Squirrels prosper in suburban and urban areas due to their supreme agility and adaptability. Gray squirrels are a familiar sight almost everywhere, yet not a welcome one when their quest for a suitable den leads them to take advantage of open attic vents to gain access to a wall or ceiling void in your house. Gray squirrels are active by day (diurnal), yet their more secretive cousin, flying squirrels, are active by night (nocturnal).
Squirrels are high-strung animals, which is why they may behave erratically when trapped in an enclosed living space. They often run, frenzied, all over a house instead of merely going out an open door. Squirrels have two litters a year, in early spring and again in the late summer/early fall. If squirrels are heard scampering in the attic at those times of year, it’s most likely a mother with her babies.
Squirrels Raiding Bird Feeder
Several specialized feeders and baffles are available that deter squirrels. One very effective commercially available baffle is shaped like a stovepipe and placed on the pole portion of the bird feeder. This allows the squirrel to climb up the pole and into the closed pipe, but will not allow him around it. The pipe must be at least 15 inches long to prevent the squirrel from climbing over it and set at least 4 feet off the ground to prevent the squirrel from jumping over it.
Squirrel Digging in Yard
Squirrels need to bury nuts so they have a food source for the winter. Although unsightly to some people, their digging of shallow holes won’t damage the lawn; it’s just a temporary cosmetic issue. Cayenne pepper or repellent products that contain capsicum can be sprinkled on the lawn to prevent digging.
Baby Squirrel Following People/Trying to Climb a Person
This behavior indicates a juvenile baby squirrel who has lost his mother and needs to be taken to a wildlife rehabilitator.
Squirrel Circling, Falling Over
Squirrels are very susceptible to a parasite called roundworm, which creates rabies-like symptoms once the parasite infects the animal’s brain. This condition is fatal and not treatable. Leave the animal alone. If people — particularly children — can’t be kept away, call Winnebago County Animal Services at 815-319-4100.
Squirrel in Attic or House Interior
Squirrels in attics usually have young, and squirrels in home interiors can be quite skittish and run everywhere but out the open window or door. These situations can be challenging to resolve, but the steps outlined at humanesociety.org/squirrels can help.
Squirrel in Chimney
The squirrel has most likely fallen in and can’t get out. Putting a thick rope down the flue, secured to the chimney, will enable the squirrel to climb out. If this is not feasible, it will be necessary to open the firebox doors and let the squirrel out of the house by shepherding him through an exterior door, but this may require the help of an expert. Squirrels get panicky in houses and may run anywhere except out an open door. If attempted, all interior doors should be shut and the area cleared so the squirrel has no choice but to exit out an open exterior door. Once the squirrel is out, be sure to install a chimney cap to prevent the situation from reoccurring. Before doing so, check for other squirrels and confirm that there was only one in the chimney.
Baby Squirrel Fell from Tree
If tree work was done recently, give the mother a chance to reclaim her baby as long as the baby is uninjured. Leave the baby at the tree base. Don’t cover him with a blanket and don’t put him in a deep box because the mother may not find him. The baby squirrel must remain within the immediate vicinity of where he fell.
- If it’s chilly outside, or if the baby isn’t fully furred, he’ll need a heat source, such as a hot water bottle or a chemical hand warmer. Place a piece of soft fabric between the animal and the heating device and check to make sure both stay warm.
- Be sure to give the mother an entire day to retrieve her young. It may take her that long to find a new nest site. Do not feed the baby; you want his hunger cries to attract mom. Sometimes mother squirrels don’t claim their young until just before dark. If the baby is not retrieved by dark, call your local animal services agency to help decide if the baby should be taken in overnight and a reunion attempted early the next day.
A Note About Flying Squirrels
Flying squirrels are small squirrels (approximately 9 inches from nose to tail tip) who people rarely get the chance to see. They have bulgy, shiny black eyes, a flat tail, and a loose skin flap that extends from the foreleg to the hind leg. This flap allows the squirrels to glide through the air, or “fly.” Flying squirrels commonly nest in abandoned woodpecker holes, tree cavities, birdhouses and attics.
Unlike gray squirrels, flying squirrels are nocturnal and highly sociable animals. Therefore, if you hear squirrel activity in the attic at night, it’s likely to be flying squirrels.
Source: ARL – Animal Rescue League of Iowa, Inc. 2018 – https://www.arl-iowa.org/