Did you know that Squirrel Appreciation Day just happened? That’s right! On January 21st, 2016, it was National Squirrel Appreciation Day and thousands of people nationwide posted cute pictures and videos of squirrels to show appreciation for what the furry creatures do.
Without squirrels, many trees that we see would not exist. Each year, squirrels will bury nuts that they hope to dig back up in the winter to use as food and each year they forget where they buried some, allowing for those nuts to grow into saplings that will grow into trees. This ensures that the forest will continue to grow and feed them and other animals year in and year out.
However, squirrels can also be damaging in residential areas. They have been known to cause power shortages when running across electrical wires (see this news article for the ironic story of how squirrels caused power outages all over on the day that honors them – January 21st!). Not only do they cause electrical problems outside of the home, but they can inside the home as well.
Squirrels look for trees with one or two openings into a cavity around 40 to 50 feet off of the ground. They will then build a leaf nest that is comprised of leaves, twigs, grass and bark. This nest type will help to keep their young warm while they grow and develop. Squirrel babies are born altricial, meaning that they are born with no hair and may not have their eyes open yet. When altricial young are born, they are completely defenseless, so the mother must keep them close and care for them for around 5-7 weeks after birth before the babies will be scampering out and about where you would be able to see them. The young are born in late February and again in late July or early August so the mother will actively look for good nesting sites around December or June, depending on when the litter will be born.
But what does this have to do with squirrels getting inside a house? Well, squirrels are opportunistic. If there is a warm place up high enough to escape from predators, such as an attic or inside of a wall, they will take advantage of the location and nest there to have their babies. All a female squirrel has to do is to access an unscreened vent, holes made by birds, or chew through themselves after climbing vines, connecting wires or tree branches that are close enough to the building. Once in, they settle down!
The first indicator that a squirrel is inside your house is a scratching noise. This may be caused by the squirrel running around, but it may also be caused by female squirrels getting ready to have her babies. Squirrel babies are remarkably large, averaging on 80% larger than other animal babies in relation to the size comparison between the baby and the mother! To give you an idea of how big that really is – By the time they are developed enough to run around in nature, they will be roughly the size of an adult, making it difficult to distinguish between the juveniles and the mature ones! Therefore, giving birth ends up being very strenuous for the mother and she must loosen up her muscles, which causes a lot of noise.
Once the babies are born, the mother is quiet for a few days while she recuperates. After she is fully rested, she will be active again trying to provide for her newborns! She will be running in an out, looking for food and water. This will give the homeowner a good opportunity to try and spot where the entrance hole is. The squirrel can cause a great deal of damage to the house, so just letting the squirrels run amok is not a good idea. Once you know where the hole is, you can purchase a one-way trap and attach it to the hole so that the next time the squirrel runs out in search of food she (and maybe the rest of her family if they have grown enough) will be caught and you can relocate the squirrels!
The safest way to get squirrels out, however, is by calling wildlife professionals to come and humanely remove them. Due to the extensive amount of damage that a squirrel family can cause to a house, it is much safer to let a professional take care of it. Squirrels chew on wires and exposed wires have the potential to cause fires. Also, in the case of the babies not surviving their developmental phase, they may end up rotting inside the walls where you would be unable to get them.
It may seem like risky business for a wildlife professional to remove squirrels while the young are in such a defenseless and vulnerable state, but they are trained to handle the babies with care during the removal and once the squirrel family is taken miles away from your house to prevent them from returning, the mother will return to caring for her young. Only after a wildlife professional is sure that the family is out can you start to seal up the holes to prevent any further reentry. This is a good time to inspect the rest of your house for holes or exposed entry points and seal them up with materials like caulk, plaster, steel wool, or sheet metal. It is also a good idea to trim all trees to at least 8 feet away from your roof to keep the mother squirrel from jumping across to the roof.
For an extensive list of wildlife professionals nationwide that can remove squirrel families, click here. If you are in the Bucks County area, click here. Click here for a full PA directory of wildlife removal specialists.
For more information regarding squirrels and the damage they can cause, how to successfully trap them, a brief description of them and their relatives, or for fun “Squirrel Appreciation” images, visit these sites!