Tips for PMPs on how to live trap squirrels in attics and living areas. Plus, preventing squirrel gnawing damage to structures.
Sandra Kraft and Larry Pinto
Editor’s Note: The following was adapted from Techletter, a biweekly publication from Pinto & Associates, Mechanicsville, Md. To subscribe, visit www.techletter.com or call 301/884-3020.
When trapping squirrels, you have to consider the time of the breeding season. In most areas, female gray and fox squirrels give birth to a litter of three to four young between late January and late February, often with a second litter in mid to late summer. The young squirrels are weaned at eight to nine weeks and begin exploring outside the nest. Flying squirrel young are born in March to April with a second litter in mid summer and are weaned in six to eight weeks.
If you remove the female, and not the unweaned young, the young will die. Then, at the least, you will have an odor problem on your hands. And that could be compounded by blow flies, dermestid beetles and other scavenging insects moving in to feed on the carcasses.
If you cannot convince your customer to wait until the squirrel babies are on their own, you will have to remove small babies by hand once you have trapped the mother. Relocate the mother with the babies in the hopes that she will continue to care for them (this may not happen). You can exclude older squirrel babies that are mobile by installing a one-way door over the entry hole. One method is to use 4-inch diameter plastic pipe, 18 inches long, mounted over the entry and pointing down at a 45-degree angle. Squirrels can leave the nest site through the pipe but can’t get back in.
Before trapping squirrels in buildings, check with local wildlife authorities. Since squirrels are classified as game animals in most states, state, county and even city governments may require a permit. You also may need a special license to catch and release squirrels. And, some jurisdictions may not allow you to release the trapped squirrel. It may have to be killed instead.
Make sure the live trap (also called a cage or box trap) that you’re using is the right size for a squirrel, generally 6 by 6 by 24 inches. Crunchy-style peanut butter is a good bait for squirrels and is less likely to attract other non-target animals. Place a spoonful on the trip lever. Other good baits are slices of orange or apple and shelled nuts. Corn and sunflower seeds also are useful baits but may draw pigeons and other birds into the trap instead. Bait the trap and let the squirrel get used to it by propping the door open for a couple of days before you actually set it.
Traps should be placed over the entry hole or as close to the opening as possible. If the homeowner doesn’t know how or where the squirrel is getting into the house, you may need to do a little detective work to find the best place to set the trap. Squirrels begin foraging in the early morning. If you’re quiet and patient, you may be able to see just how the squirrel leaves and returns to the nest site. Once you know the squirrel’s travel route, place the trap as close as possible to the entrance point.
You may have better luck anchoring the trap on the roof, rather than placing it in the attic or even on the ground. Animals tend to be less wary of a trap on the roof. Also, with the trap on the roof instead of the ground, you are less likely to trap non-target animals. And with a roof trap, you can check it frequently without having to enter the house and attic. If you place the live trap on the ground, place it as close as possible to the squirrel’s travel path to the house.
If a squirrel is loose inside a house and can’t find its way back out, confine it to one room by closing that room off and place a live trap along a wall. If the squirrel is out in the open in that room, you might be able to steer it into the trap with a long pole. For squirrels caught in a chimney, drop a 1-inch diameter rope with a weight on the end down the chimney. This will keep the rope taut and allow the squirrels to climb out.
Remember, squirrels bite. Wear heavy leather gloves or trappers’ gloves when handling a trapped squirrel.
Squirrels generally must be relocated at least three miles away from the trapping site. A squirrel is less likely to return if the pest management professional can place it in an area where there is food, water and shelter. Try to trap and relocate squirrels only when there is plenty of food available. Squirrels that are relocated away from their food cache in winter probably will starve.
After you’ve trapped or removed all of the squirrels, remove the nest material, droppings, and any stored food such as nuts or seeds to prevent a secondary pest problem. Decontaminate the area with a bleach solution. Then you, or your customer, need to repair and squirrel-proof the opening.