How to Get Rid of Squirrels
18–21 minutes to read | Updated for 2018
They dart across the street, scurry up trees, and claw their way through small openings in homes and buildings. Squirrels are among the most widespread rodents in North America, one of the family that includes chipmunks, marmots, and prairie dogs.
They have a benign, almost cute appearance with their bushy tails, short arms and legs, and pointed ears. But they can wreak havoc within the walls, crawl spaces, and attics of homes in search of shelter. As they move about, they can even harbor infected fleas and ticks that may transfer diseases.
Common Species of Squirrels
Though helpful in some ways to the environment, gray squirrels can be quite a pest in highly populated areas. When tree cover isn’t available for a habitat, gray squirrels will seek out telephone poles and roof lines. If they gain entry to the interior of your home, they will claw or chew at electrical wiring and wooden supports, leading to structural damage or even a power outage.
How To Identify:
- Roughly 14-21 inches long
- Gray with white undertones
- Most common in the eastern U.S.
- Does not hibernate; active year-round
- Stays within a few acres of its preferred home in suburban areas and neighborhoods
- Solitary by nature
- Carriers of parasites including fleas, ticks, lice, and roundworms – and capable of spreading diseases to humans
Red Squirrel (Pine Squirrel)
The smallest of the tree squirrels (but larger than chipmunks), this species is known for its territorial behavior. This species is most often home in wooded areas dotted with pine trees.
How To Identify:
- 7 ½-9 inches in length
- Reddish color with white underbelly
- Widespread across North America – beginning in Alaska, south through Canada and seen in many northern U.S. states
- Does not hibernate, but rather goes dormant during colder weather
- Average lifespan of 3-7 years
This is the largest species of tree squirrel. With sharp claws and athletic bodies, fox squirrels are natural climbers and will spend most of their days in trees. During that time, they search for food ranging from nuts and flowers to insects and small birds. Fox squirrels build their nests during summer and endure the winter inside trees.
How To Identify:
- Range in length from 17-27 inches
- Fur color varies from reddish brown (the most common) to gray to black
- Found throughout eastern and central U.S. but not in the New England states
- Does not hibernate
- Will stay within the same few acres of territory its entire life
- Solitary by nature
This species does not truly fly, but rather glides up to 160 feet using a muscle membrane between its legs and body. While not known to be troublemakers for most homeowners, these squirrels can get inside your home through small openings. At that point, they can urinate, leave droppings, and generally cause damage in attic spaces. Flying squirrels may also be carriers of ticks, fleas, and mites.
How To Identify:
- Ranges from 8-12 inches
- Northern variety found in high elevations of California, Arizona, Michigan, and Alaska
- Southern type seen in lower elevations in the eastern U.S.
- Active and possibly noisy at night
Signs of Damage
Damaged as squirrels seek food
In your yard dug by squirrels
In your attic may be a sign of squirrels
Step 1: Look for Entry Points
Squirrels are not subtle pests and will leave plenty of clues for homeowners. Outside your home, check for evidence of their presence and entry points such as:
- Damage to bird feeders and garden plants as squirrels seek food
- Tree branches and limbs that are within 8-10 feet of your roof
- Small holes in your yard dug by squirrels
- The sight of squirrels fighting (a sign of overpopulation)
Inside your home, the signs and sounds of squirrel intrusion will be obvious:
- Noise (the sound of movement) in your attic or inside walls
- Sounds during daytime would indicate a gray or fox squirrel; nighttime disturbances would be more likely from a flying squirrel.
- Holes in insulation measuring a few inches in diameter
- Droppings in the attic
- Holes in siding or under soffits
Step 2: Take Steps On Your Own
Rather than trying to eliminate squirrels, you might find it more effective to keep them from your property using a few DIY measures to discourage their approach:
- Cut back tree branches that run close to your home can prevent their entry, keeping in mind that squirrels can jump up to 10 feet.
- Install 23-gauge hardware cloth wire mesh at locations such as drains, gutters, and under eaves. The wire is thin enough to cut and adjust with hand tools and think enough to prevent squirrels from biting or clawing through.
- Buy a 2-foot-wide metal collar for placement around power poles and isolated trees. This stops squirrels from ascending vertical surfaces.
- If you discover holes in your home or a structure, stuff newspaper into the openings. If the paper isn’t removed for a few days, you can repair the site(s).
Step 3: Develop a Larger Plan for Exclusion
If you’ve seen visual cues or heard the sounds of squirrels outside or inside your home even after taking steps to close off entry, your wisest option is to contact a pest control specialist. Remember: squirrels can be active carriers of tiny pests that spread disease. A specialist will also have exclusion or trapping devices that handle the work for you.
Seasons & Squirrels
Fall is the most active time of year for tree squirrels — the time during which you’ll see the most activity from them on your property. They sense of the coming of winter, so nesting and hoarding of food kicks into high gear.
Winter quiets squirrel activity as food becomes scarce, and they spend less time searching for food and more time sharing a den to conserve warmth. They also prepare for the colder months by hoarding food and eating more to bulk up and save body heat.
Spring and Summer
Depending on the region, squirrels may enter into the first of their two breeding seasons during winter (December through February). The second season occurs in late spring (March) or early summer (July). Females will typically produce two litters each year, with two to four young in each litter (flying squirrels may have litters of up to seven young).
Squirrels are prevalent in many regions of the U.S. While they aren’t dangerous and often even scared of humans, they can wreak havoc on your property.
Because they forage for fungi, seeds, nuts and fruits, they can damage your garden by pulling up roots and continuously knocking over or emptying out your bird feeders. If they get into your attic, basement or crawl spaces, they’ll also cause a lot of damage by trying to forage through insulation and chewing through wires.
Luckily, there are simple steps you can take to prevent squirrels from affecting your property, and additional treatment steps available if they have already become a problem for you.
Limit Their Access
Preventing squirrels from making a home on your property or inside your house is an easier strategy than removing them. Following some easy steps will keep your home free of squirrels and other pests:
- Invest in gutter guards and covers for downspouts so that squirrels won’t have access to your house from the rooftop.
- Trim tree branches that hang over your roof line. Squirrels often travel by tree branches and any that touch your house provide the perfect bridge.
- Don’t let any material or debris pile up against the side of your house. Once you’ve raked or trimmed trees and bushes, dispose of them or move them away from the building until you can.
- Inspect your house and walls for cracks, crevices and openings that are large enough for squirrels. If you do find any, seal them up with caulk or expandable foam. For larger openings, you may need to complete repairs or cover them with screen or new siding in order to remove entry points.
Remove Food Sources
If you have a squirrel problem, chances are that your yard is a source for easy-to-reach snacks. While their diet usually consists of seeds, nuts, insects, bird eggs and fruits, they’re also attracted to pungent smells and much of the waste that you throw in your trash.
- Inspect your outdoor trash cans and make sure they’re properly sealed. If they’re cracked or can easily pop open, a squirrel will easily find its way inside. Periodically wash out your cans in order to remove residue and odors.
- Double-bag especially odorous waste like meat and fruit before throwing it into your trash can.
- If you have fruiting plants and trees or those that produce nuts and seeds, take extra care to rake up any that have fallen to the ground. Don’t give fruit a chance to ripen and rot.
- Don’t leave pet food out. Try to take it away once your pets have finished eating, or seal it up while it’s not in use.
- Keep bird feeders in hard-to-reach places. Squirrels are expert climbers, so they can easily get into most spaces, but placing the feeders away from your house can discourage them from coming nearby. There are also squirrel-proof bird feeders that prevent them from getting into the feed with a special shape or barrier.
- Don’t forget to clean inside as well. Make sure that there is no debris or old food residue in your attic or basement.
Eliminate Standing Water
Whether squirrels have been able to find food on your property or not, they’ll also be looking for water. Take the necessary measures to eliminate as much water as possible within your yard, or you’ll be creating a type of oasis for squirrels and many other types of pests.
- A properly sealed trash can will keep out water as well as odors.
- After it rains, check your yard and see where water is pooling. If you have small holes or dips in the ground, these are usually easy to fill in to prevent small puddles.
- Take note of any décor or items you have in your yard that might collect water. These should be moved or altered so that they don’t hold any standing water. Many planters and pots hold more water than necessary, and those can be fixed by drilling holes into the bottom for drainage.
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If you do have plants and trees that serve as food sources for squirrels, your solution isn’t as simple. You can do your best to rake up as much as possible, but squirrels will always be able to climb trees and get to the food they’re seeking out. To prevent this, there are a variety of repellents you can use instead.[amazon table=”49422″]
If your squirrel problem is centered around your garden and the critters are continuously pulling up your beds, you can use mulch to prevent this from happening. Simply pack the mulch around your plants, and it’ll dissuade squirrels from trying to dig.
Apple cider vinegar has a pungent smell that many people despise, and squirrels are averse to it as well. You can also soak jalapeno peppers inside of regular white vinegar, spray the solution around the perimeter of your home, and squirrels will stay away from the odor.
To humans, mint has a more pleasant smell than apple cider vinegar, but it can be equally as pungent and unpleasant for squirrels. If you don’t have a garden to plant mint, you can simply sprinkle it where you’ve seen squirrels congregating in your yard.
Spicy foods can have the same effect on animals as it can on humans. If you sprinkle cayenne pepper along the nuts and fruits that squirrels are eating, they’ll stay away once they get a taste or whiff. Just be sure to wash the pepper off if you’ll be eating the fruit yourself.
Safflower is a great option to use if you have a bird feeder that squirrels won’t stop getting into. Birds don’t mind these seeds, but squirrels hate them, so you can mix them into your bird seed to prevent squirrels from snacking.
Counterintuitive as it may seem to feed the animals you’re trying to get rid of, setting up a new feeder full of nuts can lure them away from your garden or house. All you have to do is place it away from the areas where they usually hang out, and they’re likely to begin using the feeder instead. If it doesn’t immediately work, try using different types of feed to see what they like best. Whatever you use, it needs to be more appealing than the snacks they’re getting from your yard.
Squirrels are very skittish, which means you can repel them easily without using substances. One of the best ways you can use a sprinkler is by attaching a motion sensor. This means that every time a squirrel comes too close, the sprinkler will be set off and scare them away.
In the same vein as sprinkler systems, ultrasonic devices in your attic or basement can scare squirrels away from your home. They’re triggered by motion sensor and set off a noise that is inaudible to the human ear highly irritating to squirrels.
Motion-sensor floodlights may not be as effective as sprinklers or ultrasonic speakers, but they should work similarly. The lights will turn on as squirrels approach, frightening hem away.
If you’d rather purchase a highly rated repellent from the store or online, we’ve done the research for you and found the best squirrel repellents and deterrents.
Bait and Trap
If you’re dealing with a squirrel infestation inside your attic, basement, or crawl spaces, one of the easiest ways to get rid of them is to use baiting and trapping methods.
Most squirrel traps allow you to catch and release the squirrels, but there are also spring traps that will kill them. These work similar to the traditional traps used for rats, in which a spring is triggered and a mechanism snaps down onto the squirrel. These can be risky to set up and are more dangerous than live traps because you can get your own fingers caught in them. They’ll also require clean up and removal of the dead squirrel, which isn’t as easy as taking a live one away to release.
Live traps include cages and traps with one-way exclusion doors. With both of these, the squirrels are left inside so that you can remove them later. If you’re taking the trap outside to let the squirrel free, you’ll want to make sure you’re using repellents and have taken the proper steps to block off entryways to your house so that they don’t find their way back in.
Furthermore, you should take precautionary steps toward protecting yourself when letting the critters loose. Squirrels won’t bite, but their nails can be long and scratch you as you’re letting them out of the trap. Prepare yourself with long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, and a pair of sturdy gloves. Unless you have prior knowledge of where you can release squirrels, contact a local wildlife expert to find appropriate places where they can be released. Depending on where you release them, you could be putting the squirrels in danger or subjecting someone else to an infestation. If you aren’t sure, it’s always better to ask.
Even if you’re using a live trap, you should still remember to check it frequently for squirrels, as they can harm themselves through trying to get out or even die if they’re accidentally left out in harsh weather.
For both live and kill traps, they’ll need to be washed properly before reusing them. Squirrels carry diseases with which you’ll then come into contact if you handle the trap without properly disinfecting it. Also make sure to wash your hands thoroughly after coming into contact with squirrels or any other wild animals.
- Peanuts and peanut butter
- Apple slices
- Orange slices
For any trap, you’ll want to be sure that you’re pairing it with bait so that the squirrels will actually make their way inside of it. Some things you can use as bait include simple household products you may already have.
If bait and traps aren’t working and you need another solution, you can try using squirrel poisons to take care of the problem. These will help get rid of squirrels for good, but it requires the extra labor of finding the squirrels after they die and can even be very dangerous. If the squirrel carcasses begin to decay inside your home, they’ll bring a whole other host of new problems.
- Rat poison
To use these poisons, you usually just need to leave them out with bait to disguise the smell. Note that poisons can be pungent and dangerous to use if you have children or pets. There are also ethical questions that arise when using poisons, especially with ones like strychnine that cause the animal to be in pain and experience seizures and tremors until it dies.
If you’re dealing with any poisons, bait or traps, always be sure to read the instructions completely before using them to ensure the safety of yourself and your family. We’ve also developed a list of additional squirrel poisons you can use.[amazon table=”41479″]
If you’re able to put one up around your yard, a fence is a foolproof way to keep squirrels out and prevent them from coming back. While erecting fences involve a lot of time and expense, they are a great investment that will last a long time, and you won’t have to worry about any other treatments. Be sure that they’re 8-12 inches below the ground when you put them in so that squirrels can’t dig underneath it and get into the yard. You can also use a smaller fence around your plant beds if that’s where your issue is.
This is a completely non-toxic way to make keep squirrels away from plants, and the netting is easy to use and cost-effective. You can put up a net fence or simply situate the netting so it wraps around the produce as a barrier.
Don’t hesitate to seek pest control help if you know you have any infestation in your house or the damage they’re causing outside is costing you precious time and money.
Particularly if you’ve already tried several preventative and treatment methods, it’s time to seek professional help when nothing seems to be working. They’ll develop effective strategies toward eradicating squirrels on a daily basis.
Pest management professionals use an integrated plan that removes the squirrels in a humane way and uses the proper treatment methods to repel them. If you’re considering using traps, this expert will know the best way to handle the animal when taking them out, and they’ll know exactly where to release them so they don’t come back or cause anyone else harm. He or she may give you some tips for your house and yard, and it will be important to follow those and work as a team to get rid of the squirrel problem for good.
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