Stalemate with Squirrels
Life with squirrels doesn’t have to be all-out war. Learn how to co-exist with these common garden critters.
If you want to cause a ruckus in a roomful of gardeners, you don’t need to yell, “Fire!” Just announce in a loud, happy voice, “Squirrels are so darn cute!” Things will get ugly fast.
Some gardeners love them, and some hate them. Either way, we all have to deal with them, because squirrels are everywhere.
Squirrels fall into two categories: those that live in trees and those that live on the ground. Tree species, such as gray, red, flying, and fox squirrels, have long tails that help them balance while they leap through the branches. They shelter in tree cavities and leafy nests in the branches. Ground species, including chipmunks, prairie dogs, marmots, and ground squirrels, have shorter tails, stockier bodies, and dig burrows in the ground.
All squirrels feed on plant material, which can include grasses, forbs, tubers, seeds, fruit, buds, and, of course, nuts. Many species also eat fungi. Most squirrels eat animal matter, too, consisting largely of invertebrates, although some species also prey on birds and their eggs, reptiles, and even other rodents. Many have cheek pouches in which they carry food to larders, while others simply hide food randomly throughout their habitat (think of gray squirrels stashing acorns) for later consumption.
Squirrels are active during the day, with the exception of nocturnal flying squirrels. Prairie dogs and some ground squirrel species live in colonies, but most squirrels limit interaction to small family groups, mates, or communal feeding opportunities. Ground squirrels generally hibernate underground during the winter, while tree squirrels limit their activity and rely on hidden food stores.
All this squirrelly behavior can play out right in your own yard, demonstrating that the most familiar and common wildlife can be fascinating if you pay attention. Even if you find squirrels cute and amusing, however, the ultimate question is how to keep them from damaging the plants in your garden, eating all the seed in your bird feeder, and getting into your house. Here are some tips to help you live conflict-free with squirrels:
Put bulbs and root vegetables in wire cages to protect them from digging squirrels, or place wire mesh over the ground on top of your beds. Never scatter mothballs, which can contaminate the soil and poison pets and wildlife.
Don’t bother with deterrents such as scarecrows, plastic owls, or shiny balloons. Motion-detector sprinklers—or better yet, dogs that hang out in the yard and love to chase squirrels—work better.
Discourage squirrels with specially designed bird feeders or seed laced with cayenne pepper. The hot spice doesn’t affect birds, but the squirrels will get an unpleasant burning sensation when they try to feed. Place feeders at least 12 feet away from trees; squirrels are incredible leapers.
Critter-proof your house by sealing cracks along the roofline and foundation. Cover access holes with wire mesh or steel wool. Trim tree branches that come close to the house. Install chimney caps. Make certain no animals are trapped inside, particularly babies. Call a professional if necessary.
Fast Facts about Squirrels
• Marmots are the largest members of the squirrel family. The woodchuck, or groundhog, is the only type of marmot that lives in the eastern and southern parts of the United States.
• In Europe, Eastern gray squirrels have begun to outcompete the native European red squirrel and are considered an invasive species.
• Flying squirrels have a flap of skin between their front and back legs called a patagium, which allows them to glide from tree to tree.
• Black-tailed prairie dogs obtain all their water from the plants they eat.
• In winter, red squirrels rely on evergreen seeds. They create massive piles of cone debris, which are known as midden heaps and can be several feet deep.
David Mizejewski is a naturalist, television personality, and author of Attracting Birds, Butterflies and Other Backyard Wildlife (Creative Homeowner, 2004).
Wednesday, January 05, 2011 12:08 PM
We have one bird feeder they can use their "withdrawal" card, however, we have an open wooden feeder they have chosen for their own almost exclusively!
They sit like little "outfielders" when it's time for their peanuts in the morning.
They are constant entertainment for us and the cats!
Wednesday, January 05, 2011 7:48 PM
I have the little antelope ground squirrels. I've noticed that I can interrupt the winter hibernation of my ground squirrels by providing daily food. If food is abundant they can't resist the urge to eat. Two foot tall wire cages seem to protect my plants from the majority of the squirrels. Also, I'm going to have to rethink my summertime relocation project. I just learned that these little ground squirrels can find their way home from up to a mile away. I've been dropping them off at about the 3/4 mile mark.
Thursday, August 25, 2011 4:38 AM
by: dirteee-hands @ Thursday, August 25, 2011, 4:36 AM.
Thursday, August 25, 2011 5:20 AM
For us, we used to love their little antics, we'd talk to them and they used to come over and crawl up your arms and shoulders. We had squirrel feeders for them too, but they have dug in their heels and made themselves at home in our home and garage as well. Making a mess of our tools, crafts and other items we had in there, including getting into our lawn-mower gas cans, car oil, stored dishes and wood and seasonal clothing, leaving their droppings everywhere and i do mean EVERYWHERE ! also tearing up all our insulation throughout the whole garage and the room above the garage, including all my ceramics and supplies. They have chewed holes several places creating several entry/exit points throughout both the house and garage. over the winter months they got into our stored bags of Fertilizer, Peat, Manure, Top soil, etc. & dog food. Some must have had the runs because it was dripping from the rafters and along the walls and everything in the garage. Believe me, it Stunk ! ! !
We've tried to repair the openings, but they just go make new ones elsewhere. they've even ripped off the some of the aluminum siding to get in. It didn't take us more than a year to realize their home-squatters plans in our buildings and grounds. Sorry about the length of this so-called short - ugh - story.
Wednesday, August 31, 2011 7:37 AM
we love to watch our hummingbirds and squrrils and chipmunks they are very entertaining with thier antics. this is the first year i'v had feeders up didnt know what we were missing. our mother love to watch them for hours before she passed. now we know why guess this is a sign of age lol
Thursday, January 12, 2012 10:52 AM
I have a pair and 2 teenagers living in a tree hole across from the window by my computer. Great entertainment! Just saw the four of them boil out of the hole, see the snow coming down, and stuff themselves back in.
Thursday, January 12, 2012 1:37 PM
I have a mature mating pair living in my back yard & I fight with them & there new babies all summer,they constantly get In my flower pots & dig things up & put holes all over the yard during the winter, that I have To repair in the spring...I spend all that time & money To make my yard look nice ...i hate squirrles!!!!!!
Thursday, January 12, 2012 8:26 PM
Squirrles get in my garden and eat my strawberries but my dog Scotty loves to chase them and his favorite word is Squirrel.
Scotty is on a 100 ft. run because we live near a route. I wonder what Scotty would do if he caught one. Scotty is part lab and part German Short Hair Pointer. One of these days when the S
Friday, January 13, 2012 8:55 PM
Squirrels are domestic rats! I dislike the damage they do to my plants and yard, but they are a life form and I can not make myself harm them just because they do what they do to survive. A few sprays of pepper on my plants and two dogs should do the trick, but the squirrels by my house have no taste buds and laugh at that dogs!
Tuesday, January 17, 2012 1:58 PM
Two squirrels , "Raider and Bandit" can't really define whose who but named them anyway!
Sitting on top of the fench, caught one of the squirrels dropping a nut on the cats head, Bulleye! Quite hilarious!
Didn't know squirrels had a sense of humor!
Tuesday, January 17, 2012 3:25 PM
Squirrels are nothing but over grown rats with a bad attitude! I wish they would go away never to return.
Saturday, January 21, 2012 8:29 AM
In the past ,I've had to trap & Release them when I get over run , especially after a warm short winter .... so far I havent had a nest on my property so they only visit ! but they know when and what to harvest .... I don't mind them harvesting pine nuts ,but pears and Fruits and my Bird Feeders are off limits !
Saturday, January 21, 2012 9:13 PM
We can learn a lot from just watching the squirrels...I have my very own and sam has been with us for 5 years and still loves his mama,(me) He fell 20 feet as a baby and almost died....now has grandmall siezures if he gets scared. Hasn't had one in 2 years now.
Friday, January 27, 2012 9:15 AM
I can't believe you have your very own pet squirrel. Everyone tells me they won't live if you bring them in even as babies. I have a lot of feeders around my house for the squirrels and birds, but I really enjoy watching the squirrels. They are so funny. I have some corn feeders outside my kitchen windows and they are out there all the time. I even put out peanuts in the shells for them along my porches so I can watch them. I have a lot of flowers, trees, and a garden, but I've never had trouble with them messing with any of it. Maybe I feed them too good. I know one of the squirrels is so fat he just lays on the back porch to eat. They really are beautiful creatures.
Saturday, January 28, 2012 12:20 PM
I have a bird feeder hanging on a 6' x 4" metal pole which the sqirrels kept getting into and knocking to the ground. So, I smeared vaseline all over the pole. Problem solved. I can see their skid marks where they slid down. Unfortunately, I missed seeing what would have been a funny sight!
Sunday, January 29, 2012 9:49 AM
Rambo "Knocks" on my patio door for the dogs to come out and play with him! He doesn't bother anything but I really hate his friends who destroyed my strawberry bed even though I had it covered.
Sunday, January 29, 2012 1:51 PM
I didn't see them go after my strawberries, however, I grew a small quantity 1-cell pack of corn and the plants were hardy and looking good, gosh critters got to them before they were completely ripe and I could pick them myself. The decorative garden section with corn will now be discontinued thanks to them. Best thing I like about squirrels is the grey fur that reminds me of my mama's eyes, not hazel, even her license says "grey" eyes like the fur of a squirrel! The black ones even have nicer fur--maybe it's time to collect pelts!! lol
Tuesday, August 21, 2012 2:21 PM
As much as you may like squirrels and think they are so cute you are much, much better off without them around your house. They not only will dig in your plant beds looking for bulbs, they have a tendency to plant/store their acorns and pecans there too. You may know how hard those are to pull up. Probably the most serious damage they can do is to eat their way through the wood trim of your house to build their nests in some of the most inaccessible cubbyholes you can imagine or in your attic.
Several years ago I had to rebuild one corner of my 2 story roof due to their damage. Rain gutters can be their runways and if you try to limit cleanup on a tall ladder due to leaf accumulation by using some gutter covers, guess what? You've just provided them more enclosed space to build more nests!
My best deterent so far is my trusty pellet gun.
Just last week I watched one climb one of my tomato plants, pull a nice golf ball sized green tomato and scamper to a nearby crepe myrtle. I let him enjoy it for a few moments as a last meal before pulling the trigger.
Oh, by the way, chipmunks are almost as destructive!
Tuesday, August 21, 2012 2:37 PM
An additional thought about my last comment. Whatever you may read about mothballs being a squirrel deterent, it doesn't work. After I started experiencing the problem with covers over my rain gutters, I got the bright idea of purchasing some of the little pliable wire cages that you can use in the gutter downspouts to keep leaves and other stuff from clogging those downspouts. I filled those cages with mothballs and placed them at the ends of the horizontal gutters to keep the squrrels out. Didn't work! The squirrels just squeezed right over them or pushed them out of the way.