Cute little squirrels are among the most beloved brown furry creatures of the natural world—until they devour a flower bed, empty a bird feeder, burrow under a foundation and cause a floor to slant or a door to stick, chew through wiring in the car, or start a fire in the attic, this is when you need to know how to get rid of squirrels. Squirrels who take up residence in human dwelling places can be a major nuisance. And in the United States squirrels sometimes even transmit typhus (in the south-eastern states) or Lyme disease (in California).
How to Get Rid of Squirrels in Your Backyard
Every squirrel problem begins in the yard. Millions of ambitious home gardeners plant strawberries and tomatoes. Millions of hungry squirrels seem to wait for weeks to devour the fruit. Millions of homeowners decorate their grounds with flower beds. Millions of hungry squirrels gobble up expensive bulbs even before they have a chance to sprout.
Squirrels in the yard nibble at seeds, bulbs, and young transplants. Fruit and berries of any kind are at their mercy. They urinate and poop all over the yard, and they scarf down the seed you leave out for birds. From your yard, they may enter your attic or burrow under your home’s foundation. The very ground on which your house or flat rests can collapse years after squirrels have left the scene of the crime.
There are at least ten simple and lawful ways homeowners can banish squirrels from the yard. Killing squirrels usually isn’t legal and usually doesn’t work, but these ten humane approaches and pest control products may do the trick:
1. Put up mesh netting over flower beds until they are established, and over berries and tomatoes when they begin to bear fruit.
Polyethylene mesh netting is a simple and affordable solution for both squirrel and bird control. Squirrels can’t gnaw through polyethylene, and squirrels that are old enough to forage on their own cannot wiggle through openings less than 20 mm (about 3/4 of an inch) wide. (“Chicken wire” is not tight enough to keep squirrels out.) Netting allows plants to benefit from sunshine and rain while keeping the area free of rodents .
The caveat for using polyethylene mesh netting is that it must extend over the entire plant bed and there must be no gaps at the edges. The net must be secured so that it is not lifted by wind or passing animals. Depending on weather conditions, a ring of stones or pebbles may not be enough to keep the mesh in place. The net should extend all the way to the edging materials used to mark off the bed or, if there are no edging stones, to nearby grass. Squirrels will dig through open soil to get under a net, but they will not dig through grass and cannot dig through metal flashing or stone sunk into the ground.
2. Install a protective barrier around the trunks of individual trees.
Squirrels don’t eat fruit and nuts from trees they cannot climb. Trees trunks can be protected with a cylinder made from a plastic called Vexar to keep squirrels on the ground. The protective cylinder is dug about 5 cm (2-3 inches) into the ground to prevent squirrels from digging under the cylinder to climb the tree. Or if your tree is sufficiently mature that screws into its bark will not cause damage, it is possible to place metal flashing around the tree, starting at a height of about 60 cm (2 feet).
Protective barriers around tree trunks only work when every tree from which a squirrel could leap into your garden is fitted with a trunk guard. Squirrels can jump up to 5 meters (about 16 feet) from tree to tree, and they can land on the ground safely from branches up to 8 meters (about 27 feet) off the ground. Drooping branches must be pruned so squirrels can not come up from the ground. If you live in a location that gets deep or drifting snow, it is important that the trunk guard extend above the snow line.
Protective barriers are not a permanent barrier to squirrels. Trees have to have room to grow. Cylinders may have to be taken off and replaced every 2 to 4 years. And any crack in the cylinder has to be repaired to keep squirrels away.
Tar paper, newspaper, cardboard, rags, and burlap are aesthetically unappealing, but they offer a small protection against squirrels and other climbing rodents. The horticultural problem with using these materials is that the trunk of the tree will scald if it is exposed to summer sun when they are removed. PVC pipe also protects young trees, but it must be cut away from the tree to allow the trunk to grow.
These methods work for protecting bird feeders. If a feeder is placed underneath a tree, of course, protection from the base of the feeder will not be effective.
3. Deter squirrels with odors they don’t like.
Natural deterrents can be part of solving squirrel problems. They are not especially useful for getting rid of squirrels but they can be very useful in keeping squirrels from coming back.
Many homeowners scatter mothballs around young growing plants to get shot of squirrels. Mothballs are deadly to moths, but merely annoying to squirrels. Since mothballs contain 1,4-dichlorobenzene, a suspected carcinogen in people, they should not be used in berry or vegetable beds. Be aware that some teenagers use mothballs as inhalants.
Even better, mark trees and garden beds with red pepper or garlic. Just as red pepper stings the eyes and ears of people, it also stings the eyes and ears of squirrels. Products like Scoot Squirrel and Squirrel Away provide red pepper in a spray-on form. There are no commercial products that contain garlic, but all you have to do is to peel and smash a few cloves of garlic and place one clove every 30 cm (1 foot) in beds you want to protect. The sulfur compounds in garlic mimic the sulfur compounds in the breath of rats about to swarm.
Squirrels steer clear of the scent of predators. Products like Squirrel B Gone and Squirrel Away deter squirrels from entering your property with the scent of actual bobcat and fox urine. Either fox or bobcat urine will send squirrels scurrying away. Some homeowners spread out used kitty litter for the same purpose, although this should not be done in areas that will need to be worked by hand, such as flower beds. Predator urine products have to put out again after rain and snow, and it won’t purge the very hungriest squirrels.
4. Provide squirrels with food and drink at the edge of your property.
Sometimes squirrels are really thirsty rather than hungry. When they do not have access to fresh water, they will eat berries, tomatoes, and fruit. Simply putting out a pan of fresh water may be enough to keep the squirrels out of your fruit and vegetable beds. Depending on where you live, however, putting out water may also attract larger animals that feed on both squirrels and pets.
And sometimes squirrels will eat nuts and seeds you place out in a pan rather than your garden bulbs and seeds. A mixture of peanuts and birdseed works especially well. This method only works, however, if you have only a small number of trees on and near your property so you are dealing only with a small number of squirrels.
5. Place barriers on lines and wires leading to your property.
Squirrels don’t just climb trees. They also run along wires. Squirrels have to place their front paws over their bodies while the place their hind paws under their body, and vice versa. Any barrier that requires the squirrel to move both sets of paws the same way at the same time stops the movement of the squirrel. Free-moving circular barriers can be placed on guide wires and television cable connections to keep squirrels at bay.
The Critter Line Guard is a set of plastic rollers that can be placed on utility lines to prevent squirrels from causing power and service outages. Whenever a squirrel jumps onto the roller, the roller spins and sends it back to its starting point or off the line entirely.
6. Hang bird feeders at least 130 cm (4 feet) off the ground and at least 4 meters (12 to 13 feet) away from any tree branch.
Bird feeders have to be hung far enough off the ground that squirrels can’t jump up to them and far enough away from trees that squirrels can’t jump to over to them. Flying squirrels are undeterred by these measures but most flying squirrels do not live in habitats populated by humans.
7. Put up an electric fence around your yard.
Electrified fences are a tried and trusted way to exclude animals from your property. Designed to give any animal (or person) bumping into the fence an unpleasant but harmless shock, electric fences keep your property free of not just squirrels but also other rodents from entering your grounds, if you use the right kind of fence placed at the correct height with a barrier fence.
A two-fence system including a barrier fence inside the electric fence surrounding the area you wish to protect is essential to the success of the fence. Squirrels are insulated from electrical shock by fur. They can leap past an electrified fence quickly enough that they escape being shocked. Putting up a barrier fence to slow them down as the pass over the electric fence, however, ensures that they get a shock to the nose that makes them turn around and molest another property owner.
Electric fences will keep your garden free of not just squirrels but also a variety of critters, including raccoons, skunks, opossums, cats, and most dogs. The barrier fence protects pets and children inside your property from getting shocked, although many older children will test out the fence in various ways at least once to see if it really shocks them. It really does, and they typically won’t try the fence twice. Even small children, however, are not injured by an electrical fence connected to an appropriate charging unit. Never connect an electric fence directly to household current.
Electric fences are operated by batteries, solar powered chargers, or by step-down transformers connecting the fence to household current. These fences have to be regularly monitored for debris on the wire that can short out the fence. Plants that grow into the fence may develop irregularly shaped leaves or burned foliage, but a 5 to 10 cm (2 to 4 inch) gap between plants and fence is usually enough.
8. Get an outdoor dog or cat.
Both dogs and cats sometimes eat squirrels. For that reason, squirrels will avoid scampering across the ground where dogs and cats frequent. However, if you have trees, a dog or cat probably won’t do a lot to purge your squirrel population, especially if you have multiple trees permitting squirrels to jump from limb to limb. Squirrels may even gang up and pelt your pet with nuts or fruit to drive the guard animal away—although when the squirrel is forced to travel across the ground, your pet may get revenge.
9. Use ultrasonics.
Use an electronic squirrel repellent (click the link to read more) such as the Rodar ultrasonic unit which aggravates squirrels by generating various ultrasonic frequencies in much the same way as a strobe light generates various wavelengths of visible light. These tools are not really best used for outside use because they don’t like water. However, they are best used to keep squirrels out of indoor spaces like your attic, garage and outbuildings.
10. Trap squirrels for removal at a distance from your property.
Traps that kill squirrels often are not permitted by city, county, state, provincial, or national laws. The legal distinction between squirrels that can be killed and squirrels that have to be relocated is usually a concept called comensality. Comensal squirrels depend on humans for survival. Laws permit killing them. Non-comensal squirrels can survive without human intervention. They are often protected by law. Traps that capture squirrels for relocation to the wild, however, are generally permissible (with a few exceptions to be covered in a moment).
The best trap for catch and release of squirrels is the Havahart Two-Door Squirrel Trap. When a trap has just one door, squirrels may team up to raid the trap by allowing one squirrel to go inside to get the bait while the other squirrel holds the door open. A two-door trap increases the chances that more than one squirrel will enter the trap to get the bait at the same time. A great bait for thirsty squirrels is an apple or an orange hung from the top of the trap. When baiting the trap with peanut butter, it is best to place the peanut butter both over and under the bait pan to make sure that the squirrel enters the trap completely and does not get its tail caught in the door.
It’s usually best to release squirrels at least 2 km (about 1.2 miles) from your home, in an environment where they can find food. Releasing them at the neighbor’s will just bring them right back to your yard. If you are concerned about the welfare of baby squirrels (especially if they are living in a nest in your attic), however, don’t use traps during late spring or late summer, when pups are still dependent on their mothers.
Trapping squirrels is usually legal unless your trap can also catch a protected species. In the UK, it is best not to trap red squirrels (although trapping and killing the invasive grey squirrel is encouraged). In the western USA, many species of squirrels and pack rats are protected by federal law. And in any case, it is usually not a good idea to set out traps where they are publicly visible to neighbors who might report their suspicions to the authorities.
How to Get Rid of Squirrels in the Attic
The best way to deal with squirrels in the attic is never to let them in at all. The previously mentioned Rodar unit will help keep squirrels from entering your attic. It also helps to make sure that tree limbs and rain gutters don’t lead squirrels to your roof, and that all holes leading from the outside world into your attic are sealed. But what can you do if squirrel have already set up housekeeping just above your ceiling?
When there’s a squirrel in the attic, it’s most usually not one or male squirrels but rather a single mother squirrel nesting and raising her pups, using your attic as a safe place to store food and raise young. The female squirrel is pregnant for about 30 days. The baby squirrels are born blind and hairless, and are not capable of leaving the nest on their own for about 50 days. The mother continues to nurse them for about 20 days after they begin to forage on their own. If you want to treat squirrels humanely, you may need to wait up to 50 days for the squirrels to be able to fend for themselves, allowing the mother squirrel to come and go to get food and water. If you are concerned about still more squirrels using your attic for a nursery, then block holes in the roof and walls of the attic and provide the squirrel with food, water, and litter for feces and urine.
At some point, of course, the squirrels have to go. Stop providing nutrition, and install a one-way squirrel baffle, also known as a check valve. This one-way door consists of a funnel-like piece of fine net that has a small opening to the outdoors. The squirrel can wiggle out of the baffle, but because squirrels move by placing their front paws over an entrance while holding their hind paws down, the squirrel cannot wiggle back in through the baffle. One by one, squirrels emerge from your attic, never to return. If you install the check valve while pups are still in the nest, they will die and their carcasses will have to be removed by hand.
It is also possible to do squirrel trapping with a Havahart trap. Just make sure the trap contains the only food and water source and eventually the squirrel will find its way into the trap. If this happens, however, the pups will have to be removed by hand. Since the mother will usually reject her pups if they have collected human scent, the only way to keep the baby squirrels alive is by raising them yourself or taking them to a wildlife rescue center.
Once the squirrels are out, repair any holes with steel, not wood, especially where wires and cables enter your attic. You don’t want another batch of squirrels coming indoors, attracted by the scent of the first nest, working in teams to chew their way to a new home or even just stopping by to sharpen their teeth on rotten wood or fascia. Thorough cleaning to remove any lingering odor of dead squirrels, feces, or urine is essential. Don’t forget to make sure squirrels don’t have a way to get back on your roof.
What about snap traps and poisons? Snap traps that work for rats aren’t big enough to catch squirrels. A snap trap that can catch an adult squirrel can also catch adult fingers. Be sure to buy brands that have a safety latch, and don’t forget to remove the safety latch before leaving the trap. If you trap a mother squirrel in a trap, you will still need to remove baby squirrels by hand.
Setting out any poisonous pest control product in the attic is never a good idea. The squirrels can spread poison into nooks and crannies you can never clean, and any poison that will kill a squirrel will also put pets and people at risk.
Handling Squirrels, Dead or Alive
Squirrels are far less dangerous to human health to rats, but it’s still necessary to handle them with gloves. Squirrels can catch rabies, and bite. There are no recorded cases of squirrel-to-human rabies transmission, but you don’t want to be the first. You can read more about rabies at the National Library of Medicine. Pet squirrels, because of their propensity for biting, are not appropriate for children.
Certain species of squirrels can carry fleas that transmit a parasitic infection called typhus to humans, you can read about the symptoms at MedlinePlus. Cases of typhus acquired from squirrels have been reported up and down the Atlantic coast of the USA and the Maritime Provinces of Canada (except Newfoundland).
And in California, western gray squirrels (as well as lizards) can carry Lyme disease (you can find more info about it at the Mayo Clinic). Lyme disease has also been found in red squirrels in Quebec. Getting bitten by a tick that lived on a Lyme-infected squirrel can cause years of hard-to-treat chronic infection. If you are bitten by a tick, be sure to remove it with a lighted match, not tweezers, as tweezers can force the infection into your bloodstream. If you later notice a bulls-eye-shaped rash, see your doctor immediately for treatment.