirrel is in the fireplace itself, try making enough noise to square them back up above the damper. Then close the damper and provide the escape route above.
- If a squirrel cannot or will not leave the fireplace, the next best option is to use a trap: 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, if possible, so the squirrel has a way out. Bait a humane live trap with peanut butter and set it very carefully inside the fireplace. Close the doors and leave the room to wait until the squirrel enters the trap. Take the squirrel outside and carefully open the trap door while standing behind the trap. If the squirrel does not leave the trap immediately, you can wedge the door open or tie it open with a zip tie and stand back to let the squirrel leave on their own. As soon as a squirrel is removed, have a cap installed to prevent any squirrels from returning.
Please note, Humane Action Pittsburgh (HAP) is not a wildlife rescue and is unable to address concerns or assist with wildlife emergencies. Please utilize the resources on our website to find the appropriate organization to contact. Submissions to HAP through our contact form or email will not be able to be addressed.