Squirrels In Your Belfry
This Article Is About Gray Squirrels not Flying Squirrels
Cute critters aren't they? You probably won't think so for long if you've got 'um in your attic (walls, house, etc.). I'll skip over all the harm they can do and just say the longer they're there the harder they will be to get rid of, and there are some horror stories.
As you read my sage advice, keep in mind I'm speaking with the expertise of a person who's had the problem only once, and . . . The night before I borrowed a trap I had a face-to-face encounter in the attic with our varmint. It must have been frightened by this 5 minute examination, though it showed no indication of fear. I put out the trap the next day, but it had apparently vacated by then. Once I was sure it was out I sealed its access opening, and never had a hint of it being in the house again. But, here are the things I learned -- mostly from web searches. If you want to repeat this research for yourself put "squirrel trap" (quotes and all) in your favorite search engine and go surfing. [Update: Since I wrote this article in 2001 I've used a HavaHart trap successfully to catch more than 30 squirrels.]
Here are my unvarnished conclusions.
First, squirrels are just big rats with cosmetic enhancements (look at just the face in the photo above) and press agents.
You have to use live traps
Forget about poisons, repellants (moth balls are a myth), etc. Rat poison will just have them rotting and smelling in your walls anyway. Don't board up their entry to shut 'um in or out (they just gnaw new holes -- that's exactly what mine did). None of these methods are good enough. A few people use old fashioned spring rat traps (not mouse traps). Others warn if a squirrel trips the trap without being killed or companions see a dead squirrel in the trap they'll shy away from it after that.
Note: I'm not an PETA animal rights person. I shot lots of squirrels when I was a kid and would have shot the ones camping in my attic if I could've figured a way to do it safely. Please -- no letters from the FFRS (Friends of Furry Rats Society) -- I know, they're cute, really CUTE.
Almost everybody seems to agree trapping's easy. [I'd say it's fairly easy if you do it right, but if you don't you can be like a friend who has squirrels by the dozens in his trees and has never had success catching any. I've caught several using the very trap he used unsuccessfully.]
You can sometimes borrow live traps from your local pound or SPCA. The downside may be the conditions placed on borrowing. My nearby Home Depot sells them. Many hardware and feed stores sell them and some rent them. I've seen them for sale on EBay. I didn't do any of these so I don't know, but people who want to sell you a new one say they're touchy and easily damaged to the point they won't work reliably without some tinkering.
Choosing a Trap
Some traps that claim to be squirrel traps are too small for gray squirrels. I don't know whether they are intended for the smaller flying squirrels, or they're for people who want a cheaper trap without realizing they may not work. They're not that much cheaper, and I've read that with smaller traps, large gray squirrels' tails sometimes hold the door partly open. This keeps the latch from engaging, thus allowing them to back out and escape. Click here for a way to improve performance of small traps if they aren't too small.
If you're on your own, here are some trap models that I decided should do the job:
Havahart model 1040 They are harder to find but I found several places on the internet that sell them. This is a two holer. These double-door models are for attracting buyers, not squirrels. Single door models catch just as many squirrels. If I'd had to buy I'd have tried to find a 1040 because it will handle larger animals (e.g., cats), and is otherwise the same as the much touted, widely available model 1030. I was able to borrow the 1030 from a friend. I caught a couple of animals that got out of the trap -- I don't know if they were squirrels, but once trapped squirrels tend to become "trap shy," and much harder to catch. [Update: I now have my own model 1040. The best price I found in February 2007 was here]
Here's a single door model -- Havahart model 1078.
Tomahawk 105 Tomahawk must have invented the two door model they hype it so much.
I didn't have any reason to contact Tomahawk customer support, but in 2001 Havahart's support needed work.
If you're in the UK you may want to take a look at the Trap Man squirrel trap.
The key to success is a well placed trap with good bait
They often find food by smell, so it's good if part of your bait gives off an odor they like. Originally, I used peanut butter. I put some on crackers laid inside and just outside the trap, and smeared some on the trap trigger plate/treadle. Peanut butter is mentioned most in web articles by people who've been successful trapping squirrels. Sometimes it's mixed with oatmeal or molasses. I saw Skippy crunchy mentioned specifically. One trapper swears buy almond extract on bread. Once they get near enough to see it, cereal, grains, nuts (especially peanuts) sunflower seeds, shelled corn, popcorn and apples have visual and taste appeal.
Here are instructions on baiting the trap. I didn't use bread like he suggests. I just put a glob (teaspoon?) of peanut butter directly on the trigger -- the thing he calls the "treadle". I did put some peanut butter on a piece of bread, pinched off a small piece and put it outside but near the mouth of the trap for chum (attractant). You may want to press a small piece of white bread onto the peanut butter on the treadle as a visual cue.
There are commercial squirrel baits. I have only seen these touted by people who sell them, but they claim miraculous results.
=*= March 2007 =*=
Basically you want to put the trap along along their pathways or at their entry points. If you don't know where these are, put it near where they feed, or where you see them.
If you're trying to trap ranging squirrels you'll want to look at Tomahawks double-door trapping tips (broken link). Check out the neat ideas for making yard scoops. (Bottom of the page you just went to)
In my experience squirrels do not feed at night, so traps out at night are more likely to catch other creatures such as 'possums, skunks, big rats, cats, small 'coons, etc.
When you get a squirrel, it may go into a fury trying to get out. Be careful handling the trap with a squirrel in it -- you don't want to get bitten. Heavy work gloves are probably a good idea, and keep you fingers as far as you can from the main cage body.
Put a bungee cord around the door latches (wickets) or secure them some other way so they won't jump or swing open while you're handling the cage.
I've Caught 'im, What Now?
Don't tell the FFRS I sent you, but if you're seriously into this you should make a dunk box like this . The trap I used fit in my garbage can. (Note: My 1040 is longer than the garbage can is tall, so I had to come up with a way to block the animal from coming up into the area above the water.)
If you're considering carrying them off somewhere and letting them go, one experienced professional says,
If you still plan to relocate them, put some newspaper over a plastic garbage bag in the trunk or wherever you put the trap. They're frightened and tend to . . . uh . . . soil your car.
Stopping it From Happening Again
Once you remove the squirrels you have to close their entry points. You may not want to remove them before locating their entries so you can watch their activity to locate their holes. Entry points are often in trim and at the bottom corners of roofs near the ends of soffits. Examine trim and soffits all around. If they find a small opening in a piece of trim they can gnaw it into an entry hole in minutes. Check aluminum roof ventilators. They can quickly chew through aluminum screening.
Squirrels entered the house on the right through the soffit at roof level, then into the attic, and began removing insulation from the walls. Click on the picture to see a detail of the entry. They can fit through anything they can get their head through. Once inside, their curiosity drives them to explore.
If you don't have a chimney trap/guard it's an invitation.
Staple half-inch galvanized hardware cloth (coarse steel wire screening) over all entry points before covering them with cosmetic trim -- it'll stop them from gnawing through that place again.
If they were there for a long time (2 years?) they will have left smells that will attract more squirrels for a couple of years so be vigilant. Repellants may be useful to discourage their return.
Never, never feed them. And, there's almost nothing you can do to stop them from getting bird food. My problem was caused by the neighbor next door feeding them, plus both him and the rear neighbor feeding birds constantly and generously. He told me he watched the squirrels eating the bird food. Apparently that's why he started giving the squirrels their own food.
The Squirrel Page may be the most informative site I found. It's also a well done webpage. You will find I've plagiarized from it. Specifically he has an excellent page on trapping squirrels. And if you still have questions on how to deal with your squirrel(s) he answers individual questions on his Squirrel message board.
The Havahart site was also an informative site, but it's poorly organized and thus a little hard to find the useful stuff.
Squirrels are us -- fun squirrel facts for the squirrel fan.
Good luck, you may need it.