Sunday, September 14, 2008

Living With Squirrels

by Donna L. Watkins

In early fall, there can be a lot of frantic chasing between squirrels. Most are less than a year old and they do it for fun. Once it gets cold, it's time to get serious. Each squirrel must find and store enough food to make it through the winter. Many don't accomplish the task and starve.

© 2008 Donna L. Watkins - Squirrel and Red-bellied Woodpecker
Watching a squirrel hide and bury an acorn, one might think it is a random process that requires a lot of luck for the squirrel to find later. In fact, the behavior is instinct-driven. Squirrels rub nuts against themselves before burial so they can pick up the scent later, even under 10 inches of snow. Their sense of smell is very keen and they also have a pattern for hiding their food.

Squirrels are solitary animals and will live alone in a tree nest made of twigs and leaves called a drey, but they also have been known to take up residences in hollow trees, gas grills or house attics.

Laura Simon, urban wildlife director for The Fund for Animals' Urban Wildlife Office in New Haven, Connecticut, got a call from a 79-year old woman who was being held hostage by a 'psychotic squirrel.' Every time she tried to go out of her house, the squirrel ran at her. If she opened her window blinds, the squirrel would jump at the window. The woman was afraid to leave her house thinking the squirrel was rabid.

Simon asked her what about her house had changed, and she said, "Nothing, except my lazy nephew finally got out here to patch some holes." That was the clue. The patches were removed, the squirrel leaped into an old dryer hose hole that led to the basement, and pulled out four babies, one at a time, taking them up a tree.

Squirrels can have a litter of up to four babies from February to May and another in August to October. If a squirrel is in the attic for more than a few days at those times of year, the animal most likely is a mother with her babies. To keep squirrels from accessing a house, trim your tree limbs, plug any hole, buy baffles for your bird feeder and/or keep birdseed off the ground.

To remove squirrels humanely from a house or attic, The Fund for Animals has some facts sheets on nuisance animals which contain extensive instructions. Use their search engine with the word "nuisance" for various topics. Living with Urban Wildlife


Anonymous said...

We once had a squirrel build a nest in the breather of our motorhome engine after it sat in a woodsy campground for a few days. An hour down the road, the engine burst into flames! The engine died and we coasted down the hill and pulled into a service station. Workers came running out to meet us with fire extinguishers and got the fire out, but we had well over $1000 damage, thanks to the nest-building mama squirrel.

Yes ... I still like them and feed them. Blessings, Genny

Anonymous said...

I don't understand why people hate squirrels so much. I do not feed them Other than the Indian corn I place on the front door each fall which I save for the snowy times.

They prune my trees each spring. They also deposit a variety of nuts and seeds in our yard, some endangered species, which sprout each spring and I transplant on different parts of our farmette.

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