We have flying squirrels, fox squirrels, grey squirrels and red squirrels in the state of Mississippi.
But the one that gets the most complaints is the grey squirrel. All squirrels have an affinity for living in holes. Unfortunately, for grey squirrels, our homes are just one big hole. Squirrels breed in mid December or early January and again early summer. They often seek nesting sites this time of year. They can produce up to eight pups each time.
Grey squirrels eat nuts, seeds and hard fruits this time of year and switch to the tender buds of elms and maples in the spring. During the hot summer months, they eat fruit, nuts, seeds and a wide variety of plants such as mushrooms, tomatoes, corn and other garden fruits.
When food is scarce, they will chew the bark off of trees and shrubs. In drought situations, they will eat grass to help digest the tannin in acorns. Occasionally, squirrels will eat insects.
For those of you who live out in the country, squirrels aren’t normally a problem. In towns and cities, they are not only a nuisance but can cause significant damage. Squirrels enter buildings by traveling along electric wires, television/telephone cables or by jumping from nearby trees. They can enter through holes siding through unscreened vents or from chimneys.
The damage comes from a squirrel’s tendency to gnaw on things. Gnawing is a squirrel’s way of remodeling their home. They chew on siding and soffets/fascias to create or enlarge a hole. Once they get inside, they will begin bringing in nesting material. Either through boredom or downright malevolence, these rodents will chew on wires.
Removing the insulation from wires can cause shorts that can result in fires. Sometimes, a squirrel running along an electrical power line will short out transformers. Shorting out wires will often result in the death of the squirrel. But that’s little consolation if you have to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars to repair the damage or rebuild if your house burns down.
One of the most common complaints people have against squirrels concerns bird feeders. Not only will the little thieves steal seeds from birds, they will joyfully destroy the feeder in the process. They will also dig up recently planted seeds and bulbs.
What can you do about these creatures? Not much if we’re talking about anywhere outside your home. After all, outside is where they are supposed to be. But if they are inside your house, you need to do something quickly. The longer you wait, the more damage they can do and the greater the possibility you’ll be dealing with a family of squirrels instead of just a few.
The first step is to find out how they are getting in. If they’re running along power lines or cables, slit a piece of PVC pipe (about half a meter long) and place it over the wire. When a squirrel tries to cross it, the pipe will rotate; destabilizing the squirrel’s footing. Contact the power/cable/phone company before you do this.
Make certain that your attic vents are in good shape. You may want to add a wire screen over any suspect vents. If you have a chimney, cover the opening with a wire mesh. Seal any holes or cracks. Close openings around pipes. Remember, a squirrel can enter your house through a hole as small as four centimeters.
Make certain no squirrels are inside your house when you seal it. If you accidentally close up a squirrel in your house, don’t chase it. Open doors and windows and allow the squirrel to find its own way out. If this doesn’t work, set a live trap. Trapping is the best way to remove a squirrel. Use baits such as whole peanuts or sunflower seeds. A dab of peanut butter on a cracker works quite well.
The key to a successful trapping is placement. You want to set the trap where the squirrel is used to foraging or near their accustomed point of entry. Once you’ve caught the culprit, you need to take it at least a kilometer and a half away from your house. Just because you’ve managed to catch the squirrel setting up a home in your house, doesn’t mean your problem is over.
Squirrels have a strong sense of smell and leave a scent wherever they enter a structure. The smell can last up to six months. If one squirrel has managed to enter your house, others may be attracted to the same spot. Once a building has suffered through a squirrel invasion, it is more likely to fall victim to another incursion. Make certain you do a thorough inspection and seal up every potential point of entry.
Tim Lockley, a specialist in entomology, is retired from a 30-year career as a research scientist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For answers to individual questions, please send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to Tim Lockley, c/o Sun Herald, P.O. Box 4567, Biloxi MS 39535.