When spring arrives, it’s a common sight to see squirrels munching on nuts on lawns or busily transporting their booty to secret hiding places to last them the winter. With the colder weather, however, squirrels may also decide to move in with you rather than just clean the nuts off your lawn. Below we offer some information and tips on dealing with our furry little friends.
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.
It is not uncommon for a mother squirrel to have several nests at once; this helps with the distribution of food for their young. Nests are normally found in the crowns of trees, high above the ground to protect the young from predators.
Some natural predators are hawks, foxes, weasels, minks, raccoons, skunks, snakes, owls, ravens, domestic cats and dogs. Squirrels are active during the day and sleep at night. They do not hibernate over the winter.
The Eastern Grey Squirrel is the most common type found in Toronto. It can be identified as being black and brownish grey in colour. It has a long tail that provides the squirrel with exceptional balance.
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.A squirrel’s natural habitat is in hardwood or mixed forests where nuts (their food source) are found in abundance. They have adapted very well to city life due to the invention of bird feeders. Since we know that squirrels are naturally attracted to bird feeders, eliminating this food source should encourage the animals to move on.
A TV antenna tower provides an easy access to the attic. To prevent the habituation of squirrels, a metal shield should be installed over the direct access to the attic.
Any open vents or holes in a chimney or house roof should be repaired with an half inch mesh hardware cloth or sheet metal that exceeds at least 6 inches beyond the hole. Check the area for loose roof vents, rotten or loose soffits, loose shingles and have them repaired immediately. If not, you are inviting some unwanted guests!
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 in a Damper
If the squirrel is above the damper, you can hang a half-inch thick rope down the chimney. The squirrel will usually climb the rope and leave the chimney.
Cover the stove or fireplace door with a barrier to keep the squirrel from escaping into your home until you are ready. Open the damper to give the animal access into the stove or fireplace. Close the damper once the squirrel has moved into the stove or fireplace to avoid it from trying to re-enter.
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.
Open all windows and doors to provide an escape route for the squirrel. 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.
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.
Note, 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.