When your Nuisance Animal is a Squirrel...
Florida is home to three species of squirrels, the eastern gray squirrel (Sciurus carlinensis), the fox squirrel (Sciurus niger), and the southern flying squirrel (Glaucomys volans). The most common in urban areas is the eastern gray squirrel. Squirrels occur in woodland and urban areas, especially near oaks and hickories, and are active during the day, often feeding on the ground.
Squirrels can cause problems by chewing on plants, tree bark and ornamentals as well as plastic items, like electrical wiring insulation or even wood siding on houses and out-buildings. It is often impossible or impractical to eliminate the source of their chewing. Potted plants can often be moved out of reach. PVC pipes and electrical wires can sometimes be covered with a insulation material that is soft and, therefore, less attractive to chew.
Squirrels of Florida (1)
Craig N. Huegel (2)
SOLVING SQUIRREL PROBLEMS
When squirrels cause problems, the methods used to solve them must be specific to the problem at hand. Squirrels can cause a wide variety of problems. Therefore, there is no one squirrel-control method that is appropriate for every problem that might arise. Control measures also should include the elimination of the cause that allowed the problem to occur -- if at all possible. One major cause of Florida squirrel problems is feeding, either directly or through a bird feeder. Should this food be reduced or eliminated (you move, go on vacation, quit, etc.) the squirrels often respond by chewing up nearby vegetation. Another major problem associated with an artificially fed squirrel population arises from the usual lack of good nest trees for them to live in. Many squirrels that take up residence in an attic or garage ceiling can be traced to a feeding situation. If your problem has arisen because of this, slowly reduce your feeding program until you stop it completely.
Types of Problems
Squirrel problems are varied, but most can be divided into 3 major categories. Each of these are discussed in detail in the following sections.
Squirrels can cause problems by chewing on both edible and inedible things. It is often impossible or impractical to eliminate the source of their chewing. If squirrels are attacking potted plants, you might be able to move them out of reach; if they are gnawing on pipe or tubing, it may be possible to cover it with a material that is soft and, therefore, less attractive to chew.
Squirrels also can chew extensively on landscape plants. Here the problem is more difficult to solve because the problem is the plant and there are few ways to make the plant unattractive, short of replacing it with a different species. Female wax myrtles, for example, are very attractive to squirrels when their branches are full of fruit in the late fall. At this time, squirrels may gnaw off the branches and then eat the fruit. Such pruning does not really hurt the shrub, but it ruins its appearance for several months. Situations like this will occur each year as long as the plant and the squirrels occur together in the landscape.
Homeowners frequently attempt to solve squirrel-chewing problems by using some type of repellent. As a rule, repellents are very ineffective in solving this type of problem. Visual repellents such as owl or snake decoys quickly are accepted by squirrels for what they really are and they are then ignored. Mothballs and other odor repellents also are usually ignored by squirrels and rarely change their pattern of behavior.
One possible exception is taste repellents. Taste repellents are designed to stop chewing. They seem to work in direct proportion to the animal's desire to chew on the object. In other words, if they want it badly enough, no repellent will stop them. But if the object is not too desirable, it will often work. Taste repellents will not work on large areas, are impractical for inaccessible things like tall trees and cannot be used on objects that you intend to eat. For those situations, you likely will need to live-trap the problem squirrel.
Occasionally, squirrels dig in places where they are not wanted. The 2 most common problems seem to occur when they dig up potted plants (often in the late spring) and when they dig holes in yards either to bury food or to recover food previously buried. Digging is a difficult problem to correct because you rarely can stop this behavior with repellents or by other methods. Potted plants could be removed from the squirrel's "reach". Normally digging is not truly destructive but is an aesthetic or nuisance problem. It also is usually very temporary. Residents must then ask whether solving the problem warrants the time and expense. In most situations, it is most sensible to live with the problem for the short time that it is occurring. Otherwise, the only real solution will involve physically removing the offending squirrels with a live trap.
Living in the attic (or elsewhere in the house)
Perhaps the biggest problem with squirrels occurs when they set up housekeeping inside your residence. Squirrels usually come into an attic or crawl space when an entry point to the outside is not repaired, either through neglect or by failing to notice it. Broken screens and roof tiles and gaps between the roof and wall are common squirrel entry points. Once a squirrel has taken up residence in your home, it is difficult to cause it to leave. My experience has been that it is best to physically remove the animal with a live trap and then repair the entry point. If you attempt to chase the animal out and then fix the hole, the squirrel will almost always chew its way back in -- causing more damage than it did previously.
1. This document is Fact Sheet SS-WIS-33, one of a series of the Department of Wildlife Ecology & Conservation, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Originally published in cooperation with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's Nongame Wildlife Program. Published: June 1991 as "Florida's Squirrels". Minor Revision: July, 2001. Please visit the Edis Web site at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu
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