Changes in Squirrel Populations and Its Effect on Homeowners

Squirrel Have Become Urbanized

Squirrel Invading a Home

What would an oak tree be without a squirrel? In fact, squirrels are prolific tree planters, with their cache of seeds and nuts often contributing to the growth of oak and walnut trees. The squirrel family includes tree and ground squirrels, chipmunks, and prairie dogs. Squirrels are cute and fascinating to watch, with endearing behaviors that have been immortalized by the popular Chipmunk recordings and movies. Squirrels are ingenious and clever. They live in virtually every habitat from the tropics to desert, and they are highly inventive when it comes to finding food and creating shelter. Squirrels eat a variety of plants, nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetation. If faced with hunger, they will eat meat, insects, eggs, snakes, even small birds.(1)

The Urban Squirrel

Squirrel RepellentWith increased urbanization into formerly wildlife habitats, urbanized animals are becoming a nuisance in yards, gardens, and inside homes. Squirrels are perhaps among the earliest wild animals to become urbanized, and as such, they have had many years of learning how to adapt to the human habitat. They are one of the most common type of wildlife seen in urban populations, and represent some of the most common problems caused by urbanized wildlife. By nature, squirrels do not interact with humans, but as they enter human habitat in search of food, they become habituated.(2) Squirrels are plentiful in communities with nut and shade trees, hardwoods, and conifers, and they are attracted to environments where food is plentiful. Bird feeders are often a target, as many homeowners have discovered. Squirrel diet includes:

  • wild fruits
  • nuts
  • various berries
  • bark
  • twigs
  • sap
  • grapes
  • cherries

Experiments on a university campus with one of the most common species, the eastern grey squirrel, revealed that squirrels habituated to humans will generally not flee if they have a refuge point nearby. Researchers concluded that several factors have caused squirrels to become acclimated to human environments:

  • plentiful food supply
  • loss of a sense of predation
  • architecture that is attractive for refuge and home building

The presence of these urban benefits – food, shelter, safety – means that squirrels can concentrate on reproduction, producing two litters of anywhere from 1 to 6 young per year, usually in February and June. Under ideal conditions, the life span for squirrels can be as high as 15 years, so squirrel populations in urban areas can quickly become abundant.(3)

Homeowners and Squirrels

Why is urban squirrel overpopulation a problem? Squirrel damage goes far beyond raiding bird feeders. In their quest for food, squirrels will invade gardens and fruit trees. They will chew through birdhouses to feast on nestling songbirds. Their prolific tree-planting activities contribute to unwanted tree growth, and they can interfere with reseeding of pine forests.(4) Angry, agitated squirrels disturb the peace with their vocalizations. Some of the greatest damage to urban environments is sustained inside homes, attics and in eavestroughs, where squirrels build nests using any available nesting material.(5) In the process they:

  • gnaw through home wiring
  • short out transformers
  • tear and destroy insulation
  • chew holes in wood and drywall
  • rip off paper coverings
  • tear holes in vapour barrier and plastic
  • chew through aluminum vents
  • damage shingles

Not only does this cause significant damage, the large, dry nests represent a serious fire hazard in an attic.(6)

Squirrel Solutions

What can be done about an overabundance of problem squirrels in your yard and home? There are a number of potential solutions. Some people squirrel-proof their bird feeders or install squirrel feeders. It is also important to practice good sanitation and garbage disposal practices and limit access to the roof from trees in the yard. (7) Motion-activated sprinklers or lights may frighten squirrels away. One of the best, most humane methods is natural squirrel repellent that uses predator scent.(8) With a little patience and the right squirrel repellent product, rather than let squirrels wreak havoc in your yard and home, you can take action and keep them under control.

1. Squirrels http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Squirrel

2. The Impact of Humans on the Domestication of Squirrels http://jrscience.wcp.muohio.edu/nsfall99/FinalArticles/TheImpactofHumansontheDom.html

3. Grey Squirrel Biology & Management http://www.clemson.edu/extension/natural_resources/wildlife/publications/fs13_gray_squirrel_biology_management.html

4. Grey Squirrels http://www.ofnc.ca/fletcher/our_animals/squirrels/grey-squirrels_e.php

5. Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management http://icwdm.org/handbook/rodents/TreeSquirrels.asp

6. Wildlife Issues – How to Get Rid of Squirrels. http://www.humanewildlifecontrol.com/wildlife-issues/squirrels.html

7. http://www.getridofthings.com/pests/rodents/get-rid-of-squirrels.htm

8. http://www.critter-repellent.com/squirrel/squirrel-repellent.php

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