9 Answers to Squirrel Control

Squirrels will feed on Jack-O-Lanterns
A squirrel feeding on a Jack-O-Lantern. Photo by Amy Goetz Lauer

In their natural environment, squirrels can be cute and amusing to watch. However when they invade residential homes, destroy landscaping, eat vegetation, or scare aware desirable birds, their antics quickly become less entertaining or cute. While squirrels are not essentially dangerous in and of themselves, they can carry diseases, such as rabies (see question #2 below).

Following are answers to 9 common questions about the problems that squirrels can cause and what can be done to control squirrels:

  1. What damage do squirrels cause in or around my home?
    In seeking to build nests, squirrels can damage homes and structures by chewing openings through siding and underneath eaves. They also may chew through unscreened chimneys and vents, and build nests in these areas. Once in this "nest," squirrels will continue to chew on insulation and wires, and like rodents, they can potentially cause fire. Additionally, when squirrels run along utility power wires and cables, they can short out the transformers. Like rabbits, squirrels also can cause severe damage to landscaping and plants when they dig in lawns for nuts; chew the bark and twigs of trees and shrubbery; eat fruits and grains or planted bulbs and seeds and carry off mature nuts.
     
  2. Is there any danger from squirrels to humans?
    It is possible for squirrels to carry diseases that could affect humans, such as rabies, but such instance is extremely rare. If you are bitten, the wound should be thoroughly flushed with water and cleaned with soap and water and a doctor contacted immediately. It is also advised that you contact your local health department, and, if possible without endangering yourself, trap the squirrel for inspection by the health department. One way to do this is by quickly setting  a large, upside-down bucket over the squirrel and weighing it down with a brick or other heavy object. 
     
  1. Do squirrels pose a danger to other animals?
    It is very common for squirrels to invade bird feeders, scaring off birds, taking the food, and damaging the feeders. To get to the food, a squirrel also may gnaw to create a larger opening and it may also gnaw on the perches.
     
  2. I have a hunting license, can I shoot the squirrels?
    Regulations vary from state to state for small game hunting, as well as for control of wildlife, specific animals, specific species, and where guns can be shot. In some states, squirrels are considered game animals and, if they are causing property damage, the property owner does not need a license to control them. In other states, a squirrel species may be listed as unprotected, but a valid hunting license is still required to take them. And in many states, hunting is not allowed at all within city limits, regardless of the animal. For these reasons, it is critical that homeowners know and follow their state and local laws, or consult a pest management professional, prior to initiating control efforts.
     
  1. So how do I protect my home from damage from squirrels?
    Squirrels can be excluded or discouraged from entering your home through physical methods:
    • Trim branches that touch the house or are within six feet.
    • Prevent squirrels from traveling along utility lines by asking the company to place slit strips of plastic PVC pipe over the line. The pipe will rotate if any animal tries to run across it. This should only be done by professionals.
    • Cover chimneys and vents with mesh screen to prevent squirrels, or other wildlife, from climbing in.
  2. What about the birds? How do I protect birds—and their food—from the squirrels?
    • Use petroleum jelly or specially made baffles on the poles of bird feeders, so squirrels cannot climb up.
    • If the feeder is suspended, place plastic pipe (similar to that noted above) on the rope or wire to keep squirrels from climbing down to the feeder.
    • Ensure all feeders are at least six feet from the ground.
    • Purchase squirrel-resistant feeders, such as those that rotate when a squirrel's weight offsets its balance.
    • You may want to distract squirrels from the feeders by putting out food, such as corn, specifically for them. This should be placed at least eight feet away from any bird feeder.
  1. How do I protect my plants?
    • Place two-foot-wide/six-foot-tall metal sheeting or baffles around trunks of trees. Keep sheeting loose to allow for tree growth.
    • Fence in gardens with wire fencing of no more than one-inch mesh that is at least 30 inches high. For additional protection, extend the fencing six inches below ground then six inches outward to prevent burrowing. Prevent squirrels from climbing the fence by including an electrified strand a few inches above the ground and about three inches above the fence line.
    • Place one-inch mesh wire over newly planted bulbs and cover with mulch. Nonfood bulbs can also be soaked in squirrel repellent prior to planting.
  2. I've tried all this and I'm still having a problem! Help!
    It may be time to call in a pest control professional to trap the squirrels. Because of varying state and local laws on trap and release of wildlife, trapping is best conducted by a licensed professional.
    If you do choose to attempt trapping yourself, always:
    • Consult your local animal control agency first, so as not to violate any laws. Be sure you understand all regulations on trapping and releasing.
    • Use wildlife traps that are specifically made for squirrels.
    • Take precautions to reduce hazards to non-target wildlife or pets.
    • Try using peanut butter as a bait, which can be attractive to squirrels.
       
  3. Are there any pesticides that I can use against the squirrels?
    Pesticides are not recommended for control of squirrels because of the risk to other wildlife and pets. Additionally, state laws vary as to legal homeowner control of squirrels, thus, this should only ever be used by a licensed professional. There are, however, repellents that are labeled for squirrels and are available to homeowners. These usually can be found at nurseries and garden centers.