Squirrels, those cute little, frolicking, furry critters romping through the yard. We laugh at their acrobatic antics. We feed them and encourage them and praise their playfulness and then… one moves into the attic or chews a hole in the side of the house.
Suddenly the cute wears right off and it’s outright war. Lost sleep and growing concern about what they are chewing on replace the warm fuzzy feelings faster than you can say “Chip & Dale”.
There are four species of squirrel native to Washington state but the Douglas squirrel is the one most often seen along the coast. It is also the one most likely to aggressively attempt to enter your home.
Douglas squirrels typically produce two litters a year, spring and fall, with two to four young in each litter. The young take approximately ninety days to mature and usually start making their first forays out of the nest around 60 days.
Squirrels are closely related to rats (they just get better P.R.). People who get excited about feeding a squirrel in the yard won’t tolerate a rat in the neighborhood, yet they can be just as destructive.
If a squirrel can get a grip on the siding or cross over a branch or power line to the roof they will often work ceaselessly to gain entry to the attic. Plastic vent covers, lead or rubber utility boots, even wooden bird blocks in soffits are no match for a determined squirrel.
Once in, these animals will damage insulation to build a nest. They trample and defecate in the insulation rendering it useless and they often chew insulation off of wiring. They will also carry food into the attic, which can lead to insect problems years after they leave (which they seldom do of their own accord).
Squirrels rarely transmit illnesses to humans however, like rats, they carry fleas and other parasites and can transmit tularemia. They are also a reservoir for the plague virus.
Generally speaking, feeding squirrels is a bad idea and hand feeding an even worse one. These animals quickly loose their fear of man and become very aggressive when they don’t get what they want. One second you’re coaxing a squirrel to come closer with a peanut, the next you’re snatching back a bloody finger because one peanut wasn’t the squirrels objective.
If there is such a thing as a squirrel proof bird feeder I haven’t seen it. Feeders capable of keeping squirrels out don’t prevent birds from slinging seed on the ground, which they seem to do with gusto.
Douglas squirrels are not endangered but they are protected by state law. Trapping or relocation is considered a last resort which often leads to the death of the animal and is never as effective as eliminating the conditions encouraging the animal in the first place.
If you have squirrels you have to eliminate excess food (pet food, bird food), eliminate harborage (wood piles, items stored outside), and eliminate access (tree branches within 10 feet of the roof, seal openings to the attic).
Once squirrels get established in your attic you should get professional advice on when and how to remove them. In the case of a female with young there are things you need to do to avoid having the young die in the attic or having the female really do significant damage trying to get back to her young.■