Squirrels, Squirrels and More Squirrels
Of all the calls we get at Humane Homes Wildlife Removal the ubiquitous grey squirrel is the most common second only to mice. These amazing acrobatic communal beings are wonderful to watch. Their place in the food chain and circle of life is profound. They are major contributors to the planting and germination of oak and other trees burying millions of acorns and seeds! They are also a significant food source for many predators.
Many of us love wildlife and nature… until they get into our home. For most of us, this is where we draw the line.
Clients have told us, “ I love squirrels. I just don't want them in my attic." We totally understand. We are here to take care of the problem for you.
What attracts grey squirrels to my yard?
1. Bird feeders and bird seed. This is often the number one factor that is attracting squirrels and other wildlife into your yard. If you do not have a bird feeder, the presence of oak trees is equally a key factor. Oak trees produce a fruit in the form of a nut we commonly call acorns. Squirrels eat acorns, other tree nuts, bird seed, vegetables from the garden and food from trash cans. They will also eat insects, mushrooms, eggs and baby birds or snakes.
2. Habitat. Most homes are not squirrel proof. Squirrels are masterful excavators. Once they find a way in your home, they will inspect the entire gutter edge and roof for access. They will find nooks and crannies that we do not even know are there. Gaps and access points can be found and excavated in many places on homes: eaves, fascia, soffit pockets, returns, water tables, roof edges, gutter edges, (where the roof decks meets the fascia), gable vents, exhaust vents, ridge vents, holes in the roof, rotten wood, gutter corners, siding, and other areas. Squirrels can feel hot or cool air coming out of a structure which can entice them to excavate to see if there is a space for them to take shelter. And this they will do. If a squirrel finds a gap in the edge of a wooden trim, or the wood on the fascia is rotten, they can excavate a softball-sized hole quickly!
How do squirrels get on my roof?
1. The most obvious answer is trees. Any tree or limb within 10-15 feet of the house, above or below the roof line can create easy access on your roof. Squirrels can jump far! To keep squirrels off the roof the primary strategy is to trim the trees back 10-15 feet from the house. However, if you have other accessible and climbable areas this may not make a big difference.
2. Brick or Rock facade. Squirrels can easily scale brick or rock façade. We have seen squirrels nesting behind rocks in the façade, and we have observed them climbing both brick and stones.
3. Cedar or Wood siding. Cedar or other natural wood siding is rough with ridges and grooves and texture. Squirrels can climb these surfaces using their exceptionally strong arms and legs and sharp clasping claws. To my knowledge squirrels cannot climb vinyl or Hardiplank siding. In our experience, it is also rare to see Hardiplank siding or soffit boards chewed or excavated. Rotting woods can have bugs. Bugs may attract woodpeckers who will rip open the wood to get to the bugs! We especially see this with Carpenter Bees.
4. Downspouts. Not as easy but doable. Clients have observed and reported squirrels climbing their downspouts. They have also reported squirrels stuck inside of downspouts. If this happens unfasten the downspout at one of the seams. They are usually held together with just one or two small screws. Once unscrewed pull the section of the spout off and the squirrel will run out. Make sure you are out of the way! If needed use a couple ropes to pull it apart so you can at a safe distance.
5. Wooden corner trim. Trim such as cedar or pine wood siding is naturally rough. Thus, the trim on the corners of the homes can be scaled by squirrels.
6. Electrical lines, cable lines. Some homes in some areas have above ground wires. Squirrels can climb the utility pole and do a balancing act across the lines to the roof.
How do squirrels get into my attic?
Once squirrels find a way into your home structure (usually the attic) they find an expansive warm and safe habitat to sleep! Here they can store acorns and build nests. With food, shelter, and warmth, it is the perfect place to rear their pups too! Layered or blow-in insulation is so warm and for them, comfortable. They have very thick skin covered in rough thick fur, so apparently the insulation is not irritating to them. They will burrow into the insulation forming a bowl-like nest. They will move insulation from the ceiling into the eaves, filling these dormer areas with insulation and leaves or other debris. Once inside an eave or ceiling they will scratch at the ground (your ceiling or soffit). This can often be what you are hearing. Sometimes they may make a small or large hole in the ceiling or soffit. On a couple occasions squirrels have come through the ceiling! However, in our experience this is exceptionally rare. They are not trying to get into your home. They do not want to be in the house with you, your family or children or pets. Sometimes their digging is a bit overzealous and they overdo it causing the surface to break.
How do I get squirrels out of my attic?
There are a variety of methods to get squirrels out of your dwelling. Traps and exclusion devices come in different designs. Cage-style traps are common. They either have one door or a door at each end. Bait is placed in the middle of the trap on a trip plate. When the squirrel enters to take the bait, the cage closes, and they are locked inside. It is important that traps are checked 1-2 times per day. Trapped squirrels can become distressed and can possibly hurt themselves. Therefore, at Humane Homes Wildlife we avoid trapping unless it is absolutely necessary. Exclusion devices are simple rectangular cages with a one-way door. The device is installed over the squirrel’s primary entry hole. The squirrels can leave through the one-way door but cannot re-enter. Once the squirrels are out, the primary access hole can be closed, and all other suspect or accessible areas can be reinforced and sealed to prevent squirrels from entering elsewhere at another time.
Why kill if it is not necessary? At Humane Homes Wildlife Removal, we never use kill traps nor do we trap and kill. We do not use poison or sticky traps. Ever. We believe killing is not necessary to eliminate squirrels from entering your home. When a hole is made in the food chain, it will be filled by other animals. If squirrels are killed as part of the solution, the squirrels next door or a new litter of squirrels in the coming season will fill the gap in the territory. This is one reason permanent and long-term solutions are sustainable and, in our opinion, truly humane.
About Grey Squirrels
Grey squirrels are a common mammal in all 100 counties in North Carolina. They are found in all types of settings from rural to urban. They are incredibly adaptive. They are mammals because they nurse their young. They are rodents because of their two big front buck teeth (enlarged specialized front incisors). They can climb vertical surfaces, even ones that seem impossible! They can jump vertically up to 6 feet and can leap up to 10 feet from branch to branch or onto your roof!
Naturally they rely on acorns from oak trees, as well as the fruit (nuts) from beech and hickory. 4 “Though their diet consists mostly of nuts and seeds, gray squirrels will also eat tree buds, bark, fruit, fungi, insects, eggs, and occasionally even small birds. During the autumn, squirrels will “scatter hoard” nuts (that is, bury them in multiple locations as a food source for the winter), thus not only creating their own food cache, but also providing an ongoing means of reforestation, since many of the nuts they bury remain uneaten, and so have a chance to germinate.” 3
Habitat & Nesting
Like many animals they need older growth or dead trees in which there are cavities. “Home for a gray squirrel may be a leafy nest, a dome-shaped mass of twigs and leaves with an inner chamber of shredded bark and leaves, or a tree cavity, which it seems to prefer.” 8 They will also build nests out of leaves, which can been seen where a larger tree branch meets the tree trunk. In urban settings they will eat a variety of human food from trash cans, bird seed from feeders, and vegetables from gardens. In the absence of old growth trees, they will find other places to roost, and often this is in an attic or soffit or other area of a home. Grey Squirrels will often have more than one bed or nest.
The weather conditions and temperatures plus competitive pressure from other squirrels and other tree and cavity-dwellers, will determine which site they will use. Grey squirrels’ range in weight from 1.0 to 1.5 pounds. They will eat 1- 2 pounds of food per week in warmer climates. In cooler climates squirrels will eat much more. 8
Like other rodents, squirrels have four front teeth that never stop growing, so they don't wear down from the constant gnawing. They are said to gnaw on wood and other materials to file, sharpen, and maintain these teeth. Here at Humane Homes we have seen squirrels chew through aluminum gutters and flashing.
We often see gnaw marks around the area of their nest in an attic or eave. They will chew the edges of wood framing. And we do see wires that have been chewed. Thus, even if you are tolerant of squirrels having a nursery and home upstairs, beware they are real potential dangers.
Considering their abundance and the number of predators, it is not surprising that squirrels mate up to two times per year, late winter and summer. Pups are born December through March, and late June through August. It takes 44 weeks for pups to be born after conception.
The litter can have 1-8 pups. From birth it takes only 10 weeks for a newborn to become an adolescent and ready to be on its own. The adolescent squirrels I see are usually three quarters of the size of an adult. They are less skittish, moving around less and even being still. I have seen a couple of them lying on the edge of a roof just motionless, watching.
Adults and yearlings take the newbies out with them to teach them how to forage and move about their new world. I have observed 3 different adults coming back to a roost, summoning an adolescent and having it follow them out into the woods. To me it appears as a rite of passage, a passing of the baton to the next generation.
“Gray squirrels are diurnal animals. Their eyes are adapted to high light levels and have even greater visual acuity than human eyes. The angling of the eyes so that they are pointing slightly upward, is thought to be an adaptation to help them to watch constantly for avian predators. The positioning of the “blind spot” of the eye (the part of the retina in which photoreceptors are absent) into the lower visual field is also thought to give the squirrel full view if the sky and any incoming hawk or owl.”
Humans are the greatest cause of mortality (through hunting and getting hit by cars). Squirrels are preyed upon by hawks and owls, bobcats, coyotes, foxes and black rat snakes. Raccoons will eat squirrel pups from the nest.
Tidbits About Squirrels
- “Squirrels have four front teeth that grow continuously, at a rate of about six inches per year. This helps their incisors endure the constant gnawing.”
- “Electrical lines are no match for squirrel teeth, which have been blamed for hundreds of power disruptions across the U.S. in the past 30 years — including outages that briefly shut down the NASDAQ stock market in 1987 and 1994. As the Brookings Institution points out, “squirrels have taken down the power grid more times than the zero times that hackers have.”
- “Adult tree squirrels normally live alone, but they sometimes nest in groups during severe cold spells. A group of squirrels is called a “scurry” or “dray.”
- “Tree squirrels mostly eat nuts, seeds and fruit, but they are omnivores. Gray squirrels, for example, have been known to eat insects, snails, bird eggs and animal carcasses when other food is scarce.”
- “Better hope those carcasses aren’t too rancid, though — squirrels, like many rodents, can’t vomit. (They also can’t burp or experience heartburn.)”
“Tree squirrels don’t hibernate in winter, instead relying on caches of acorns and other nuts they buried earlier in the year. Gray squirrels
protect these caches with some impressive anti-theft precautions, like digging fake holes to deceive onlookers or digging up and reburying their food multiple times. They may create hundreds of caches per year, but thanks to a detailed spatial memory and a strong sense of smell, they recover about 40% to 80%. And the ones they lose aren’t really lost, since unrecovered acorn caches simply turn into new oak
- “A 2010 study found that some squirrels collect old rattlesnake skin, chew it up and then lick their fur, creating a kind of “rattlesnake perfume”; that helps them hide from the smell-dependent predators. “
- “Hibernating squirrels have a trait that could help protect stroke patients from brain damage, according to research funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). When squirrels hibernate, their brains experience significantly reduced blood flow, just like humans have after a certain type of stroke, researchers say. But squirrels wake up after hibernation with no serious effects. Scientists believe a potential drug “could grant the same resilience to the brains of ischemic stroke patients by mimicking the cellular changes that protect the brains of those animals,” the NIH said in a news release.”
- “… Squirrel Appreciation Day, founded in 2001 by North Carolina wildlife rehabilitator Christy McKeown. It’s held Jan. 21 every year, but much like Elephant Appreciation Day, Penguin Awareness Day, and similar informal animal holidays, it’s pretty decentralized. As McKeown explains on her website, “while there are no official events scheduled, you can help celebrate by putting out extra food for the Squirrels.” She also warns though, that “too many treats will lead to health problems.” (And routinely feeding any wild animal could make it dependent.) That holiday is mainly focused on bushy-tailed tree squirrels common in the Eastern U.S., and it’s held in midwinter since that can be a fallow time of year for them. But across much of North America, and elsewhere, squirrels of all kinds play important ecological roles year-round.”
What's in your attic?
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