University of Maryland Extension


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gray squirrel

The eastern gray squirrel is a tree-dwelling rodent that feeds on a wide variety of foods such as tree fruits, garden vegetables, seeds, nuts, buds and young plant shoots. Squirrel populations periodically rise and fall. Their habitat can range from one to one-hundred acres depending on availability of food. When food sources are depleted, usually in the fall, they may travel, often as far as fifty miles in search of better habitat. Squirrels in the wild have a lifespan of about four years. They can breed when one year old in mid-December or early January and again in June. Three to five young are born after a 45-day gestation usually in April and August. Their nests are built from sticks, leaves, and stripped bark, and are usually constructed high in trees. They also clip branches and small twigs for their nests, littering the ground beneath trees. This seldom causes damage to the tree and little control is necessary.

squirrel nest in tree
Nests are usually constructed high up in
tree tops

squirrel damage to pine
Branches clipped by squirrels underneath
a pine tree

squirrel stripped off bark on tree limb
Squirrels sometimes strip off the bark on limbs

Although squirrels are amusing to watch, many homeowners have severe problems with them. They can chew through plastics, wood and plastic siding, or tear open attic vents to gain access into the house. Once in the attic, they may tear up insulation, chew on electrical wiring, and damage stored items. Often, in their search for food, they destroy the growing tips of young trees and shrubs by stripping bark from trees and branches. They also dig up flowers and bulbs and raid bird feeders, even destroying them to get the food.

To control squirrel populations the landowner should reduce or eliminate all food sources including bird feeders. To prevent digging in a garden you can cover the bed with chicken wire. The wire should be covered with soil and extend at least 1 foot beyond the edge of the flower bed. As a last resort, control problem squirrels using live traps baited with apples, seeds or peanut butter. Squirrels are clever and may not go into a trap if unsure about it. If several squirrels are to be trapped put the baited trap out but do not actually set it for a few days so that the squirrels will become accustomed to feeding from it. Then set the trap. Squirrels should be relocated, with landowner consent, at least ten miles from your home. Wear gloves and do not actually handle the squirrel. A Maryland Department of Natural Resources permit may also be needed to trap squirrels.

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