Squirrels are one of the most common wild neighbors homeowners encounter – and people either love them or hate them! Squirrels can be fun to watch, but can also cause some problems in and around the house.
Nesting in Attic: Squirrels enter attics through small openings, typically near a home’s roofline. The gaps may be small initially but are typically enlarged by the squirrel. Squirrels may tear insulation to use as nesting material, and also chew electrical wires. If you hear squirrels in the attic, identify all entrances near the roofline; keep in mind squirrels can enter any hole that is two inches by two inches. Seal all entrances except for one; then install a one-way door over the last hole. Squirrels will be able to exit, but not re-enter. If, after several days, no more squirrels are heard in the attic, seal the last hole permanently.
Please note: Squirrels have babies February – May and August – October. If squirrels are in your attic during this time, it’s possible that babies are present. Wait until young are old enough to leave on their own (when they are about 8-10 weeks old). If mother squirrels are sealed out of an attic with their babies inside, they will cause an extreme amount of destruction to enter again.
In the Fireplace/Chimney: Squirrels may climb in and out of a chimney, but if you hear one that is continually climbing the walls of a chimney, it may be trapped. Do not “smoke out” a squirrel that is trapped in a chimney. Close the damper to eliminate access into the house, then lower a long ¾” rope or knotted bedsheet from the top of the chimney down to the damper. Tie the rope securely so the squirrel can climb. Typically, squirrels will climb out in a few daylight hours. Cap the chimney once you are sure it is vacated.
Please note: Squirrels typically make nests in trees, though may choose to make a nest in a chimney. If babies are present, provide the rope or knotted bedsheet, but please give the squirrel family time to grow up before capping the chimney.
Loose in House: Squirrels may get loose in a homeowner’s house if they accidentally fall through the chimney or gain access from an attic. A loose squirrel will likely try to escape through a window. To remove a squirrel, first attempt to confine the squirrel in a smaller area by closing doors. Open windows and/or a door in the room where the squirrel is, and quietly give it time to leave on its own. Squirrels can and will jump from a second-floor room; if they have access to a lower-level roof or directly onto the soft grass outside, open the window; if access is onto a hard surface, attempt to shift the squirrel into a lower level room. If the squirrel doesn’t leave on its own, you may need to catch the squirrel using a net, thick blanket, and a box while wearing heavy leather gloves.
Chewing on Decks, Trim, or Wood Furniture: Deter squirrels from chewing by applying a paste of crushed hot pepper mixed with petroleum jelly, or by applying a hot pepper spray. Other commercial squirrel repellents may also be effective.
Digging Bulbs: Tulips, crocus bulbs, and early shoots seem to be a favorite squirrel snack. Bulbs can be soaked in products containing thiram to deter chewing. Sprinkling bone meal over the area where bulbs are planted may also help deter squirrels. Squirrels don’t like daffodil, grape hyacinth, and crown imperial; these can be planted among tulips and crocuses.
Damaging Trees/Gardens: Add a three-foot band of sheet metal around affected trees about four feet off the ground. Trim branches that are lower than six feet. Dwarf fruit and nut trees can be netted during most vulnerable periods to prevent squirrels from harvesting the crop.
For gardens, mix two tablespoons of hot sauce to one gallon of water and spray on vegetables; this must be repeated every time it rains. Stolen tomatoes are usually the work of groundhogs; occasionally squirrels will taste a tomato if they are very hungry, but generally, they only take a bite.
Birdfeeder: There is a variety of “squirrel-proof” bird feeders on the market; if you’d like to attempt to make your own feeder resistant to squirrels, hang the feeder on a 10-foot long wire, at least eight feet away from other tree limbs or structures. Add a conical baffle above the birdfeeder. You might need to keep working on it; squirrels are quite persistent and excellent at figuring out how to get food!
Scent/taste deterrent: There is an assortment of commercial products for deterring squirrels. Some can be used on garden fruits and vegetables that will consumed, others should not be used on foods. Read the labels carefully. Look for: “Miller’s Hot Sauce”,” Ro-Pel”, “Critter-Ridder”, “Shakeaway”, and “Squirrel-Away”. Bulbs can be soaked in thiram prior to planting to deter chewing. Products containing fox urine can use used, but we cannot ascertain if the urine is harvested using humane methods.
Other Deterrents: “Yard-Guard” is an ultrasonic repellent. ”Evictor” is a strobe light deterrent and “Mr. McGregor’s Fence” is an electric fence deterrent on the market.
If you Find a Baby Squirrel
Squirrels nest twice a year in tree cavities on “dreys” – big balls of dried leaves at the tops of trees. The dreys are not always the most stable nests, and babies frequently fall out and are found at or near the base of the nesting tree. Click here to learn more helping baby squirrels.
Injured Adult Squirrels
Squirrels can bite, so always wear heavy leather gloves when attempting capture. In most cases, it’s best to avoid direct contact with the squirrel; use a net and blanket to help contain the squirrel. Do not grab or hold by the tail.
Transport in a metal crate, or a cardboard box placed inside another box. Squirrels can chew through boxes and even plastic pet carriers; if you have a long drive, please plan accordingly with appropriate transport container material! Do not offer food and water.
Squirrels can get sarcoptic mange, a condition caused by mites that results in hair loss. Squirrels who eat a poor diet high in fat (peanuts) or who are otherwise unhealthy are more susceptible. Mange is treatable by a wildlife veterinarian. In mild cases, the squirrel may recover on its own. In severe cases, the squirrel may die of exposure.
The main health risks squirrels present to people are fleas, ticks, and/or lice. Anyone bitten by a squirrel should contain the squirrel and seek advice from their local health department. Any mammal can carry the rabies virus, although small prey animals like squirrels, rabbits, and mice are not considered high-risk species.
What NOT to Do
- Do not keep a squirrel as a pet or try to rehabilitate it yourself: it is illegal in Virginia and most other states. Instead, take it to a permitted wildlife rehabilitator or veterinarian.
- In Virginia, it is illegal to live trap and move any wild mammal off your property. Even for states where it is legal, it’s ill-advised and not beneficial for the animal; mammals that are relocated out of their home range cannot easily find food, water, or shelter and they aren’t familiar with local predators. Relocated animals often die or are killed before they can acclimate to new surroundings. Squirrels in particular build cache stores of food. If moved, they lose access to their winter larder and may starve.
- Never use poisons. They are inhumane and may cause secondary poisoning of raptors, wild scavengers, and domestic pets.
More Info on Living with Squirrels
Humane Society of the United States: Wild Neighbors, What to do about Squirrels.
One-Way Doors: Tomahawk Live Trap