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Wildlife Proofing - Squirrels
squirrels communicate among themselves with a variety of vocalizations
and postures, such as tail flicking.
They also have a
keen sense of smell and can determine much about their neighbours in this
Breeding occurs in
December-February and again in May-June and is slightly delayed the
further north they are found. Gestation lasts 44 days on average.
Two litters are born
each year in late winter and midsummer with generally 2-4 young per
litter(up to 8 young are possible).
Weaning begins in
the seventh week and is completed by the tenth.
Adult size and mass
are reached at 9 months.
longevity is 12.5 years in the wild.
During the spring,
summer and autumn, squirrels have their peak activity times about 2
hours after sunrise and 2-5 hours before sunset. This allows them to
avoid the heat of the day.
They feed mostly on
nuts, flowers and buds of more than 24 species of oaks, 10 species of
hickory, pecan, walnut and beech trees. Maple, mulberry, hackberry, elm,
bucky and horse chestnut fruits, seeds, bulbs or flowers are also eaten
along with wild cherry, dogwood, hawthorn, black gum, hazelnut, hop
hornbeam and gingko tree fruits, seeds, bulbs and/or flowers.
The seeds and
catkins of cedar, hemlock, pine, and spruce are another food source
along with a variety of herbaceous plants and fungi.
Crops, such as corn
and wheat, are eaten, especially in the winter.
Insects are eaten in
the summer and are probably especially important for juveniles.
Cannibalism has been reported, and squirrels may also eat bones, bird
eggs and nestlings, and frogs.
They bury food in
winter caches using a method called “scatter hoarding” and later will
locate these caches using both memory and smell.
squirrels are important predators of seeds and other animals in the
ecosystems in which they live.
activities help to disperse tree seeds. What they bury and don’t eat,
can grow into a tree.
They may help to
distribute truffle fungal spores when they eat truffles.
squirrels are also prey animals themselves and are hosts for parasites
such as ticks, fleas, lice, and roundworms. This is a factor which
causes them to move between two dens between their first and second
They are important
members of the forest ecosystems in which they live.
variations occur in coat colors. More black-coated squirrels occur in
the northern climates.
Studies have shown
that black animals have 18% lower heat loss in temperatures below -10
degrees Celsius, along with a 20% lower basal metabolic rate, and a
non-shivering ability to produce body heat that is 11% higher than their
counterparts, the grey morphs.
There are also some
well established populations of white squirrels across the province who
aren’t ‘rare’ or endangered. They just happen to have white fur.
Regardless of the
genetics that give them their
coat colour, they are all members of the Eastern Grey
During the winter,
they are known to be diurnal (active during the day rather than at
night) with a peak period of activity just 2-4 hours before sunset.
are more active in the summer months and males are more active in the
Squirrels occupy two
types of homes, including a permanent tree den as well as a nest of
leaves and twigs called a drey, on a tree crotch 30-45 feet above the
ground. They will alternate between these two dens during the year, as
they tend to become infested with parasites.
The arrival of fall
will see them building a drey high in trees, where they will spend the
the two allows the parasites to die off in the unoccupied nest before
they move back in
Keeping Safe Around Squirrels
Females nest alone
when pregnant, and lactating females are especially aggressive and
avoided by others.
They can become
quite defensive and aggressive.
If an adult squirrel
acts in this manner towards you, it’s likely she’s protecting her
babies. Give her a wide berth, they will be on their way soon.
It is uncommon for squirrels to
be rabid or to act as a vector species in the spread of rabies, however,
all mammals are capable of being infected by rabies.
Young and inexperienced baby
squirrels very often act friendly towards people and pets. Because they
are on their own and very naturally curious at that stage of their life,
this is why they sometimes approach.
It may also be a learned
behaviour from their mother if she is being fed by well meaning but
uninformed members of the public.
cardinal rule is ‘Don’t feed wildlife!’
Keep in mind that even if they
do approach you and look rather ‘cute’ doing their ‘Charlie Chaplin
walk’, they still can give you a severe bite if you attempt to handle
them or grab them.
Adult squirrels will often
appear with missing fur on the back and shoulder areas – normal
appearance for a female who has pulled some of that fur to line her nest
It is not normal for squirrels
to be covered in what appears to be tumours. This is known as squirrel
pox and it is highly contagious to other squirrels. Depending on the
severity of the pox, and the ability of their immune system to fight it
off, it can cause their death.
Some areas will see squirrels
with large areas of missing fur. These squirrels are itchy and can be
observed scratching themselves due to the intense itching. This
condition is called mange and it too is contagious among squirrels. It
is caused by a mange mite and is virtually impossible to treat in the
wild squirrel populations.
Squirrels who appear dragging
their back legs, and unable to use them may have been hit by a car,
attacked by a predator and escaped, or fallen from a height and landed
on a hard surface and have fractured their spine. Another common cause
is improper diet, and what you see is metabolic bone disease. Another
good reason not to feed wildlife!
If the squirrel seems weak, and
is having trouble moving, use the utmost caution in approaching it. It
is best to call the nearest authorized wildlife custodian or wildlife
centre for advice and if you can’t locate someone, call animal control
or your SPCA for assistance.
An injured adult animal who
cannot walk or run away can still bite out of fear.
They also have very sharp claws
which help them in their ability and agility as climbers and being able
to leap the distances that they leap.
Bird feeders are a major source
of attraction to any squirrel. If you eliminate this source of food,
you’ve taken a big step to reducing conflict between them and you.
Look around your yard for ways
that they can access your home.
Trim tree branches that
Put climbing guards on
downspouts and television towers to make it difficult for them to gain
access to rooftops.
Their small size allows them
easy access to uncapped chimneys and vents. Cover these areas with ½
inch mesh hardware cloth.
Go over the main wildlife
proofing section and assess your home for areas that they can gain
access to and repair these areas.
Squirrel Trapped In Chimney or Home
If you find a squirrel trapped
in your chimney, a simple solution that will let it escape on its own is
to hang a half inch thick rope down into the chimney opening. Leave the
area alone and the animal will use that to climb back out. When it is
gone, cap the chimney to prevent another one from doing it again.
If the squirrel is below the
damper or has gained access to the interior of your home, create an easy
escape access for it and remember that it wants to get outside even more
than you want it to, so patience and time will give it a chance to get
Close off the room from the
rest of the house and remove any valuable items that can be knocked over
or damaged in the squirrels panic to get out.
Cover all the windows or doors
other than the ones that will allow it to have access directly back
outside, and turn off all the lights in that room. If all goes well,
the next morning the squirrel will head for the ‘light’ and outside.
If the animal is trapped inside
in the darkness during the night, turn off all lights and close all
doors to keep it calm. The next morning, open only one main window or
door that you want to use to allow it to escape. Try as much as
possible to have everything in darkness except for the escape opening.
Should the squirrel get
confused and panic, try to capture it by throwing a heavy blanket over
it. Quickly transport it outside in the blanket and take care of the
problem that allowed it to access the interior of your home.
Avoid using nets as they can
become entangled in them and injured. Leave net trapping to the
Never grab a panicked squirrel
even with gloves on, they can bite through any gloves because they have
razor sharp teeth.
Lighting a fire in the chimney
to remove a squirrel is inhumane and may injure or kill the squirrel.
Squirrels will nest in attics
if they have easy access to them. You can also find them in soffits.
If you choose to enter an
attic, use caution to be sure the area can support your weight and that
you do no damage to the structure or fall through causing injury to
You should be able to see an
access point from outside. Use a pair of binoculars for high roofs to
help you check for damaged areas that indicate an entrance.
Sprinkle the area below the
entrance with flour and check for tracks to identify if it is a
squirrel. If you can find the access point, cover it up by stuffing
newspaper or rags into it. If it has been pushed away, then you know
someone is living in there.
Squirrel urine has a very
strong odour to it, and sometimes is key to identifying if that’s who is
inhabiting your attic and where they may be located.
If you can see the nest area,
sprinkle the area around the entrance with used kitty
litter. This can be used in conjunction with the three key things that
can be done to discourage them from remaining in the area.
Three key things must
be put in place simultaneously to evict them humanely. This effort must be
kept up for 3-4 days to achieve success.
Use a work light or flashlight
to illuminate the area.
If you use electrical lighting
please ensure that your placement of the bulb will not start a
Replace the flashlight
batteries if they dim down.
Place rags in empty margarine
containers, dampen them with ammonia and place the covers back on them
and punch holes in them for the odour to escape.
Place those at the entrance to
the nest and around the nest.
Before tossing ammonia
containers into the general area of the nest space, make sure that the
babies, if there are any, can move away from the container. These are
strong odours and if a young baby cannot escape from it, they may die,
so be judicious in where you place them.
Also keep in mind that very
strong odours may also affect you, in your living space, so use your
judgement in how much to apply. Use just enough to annoy the animals,
It is possible to install a one
way door to allow the squirrel to get out. One way doors mean it can’t
re-enter, however, if her babies are not mobile and able to follow her,
they will die in that space without her. Never use one way doors if the
babies are not mobile.
Once you are sure they have
left, check again using flour to trace footprints and by continuing to
block the entrance with newspaper and rags. If you see no signs after a
span of three to five days, it’s a safe bet they have left.
That’s the time to ensure you
do a repair that prevents access by another wild animal.
Trapping and Relocation
It cannot be stressed enough times
that trapping a wild animal to remove it does nothing to solve the real
problem. If one animal has found a way to get in, so will the others.
Trapping may also leave starving
young behind to die, causing a bigger problem that you will have to deal
with. There are no public agencies that will come out at no charge to
remove a decaying dead body from a private residence.
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
In accordance with the Fish and
Wildlife Conservation Act, if you live-capture a nuisance animal, and do not
humanely kill it, you must, within 24 hours, either release it in
close proximity to where you caught it (within 1 km of point of capture for
all adult wildlife) as directed by the Ministry of Natural resources, or, if
it is sick, injured or immature, turn it over to an authorized wildlife
It is good 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
Read the checklist on the 'I Found
a Wild Animal' page to determine if that baby wild animal truly needs your
assistance. If you determine that it does, call your local authorized
wildlife custodian, or nearest wildlife centre. If you are unable to locate
someone, call animal control or your local SPCA for assistance.
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