Squirrels

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Identification

  • Colour Red, brown, grey, or black
  • Size From 10 cm to 70 cm long
  • Description Squirrels have slender bodies with bushy tails and large eyes. Hind limbs are longer than their front limbs, and they four or five toes on each paw.
  • Notes There are more than 20 species of squirrel in Canada.

General Facts

More than 20 species of tree, flying, and ground squirrels can be found throughout Canada. The different types of squirrels cause their own specific sets of issues. For instance, tree squirrels cause the most trouble on suburban and urban residential properties, while ground squirrels are nuisances in rural areas, gardens, and on farms. Each species of squirrel varies in size, feeding habits, and nesting habits.

Types of Squirrels

Canada is home to 22 different types of squirrels. Six of these are ground-dwelling, four live in trees, and two are varieties of flying squirrels. Common ground squirrels have thin tails and hibernate through winter, while bushy-tailed tree squirrels are active year-round. Tree squirrels build nests, living atop branches and within tree hollows. Ground squirrels do the opposite, digging burrows to reside underground. All squirrels use their tails for shade during warm weather, warmth at night or in winter, and balance when climbing or jumping.

Tree Squirrels

Several types of tree squirrels can be found throughout Canada. These include eastern grey squirrels, Douglas squirrels, and fox squirrels. As the name implies, grey squirrels are found in the eastern part of the country and are various shades grey or black in colour, tipped with white. Fox squirrels are the most prevalent species nationwide and can be identified by their reddish-brown colouring. Finally, Douglas squirrels live primarily in the western provinces and have black stripes along the sides of their bodies.

Tree squirrel damage is typically caused when the pests enter homes to nest. Entering through attics and chimneys, the pests gnaw on insulation, electrical wiring, and structural supports. They are also known to damage lawns, gardens, and flowerbeds. Additionally, tree squirrels habour parasites that they can spread; some species are known transmit diseases such as plague but this is very rare.

Control & Removal

Attracted by easy access to food and nesting sites, tree squirrels can be kept out of homes and yards by removing or relocating bird feeders, covering garbage bins, and properly storing pet foods. Exclusion can be accomplished by trimming tree branches that overhang rooftops and sealing any openings to keep these pests from getting inside. Setting traps can be effective for small incursions, however, some species are protected by law therefore trapping them discriminatorily may be prohibited. Infestations are best handled by trained professionals. To avoid tree squirrel damage or remove the pests from yards and homes, rely on the wildlife experts at Orkin Canada.

Eastern Grey Squirrels

Among the many types of squirrels in Canada, eastern grey squirrels are the most common. In addition to their signature grey colour, these pests may also have brown or black fur. With tails as long as their bodies, grey squirrels measure about 40 to 50 cm long in total. This species can process acorn proteins more efficiently than many types of squirrels. As a result, they often leave their nests to forage even during cold weather when food is scarce, unlike other species. Eastern grey squirrels can be found throughout the entire southern region of Canada, including Quebec, Ontario, and Nova Scotia.

Red Squirrels

Despite their small size, red squirrels are almost as numerous as greys. They’re found nationwide in places such as Newfoundland, Saskatchewan, and the Yukon. These tree-dwelling pests change their coats with the seasons. When it’s warm, their reddish or grey fur has two black lines on their backs and a white patch on their stomachs. Throughout the cold season, the black lines disappear and their white stomachs turn grey. Red squirrels are about 20 cm in length as adults, with tails extending as far as 10 cm from their bodies. During winter, the pests store large amounts of food in their nests and don’t leave to forage as often as other types of squirrels in Canada.

Appearance

Tree squirrels found in Canada range in size from 10 to 70 cm long. They have bushy tails, are adept climbers, and may appear rust-coloured, brown, grey, or black. Ground squirrels can be similar in size to tree squirrels or significantly larger. Flying squirrels have distinctive membranous body structures that allow them to glide from tree to tree.

Habitat

Ground squirrels prefer grassy habitats, such as open fields, pastures, and parks, and typically burrow into the ground to build dens. Conversely, tree squirrels and flying squirrels prefer dense woodlands and make their nests high in the treetops. As human presence provides squirrels with consistent food and shelter, most species also commonly nest in and around residential neighbourhoods.

Outdoors

Their ability to adapt to their surroundings means that both urban and suburban areas are also inviting to squirrels. Habitat features, such as garden vegetables and fruit trees, may attract the pests into yards. Squirrels make trouble when they claim ownership of birdfeeders by chasing away birds. The pests also dig holes in lawns to bury food for later use, tearing up grass.

Indoors

As they can scale up and down brick houses with ease, squirrels often enter homes, barns, and attics through vents or openings around roofs. Once inside, the pests make their way in between walls to build nests and raise their young. Indoor squirrel habitats often show evidence of the pests’ gnawing, as they chew on wood, wiring, and drywall to wear down their ever-growing teeth. Unfortunately, removing squirrels from houses can be time consuming and labour intensive. If homeowners suspect an infestation, the wildlife removal professionals at Orkin Canada can help return nuisance squirrels to their natural habitats.

Squirrel Nests

There are two kinds of squirrel nests found in trees: dreys and dens. Squirrel dreys are built on the outside of trees, usually at the fork of the trunk and a branch about 30 feet off the ground. These nests are made of a ball of loosely woven twigs, leaves, and grasses. Out of the two types, squirrel dreys are most commonly seen by homeowners, as most adult squirrels build more than one.

On the other hand, dens often go unnoticed because they are built inside cavities like hollow trees or abandoned wells. More stable and protected, these nests are used year-round and are squirrels’ primary winter homes.

Unfortunately, these pests don’t always stay outdoors to build their shelters. Finding nests in attics isn’t uncommon. Once inside, squirrels may gnaw on electrical wires or wood and leave droppings all over. They carry parasites such as ticks, fleas and mites. Besides their bites and irritations, some of these parasites vector and can transmit disease causing pathogens. Homeowners usually aren’t aware they have a squirrel nest in the attic until they hear scurrying during the daytime. Sometimes a squirrel may fall and get trapped behind walls, persistently scratching as they try to claw their way out.

Squirrels will also nest in chimneys, which creates fire hazards. Additionally, having the pests in chimneys contributes to the spread of unpleasant smells. If a squirrel falls out of the nest down into the fireplace, it creates havoc with no easy solution.

Trapping & Removal

The most serious problems occur in early spring or summer, when nesting mothers give birth to new litters. Attempting to remove attic nests at this time is challenging, as any babies left behind will certainly die and mothers will relentlessly attempt to get back inside to rescue them. Homeowners shouldn’t try to trap and relocate families on their own. The best option for any squirrel-related pest problem is to contact a professional animal control company, such as Orkin Canada, with the knowledge and experience to safely handle the situation.

Squirrels in Winter

Just like people, squirrels in winter stay inside and put on plenty of layers to beat the cold temperatures. Squirrel hibernation varies in length depending on climate and species. Some species are only out of commission for a few months, while the Richardson’s ground squirrel, a native of Southern Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, may hibernate as long as seven to nine months.

On the other hand, tree and flying squirrels are active year-round. Instead of hibernating, they rely on sheltered dens in trees, fat reserves, and food caches to survive the cold weather. During mild winters when the pests are outside more often, homeowners may notice that squirrels look portlier than their sleek, warm-weather selves. This is because they build up layers of fat to survive foraging trips in cold conditions.

“Squirreling” Away Provisions

To make finding food easier during winter, squirrels often create food caches. These underground stockpiles of calorie-rich nuts and seeds take different forms depending on species. While a single grey squirrel may create several thousand buried caches each season, red squirrels work together to create one communal hoard. In addition to nuts, the pests forage for insects, bird eggs, mushrooms, and animal bones during cold weather.

Problems & Damage

While nut caches help to disperse the seeds of hardwood trees, they can create damage to yards. Tree and flying squirrels may tear up well-groomed lawns in multiple places while stockpiling food or eat from gardens and trees. In addition, squirrels in winter often seek shelter in attics, sheds, and garages. While ground squirrel hibernation means they pose few problems during winter, burrowing during warmer seasons can kill trees, cause mounds that damage lawn equipment, and create tripping hazards. To get rid of squirrels during the winter or any other season, call the pest experts at Orkin Canada.

Diet

Though the different species of squirrels keep slightly varied diets, the pests are mostly herbivorous and feed on seeds, nuts, berries, and acorns. Species of ground squirrels also supplement their diets with farm crops, while tree and flying squirrels have been known to eat a variety of insects, moths, small amphibians, bird eggs, and young hatchlings. Additional food sources include fungus, sap, and tree bark.

Life Cycle

Female squirrels typically give birth to litters of one to six young. Squirrels are born hairless and blind and stay with their mothers for up to two months. Maturity is reached around nine months, at which point adolescent squirrels leave their nests to find their own territories. In the wild, squirrels enjoy lifespans anywhere from 5 to 10 years.

Problems Caused by Squirrels

The problems and damages associated with squirrel infestations depends on which type of the pest is present. Ground squirrels are major agricultural pests and devastate crop yields. Tree and flying squirrels regularly enter homes where they chew on electrical wiring, rip insulation from walls, and keep residents up by being noisy. Furthermore, all species of squirrels can carry parasites that spread diseases to both humans and our pets.

Squirrel Bites

The teeth of squirrels are constantly growing, so they need to be worn down daily with plenty of gnawing. Able to chew through wood, plastic, rubber, and even metal with their strong teeth, these pests can deliver painful bites that draw blood. While healthy squirrels will not bite unless provoked, these animals are susceptible to rabies. Many small rodents that carry rabies die from the virus before having a chance to pass it on, so the chance of getting rabies from a squirrel is slim. Still, if these pests charge or attack without reason and bite, it is important that the bite be checked by a medical doctor.

After being bitten by a squirrel, seek medical attention immediately. Individuals will need to rely on their observations of the encounter to ensure an accurate diagnosis. Animals that are foaming at the mouth or appear weak may have rabies. Since the virus doesn’t show any symptoms in some victims until its later stages, those that are bitten will want to provide as much information about the attack as possible. It is especially important that people with head and muscle aches, fevers, and nausea after being bitten see a physician immediately.

Prevention

To keep squirrels out of attics, sheds, and garages, seal potential entryways with steel wool, sheet metal, or hardware cloth. Avoid physical contact with squirrels at all costs and remember that squirrels can bite through even the toughest of materials. Baby squirrels have no fear of humans and are known to brazenly approach people to run up their legs. Don’t let this happen, as mothers will attack if there’s a perceived threat to their young. To get rid of squirrel infestations and reduce the risk of squirrel bite, the wildlife professionals at Orkin Canada are the safest choice.

Squirrel Diseases

Squirrels are known to carry numerous diseases, though only a few are dangerous to humans. Some of the more common include tularemia, typhus, plague, and ringworm. Such diseases are transmitted through bites or other forms of direct contact with infected squirrels. Tularemia, typhus, and plague have symptoms that mimic the flu and can be deadly when left untreated. While all mammals are capable of getting rabies, squirrels are very rarely rabid.

Other diseases squirrels transmit to humans come from the various parasites they carry. Rife with parasites such as fleas, ticks, and mites, squirrels living in proximity to homes frequently pass these tiny pests on to both humans and pets. Some of the diseases humans can get from the parasites include Lyme disease, Encephalitis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

Avoiding Squirrel Diseases

Keeping squirrels off your property and out of houses is the best way to ensure the health and safety of both homeowners and their pets. While screening and capping vents and chimneys is effective, entry points like windows, doors, and holes in the roof should also be properly sealed. In the end, the best way to avoid contracting any diseases squirrels carry is to call the pest removal experts at Orkin Canada.

Signs of Infestation

When squirrel infestations are present, homeowners will hear scratching and squeaking noises during the day. The presence of droppings, chew marks, and materials gathered for nests also point to squirrel problems. In the case of ground squirrel infestations, individuals will find girdled trees, garden damage, and holes around lawns that serve as entrances to burrows.

Squirrel in House

Squirrels typically seek shelter indoors to escape the elements, find food, or nest. Open holes in roofs, unscreened vents, and uncapped chimneys can all let squirrels in to a house. Once inside, these pests cause extensive damage, chewing on wiring and using insulation to build nests for their young. Squirrels also host numerous parasites, such as fleas, ticks, and mites, that negatively impact both humans and pets.

Prevention & Removal of Squirrels from the House

Homeowners are encouraged to block any potential entry points to keep squirrels out of the house. Removing overhanging branches and keeping birdfeeders away from homes can also discourage the pests from coming inside. In order to ensure safe and humane removal of squirrels in houses, contact the trained wildlife professionals at Orkin Canada.

Squirrel in Basement or Crawl Space

Like many wildlife pests, squirrels sometimes turn to homes for warmth, food, and shelter when harsh weather hits. Basements and crawl spaces make ideal places to nest and raise young, as they are protected and removed from most homeowners’ daily activities. A squirrel in the basement can cause a variety of problems, as they may gnaw on wiring and other materials for their nests. In addition, the pests often carry ectoparasites, such as fleas, lice, and mites that can easily migrate from a squirrel in a crawl space or basement to other areas of the home.

Prevention & Removal of Squirrels from the Basement or Crawl Space

As is the case with any pest, the best way to get rid of squirrels is to first deny them entry. If they make their way inside, then make their stay as uncomfortable as possible. Remove any accessible pet food or store it in tightly sealed containers. Bright lights or loud music can be effective to harass the pests into leaving on their own temporarily. Once they are out, avoid reoccurring issues by finding and sealing off any openings that may let squirrels in basements or crawl spaces. In some cases, measures that are more serious may be required, such as traps or professional removal. To effectively exclude or remove squirrels from the house, contact the professionals at Orkin Canada.

Squirrel in Attic

Squirrels seek shelter in attics to keep warm during the winter months. They also use these areas in the spring as safe havens to raise babies. Active during daytime hours, a squirrel in the attic will be heard scratching, running, and scraping against wood and drywall into the early evening.

Nesting in attics can be dangerous for squirrels as well as inconvenient for homeowners. While hungry and in search of their mothers, babies can move out of nests and fall between walls. In turn, concerned mothers can become lodged in wall cavities and starve to death, causing strong odours and attracting bugs. These notoriously curious pests often explore and nest in inaccessible locations. Expensive drywall removal may be necessary to reach squirrels in the attic.

Additionally, squirrels have perpetually growing teeth that force them to constantly bite and gnaw. This activity can cause structural damage when they chew on wooden supports or start electrical fires when the pests gnaw wires. While squirrels aren’t naturally aggressive, homeowners who attempt to remove nests may be scratched or bitten. Added to the difficulty and unpleasantness of removing nests and carcasses, the risk of injury creates a compelling reason to leave the removal of squirrels in attics to the professionals at Orkin Canada.

Squirrel on Roof or in Chimney

Squirrels are attracted to yards by food sources like birdfeeders and nut-bearing trees. As a result, they often try to build nests nearby in order to gorge every day. Scurrying up tree branches and power lines can give these pests access to the roofs of homes, though they may also climb straight up brick walls and chimneys. A squirrel in the chimney or on the roof may choose to make its home there for a variety of reasons. Vents can provide places to store pinecones, nuts, and seeds for winter or give them access to attics and other protected spaces.

Squirrels possess extremely strong teeth and can chew through shingles, siding, and wood on roofs when looking for a place to den. In addition, the pests may steal insulation from roofs and walls to use as nesting material. The loud scratching, scraping, and gnawing sounds produced by these activities can be unsettling to homeowners as well as indicate that the pests may be doing structural damage. Their curious nature can also cause them to fall down chimneys and plumbing vents. Squirrels in chimneys often die and end up decomposing in tough-to-reach areas and attracting even more pests.

Exclusion & Removal

When squirrels survive the plunge down a chimney or vent, they may nest inside or gain access to homes through ductwork. Flue caps and plumbing vent covers help reduce this risk, but a determined rodent will stop at nothing to gain entry into a warm, safe home. The wildlife experts at Orkin Canada can assist homeowners having issues with a squirrel on the roof or in the chimney, properly removing nests, and sealing points of entry.

Squirrel in Wall

Squirrels are intelligent rodents that are well adapted to city living. In search of food and warmth, these pests often enter homes through small holes or chimneys. Attics and indoor spaces provide shelter that’s attractive for nesting and giving birth to their young. However, babies are born helpless and may be prone to falling into wall cavities. While trapped, squirrels in walls may claw and tear at drywall and insulation, compromising the structural integrity of homes. Additionally, if a squirrel in the wall cannot escape, it may die, creating unpleasant smells and drawing carrion insects.

Squirrel Damage and Removal

Trapped wildlife may become frantic in their attempts to escape, which can lead to property damage. Squirrel teeth grow continuously, which means the pests have to constantly gnaw in order to file them down. For this reason, they may resort to chewing on wood, plastic, and rubber inside walls. Also, squirrels can harbour parasites such as fleas, mites and lice that are vectors and can harm humans. Due to the possibility of health risks and property damage, it is best to contact the wildlife experts at Orkin Canada to safely remove squirrels in the wall.

Prevention

Building fences around properties that extend several centimetres into the earth helps control populations of ground squirrels. However, since tree squirrels are excellent climbers, additional measures must be taken to keep those pests away. Property owners should attempt to seal potential points of entry into homes and remove all overhanging branches to keep squirrels off roofs.

Trapping/Control/Removal

Cornered squirrels quickly become aggressive. Furthermore, as the pests can carry disease-causing parasites, trying to trap or remove squirrels without professional assistance is dangerous. In order to properly remove problematic squirrels, individuals should contact the trained pest control specialists at Orkin Canada.

 

Why do I have squirrels?

More than 20 species of tree, flying, and ground squirrels can be found throughout Canada.

Ground squirrels prefer grassy habitats, such as open fields, pastures, and parks, and typically burrow into the ground to build dens.

Squirrels are mostly herbivorous and feed on seeds, nuts, berries, acorns, fungus, sap, and tree bark. Some ground squirrels also eat farm crops, while tree and flying squirrels also feed on insects, moths, small amphibians, bird eggs, and young hatchlings.

However, realizing they can get a constant supply of food and shelter near humans, most squirrel species also nest and forage in and around residential neighbourhoods.

Since they can scale buildings with ease, squirrels often enter houses, barns, and attics through vents or openings around roofs. Once inside, the pests make their way in between walls to build nests and raise their young.

How worried should I be about squirrels?

Ground squirrels are major agricultural pests and devastate crop yields. In gardens, they will leave behind girdled trees and holes around lawns that serve as entrances to burrows.

Tree and flying squirrels regularly enter homes, where they chew on electrical wiring, rip insulation from walls, and keep residents up by being noisy.

All species of squirrels can carry parasites that spread diseases, including tularemia, typhus, plague, ringworm, Lyme disease, Encephalitis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Squirrels will also leave droppings, chew marks, and nesting materials around the home.

When cornered, squirrels can quickly become aggressive, so trying to trap them is extremely dangerous. To safely and humanely have a squirrel removed, you'll need a professional pest control service.

How can I prevent squirrels invading?

Build fences above and below ground, Seal any entry points into homes, Remove all overhanging branches

Are squirrels nocturnal?

Squirrels are active during the day except for flying squirrels, which are nocturnal. Hidden in the dark and high up in trees, these gliding squirrels often go unseen by people. Searching for food, such as insects, berries, nuts, and seeds, is the most common activity for squirrels at night. While these pests rarely enter houses, they sometimes use breached attics or empty sheds as shelter from harsh weather and predators. In these instances, homeowners may hear squirrel noises at night, such as high-pitched squeaks, tapping, and scurrying in attics or on rooftops. Some squirrel species are protected by law. Because trapping or removing them may be prohibited, residents should not try to handle or trap squirrels. Contact your local Orkin Canada wildlife specialist to safely remove squirrels you may have heard or seen around your home or business.

When do squirrels have babies?

Grey squirrels have two breeding periods per year, one in mid-summer and another in early spring. Young are usually born between March and April, with a second litter arriving around July or August. Females may give birth to one to nine babies at a time, though somewhere in the range of three to five is typical. Each baby squirrel is completely dependent on its mother for the first five to eight weeks of development and stays close to the nest during this time.

New mothers seek protected areas to raise their babies, as the tree nests they use most of the year leave young exposed to predators. It’s during birthing seasons that squirrels often move closer to human homes, sometimes taking up residence behind walls or in attics, sheds, and chimneys.

If homeowners find baby squirrels in the attic, they probably haven’t been abandoned. More likely, the mother is out gathering food. After weaning, young begin venturing out with their mothers to find more natural shelters. This is an important consideration when attempting to block re-entry. If babies are trapped inside, not only will they die, but the mother will furiously try to rescue them and possibly causing structural damage.

Are squirrels dangerous?

Despite their cute, furry appearance, squirrels can actually cause significant structural and garden damage. They frequently venture onto properties in search of fruits and nuts, and it is difficult getting them to leave once they find a good food source. These rodents typically dig holes in yards, eat plants, and keep away desirable wildlife like birds.

Most homeowners do not give much thought to the presence of squirrels in their yards but are quick to react when one is discovered inside the home. These pests often find their way into attics and crawl spaces by squeezing through small holes in walls and siding. Once inside, they build nests and chew through insulation, wood, and electrical wiring. This damage severely degrades the structural integrity of the wood and creates dangerous fire hazards.

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