Wildlife

Squirrels

Squirrel Facts

Squirrel eating nut

  • Squirrels have been known to live up to 20 years in an urban setting and three to six years in the wild. 
  • Squirrels breed twice a year; from late winter to early spring and then again in mid-summer to early fall. Their gestation period lasts for 40-44 days and on average have a litter of two to five young. Mother squirrels are very protective of their young and if threatened have been known to attack people and pets. Nests are normally found in the crowns of trees, high above the ground to protect the young from predators. 
  • Natural predators are hawks, foxes, weasels, minks, raccoons, skunks, snakes, owls, ravens, cats and dogs. 
  • Squirrels are active during the day and sleep at night. They do not hibernate over winter.
  • Squirrels play a big role in tree propagation. They carry and bury nuts under the ground. Over winter they tunnel through the snow to retrieve their buried nuts. About 10-20% of buried nuts are lost under the ground. It is these lost nuts that will grow into the trees that beautify our natural landscape.

Problems and Best Solutions

  • A squirrel's natural habitat is in hardwood or mixed forests where nuts are found in abundance. They have adapted very well to city life due to the invention of bird feeders. Eliminating this food source should encourage the animals to move on.
  • Remove old TV antennas - the tower provides an easy access to your attic. 
  • Any open vents or holes in a chimney or house roof should be repaired with 1.25cm (½") mesh hardware cloth or sheet metal that exceeds at least 15cm (6") beyond the hole. Check the area for loose roof vents, rotten or loose soffits, loose shingles and have them repaired.
  • Overhanging tree limbs should also be trimmed back. Squirrels are great climbers who can scale a brick wall with great ease. They have been known to nest on apartment balconies that are 20 storeys above the ground. If you see a squirrel on your balcony, check again in 24 hours, if it is still there, look at our checklist of preventive wildlife measures for humane methods to encourage the squirrel to leave.

Trapped in a chimney

If your chimney has holes or open vents, it is quite common for a squirrel to move in. Preventing these animals from moving in should be your priority. The following suggestions will assist you in removing squirrels and will discourage them from re-entering.

Trapped above the damper

If the squirrel is above the damper, you can hang a 1.25cm (½") thick rope down the chimney. The squirrel will usually climb the rope and leave the chimney.

Squirrel is in the damper

  1. Cover the stove or fireplace door with a barrier to keep the squirrel from escaping into your home until you are ready. 
  2. Open the damper to give the animal access into the stove or fireplace. 
  3. Close the damper once the squirrel has moved into the stove or fireplace to avoid it from trying to re-enter. 
  4. Prepare your home. The idea is to create an easy and attractive escape route for the squirrel. If possible, close off the room that the fireplace is in (i.e. close the doors to other rooms or hanging a sheet in open doorways to act as a barrier). Remove all valuable or breakable items from the room. These could be knocked over or broken. Turn off all lights in the room and draw any blinds that may provide light but not an escape route. 
  5. Open all windows and doors to provide an escape route for the squirrel. 
  6. Arm yourself with thick gloves and a thick towel or blanket. Open the fireplace door slowly so you don't scare the animal. Sit back and if all goes as planned the squirrel should run toward the light coming from open windows or doors and escape.
  7. If the animal takes a wrong turn and ends up running around the room, don't panic! Try following it and directing it to the outdoors or capture it with a blanket if possible and quickly carry it outside in the blanket.

Notes:

It is better not to catch the squirrel in a net. The squirrel may get tangled in netting. Never grab a squirrel, even if you have gloves on. Squirrels can bite through any glove. Never corner a squirrel – it may become aggressive. Never light a fire while a squirrel is trapped in a stove or fireplace – you may injure or kill the animal leaving you with a smelly dead animal to remove.
 

Living in the attic

Having open holes and unsecured closures to an attic is an invitation for many wildlife species including squirrels. By following these easy tips you will become equipped with a knowledge and understanding of ways to prevent (as well as humanely remove) squirrels from entering your attic.

Note: Always use caution when entering an attic, if the flooring is unsecure or you do not feel safe, do not enter. Contact a local animal removal agency to help you humanely remove the animal.

If you do choose to enter the attic, follow these guidelines:

Step 1: Encourage squirrels to leave on their own by making the attic uninhabitable.

Try:

  • Entering the attic making a lot of noise to scare the animal away. Playing a radio at the entrance using an all-talk radio station. Sprinkling Naphtha Flakes around the area (babies must be mobile) or distribute urine-soaked kitty litter in and around the den. Remember that the smell may spread through your home. Keep the area brightly lit. If there are very young baby squirrels in a nest, make sure they are able to exit on their own. Hang sweaty clothing in the attic. Wild animals do not like the smell of people.
  • Squirrels are afraid of owls. Try to make a model of an owl to use as a scarecrow.

 

Step 2: Before permanently blocking any entrance, check to see if the squirrels have left.

  • Spread flour near their nest site and check for tracks.
  • After 24 - 48 hours. Block one hole with loosely crushed newspaper. Block all other holes completely, with strong material. Wait another 24 - 48 hours. If the newspaper has not been disturbed, you can assume all the animals have relocated.

Step 3: When you are sure the squirrel has left:

  • Make the necessary repairs to prevent other animals from getting into your attic. Call a professional to make necessary repairs if you are unable to. Check the home for loose roof vents, rotten or loose soffit, loose shingles or holes in the garage. Make sure your chimney is capped securely.
  • Remove overhanging branches or trees, old TV antennas, etc. (anything that may give an animal a way to get in your house).

Abandoned young
It is general practice to leave all baby animals alone and not to touch or relocate them. In most instances the animal's mother is close by and the baby is not in any real danger. However, if the squirrel looks pale, looks to be shivering (sign of cold and/or shock), mangled, covered with fleas or is bleeding call 311.

Squirrel behaviour
Squirrels are not known to be carriers of rabies. However, the young often exhibit friendly behaviour to people or pets. Young squirrels are naturally curious and are on their own at a very young age.
 

Normal behaviour

  • Approach people and trying to climb pant legs. Young squirrels have no fear of humans. It is important to note that they still may bite if handled or grabbed. 
  • Adult squirrel attacking people. A mother squirrel who is protecting a nest or young babies may feel threatened and be protective of her young.
  • Missing hair on backs and shoulders: This is normal for a nesting female squirrel because she uses her own fur to line the nest.

Unusual behaviour and signs of illness

  • Tumors on the squirrel's body. 
  • Paralysis of hind legs. Could have been injured by a car, attacked or have a broken back due to too little calcium in diet.
  • Seems weak or is lying on the ground.

Trapping and poisoning

Although trapping is a quick answer, it does not solve the problem. If one animal has found a way to get in, so will others. Trapping may also leave starving young behind to die, causing a bigger problem. Current Ministry of Natural Resources guidelines state that using body gripping traps or placing poison could result in criminal charges and/or provincial charges with fines up $5,000.


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