Wildlife in Culver City - Squirrels
Squirrels in the attic and raiding birdfeeders can be a challenge
In public opinion wildlife polls, squirrels generally rank first in likeability and in problematic behavior. People want them around or they don't, depending on what the squirrels are doing at any given moment.
Tree squirrels have been very successful in adapting to the many environments people have created. This is because of their adaptability, hardiness, and breeding habits.
But they really excel when it comes to being likeable. They're not just appealing physically, but they also engage in fascinating and endearing behaviors that work to their advantage. Squirrel watching can be an easy, educational, and enriching experience.
Common problems and solutions
Some people accept, tolerate, and enjoy squirrels, and some don't. It is important to remember, that squirrels are only doing what is natural-looking for a meal and a place to sleep safe at night.
The best way to deal with squirrels is to accept them for what they are. Be patient if you need to evict them or prevent them from stealing bird food, so that you can do so in a way that harms neither squirrels nor their young.
In the home
Squirrels typically enter structures somewhere high, through an opening such as an unscreened vent or loose or rotten trim boards. Sometimes squirrels enter chimneys and are unable to climb back, forcing them to try to get out from a fireplace or basement ducts.
The most serious conflicts involving squirrels may come from adult females nesting in a building. Squirrels nesting in attics may gnaw on boards and electrical wires. Nests are often built of insulation and other available material such as cardboard, or from leaves brought in from outside. They may be located anywhere, but often are found near the entry point.
The first sign of the squirrel's presence is usually the sound of scampering in the attic. You'll typically hear them during the day, as they come and go on foraging trips. Juvenile squirrels, and occasionally adults, may fall into wall cavities and be unable to climb out, making persistent scratching noises as they try to escape, and eventually dying if they can't.
Removing squirrels from attics
- Thoroughly inspect the inside of the attic to find the opening(s).
- Try to locate the nest to see if babies are present. - Concentrate your search in the area where noises were heard.
- If there is no way into the attic, inspect the exterior eaves, vents, and roof.
If you find the nest and there are no baby squirrels you can try to frighten the squirrels into leaving by banging on the rafters inside the attic. Or you can wait until you're sure all the squirrels have left, which they usually do during the day.
We recommend metal flashing to keep squirrels from re-opening access points into attics. Often, they will attempt to get back in anyway, and this can be a signal that young are trapped inside.
Listen carefully after excluding to be sure no squirrel is trapped inside or has gotten back in. Watch closely to see if the squirrel keeps trying to get back inside. Mothers will go to extremes to get back to their babies, and frantic attempts to reenter are usually strong evidence that young are still inside. In this case, remove the patch, let the mother return, and watch to see if she moves the litter.
Excluding squirrels in the depth of winter might compromise their survival. Certainly live trapping and relocation would be ill advised at these times, or, as we are coming to learn, any other.
If the nest is inaccessible or out of sight and there is the likelihood of a litter (for instance, if the squirrel has been in the house for more than a couple of days and it is February through May or August through October), you may have to humanely harass the family so that they leave.
Any attempt to displace squirrels is best made using sight, sound, and smell.
- Put a bright light in the attic and leave it on.
- Put a strong-smelling substance such as cider vinegar soaked rags in the attic.
- Set up a battery-powered radio or similar sound source and leave it playing around the clock. Go to the attic and speak loudly.
- Sometimes just the presence of a person will make a squirrel want to move along.
Squirrels who have been in attics for a while may have chewed on exposed wiring, which might cause a fire. Once they are gone, ask an electrician to closely inspect all exposed wiring.
Beyond the Attic
In tight places, such as crawl spaces between floors, try snaking a vacuum cleaner hose into the restricted space, reversed to blow air, and leave on to unnerve the nester.
Exclusion from chimneys
Assume that the squirrel you hear scrambling in a chimney is trapped, unless you've got clear evidence he is able to climb out on his own.
Never try to smoke a squirrel (or any other animal) out of a chimney-a trapped animal or babies too young to climb out may be killed. If the squirrel is not trapped, try to encourage him on his way.
Provide an Escape Route
Try hanging a three-quarter-inch or thicker rope down the chimney to give him a way to escape.
Be sure to tie one end of the rope to the top of the chimney before lowering the other end, and make certain that the rope is long enough to reach the damper or smoke shelf. Don't lower anything into the chimney that you can't easily retrieve.
The squirrel will climb up the rope and escape, usually within a few (daylight) hours.
Once you're certain that the squirrel has escaped, remove the rope and cap the chimney with a commercially made cap.
If a squirrel is actually in the fireplace itself (behind glass or a screen), try making enough noise to scare her back up above the damper. Then close the damper and follow the directions above.
If the squirrel cannot or will not leave the fireplace, the next best option is a suitable live 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. If the squirrel gets out of the fireplace, do not chase it; follow the eviction directions below.
Bait the trap with peanut butter and set it very carefully inside the fireplace. Most squirrels will retreat to a back corner of the fireplace as the doors are opened and stay there if you place the trap slowly and quietly just inside the doors.
Close the doors and leave the room to wait for the squirrel to enter the trap.
Take the squirrel outside and carefully open the trap door, standing behind the trap as you do this. The squirrel will usually bolt immediately out of the trap. If not, you can wedge the door open or tie it off with a zip tie and stand back to let the squirrel leave on his own steam. It is not necessary to cap the chimney before doing this, as the squirrel was likely trapped there by accident.
Evicting a squirrel loose in the house
A squirrel who has entered is there by accident and will be desperate to get out.
Place any Leave the squirrel alone, so she can find her way out She may even jump from a second-story window onto a lawn without harming herself (but don't let her jump onto concrete).
If there is no possible exit, set a live trap baited with peanut butter on the floor near the squirrel and leave her alone for a few hours.
If trapping isn't an option, try trapping the squirrel in a blanket.
- Put on heavy gloves.
- Slowly approach the squirrel with the blanket held in front of your body, so that she doesn't 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 her.
- Take the squirrel in the blanket immediately outside and gently open it on the ground, letting her escape.
Once the squirrel is out, look for the entryway and take steps to keep it from happening again. Look for tracks in soot or dust around the fireplace or furnace that may show she came down the chimney or flue, and check the attic for evidence of a nest or entrance hole that may need repair.
Protecting bird feeders
Squirrels are very agile, which makes it hard to keep them out of bird feeders. See our page on squirrel-proofing birdfeeders.
Protecting plants, trees, bulbs, and lawns
Squirrels also damage plants or fruit and nut trees by feeding on bark, buds, and fruits. They may dig up and eat spring bulbs, especially tulips and crocuses, or clip and eat the plants just as they start to flower. Since squirrels don't do significant damage to plants, make sure the damage is not being caused by another animal. Squirrels are only active during the day, so it may be possible to watch them do the damage. If a squirrel is implicated, prevent access to the affected plant.
Fruit trees isolated from surrounding trees may be protected by wrapping a two-foot band of sheet metal around the trunk about six feet off the ground.
Be careful not to leave the bands on any longer than necessary, since insect damage might occur, and the trunks of sensitive trees may get sunscald if bands are removed after a long time.
Branches growing below six feet also may have to be trimmed.
Small fruit and nut trees can be protected by netting the entire tree for the short period when squirrel (or other animal) damage is most likely.
Squirrels will dig up and eat the bulbs such as tulip and crocus, but they do not like daffodils.
- Consider investing your bulb-planting energies in daffodils.
- Soak other bulbs in any repellent with Thiram as the active ingredient (and labeled for use as a squirrel repellent) before planting.
- Lay chicken wire over the planting bed or use wire bulb cages.
The tiny holes, about the size of a quarter, that seem to pop up all over the lawn in the fall are likely to be a sure sign of squirrel activity. Squirrels bury or cache their winter food supply and rely later on an incredible sense of smell to be able to relocate their buried treasure. Any "damage" they create in these activities is likely to be so slight that tolerance is all you need, and time, as the lawn will heal itself by spring.
Wood 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. Use caution with capsaicin; it can be transferred to your hands and will cause intense irritation if you rub it into your eyes.
There are several repellents on the market may deter squirrels. In addition to the Thiram-containing ones mentioned above, there are ones with capsaicin or oil of mustard as active ingredients, which you can spray on plants when they first emerge in the spring.
You can use these repellents on patches over squirrel entry holes in buildings to discourage gnawing in attempts to reenter.
Capsaicin products are also used to coat birdseed to repel squirrels. Birds aren't irritated by capsaicin-based products, but mammals are. However, we don't recommend using capsaicin coated bird seed because there are other, less harmful, and more successful ways to keep squirrels out of bird feeders.
The sticky gels that are marketed to deter squirrels from climbing on branches or other surfaces are dangerous to other wildlife and inappropriate for wildlife control, not to mention that they can cause damage to surfaces on which they are places. We don't advise you to use them.
Trap and release doesn't work
Live-trapping squirrels and taking them to "the woods," where they will live happily ever after, is not the ideal solution to local problems. Studies show that few squirrels may survive the move. And when a squirrel is removed from a yard, another squirrel will move in, sometimes within a few days.
Public health concerns
Squirrels can harbor pathogens (such as salmonella) that may be harmful to people, but transmission has rarely, if ever, been documented. And although rabies can occur in squirrels, as in any mammal, there is no documented case of any person getting rabies from a squirrel.
Kim Long, Squirrels: A Wildlife Handbook (Johnson Books, 1995)
Michael Steele and John Koprowski, North American Tree Squirrels (Smithsonian Institution Press, 2003)
For injured or orphaned wildlife contact
California Wildlife Center
(310) 458-WILD (9453)