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Tree squirrels have an essential role in the ecosystem, but they have no business damaging your lawn, garden, or home, and they pose more dangers than you might expect. Check out the complete Bulwark guide on tree squirrels and learn how to keep squirrels off your tree bird feeder and off your property.
Tree squirrels, as you’d expect, are members of Scirudae, the squirrel family that lives primarily in trees, as opposed to ground squirrels. There are 100 different species, so there is a fair amount of variety in behavior and appearance.
Tree Squirrels are omnivores with a diverse diet. They mainly eat plant foods such as fruit, nuts, seeds, berries, and flowers. Occasionally they will eat insects, eggs, or other animals that are smaller than themselves. They can also survive on the tender, younger bark of some trees. Unlike rats, squirrels are active during the daytime and sleep at night. They also live a very long life for rodents, usually between three and seven years, but occasionally up to 12 years.
Image via Flickr by David Meurin
With so many species of tree squirrel, their appearance varies, especially when it comes to their size. The smallest species reach about 10 inches from the nose to the tip of the tail. Gray squirrels being one of the largest species, reach up to 22 inches. In general, their body is longer than those of ground squirrels, and their tails are bushier as well. Their fur can be gray, reddish-brown, or dark brown, and most species have a white or gray belly. Unlike chipmunks, tree squirrels have smooth fur with no vertical stripes, spots, or other patterns.
There are multiple tree squirrel species thriving on every continent, excluding Antarctica and the geographic region of Oceania. They are fond of high places, and at the first sign of trouble, they will hurry up the nearest tree or wall. Although they prefer to nest in trees, they can build a nest anywhere above ground, making them well adapted to urban environments. They will either take advantage of a suitable space, such as a tree trunk cavity, or build a nest that can house them and their young through gathered materials.
In places where squirrels are overpopulated, they become a traffic hazard, as drivers might instinctively veer away from a squirrel running into the road. They are also an issue for homeowners, as their curious nature makes them frequently enter attics and other parts of a human house. They tend to gnaw on anything they see, including wires, which could lead to costly repairs or even a fire.
Squirrels can be a significant pest for gardens and agriculture, eating immature plants before harvest time and eating fruits. They may also dig and store collected food in garden soil or grass, which involves repeatedly digging and damaging young plants or leaving bald spots in the lawn. They can even hurt trees by gnawing through the bark to eat the soft inner layer. Squirrels will repeatedly pursue any source of food, making them a major annoyance for people who have bird feeders.
Finally, squirrels carry fleas, mites, and other blood-suckers, which spread diseases and parasites such as tularemia and ringworm. They will enter homes out of curiosity, putting people and pets at risk.
For squirrels that have entered structures such as sheds or, even worse, the home itself, trapping may be necessary. Peanut butter is an effective bait, along with fruit, nuts, and seeds. Oddly enough, squirrels seem to enjoy vanilla as well, so a bit of vanilla extract can make the bait even more attractive. Do not touch living or dead squirrels that you have trapped.
If you want to keep squirrels away from your garden, bird feeder, or other outdoor areas, there are various feeder poles and other deterrent strategies that discourage them. However, professional pest control measures might be necessary if the population has grown too much.
Exclusion is very important, check your home’s exterior to see if there are any cracks, loose window seals, or other places for rodents to slip through. Most of all, never feed squirrels, as this only desensitizes them to humans and makes them more willing to invade your property.
A female tree squirrel can have up to two litters each year, with up to six pups each time. These litters are usually born in the early spring or the later winter months. Combined with their long lifespan, a tree squirrel population can grow quickly over a single year.
Most tree squirrels do hoard nuts continuously throughout the year. They will eat their fill of whatever food they find and then carry leftovers back to their den. However, new studies indicate that tree squirrels don’t store all of their food in one place. Instead, they cache food of the same type in different locations, which the squirrels remember and return to based on their preference.
As with most rodents, squirrels have teeth that continuously grow. To curb this growth, they must gnaw on tough material; otherwise, their teeth would become long and interfere with eating.
Since many tree squirrels live in groups, and some species even store food in communal caches, it makes sense that they would have some ability to speak to others in the group. Tree squirrels can communicate through chirps, expressing various emotions such as playfulness or alarm.
Be sure to contact Bulwark’s team or fill out the easy online home assessment form if you know or suspect that you have a tree squirrel problem. Bulwark’s professionals are experienced at handling any pest species and finding the best solution for your home.