In their natural environment, squirrels can be cute and amusing to watch. However, when they invade 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. There are several simple remedies to help prevent squirrel damage, but success often requires persistence.
Damage That Squirrels Cause to Homes
In seeking to build nests, squirrels can damage homes and structures by chewing openings through the siding and underneath eaves. They also may chew through unscreened chimneys and vents and build nests in these areas. Once in this "nest," these busy rodents often chew on insulation and wires, which can create a fire risk. Additionally, when squirrels run along utility power wires and cables, they can short out the transformers.
Squirrel Damage in the Garden
Like rabbits, squirrels can cause severe damage to landscaping and plants in several ways. They like to dig in lawns for nuts and chew on the bark and twigs of trees and shrubbery. They also dig for planted bulbs. But worst of all, squirrels have voracious appetites and can quickly decimate the crop of a vegetable garden or fruit tree. Like humans, they often wait until the fruits or vegetables are ripe enough to eat, which makes the loss of the crop even more heartbreaking for the gardener.
Do Squirrels Pose Risks to Humans?
While squirrels are commonly believed to carry rabies, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that "Small rodents like squirrels... are almost never found to be infected with rabies and have not been known to transmit rabies to humans."
Do Squirrels Harm Other Animals?
Squirrels do not typically harm other animals that live among humans, but 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.
Is It Legal to Shoot Squirrels?
Regulations around small game hunting vary from state to state. 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 areas, hunting is not allowed at all within city limits, regardless of the animal being hunted. For these reasons, it is critical that homeowners know and follow their state and local laws, or consult a pest management professional, before initiating control efforts.
How to Protect Your Home From Squirrel Damage
Squirrels can be excluded or discouraged from entering your home through physical methods:
- Trim branches that touch the house or reach within 6 feet of any exterior portion of the house.
- Prevent squirrels from traveling along utility lines by asking the utility company to place pieces of PVC pipe over the line. The pipe will rotate if any animal tries to run across it. This should be done only by professionals.
- Cover chimneys and vents with a mesh screen to prevent squirrels, or other wildlife, from climbing in.
How to Protect Bird Feeders From Squirrels
Keeping squirrels away from bird feeders is an ages-old battle of wits, and the squirrels often win. It's best to be willing to learn from trial and error. Here are a few things worth trying:
- 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 on the rope or wire to keep squirrels from climbing down to the feeder.
- Ensure all feeders are at least 6 feet from the ground.
- Purchase squirrel-resistant feeders, such as those that rotate when a squirrel's weight offsets its balance.
- Distract squirrels from the feeders by putting out food, such as corn, specifically for them. This should be placed at least 8 feet away from any bird feeder.
How to Protect Plants From Squirrels
You can protect trees and their fruit by wrapping the trunks with metal sheeting to create a band that is 6 feet long (keep the sheeting loose to allow for tree growth). However, if any of the tree's branches come within 6 feet of a building, fence, power line, or other trees, this technique will not be effective, as squirrels will simply jump onto the tree from the nearby structure.
Fencing is a good option for keeping squirrels out of gardens. Squirrels don't like to climb plastic garden netting. A 4-foot-tall fence of this material is usually sufficient, but you may need to bury a few inches of the netting in the ground to prevent them from digging underneath.
Another option is to erect wire fencing made of 1-inch mesh that is at least 30 inches high. For additional protection, extend the fencing 6 inches below ground, then 6 inches outward to prevent burrowing. If necessary, you can discourage climbing by including an electrified strand a few inches above the ground and about 3 inches above the fence line.
To protect bulbs, place 1-inch wire mesh over newly planted bulbs, and cover it with mulch. Nonfood bulbs can also be soaked in squirrel repellent before planting.
There are situations where it may be best to have a pest control professional trap the squirrels, or you can attempt trapping and relocating them yourself. However, because of varying state and local laws on trap and release of wildlife, trapping is typically is done by licensed professionals.
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.
Diseases Directly Transmitted by Rodents. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Tree Squirrels: Managing Habitat and Controlling Damage. University of Missouri Extension.
Other Wild Animals. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.