For most people, the occasional sighting of a squirrel in the yard or garden is just a pleasant wildlife sighting, but large squirrel populations can quickly become a nuisance, especially for avid gardeners or serious birdwatchers. Some squirrels, such as the very common gray squirrel (Sciurus spp.), are known to dig up a gardener's bulbs and flowers almost as fast as they can be planted, and squirrels can even gnaw through drip irrigation pipes and other shallow utility lines.
When food supplies are scarce, squirrels may even gnaw on the bark of trees and shrubs, vying with rabbits to see who can kill the plant first. Homesteaders who tap maple trees to make syrup may find that squirrels quickly learn how to chew through the tubing to consume the sweet sap.
Other species of squirrels, such as the red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) can be voracious and brutal hunters of baby birds in the nest. In the wintertime, crowds of squirrels can disrupt your bird feeders. Bird lovers often come to despise the various species of squirrels that disrupt attempts to cultivate other wildlife.
Squirrels that get into the house or into the garage can also create quite a serious problem. In seeking to build nests, squirrels will chew openings through the siding and beneath eaves. They may also get into the home through unscreened chimneys and vents, and build nests there or in the attic, so the solution is often to make efforts to keep squirrels away from your yard altogether.
8 Ways to Get Rid of Squirrels in Your Yard
Limit Food Sources
Squirrels usually will not hang around in a landscape that doesn't provide nuts, berries, or seeds for them to eat, so the proper choice of plantings can make your landscape less attractive to squirrels. Avoid (or remove) nut-bearing trees and berry-producing shrubs. If you enjoy feeding birds, make sure your bird feeders are fully squirrel-proof. For example, you can mount feeders on tall poles covered with sheet metal that prevents squirrels from climbing—though they will still snack on seeds spilled to the ground by birds. Covering bird-feeder poles with petroleum jelly can also prevent squirrels from climbing them.
If your goal is not so much to get rid of squirrels as simply keep them away from bird feeders, you can distract squirrels from the feeders by putting out food such as corn, specifically for them. This food should be placed at least 8 feet away from your bird feeders. Note that this is not, however, a recipe for getting rid of squirrels.
Gardeners can fence in vulnerable planting areas with wire fencing of no more than 1-inch mesh and at least 30 inches high. For additional protection, extend the fencing 6inches below ground and 6 inches outward to prevent burrowing. You may even want to cover the top of the planting area with a dome of wire fencing, which can be removed when you need to tend the plants. Buried bulbs can be covered with 1-inch mesh and covered with mulch, which will prevent squirrels from digging them up.
A landscape where food sources become difficult to obtain may cause squirrels to move to other nearby properties where dining is easier.
While large shade trees offer lots of benefits to a yard, try landscaping in a prairie or meadow style rather than a woodland style that features tall trees where squirrels readily nest. Getting rid of large, dense trees (especially nut- or fruit-bearers) will go a long way to encouraging squirrels to leave your yard.
Use Scent Repellants
Repellants that target squirrels are available at most nurseries and garden centers and from online retailers. Always follow all label directions and keep them out of reach of children and pets. These are the same products used to repel rabbits and other plant-eating creatures, and they usually need to be reapplied at regular intervals, especially after rainfalls. Most include liquid compounds meant to simulate the smell of the urine of predator animals, such as foxes or coyotes, so they may give your garden an odor you find disagreeable.
Introduce Faux Predators
Dummy snakes, birds-of-prey, foxes, or other predators can chase away squirrels, but only if they use motion or sound as well as authentic appearance. Squirrels quickly learn to ignore static "scarecrows" that don't use any motion or sound. But an artificial owl powered by a solar battery that turns its head and makes realistic vocalizations will make squirrels very nervous.
Encourage Natural Predators
If various faux predators make squirrels nervous, a real predator can positively terrify them. If you willingly accept the presence of a fox, a hawk, or a harmless snake in your garden, you will find that squirrels usually go elsewhere to ply their mischief. Or, they will stay well up in the trees where their damage is limited. Predator animals are more plentiful in rural or suburban areas, but even urban homeowners may be able to welcome an owl or hawk that takes up residence in a neighborhood where the squirrel-hunting is good.
Harass Squirrels When They Appear
Make a habit of shooing squirrels away whenever they appear in your yard. This is unlikely to completely rid your yard of squirrels—they'll often just retreat into the trees and chatter at you insolently—but combined with other methods, squirrels will be less likely to persist in a yard where they are clearly not welcome. If you have a fenced-in yard, an active dog can be helpful at harassing squirrels (a habit that also gives your dog plenty of exercise).
In urban areas, it's usually quite easy to live-trap squirrels. Make sure to choose a trap size most likely to catch squirrels rather than other wildlife, but don't be surprised if your trap also catches an occasional chipmunk or small rabbit. Baiting the trap with foods known to appeal to your local squirrels will help your success rate.
One issue with live-trapping is that you're then faced with transporting and releasing the squirrel. Squirrels are often considered vermin animals, and there may be legal restrictions on releasing them to other locations. Ironically, official regulations may allow killing trapped squirrels, but not releasing live animals.
Where releasing live squirrels is practical and allowed, transporting them to a natural wildlife area located a considerable distance away is the best practice. But squirrels are often so numerous that trapping and transporting live squirrels feels like emptying a bathtub with an eyedropper. It is usually necessary to practice trapping in conjunction with a full array of additional control methods.
Hunt the Squirrels
For homeowners who have no moral qualms about it, hunting squirrels may be a possibility. In some states, squirrels are considered uncontrolled game animals, and property owners don't need a license to control them. They can be hunted in any season, though you need to follow local ordinances when it comes to the use of firearms—you generally can't do it in urban or suburban environments. It may be possible to hunt squirrels with an air-powered pellet gun if traditional firearms are not allowed, though you should check local regulations. Traditional hunting is, of course, more practical in rural areas—and you may even develop a taste for various stews and other recipes using squirrel meat.
In other regions, squirrels may be listed as unprotected, but a valid hunting license is still required to hunt them. For these reasons, it is critical that homeowners know their state and local laws, or consult a pest management professional, before initiating any hunting efforts.
What Causes Squirrels in Your Yard?
Squirrels gravitate to any property where their needs for food, water, and shelter are met. Thus, nearly any yard that is friendly to other forms of wildlife will be similarly attractive to squirrels. It is very hard to selectively get rid of squirrels, and doing so requires ongoing effort. These are climbing rodents that spend much of their time in trees, so any yard where tall trees are present—when combined with sources of food and water—will be a yard where squirrels may be present.
How to Prevent Squirrels in Your Yard
Preventing squirrels from taking up residence in your yard is a matter of practicing the same methods used to get rid of them—eliminating sources of food, water, shelter, and establishing an ongoing practice of harassing and repelling them when they appear.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do Squirrels Carry Diseases?
Like other wild rodents, squirrels can potentially transmit a variety of diseases to pets and people. Among the illnesses transmitted by squirrels are tularemia and leptospirosis, infections that can cause liver and kidney failure; bubonic plague (now fairly easy to treat with antibiotics); and a variety of bacterial and fungal infections. Squirrels can indeed get and transmit rabies, though it is very rare.
Can You Poison Squirrels?
In theory, squirrels can be killed by the same rodenticides that are used to control indoor rodents, such as rats and mice. But it is a very bad idea to use these poisons in outdoor settings, as they are easily consumed by pets and desirable wildlife. Never use poisons to control outdoor pests, such as squirrels or rabbits.
Can Professional Exterminators Get Rid of Squirrels?
Most extermination services can help trap and remove squirrels that get into your house, but they have limited ability to deal with outdoor squirrels. They can set traps, perform landscape modifications to make your yard less squirrel-friendly, and offer advice on how to repel squirrels. But exterminators will not b permanently get rid of squirrels without many repeated (and expensive) visits. Permanent results almost always require ongoing efforts by the homeowner.
How Long to Do Squirrels Live?
The life expectancy of a squirrel varies considerably, depending on the species and the environment in which it lives. A red squirrel living in favorable conditions without the presence of natural predators has an average lifespan of about five years. A gray squirrel typically lives about 12 years in very favorable conditions, though captive squirrels have been known to live 20 years or more.
Squirrels typically mate once or twice a year, producing litters of two to eight babies, though only 25 percent of the babies reach adulthood. This high reproduction rate combined with a relatively long lifespan means that squirrels usually establish an ongoing presence in areas where food, water, and shelter are readily available.