Tips for Getting Rid of Squirrels

Regretting that kitschy corncob feeder you installed last year and wondering how to get rid of squirrels? Check out these helpful tips.

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Crafty, cute squirrels provide hours of entertainment, but they damage homes and tear up yards, too. If they get inside your house, you could be looking at a major disaster. Prevention is the best defense, but what if you’re past that point?

Keep your expectations realistic. Clever squirrels won’t vacate your property easily. The University of Georgia Extension says to ask yourself: Are squirrels merely annoying, or are they costing you money?

Burying acorns in your yard may cause cosmetic damage, but pulling a few sprouted trees every few weeks may be a decent trade-off. Squirrel removal is a big undertaking, and efforts in your yard must continue in perpetuity. Make sure you’re ready for the time and expense of starting an eradication campaign.

Signs You Have a Squirrel Problem

“Squirrels are rodents, and will constantly gnaw on wood and other surfaces of a residence or building,” says Meg Pearson, a wildlife division training manager at Rodents, including beavers, mice, rats and squirrels, gnaw on things because their teeth constantly grow.

Squirrels chew siding, wood, trees and ornamental plants. A hole chewed under your eaves or in the soffit could mean a squirrel is in your attic, storing food or nesting with their young. Squirrels even gnaw on the soft metal of lead roof vent coverings, according to the University of Alabama Extension.

Squirrels who make it inside your house will most likely be heard before being seen. “If they make entrance into the attic, you’ll hear scurrying or running,” says Pearson. A bad smell you can’t find could mean a squirrel got trapped in a wall and died.

Outside, young plants in your garden may be pulled up and birdfeeders will be emptied, with seeds they don’t like scattered everywhere. Nuisance squirrels sometimes gnaw entire rings around the circumference of trees, called girdling.

What Attracts Squirrels to Your Yard and Home?

“Shelter and food are the primary factors behind squirrels deciding where to nest and live,” says Pearson. Squirrels eat what’s called “mast,” meaning dry fruits from woody plants. Mast includes acorns from oak trees, hickory and beech nuts, black walnuts and more. If you have these trees, chances are you’ll find a few squirrels.

Squirrels also need a place to store their stash of nuts and hide from predators, so your attic and other quiet, uninhabited places in your home appeal to them. Your yard is attractive, too. Digging squirrels pockmark the lawn with holes for their acorn stash, and ground squirrels damage it with their burrows.

Squirrels treat birdfeeders like a 24-hour buffet. So if you have one, it’s attracting squirrels, despite the efforts of the ever-growing squirrel baffle industry.

Gardens offer a squirrel cornucopia, from corn to tomatoes. Squirrels do adapt to food beyond typical nuts and fruits. Urban squirrels feast on trash and discarded food. So if you live on an alley or near a park or commercial district, squirrels won’t be far away.

How To Get Rid of Squirrels in Your House or Attic

If a squirrel has moved into your home, check the eaves and soffits for entry points and prepare to mend the damage once the squirrel leaves. It’s possible squirrels gained entry through a crawlspace and climbed vertically into your walls, so check under your house, too.

The University of Alabama Extension says once you find the entry point, try one-way doors. As the name suggests, these allow the squirrel to leave the way it came in while preventing return access. Squirrels generally forage outdoors in the morning and early evening, so don’t seal up the hole midday while they may be resting inside.

Be aware that mother squirrels may have come inside to give birth. Call a professional if you find baby squirrels so they and the mother can be relocated humanely. If the mother leaves during the day and can’t come back in, you’ll stress her out and be left with baby squirrels dying in your home.

Pearson does not recommend DIY squirrel removal. “Squirrels are wild animals and should not be handled or trapped by anyone who has not been trained,” she says.

How To Get Rid of Squirrels in Your Yard or Garden

“It is especially difficult to get squirrels to leave your yard,” Pearson says. Removing their food source may encourage them to find a better meal ticket. But unless you cut down all your trees and live on a parking lot, squirrels will likely persist. Plus, if you remove squirrels but don’t make changes to exclude them, more will just move in.

Many states and localities have strict wildlife removal requirements, so think twice before attempting to trap and relocate squirrels from your yard and garden yourself. Ninety-seven percent of squirrels relocated away from their home turf didn’t make it, according to this study of Eastern gray squirrels. Even if you mean well, it likely won’t end well for the squirrel.

Squirrels respond to fear, so a dog or cat may scare them off, but only if your pet is outside when squirrels are active. Whirligigs and scarecrows like fake owls, suggested by several university extension services, may keep them away for a while. But squirrels are smart and won’t be fooled for long.

Chemical repellents like capsaicin are known to deter squirrels, but need to be reapplied often. Place these around your garden plants or trees if squirrels are gnawing on the bark. Beware of anything labeled an ultrasonic device; there’s no proof these work.

Calling a Pro vs. DIY Squirrel Removal

“Squirrels can be extremely difficult to trap and remove,” Pearson says. If you have nuisance squirrels on your property, a professional trained in wildlife removal will offer a comprehensive service for removal and exclusion.

Squirrels, while cute, are wild rodents. They bite and carry diseases, some of which are dangerous to humans. If you decide to remove them yourself, whether through humane means or “taking” through lethal traps or shooting, always consider your safety and that of your neighbors. And check any local laws first.

Ally Childress
Ally Childress comes to Family Handyman from the electrical industry, where she was an accomplished electrician, winning the highly competitive Outstanding Graduate award as an apprentice. Her professional electrical experience included large commercial projects such as Minnesota's US Bank Stadium, and the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and several hospitals. Before becoming an electrician, she worked in food safety and water quality as a scientist and technical writer. Ally's career, spanning multiple industries and areas of the country, honed her innate sense of curiosity and her ability to connect with subject matters of all kinds and explain dense subjects to diverse audiences. Ally is her household's designated handy person and is well versed in a variety of home DIY and maintenance tasks, able to confidently clean, troubleshoot, build, install, and modify. She loves spending time outdoors, especially with her partner and dogs.