Squirrel FAQ’s: Info about those Pesky Squirrels!
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Squirrels are one of the most commonly seen wildlife animals. You can see these cute busy tailed creatures in your backyard, public park, and anywhere where trees are found typically. As you’ve probably seen, they are more afraid of you than anything and will likely end up scampering up a tree rather than trying to attack you. With over 200 species of squirrel found all over the world, you can likely find a type of squirrel no matter where you live.
With so many different species in the squirrel family, they range in sizes – from 5 inches to 36 inches. While North America is home to several different breeds of squirrels, the most common is the Grey Squirrel. This is the squirrel that you most often see in your backyard running up a tree or running across the power lines in the neighborhood.
There are three main groups of squirrels: tree squirrels, ground squirrels, and flying squirrels. Obviously, tree squirrels reside in trees; this is the group that Grey Squirrels belong to, which is why you always see them up in trees. The next group is ground squirrels, these types of squirrels will burrow underground and are known to hibernate in them throughout the winter months. The third group, flying Squirrels, nest mainly in tree holes, or at the crooks of those branches. The name flying squirrel can often be seen as deceptive, as these little guys cannot actually fly; they have flaps of skin between their bodies and legs that they can glide on for extended periods of time.
While it is largely believed that squirrels exclusively eat nuts, they are actually omnivores and will eat meats and vegetation as well. While seeds and fruits make up a great majority of their diet, squirrels will also go after insects and small animals if given the chance. A well-known squirrel behavior is burying some of their food to store for the winter, this way they have access to food supplies even when they reside in areas where winters can be harsh and damaging. Sometimes, when a squirrel buries an acorn for the winter they forget where the nut is and come spring, an oak tree grows from where the acorn was planted.
Squirrels in the Attic: Why Do Squirrels live in our Attics
You’ve seen many people feeding squirrels, and it seems like they have a constant food source out in the wild, so why would they seek out your attic space? Well they are typically warm and dry space that offers more security than a tree in the wild. Your attic is also barely disturbed, so they may be able to nest in the area without being noticed. Often times they are seeking shelter from extreme weather conditions.
Squirrels also seek shelter in attics to hide from their natural predators. Squirrels have many different predators, as they are pretty small mammals that are typically very low on the food chain. This means that when in the wild they are constantly on the lookout for any number of predators, which include: snakes, predatory birds, and wild cats and dogs. It can get exhausting constantly being on the lookout for so many things just eager to eat you, so it’s understandable that a squirrel is looking for a place he can finally relax in; unfortunately for you, that ideal place just happens to be your attic.
The baby squirrel is born both blind and defenseless, so it is not uncommon that you have a mother squirrel trying to find a safe place for her babies while they are gaining their strength. The same insulation in your attic which helps keep you warm, provides ideal nesting material for squirrels. It keeps the hairless babies nice and warm, especially when they are all cuddled in together.
When are Squirrels Most Active & What Sounds Do They Make?
If you’ve truly started believing there is a squirrel in your attic, you want to make sure that it definitely is a squirrel before you start trying to trap. Well, there are a few indicators that you can be on the lookout for to properly identify what kind of animal you’re dealing with.
If you are hearing noises, you want to make note of what time you are hearing the noises. Squirrels are diurnal – meaning that they are most often active during the daytime hours- and you will most commonly hear noises in the early morning and early evening. Much like your schedule, these are the times when the squirrel is waking up and heading out for the day and then coming home and settling in for the night.
Since squirrels are smaller and lighter animals, the noises they make are often quiet and can go without detection. If you listen carefully, you may be able to hear the sounds of light scurrying and scratching. Based on the squirrel’s location in the attic, these sounds may be louder or quieter; they may also sound like they are coming right above you or like they are in the wall. Squirrels move rather quickly, as you have probably seen, so the sounds you are hearing will likely be rapid as well.
While squirrel activity is common year-round, you may notice an increase in activity during the mating and reproduction months. Typically, these months are February to April and then again between August and September. For obvious reasons, the mother squirrel would like to be moved into your attic before her babies are born. Once the babies are born they are helpless and unable to relocate for the first 8 weeks of their lives.
Dangers of Having Squirrels in Your Attic
If you believe the noises you are hearing to be annoying, they are unfortunately the least of your worries when dealing with squirrels in the home. While all wild animals come with risks to your home, squirrels come with dangers specific to them.
Squirrels can already fit into pretty small holes to gain access to your home, and since they are a member of the rodent family they can also chew holes into many different types of mediums to create their own access points. They will commonly chew holes into the eaves, which gives them instant access to your attic.
Since squirrels are part of the rodent family, they have a tendency to gnaw on things to dull their large front teeth. Among the things that they like to gnaw on is electric wiring, which doesn’t even sound appealing. In addition to wiring, they like to chew on insulation, which can harm the squirrel if ingested, and if they damage enough of the insulation can end up costing you money for having it replaced. Squirrels will also chew on wooden beams, many of which are helping to support your home. Since squirrels don’t know which beams are disposable and which beams are holding up your roof, they may end up gnawing on one that could potentially risk the structural integrity of your home.
Aside from dangers in the home, squirrels can also cause damage to your exterior property. Once they get comfortable, they may end up digging up your yard foraging for food. Which can cause significant damage to your landscaping.
With all of the risks associated with them, you don’t want to let squirrels go about wrecking havoc in your home for any longer than they already have. This is why it is important to get ahead of the issue as soon as possible.
Squirrel Diseases: What are the Health Hazards from a Squirrel Infestation
Along with safety risks, squirrels can also bring many health risks into the home. Fortunately, there are not nearly as many diseases associated with squirrels as there are with other wildlife animals. While it was previously commonly thought that it was common to catch rabies from squirrels, it has since been proven that it is exceedingly rare. While squirrels do have the ability to contract the disease, they almost rarely do. Rarer still that they have passed it onto humans.
Often, the biggest issue that squirrels bring into your home are fleas and ticks. Even if you do not have a household pet, these pests can cause major problems in your home. Flea infestations are incredibly difficult to get rid of – and they’re itchy! These nearly invisible bugs can reside in your pet, bedding, carpeting, and other furniture. Ticks are also tricky to take care of. These small bugs will attach themselves to you and feed off of your bloodstream. When you are removing the tick, you must pull the whole insect off-typically using tweezers- and avoid leaving the head in. Ticks are known for carrying a multitude of diseases, so you don’t want these bugs living in your home at all.
If a squirrel stays in your home for any extended time period, their feces can end up piling up – pun intended – which can lead to several more health issues. Squirrels can carry salmonella and leptospirosis is their feces, and while this may only happen in extreme cases, it is a very real risk that should be taken seriously.
Squirrel Poop: How to Identify Squirrel Droppings in your Attic
While you now understand that squirrel poop can come with significant health risks, how do you know what it looks like so you can avoid it? While it’s disgusting to think about looking at poop, it is important to know what you’re looking for! This is one of the best ways to know for sure that you are dealing with a squirrel, as well as giving you a good indication of how many squirrels you’re dealing with and how long they’ve been there.
Since squirrels are part of the rodent family, their droppings are similar to other rodents. While all rodents have rice-like pellets, squirrel droppings are often found to be a bit bigger. The sizes of these pellets will change, depending on what kind of squirrel you are dealing with.
Squirrel poop has a tendency to lighten over time, meaning that fresher droppings are a darker brown, while the older droppings will be a lighter brown. So if you are looking through the attic and all you find are dark brown pellets, your squirrel has likely just moved in. On the other hand, if you are finding a mixture of both light and dark pellets, you have likely had an issue for a little while.
While it may not be appealing to get up close and personal with the droppings, it is a necessary step in the process. Just make sure to protect yourself by wearing proper safety gear- such as gloves and a mask.
"Squirrel Control: How Do They Get Into the Attic?
You have probably seen a squirrel scamper up a tree, so you have seen how agile they are and quickly they can climb. They can also virtually climb straight up, this is because they . These attributes are what makes it feasible for them to access your house with ease.
Most instances, squirrels can climb trees up near your residence and jump onto your roofing, from there it's merely a matter of discovering or developing a hole that they could squeeze into. This can make locating their entrance point very hard, in addition to any other possible entry points they can utilize.
Their most commonly used access points for squirrels is often your roof returns, vents, or pipes that are open. When the roof is initially installed, these are often left open as roofers don’t typically think about wildlife getting into the home. Essentially, if there is any spot open on our home, squirrels will attempt to get into your attic.
If you are going through the process of sealing up your home, you should take precautions to ensure that you don’t trap a squirrel inside, especially if you are dealing with a mother and her babies. If you are dealing with a mother and babies unknowingly, and you seal the babies inside on accident, they will more than likely end up passing away in your attic. Add to that, that if the mother isn’t caught and you seal the babies in on accident, she will go ballistic trying to get back into the attic to get her babies, which if you have babies you understand, and this will typically end up causing more damage than what would have been originally.
Common Signs that Squirrels Have Made Your Attic Home
While there are a couple different methods for identifying squirrels, it is extremely important to ensure that you are dealing with a squirrel and not another wild animal. Otherwise, if you purchase traps for squirrels, but you actually have rats, you won’t be able to eliminate your problem and could potentially end up with a much bigger problem than if you had properly identified the animal.
First you can start by identifying the noises that you are hearing. Squirrel noises are often quick and light scurrying noises typically heard during the early morning and early evening. The most common times during the year for squirrel activity is during their breeding months - February to April and again August to September.
When you are searching for access holes, keep in mind that squirrels can fit into tiny holes, not bigger than an inch and a half. You can check for signs of chew marks, as they will often chew on the edges of holes to enlarge them.
You can also search in your attic for droppings to attempt to identify your pest. Squirrel droppings will resemble grains of rice, which are often larger than other rodent droppings. The droppings will often be a dark brown in color when they are fresh, and will gradually lighten over time. Meaning that if you are finding exclusively dark brown pellets, you have likely caught your problem relatively quickly.
You will also want to check the area they are in for gnaw marks and other nesting signs. Squirrels are rodents and will chew on anything that they can, even your electrical wiring. This can often be one of the worst things that they can find to chew on, because it can cause a serious fire hazard. The most obvious place to check for gnaw marks is on the wooden beams, as you can very easily spot teeth marks in the smooth wood. When you are looking for nesting signs, you should be looking for ripped insulation, they will typically rip the insulation while they are burrowing down. You should be able to easily identify where this is, however you can typically check in the corners as this is often where they will make their nests.
Squirrel Trapping: How to Trap A Squirrel
After identifying that you have a squirrel, you are probably ready to buy your trap. Depending on the way you want to handle your squirrel will affect what type of trap you buy, rather you are looking to be able to trap and re-release or if you are looking to permanently “take care” of the little guy. Before you spend money on a trap, make sure you are dealing with a squirrel as squirrel traps will only work on squirrels and if you have any other animal you likely won’t be able to catch them.
The most effective traps for squirrels, when you are not trying to kill them,are small live traps. These are small cages with a trigger activated door, and once the squirrel steps on the trigger the door will close behind them. This prevents them from escaping from the trap and allowing you to safely relocate them to a more “squirrel-friendly” area.
You may also purchase lethal squirrel traps, which are essentially larger-scale rodent snap traps. When the squirrel goes after the bait, the trigger will cause a lever to come down on them, killing them instantly.
No matter what sort of traps you decide to go with, trapping for squirrels can prove to be more difficult than you may have thought. Squirrels are intelligent and cautious animals, so while you may get lucky and catch one on your first day, it is not likely. In fact, squirrel trapping can occasionally take a couple weeks. While you are in the trapping process, you want to make sure you are checking your traps every day - if not twice a day. You don’t want to leave an animal - dead or alive- just sitting in a trap for days on end.
Squirrel Food: Best Bait for Squirrels
Regardless of the type of trap you are using you are also going to have to use bait. This is what lures the squirrel in, because with no bait he will likely show no interest in your trap and you won’t be successful in getting rid of your unwelcomed attic guests. Unfortunately, choosing a bait for squirrels can sometimes be tricky as they are known for eating many different types of foods.
While there are many different types of “squirrel baits” that are advertised out there, you can often find things in your own kitchen that you can use which will work just as well, if not better, and save you a couple bucks in the process. One such bait is peanut butter, which you likely already have in your pantry at home. The sweet peanutty smell will lure your squirrel right into your trap.
If you already have a bird feeder out in your yard that you have noticed squirrels enjoy eating the seeds from it, often times just as much as the birds do. You can use seeds from the feeder as a bait in your trap as well, and if you feel like you want to get super crazy - you can even put the seeds on top of the peanut butter.
Since squirrels will often eat anything fruity or nutty, you can feel free to experiment with granola, trail mix, and other things that you feel your squirrel might go for. However, if a certain bait isn’t working you should still give it a few days before you switch it. If you change things too much, the squirrel will be more cautious and will likely never go after the bait.
How to Keep Squirrels out of your Attic: Squirrel Exclusion Techniques
The exclusion is the sealing up of your home, and is one of the most important steps in the process of removing squirrels. When done correctly, the exclusion will prevent squirrels and any other animal from gaining access to your home again. Animals will leave pheromones behind them that other animals are able to follow. This is basically a scented invisible map to show other animals where they were. This means that other animals are likely going to pick up on your squirrels trail and follow it, and if your home isn’t sealed properly, they will end up going into your attic and possibly deciding to stay as well. Before you completely seal your home, you will want to make sure that all squirrels are out of your attic. If you end up sealing one inside, he will eventually pass away and you could be left with a terrible odor.
You can begin the exclusion process while you still have them inside, as long as you are leaving a main access point open for them. You can start by sealing any obvious entry points you can find, except for one, these can be roof returns, vents, holes they might have chewed, or pipes. Since squirrels can fit into tiny holes, you will want to go over your home a couple of times to ensure that you have covered all possible entry points.When you are sealing holes on your home, you will want to use a wired mesh material that the squirrels can't chew through and enforce it with bolts that they wouldn’t be able to pull off.
If you find holes in your soffit or in wood areas around the home, you may want to contact a professional - such as a contractor- to get a better idea of how to handle the damage. However, if the damage is minor enough that you feel comfortable doing it, you may be able to put a patch over the area. Patches serve well for keeping access points covered.
You should begin the exclusion while still trapping, and seal any remaining holes immediately after you have removed your squirrel. This way you are reducing your risk of another animal moving in before you have the chance to finish.
Squirrel Infestation: How to Clean Up After Squirrels
Although you may feel like you finally get to catch a break after your home is sealed and your squirrels are gone, there is unfortunately one last step to take before you are able to relax. There is still a significant amount of squirrel waste up in your attic that you don’t want to just leave there. So as gross as it is, you are going to have to get in there to clean it out. Having a pest in your attic is sort of like when you have people over at your home and everything is fun and games until it’s cleanup time and then no one else wants to help you.
Hopefully, the squirrels didn’t do too much damage and you are able to get this process over with relatively quickly. You must go in with protective gear - gloves and a face mask - and remove all feces that you are able to find. You’ll probably want to just grab it with paper towels and dispose of it immediately. Once all feces has been removed, you should go over the entire area with a disinfectant. If you don’t have a good disinfectant, you can also use bleach diluted with water. This will break down any left behind bacteria that could potentially become a health risk to you or your family.
However, there is a chance that the squirrels did significant damage to your insulation. Unfortunately, this is not often a very DIY friendly job, and requires a professional. Depending on the significance of the damage and how big your attic is, you may be looking at a pretty high cost for having your attic restored.