Read the below tutorial for information about the Eastern Gray Squirrel and how to get it out of an attic. It's not always a simple task - getting squirrels out of the attic usually requires these four steps:
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After you read the below information, you may want to click on one of these guides that I wrote:
How much does squirrel removal cost? - get info on prices. How to get rid of squirrels - my main squirrel info guide.
Example squirrel trapping photographs - get do-it-yourself ideas. Squirrel job blog - learn from squirrel jobs I've done.
Squirrels love to live in attics! This is one of the most common human-wildlife conflicts. Squirrels are usually arboreal, meaning that they prefer to live in trees. In the wild, squirrels will build a nest made of leaves and twigs high up in a tree. However, squirrels are very adaptable animals, and thrive in suburban and urban environments. They are opportunistic, and many have found that the attics of homes make a great place to live. An attic is like a big old hollow tree to a squirrel, and it has a lot of advantages - it's dry, warm, and safe from predators. Squirrels can climb almost anything, and they are spectacular chewers, so they have no problem climbing to a vulnerable area of your roof, and chewing their way in.
Although several species of squirrel can live in attics, including flying squirrels, red squirrels, and more, this article deals with the most common, the Eastern Gray Squirrel. Most commonly, the squirrel living in your attic is a female with a litter of baby squirrels. If you have several squirrels in your attic, there's a good chance that it's the mother and her young. The young grow very quickly, and reach adult size in only about six weeks, at which point they start running around the place like crazy, scratching, chewing, and doing the things that squirrels do. In this photo, I've discovered four squirrels living in an attic - a mother and her three juveniles.
Eastern Gray Squirrels have two litters of young per year. The timing can vary depending on the part of the country, but there's usually a litter born in winter, and another born in late summer. After a pregnancy of about 44 days, the mother gives birth to usually around 3-4 small, naked, babies, with eyes sealed shut. They are only about one inch long and one ounce heavy at birth, but they grow quickly. By about four weeks they're up and about, and by six weeks, they're at close to adult size, and by three months or so, they're pretty much adults. They will usually stay in the attic up until the time the mother is ready to bear her next litter of young. In the meantime, they'll chew, urinate, and defecate in the attic.
Most people object to squirrels largely because they don't like to hear all of the noise and running around up in the attic. However, squirrels often cause serious problems. Squirrels, like all rodents, chew and gnaw in order to wear down their teeth. They often chew on your house, either the inside or outside. They like to chew on all sorts of surfaces, such as the lead piping around plumbing stacks, vents, wires, and of course wood. Although I've seen several cases in which they've chewed through and burst PVC plumbing piping, resulting in flooding or water damage, it's really the wires that is the big problem. A chewed upon and exposed electrical wire is a fire hazard - a fairly high percentage of house fires of unknown origin are believed to be a result of rodent wire exposure.
Okay, how do you get them out? First of all, it's important to acknowledge that there's no simple easy-does-it product that will get them to leave. Some of the ridiculous products and attempts that I've seen over the years include the use of mothballs, ammonia, fox or coyote urine, high-pitch sound machines, strobe lights, and more. I once entered an attic with 60 pounds of mothballs! The house stunk and the inhabitants got sick - but the squirrels stayed! One attic had seven of those ultrasonic sound emmitters - the squirrels didn't care at all. There's a lot of gimmicks and old wive's tales out there, but the only real way to get squirrels out of the attic is to physically remove them - such as in live traps.
Trap and Remove the Squirrels The best way to ensure that you'll permanently take care of your squirrel problem is to trap and remove the squirrels. You can set squirrel-sized cage traps on the roof near the entry holes, but there's a chance that you'll catch a non-target squirrel. The best bet is to mount a trap right against the hole that the squirrels are going in and out of. Squirrels are active primarily during the morning and evening, but they go in and out of the house several times each day, as they exit to forage for food and water, and they sometimes return with food to store. If you mount a trap right on their hole, you'll catch them as they come out. Use a repeating type trap like the one shown, and you can catch them all at one time! See: squirrel trapping tips.
One-way Doors Another effective and humane way to get the squirrels out is to mount a special one-way door on the squirrel's hole. The one-way exclusion door has a tension flap that allows the squirrel to exit, but not re-enter. It's just like the repeating trap, but with an open end. A one-way door is great at getting them out so long as they have no other ways of getting back in. Sometimes a house will have many holes and open areas that the squirrels can use. A one way door isn't very effective if a squirrel can just use another area to get back in! Furthermore, it may not be a good idea to do this in a house with a lot of wood trim, because a squirrel might go nuts chewing the house to try to get back in.
Exclusion Repairs Squirrels are persistent. They also leave behind a strong squirrel pheromone scent. If you've had squirrels in your attic, even if you get rid of them, new squirrels will smell that squirrel smell and try to live in your house in the future. In order to permanently solve any squirrel problem, you've got to make sure that your house is 100% squirrel-proofed. This means making sure that all roof vents have a heavy steel screen intact, all of the plumbing stacks are screened off (sometimes the pipes are open inside the attic), all of the ridge cap plugs are intact, the gable vents are screened, the soffits are intact, etc etc. All repairs should be performed with steel and bolts, so that the squirrels can't chew through the repairs.
Cleanup As mentioned, when squirrels live in an attic, they poop and pee a lot. They can leave large amounts of droppings and urine in an attic. It's not just unsightly or bad-smelling - it could potentially pose a health risk. Most droppings grow mold over time, and most droppings contain salmonella. Squirrels may urinate or defecate on the items you store in the attic, or they might even chew right through the drywall. The urine and the fur grease that the squirrels leave behind is a potent lure to other animals, both predators and other squirrels. Sometimes a raccoon will break into an attic that has a squirrel scent. Or other squirrels will enter, looking for a proven place to live, or a mate. It's a good idea to clean up, remove, decontaminate and deodorize the attic.
Hire a Pro? Another option is to hire a professional wildlife removal specialist. Many people simply think that wildlife issues are "do-it-yourself" type things. They are not. In my opinion, wildlife control issues are more complex with more at risk than other types of work, such as plumbing or electrical work. Plus, there are usually laws regarding the trapping and removal of wildlife that typically prohibit homeowners from attempting the work themselves. Many jobs are very complex and require professional attention - are you really going to find the nest in the attic, remove the baby squirrels, humanely and effectively trap the target adults, avoid non-target catches, identify and seal all the holes, find and repair chewed wires, clean the biohazard, and solve the squirrel problem correctly?
For advice on other critters, please see my animals in the attic guide, covering everything from rats to bats to raccoons. Also, keep in mind that they sometimes live in the chimney as well. Read How to Remove a Wild Animal in the Chimney.
Read more articles I wrote about squirrels:
What do squirrels do with their tails?
What kind of noises and sounds do squirrels make when they live in your house?
How big do squirrels get?
How to scare a squirrel away
How To Get Rid Of Squirrels Without Killing Them
Do squirrels remember where they bury nuts?
Do squirrels kill mice, rats, or birds?
What to do about a squirrel in the fireplace
How smart are squirrels?
How Long Does It Take To Remove Squirrels In A Building?
Home Remedies To Keep Away Squirrels And Get Rid Of Them
Should I Feed Squirrels For Fun?
What does squirrel feces look like? Where is it found?
The Fastest Way To Get Rid Of Squirrels
How to stop squirrels from chewing on your house or plants
Will a squirrel chew through the ceiling?
Do squirrels attack or bite people?
What attracts squirrels?
Are squirrels ever active at night?
Don't forget - the squirrel in your attic is most likely a female with young. If you hear only one animal, the female is soon to give birth, or more likely has a nest of immobile young. Don't remove her at this time, or you'll strand the nest of baby squirrels in your attic. Wait until the young are up and about - it doesn't take long, because they grow very fast, and reach adult size in just six weeks. Once you hear the pitter-patter of several squirrels, like five of them, then you know the young are mobile, and they are capable of being excluded or trapped at that time.