Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Subdivisions Under Seige: Winning the squirrel wars

They’re furry. They’re cute. One of them even pals around with a moose named Bullwinkle.

Squirrels – those acorn-nibbling symbols of the leafy American suburb. But they’re not always as charming as Rocky the cartoon character. For homeowners, squirrels can be a real pain in your attic. Or your lawn or garden, for that matter.

“Once they get into a house, they’re basically a rat, and they do all the damage that a rat does,” says Jeff Jackson, a certified wildlife biologist and retired professor of wildlife management at the University of Georgia, and now a wildlife management consultant.

If he becomes a pest, Rocky must be stopped. Here’s what the experts say you need to know to boot squirrels out – and keep them out – of your home and its surrounding area.

The Trojan squirrelSeeing them up on a branch, nibbling a nut, you might not think squirrels have anything to do with you. And while humans and squirrels can coexist, the latter have the potential to do lots of damage.

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They can walk along power lines and short out transformers, Jackson has written in a popular primer on the rodent. They can damage lawns when they bury their nuts, and when they search for them later. They chew the bark on trees and shrubs. They dine at birdfeeders. They are most active toward dusk and near daybreak, often waking a home’s occupants by running on the roof or in the attic.

That’s not all. According to the University of California’s Integrated Pest Management Program, tree squirrels can carry diseases, such as tularemia (aka “rabbit fever”) and ringworm, that are transmissible to people. They also frequently have fleas, mites and other ectoparasites.

“But the real concern is the fire hazard,” says Scott McNeely, owner of McNeely Pest and Wildlife Solutions in Winston-Salem, N.C. “Because of the rodent nature of squirrels, they tend to chew.

And they can be a major concern to electrical wiring” once they enter a house.

An ounce of preventionThe best way to keep squirrels away is to thwart them in the first place.

There are several effective ways to do this:

> Cut back: “Squirrels can climb wood siding or brick siding pretty effectively, but the most common thing they’ll climb is tree limbs,” McNeely says. So a good rule of thumb is to cut branches until they’re six feet away from a home’s roof lines – too far for most (nondaredevil) squirrels to leap.

> Collar that tree: Stop squirrels from climbing trees or even power poles by wrapping them with a 2-foot-wide collar of metal, six feet off the ground, says the University of California: “Attach metal using encircling wires held together with springs to allow for tree growth.”

> Trip up tightrope-walking rodents: Wildlife expert Jackson says you can stop squirrels from running along electrical wires by installing 2-foot sections of lightweight, 2- to 3-inch diameter plastic pipe. Slit the pipe lengthwise, spread it open and place it over the wire. Since this outer pipe fits only loosely, it spins on the wire, and squirrels can’t cross it.

> Fix that feeder: If the home’s birdfeeder is the attraction, put an end to that by buying one of several varieties of squirrel-proof feeders. Or, give the squirrels something else to target: Nail up a corncob farther away, Jackson suggests.

> Block ’em out: You need to seal out the varmints so they won’t waltz back inside. How? “Areas of concern should be covered with metal flashing, or quarter-inch mesh or even half-inch mesh,” McNeely says. Extend the patch several inches beyond the hole in all directions to stop the squirrel from gnawing around it.

Read more on how to combat the hazards of squirrels at:


  1. Squirrels can be very destructive. When I lived in St. Charles I would live trap them and take them away to a new home. Funny thing was the next day it looked as if the same one was back dining in my yard...

  2. I live near Westport and my neighborhood is crawiling with squirrels. A guy in the office lives in Chesterfield and says he never sees any in his yard.

    What's that about?

  3. Mike Roberts9:22 AM

    I tacked a black plastic trash bag around my tree about head high. This spooked the squirrles and they avoided running up the tree . . . for several weeks. I eventually noted claw marks tearing into the bag indicating the squirrles were running across it.

    I also tacked some computer disks around the tree which reflect light. These appear to have spooked the squirrles, but who wants computer disks around their tree.

    The only sure way to get rid of them is to kill them. Sorry animal lovers, but they're rats in disguise.

  4. Anonymous4:03 AM

    Great post!!
    Thanks for sharing.

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