Coexisting with Gray Squirrels


The following topics will be discussed in this section:

  • How do I prevent squirrels from getting into my house?
  • How do I prevent squirrels from climbing up a tree into my attic?
  • How do I get squirrels out of the attic?
  • There's a squirrel loose in the house -- how do I get him out?
  • How do I get a squirrel out of my chimney? My fireplace?
  • How do I stop squirrels from chewing holes in the wood trim on my house?
  • How do I keep squirrels out of my bird feeder?
  • How do I keep squirrels from eating my garden tomatoes?
  • How can I stop squirrels from digging holes in my yard?
  • Why not just trap a relocate the squirrels in my yard?
  • A note about flying squirrels

Squirrels are highly intelligent, inquisitive and skillful creatures – all characteristics that often lead people to rank squirrels number one on the list of problem makers.  Squirrels eat nuts and large seeds during the fall and winter; fruits berries, mushrooms and insects during the summer; and will eat birdseed any time of the year!  Squirrels are diurnal animals, meaning they are active during the day.  Squirrels are seldom far from trees; they rely on trees for shelter, to escape from predators, and to bear and raise young.  However, as humans continue to cut down more and more trees, squirrels have adapted by utilizing almost anything that looks or acts like a tree for their activities.  As a result, squirrels often make their way into attics and crawl spaces along upper levels of houses.


Q:  How do I prevent squirrels from getting into my house?

A:  Squirrels are an opportunistic species, and as more and more trees are cut down they are forced to seek out alternatives for potential denning sites.  Squirrels will take advantage of existing holes in your house, gnawing through wood to gain access to walls or the attic.  The best solution is prevention – carefully inspect your house to make sure there are no existing holes or structural disrepair before you even have an animal problem.  If you do end up with a squirrel attempting to gain entry, you must be absolutely certain he has not already set up camp inside before attempting to do any repairs.  An easy way to do this is to place a “soft plug,” such as a paper towel or crumpled newspaper, in the hole and check the next day to see if it has been pushed out.  If the soft plug is still intact, you can spray the affected area with a taste-adversive repellent and then seal off any vacated holes with ½” or ¼” hardware cloth sold at your local hardware store.

If it is spring or summer, make sure that you haven’t recently sealed up any holes in your house that may have led to babies.  A female squirrel will do extensive damage to a house in her efforts to be reunited with her young if they have been sealed in.


Q:  How do I prevent squirrels from climbing a tree into my attic?

A:  Take a 3 foot wide section of sheet metal and drill a hole in each of the four corners.  Next, wrap the sheet metal around the tree that the squirrels are using for access.  Instead of harming the tree by hammering it into place with nails, secure the two ends together using two metal coils running between the drilled holes. This way the protective band will stretch as the tree grows.  The sheet metal band must be at least 4 feet above ground level, and be at least 3 feet wide to prevent squirrels from climbing up the tree and jumping over it.

Photo credit: Brad Gates, AAA Wildlife Control

Q:  How do I get squirrels out of my attic?

A:  Again, the best way to prevent squirrels from nesting in your attic is to keep them away from the beginning.  Continued maintenance on your house is essential; prevent wildlife problems from occurring by sealing up all possible entry holes, trimming all overhanging tree branches, and installing a chimney cap.

Squirrels have two litters a year, one in early spring (February-May) and one in the late summer (Aug.-Oct.).  If you have a squirrel in your attic for more than a few days at those times of year, the animal is most likely a mother with her babies.  The best thing to do is wait 6-8 weeks until the young are old enough to follow mom on outings.  Once the young are old enough to follow mom on daily outings, and you observe this occurring, you can install a one-way door (available from Tomahawk Live Trap 1-800-272-8727; or ACES 1-800-338-ACES) over the entry hole, which will allow the squirrels to go out but not come back in.

Once you have not heard any sounds coming from the attic for several days, you may remove the one-way door and patch the hole using ¼” or ½” hardware cloth.  Extend the hardware cloth 8-12 inches bigger than the hole on all sides, and secure it over the hole using a staple gun and U-shaped nails.  Next, spray the area with Ropel (found at most garden stores or can be ordered online from Burlington Scientific Corporation at or Miller’s Hot Sauce (mail order from 800-233-2040) to prevent any chewing.  To make sure that no squirrels were inadvertently trapped in the attic, put flour down in front of the entry hole and check the next day for footprints of any squirrel(s) left behind.  Also, listen for sounds of activity in the attic, and watch to see if a squirrel is persistent in attempts to gain entry from the outside – a mother squirrel will go to great lengths to reunite with her young, and can cause extensive damage in the process.

If you absolutely MUST evict the squirrels before the young are old enough to leave on their own, you can place rags sprinkled with a strong smelling household cleaner, like ammonia, along with a blaring radio, tuned to a rap or a rock station, in the attic (be careful not to place the ammonia rags too close to the nesting site, as the babies can be asphyxiated by the smell).  Also, illuminate the nest by shining lights on it.  (You can generally locate the attic nest by looking near the entry hole for lumped up insulation along the perimeter of the attic interior).  This will turn the squirrels’ safe, quiet nesting environment into one that is smelly and frightening.  If the mother knows of an alternate nesting site, she will often move her young that day.  If she has to find or build a new nest, it may take longer.

If you notice squirrel activity in your attic during the winter months and you are positive there are no babies present, you may use the one-way door or exclusion methods as described above.  Exclude the squirrels at mid-morning on a warm, sunny day when the squirrels are out eating.  Again, listen for any squirrels inadvertently trapped inside the attic.  However, remember that if you evict a squirrel from your attic during the winter, the squirrel may not find, or be able to create, a vacant cavity and may freeze to death.  For this reason, consider waiting until early spring to do an eviction.

Relocating a squirrel by trapping may sound kind, but is usually a death sentence for that squirrel.  In the winter, squirrels bury a food cache that supports them.  If relocated at this time of year, they will most likely die.  Trapping and relocating squirrels at other times of the year subjects them to being run out by other territorial squirrels, being preyed upon, and being hit by cars as they frantically search for the habitat they know.


Q:  There's a squirrel loose in the house, how do I get him out?

A:  Squirrels enter houses by accident, and often frantically search for a way out.  Create a clear-cut path to the outdoors for the squirrel by closing all doors to any rooms in the house that the squirrel is not in, and darkening all windows and doors except for the one you want him to go out.  Make sure that there is a chair or piece of furniture that the squirrel can use to reach the windowsill.  If the squirrel is in a ground-level room, he should head towards daylight and will find his way out if left alone.  If the squirrel is trapped in a second-story location, hang a knotted bed sheet out of the window to provide the squirrel with something to climb down upon.

If you are unable to create an exit, set a live trap* on the floor near the squirrel, baited with peanut butter, and leave him alone for a few hours.  Once the squirrel is trapped and released outside of the house, it is important to look around for any possible ways he might have entered.  Carefully and thoroughly inspect the inside and outside of your house for possible entry points.  Check for tracks of soot around the fireplace, or dust around the furnace.  Also check your attic (on a sunny day) for an entrance hole that may need patching.

*You can usually get a live trap from your animal control facility, a Rent-It store, or a hardware store.


Photo credit: Chris Clark

Q:  How do I get a squirrel out of my chimney?  My fireplace?

Under absolutely no circumstances should you try to smoke an animal out of your chimney – you will only succeed in burning or killing the animal!

A:  Once again, prevention is the key.  It is absolutely essential to have a chimney cap installed by a chimney sweep to prevent any animals from falling down, or nesting in, your chimney.

If you hear a squirrel scrambling around in your chimney, it is safe to assume that he is stuck unless you have seen evidence that he can climb out.  To provide the squirrel with a means for escape, lower a thick (3/4 inch thick) rope down the chimney, making sure it is long enough to reach the damper.  Tie one end of the rope to the top of the chimney to secure it in place, and the squirrel should climb up on his own within daylight hours.  If a rope is not available, you can tie knotted bed sheets together to create a makeshift rope.

If the squirrel is in your fireplace, the best thing to do it place a live trap baited with peanut butter in the fireplace behind the fireplace doors.  Typically the squirrel will huddle in the back corner of the fireplace when the doors are opened, and will stay there as you place the trap slowly and quietly just inside the doors.  Close the doors to the fireplace and leave the room to wait for the squirrel to enter the trap. 

Note: as a precaution, you may want to prepare a “funnel” system leading out an open door before attempting to place the live trap inside the fireplace.  While most squirrels will huddle in the far corner of the fireplace when the doors are opened, they may also bolt into the room out of fear.  Tables and chairs tipped on their side can create a path out an open door.

Finally, be sure to have a proper chimney cap installed by a chimney sweep once the squirrel is captured and released outside so this problem does not happen again!  Also, to prevent access to your roof, trim any over hanging tree branches.  You can also put a 3-foot band of sheet metal around the base of any access tree to prevent squirrels from climbing up – but first make sure there are no active nests in the tree!  Also, be sure that the sheet metal is at least 4  feet off the ground to prevent the squirrel from jumping over it.

Q:  How do I stop squirrels from chewing holes in the wood trim or stucco on my house?

A:  Sometimes squirrels will chew the trim on a house for unknown reasons, particularly in the winter.  The cause may be a mineral deficiency, but no one knows for sure.  The solution is to spray Ropel (found at some garden stores or can be ordered online from Burlington Scientific Corporation at or you can call 631-694-4700 to find a local distributor) or Miller's Hot Sauce (call 800-233-2040 to find a local distributer) on the affected areas to prevent any chewing.  It is a good idea to pre-test the repellent on a small section of the trim or stucco first if you are unsure of the paint used on your house.  Some repellents can cause discoloration of latex paint if the paint has been mixed with certain ingredients.

Photo credit: Chris Clark

Q:  How do I keep squirrels out of my bird feeder?

A:  The best thing to do to prevent squirrels from eating out of your bird feeders is to keep them away from the beginning – once they become accustomed to food they will be persistent at getting to it!  There are a number of specialized feeders and baffles available that are considered “squirrel-proof.”  One effective squirrel baffle is shaped like a stovepipe and is placed on the pole portion of the bird feeder.  This allows the squirrel to climb up the pole and into the closed pipe, but he can go no further.  The pipe must be at least 15 inches long to prevent the squirrel from climbing over it, and set at least 4 feet off the ground (to the bottom part of the baffle) to prevent the squirrel from jumping over it.  The feeder itself must be placed far enough away from nearby trees, wires, buildings or any other objects a squirrel could use to jump on top of the feeder.  You may also want to try stocking your feeders with seeds that are undesirable to squirrels, such as safflower seeds, but attract birds such as cardinals and grosbeaks, or niger thistle that will attract goldfinches and other songbirds.

We strongly discourage the use of any capsaicin-based “hot pepper” powder mix which, although advertised as a “humane” repellent when mixed with bird seed, reportedly can make squirrels sick and may be irritating to the humans that handle it.

Q:  How do I keep squirrels from eating my garden tomatoes?

A:  Squirrels not only help themselves to your prize-winning tomatoes, but they have the audacity to take just one bite and discard the rest!  However, this is usually because squirrels are not particularly fond of tomatoes or other vegetables, but will eat them if hungry enough.  So, the first thing to do is to make sure that squirrels are actually the nibblers!  (A more likely scenario is that you have a woodchuck dining on your tomatoes).
If there is a squirrel eating the tomatoes, rest assured that this is a temporary inconvenience and will subside shortly.  To protect your tomatoes in the meantime, you can use a repellent called Hinder (available through your local garden store or Forest & Wildlife, 800-647-5368), which is safe for human consumption.


Photo credit: Chris Clark

Q:  How can I stop squirrels from digging holes in my lawn?

A:  The good news is that this digging is a seasonal phenomenon, and rarely causes significant damage to lawns.  Squirrels bury nuts in the ground for later retrieval during the winter and early spring months.  Interestingly, the squirrels that bury the nuts are not usually the ones that dig them up since squirrels retrieve nuts using their keen sense of smell – not memory!  The easiest solution is to wait a few weeks and let the problem end on its own.  However, if you absolutely must prevent squirrels from digging in your yard, you can sprinkle some cayenne pepper on the affected areas.

Q:  Why not just trap and relocate the squirrels in my yard?

A:  Squirrels are territorial animals, so your resident squirrels are actually keeping other squirrels away from your yard!  If you remove the existing squirrels, others will quickly move in and your problems will continue.  Also, trapping and relocating squirrels often leads to starving orphaned young being left behind.  Homeowners are then horrified to smell a foul odor when the babies eventually die.  The only permanent solution is to eliminate the problematic behavior, rather than the animal, using the strategies described on this website.

We discourage trapping unless an animal is stuck somewhere and can’t get out, or poses an immediate threat to humans or domestic animals.  If you do hire a nuisance trapper, we recommend that you find someone who will give you a written guarantee that he will (1) use non-lethal methods only, (2) release the animals together (so juveniles aren’t separated from their mothers) and release them on-site (relocated animals have low survival rates when released in unfamiliar areas), and (3) do the necessary exclusion and repair work to prevent other wild animals from entering your home.  Ask the right questions so you don’t pay hundreds of dollars for an inhumane “solution.”

A note about flying squirrels

Flying squirrels are small squirrels (approx. 9 inches from nose to tail tip) who people rarely get the chance to see.  They have bulgy, shiny black eyes, a flat tail, and a loose skin flap that extends from the foreleg to the hind leg.  This flap allows the squirrels to glide through the air, or “fly.”  Flying squirrels most often nest in abandoned woodpecker holes or natural tree cavities, in birdhouses, and sometimes they even utilize attics.

Unlike gray squirrels, flying squirrels are nocturnal and highly sociable animals.  Therefore, if you are hearing squirrel activity in your attic at night, you may have flying squirrels – and you may have a colony!  The methods for evicting flying squirrels are similar to the ones used for gray squirrels.  If you absolutely MUST evict the squirrels before the young are old enough to leave on their own, simply place rags sprinkled with ammonia along with a blaring radio, tuned to a rap or a rock station, in the attic.  This will turn the squirrels’ safe and quiet environment into one that is smelly and frightening.

Since flying squirrels are active at night, it is difficult to determine when the young are old enough to start following mom on nightly outings. For this reason, one-way doors (available from Tomahawk Live Trap, 1-800-272-8727; or 1-800-338-ACES) should be a last resort and used only during mid-summer or late fall, and avoided at all other times.

Live traps should also be avoided, as flying squirrels tend to become highly stressed and have a high mortality rate when trapped.  Many state fish and game agencies actually require that you get a special permit and approval to trap flying squirrels.  Under no circumstances should glue traps be used to capture any wild animal, including flying squirrels.  They are inefficient and extremely inhumane.