Don’t Fight The Squirrels - Embrace Them!

Don’t Fight The Squirrels - Embrace Them!

squirrel

Anyone with birdfeeders knows the age-old war that has been waged between feeding birds and keeping these devious little rascals out of your bird feeders and bulb gardens!

But Squirrels are important parts of your ecosystem and shouldn’t be villainized here. You just need to approach their presence in your landscape with some ingenuity, educated planning - and a sense of humor!

North America has 10 Squirrel species, including the Black, Flying, Fox, Gray, Ground, and Red Squirrels, and around 285 species of Squirrels in the world. Derived from the Greek word ‘Shadow Tail’, Sciurus family members were once considered rare sightings in the 1850s. With reintroduction efforts in full swing throughout New England, simply by adding more parks and trees.

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There are Tree Squirrels (Sciurus), and Flying Squirrels (Glaucomys) that live entirely arboreal lives. The exception is Ground Squirrels (Spermophilus) which are more like Groundhogs and Chipmunks. All are members of the rodent family.

Omnivorous, opportunistic, and strangely intelligent, the Tree Squirrel's ability to be both an adorable forest-dwelling inhabitant and beady-eyed backyard menace lies in their superpower-like abilities. They eat more than just nuts! Seeds, fruit, insects, snails, and bird eggs. Even eating carrion when desperate.

They have razor-sharp little needle-like claws and ever-growing teeth that can chew through about anything! The Stock Market shutdowns in 1987 and 1994 were due to Squirrels knocking out the power grid by chewing through electrical lines.

  • Can run 20 mph and they can jump 8 feet vertically from a sitting position
  • Supremely agile and squeeze into small spots
  • Able to move right into urban and city environments with ease!
  • Have detailed spatial memory and strong senses of smell
  • Very few actually hibernate
  • Can remember where 80% of their stash is hidden
  • Show exceptional problem-solving abilities
  • Use deception and trickery to outsmart predators and each other
  • Black Squirrels originated after several black morphs from Ontario were encouraged and released in parks around the area and this allele trait spread from there.
  • Have a complex communication system with each other too!
  • The smallest - African Pygmy Squirrel is 5 inches from head to tail
  • The largest - Indian Giant Squirrel grows 3 feet long!
  • Construct bundles of leaves and twigs in trees to hide nuts, sleep, and withstand the elements called a drey.

All this but they still can’t decide which way to go in the street when a car is coming. But this is a strategy that works on predators very well, unfortunately, a zigzagging escape strategy doesn’t work on cars.

Anyone watching their antics as they seem to defy gravity as they run full tilt around trees and tree limbs knows they are incredible acrobats.

But their ability to fall out of said trees unharmed shows just how resilient these creatures are! Able to withstand falls that exceed terminal velocity - up to 200 feet! And Flying Squirrels simply glide when they fall!

So how do you live with them and not wage war?

Living With Bushy-Tailed Varmints

Growing up, it was fun watching Mom fight the Gray Squirrel that raided our milk-jug bird feeder. We’d colored it with markers and hung it in the Pussy Willow tree. One frosty morning, angry the Squirrel kept chasing away her beloved Cardinal, Mom snuck out onto the porch in her mumu and fuzzy slippers with a broom raised at the ready over her shoulder. The unsuspecting Squirrel happily munched away at sunflower seeds oblivious…until it was too late.

bird feeder

The seeds became its downfall as it ran in place unable to get any traction and then POW! It got sent flying with a swing Babe Ruth would have been impressed by. The Squirrel was just fine and somehow kept running mid-air and never bounced when it hit the ground 30 feet away. In fact, it was back just hours later, unfazed.

It was almost as funny as when Mom put Vaseline on the pole bird feeder and we watched with delight as the Squirrels tried to figure out what this slippery stuff was and why it was so hard to get out from between its toes!

But it doesn’t have to be this way!

While it isn’t recommended you try befriending or even feeding your backyard Squirrels, they are wild animals and will bite or scratch. They are also aggressive when food is involved. But you can learn to live with and love these little backyard beings!

We ended up having a pet Squirrel that got blown out of its nest during a storm and successfully raised it all year and released it into the wild. Mom also managed to make peace with these fuzzy critters and even began hand-feeding them nuts.

Choosing The Right Bird Feeder

Tree Squirrels are incredible when you think about it.

Able to hang upside down, reach incredibly difficult places, show intelligence comparable to some monkeys, solve complex puzzles, have good memory, and climb virtually anything - 

squirrel proof bird feeder

So it may seem like an uphill battle…

Luckily, there are many new Squirrel-proof birdfeeders available that are designed to prevent Squirrels from getting access to the seed. 

Find Bird Feeder protectors, cages, and baffles are widely available that can outmaneuver these little acrobats and prevent them from climbing or jumping into/onto the feeder. Caged birdfeeders, metal, and small holes for beaks help keep Squirrels out. Some even battery-operated feeders spin when something heavier than a bird lands on them!

Suspend them using thin wire since these little circus performers can easily tight-rope walk on anything else.

Careful positioning of bird feeders and suet - plan on hanging or positioning them 10 feet away from anything Squirrels can climb or jump from and at least 5 feet or more in the air.

For pole-feeders, choose PVC or copper poles instead of metal or wood which are easy to climb. Using slinkies or food-grade grease on the pole can slow them down.

Choosing The Right Food

Choosing birdseed that isn’t their favorite, such as seeds that are too tiny for them to bother with. (millet, thistle, and safflower seeds).

bird food

Set up their own feeding areas with Squirrel-friendly food they prefer in other areas of your yard and away from your bird feeders (corn and corncob feeders, sunflower seed, nuts, etc.)

Add Capsaicin spray or hot pepper seeds to the birdseed mix. Birds don’t have taste buds but Squirrels do! There are even suet cakes that are infused with hot peppers available too!

Other Deterrents

soap

  • Some Gardeners say to hang or shred smelly soap like Irish Spring around to deter Tree Squirrels
  • Avoid using used cat litter, not only is it unsanitary but the smell may also chase away your birds. Avoid setting up a fake Owl or Bird of Prey sculpture/figure for the same reason. Though I’ve seen Doves and Robins sitting on top of them unaffected.
  • Keep the ground under the feeder cleaned up so spilled seed and hulls don’t attract them in the first place, and keep your birds healthy.
  • Get a cat or dog! There are tons of new furry companions begging to be adopted in shelters everywhere and one would be great at keeping the Squirrels in check for you. Though the cat may also go after the birds, keeping the feeders high up and out of the cat's reach will keep them safe.

Other Places Squirrels Can Get Into Trouble

New Trees

Tree Squirrels chew through things because they have to! Just like Beavers and Hamsters, Squirrel's teeth won’t stop growing! So they must continuously chew to wear them down. Plus in times of scarcity, Squirrels will eat the young shoots and buds before they open. Sometimes even devouring Maple tree stems and buds for the syrupy sweetness inside in the early spring.

Sometimes they will chew on bark and damage new trees, so metal flashing or tree-trunk wraps are needed to keep them from damaging them and even keep them from climbing.

Keeping Squirrels Out Of Your Bulb Garden

While sometimes raiding your Fruit, vegetables, and berry plants, Squirrels also see a bulb garden as a buffet.

The little bit that Squirrels dig up while burying their hoards won’t do anything to harm your plants, but those volunteer Walnut trees growing where the nuts get left can be a nuisance. While it can be unsightly, it’s not going to harm anything significantly.

tulips

But desperate Squirrels will raid a freshly planted bulb garden and other plants for high starch roots and other underground food sources.

Some common favorites include Tulips, Crocus, and Lilies. Some they don’t like: Plant Perennial Onions/Alliums, Daffodils, Lily-of-the-valley, Geraniums, Fritillary, Goldenrod, and Bleeding Hearts around your bulbs or instead of their favorites, if Squirrels are undeterred by any other means.

  • Keep them out by laying a chicken wire-style metal mesh over the bulbs before covering them with dirt. This way they can’t dig the bulbs up but the bulbs can grow up through the mesh.
  • Squirrels do not like strong smells, so the Irish Spring soap trick, garlic, black/white pepper, Capsaicin, peppermint, or mothballs can help deter them.
  • A layer of crushed oyster shells or small crushed gravel spread over the bulbs.
  • Ultrasonic animal repellers or Squirrel repellant sprays can keep them away.
  • Set up a feeding station for them farther away so Squirrels won’t be desperate enough to raid your bulb gardens.

The Vegetable Garden

Squirrels are advantageous and may raid a newly seeded vegetable garden and devour sprouts. 

cartoon

  • Installing floating row covers or chicken wire enclosed garden beds will keep them out pretty well. Fencing in the area with metal or heavy plastic mesh works well too.
  • Dig the fencing into the ground a few inches to prevent digging. This also deters Rabbits, Chipmunks, Voles, Groundhogs, and other furry pests from digging as well!
  • Using a paper bag, old stockings, or cheesecloth can protect ripening tomatoes and Sunflower heads
  • Bird netting over berry bushes and smaller fruit trees helps keep them away from your harvest.
  • Flashy and shiny strips that blow in the wind, false eyes, noisemakers, and rubber snakes may make Squirrels and other furry garden pests think twice.
  • Motion censor-style lawn sprinklers work if you’re keeping birds, garden pests, and even two-legged trespassers out of your garden areas!

Flying Squirrels

Flying Squirrels are something most people won’t ever see in their lifetime. Residing entirely in trees and very shy, they glide from tree to tree using their skin flaps that expand between their front and back legs.

The Northern Flying Squirrel can be found from southeastern Alaska, northern Canada, south to Tennessee, and West to the Pacific coast. The Southern Flying Squirrel is found throughout the Eastern US from Maine south to Florida, as far West as Minnesota, and as south as Texas.

peanut butter

Attracting Flying Squirrels

You can build a Flying Squirrel nesting box in your landscape if you live in an area of the US that has these little furry gliders.

  • Smear peanut butter on the bark near a Tree Squirrel Nesting box
  • Leave dead trees standing as they provide natural hidy holes
  • Plant Beech Trees, acorn-rich Oaks, Hickory Trees, and other large-seeded Nut Trees like Haslenuts, Pecans, pinenut-producing Pine Trees and Chestnuts
  • Put out or plant Pumpkins or Squash/Pumpkin and Squash seeds, Safflower seeds, Sesame seeds, Soy nuts, Oats, dried fruit, and most nuts we eat.

Ground Squirrels

There are 38 species of North American Ground Squirrel, with names like 13-Lined or 13-Striped and sometimes called Gophers/Striped Gophers, and Squinneys. In fact, Prairie Dogs are members of the Ground Squirrel family.

prairie dog

Burrowing in the ground like Gophers, Prairie Dogs, and Groundhogs, these rodents can sometimes be a menace to your lawn. While not entirely endangered, check with your local County Extension Office to know which control methods are viable for your state.

Usually not an issue in the suburban or urban garden or landscape, these creates are very shy and elusive and typically won’t come near a busy backyard or garden. They like room to roam and keep even their own kind as far away neighbors. Especially if you have dogs or outdoor cats. Preferring to have no close neighbors and sandier/drier soil to dig in.

Most Ground Squirrels are more like Chipmunks and not nearly the menaces as their larger cousins. They eat the roots of plants and tubers as they tunnel through the ground or eat insects and insect larvae.

Living With The Enemy

The old myth is they forget where their cache is, in reality, they do remember 80% of the time! Better safe than sorry and burying more than you need is pretty smart!

backyard

These squirrelly backyard residents are vital parts of your ecosystem and have planted entire forests by simply doing what they do best! They’re fun to watch and constant entertainment for kids and adults alike!

So it’s easier to make peace with your backyard Squirrel instead of fighting nature which is simply doing what nature does best!

Unless you have a Squirrel that is insistent on getting into your house and causing damage to your home, then you should consider live-trapping and relocation services, or other humane pest control options.

If You Can’t Beat Them…Join Them!

Ready to live in harmony with your Squirrel neighbors?

Plant perennials, shrubs, and trees that feed your birds naturally instead of using a feeder. Choosing Native plants typically found in your state goes even further to support your local wildlife and ecosystem!

Or go big and buy them a new home in your garden with a nut tree for front or backyard shade, beauty, nesting and food for your backyard birds, and vast curb appeal that benefits everyone here at Nature Hills Nursery!

Your backyard Squirrels would love a new acorn-heavy Oak tree, Mulberry, Elm Tree, Longleaf Pine, Chestnut tree, Walnut, or Hazelnut Tree so they will be too busy to get into trouble elsewhere!

Happy Planting!

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