Squirrel Removal Tips From a Rehabber

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That's me in the above photo. I got a recent letter from a squirrel rehabber named Lorisa, and it had so much good information that I decided to post it below. Enjoy!

Dear David,

I work at the Center for Wildlife in Cape Neddick, Maine. Your recent inquiry was forwarded to me. I visited your squirrels in the attic site and I appreciate SO much your efforts to educate people on how to safely remove squirrels without sad results. At the Center for Wildlife, we take many many calls each year about animals in homes and other buildings, and we often see the tragic if unintended consequences of people trying to move animals without first becoming informed. We raise about two hundred baby squirrels each year and I would say about half of those babies would probably not need us if people asked for help before trying to interfere. I hate to think how many babies don't get the help they need in these situations.

I'm not sure in which part of the country you are based, but here in Maine, squirrels usually have their babies in mid-March through April, and again in late August/September. Three years ago we had a "bumper crop" of squirrels and had baby squirrels from March straight through November! And last October, we received a litter of barely fuzzy squirrels (probably about 3 1/2 weeks old) on October 15th. So the birthing dates you list may be slightly inaccurate for this part of the country.

We rarely advocate trapping and moving unless the circumstances are unusual, for the simple reason that in most cases, it really is possible to convince the squirrels to leave without needing to trap, especially if it is a mom with babies. As you know, they are excellent mothers and if they feel their babies are threatened, they will move them. Squirrel moms usually have at least one back-up nest site in mind, so if a nest is disturbed, they can have a new nest ready within an hour or two and move the babies. So I believe the very first course of action should be to take advantage of a mother squirrel's instincts to get her to leave on her own. The way I explain it to people is this: squirrels like attics because they are dark, quiet, and secure. To convince them to move, you need to take away those things. So getting a light up there (which may take some ingenuity) and leaving it on day and night will take away that dark secure feeling. A radio placed up there and tuned to a rap music station or a talk radio station, again left on day and night, is the second element, taking away the quiet and some of the security. And another element is to try rags soaked in ammonia (this does not work with all critters but does seem to be effective with some). Urine eventually becomes ammoniac, so the smell of ammonia is equivalent to another animal having urinated in that area previously, and again will take away some of that security. A trick that another rehabber taught me is to put the soaked rags in a sock and tie a string to the end. You can toss the sock into areas you couldn't reach, and the string will allow you to retrieve it and re-soak if necessary.

Two years ago, the first squirrel call I got in the spring was from a woman who found a nest of baby squirrels in her barn. I wrote an article about it for our newsletter, and I will attach it for you. The final version was a bit more concise but I don't have that one on my home computer.

An important piece of information given to me by one of the foremost squirrel rehabilitators in the country is that squirrel moms will stop lactating after 24 hours if there are no babies - it doesn't make sense for her to spend energy producing milk if she has no babies to feed. So if a mom is separated from her litter for longer than a day, those babies will need to go to a rehabilitator because mom won't be able to feed them any more.

I agree with you that one way doors are a really useful tool that can help avoid relocation - as long as they are only used when babies aren't present, or you can end up with starving babies. Since most people aren't going to know if a squirrel is a mom or not, perhaps you could give some guidelines on the best time of year to use them - but see my next paragraph on flying squirrels. I can see how the multi-animal trap might be useful in certain cases, though again only within certain age ranges and probably only in the hands of an ethical professional.

I notice that you said squirrels don't enter traps in attics. This may be true of the grays and reds, but flying squirrels certainly do - we are brought many each winter by homeowners who trap them in their attics. Flying squirrels present some special problems. First, they tend to use attics mainly in the winter months as a warm nesting site. I consider trapping and moving ANY squirrel during the winter a potential death sentence, as they are being moved away from their shelter and from their food stores, just when they most desperately need both, and they are going to a place which most likely has residents with established territories and nest sites who will attempt to repel the intruder. In cases where the homeowner simply cannot leave the squirrel(s) there until spring, they need to get them to a rehabilitator who can keep them until it is safe to release them in the spring. But back to flying squirrels. Flyers have the additional complication of being very social. So if a homeowner traps one, it is almost certain that there are more - we had over thirty from one home a couple of years ago! Flying squirrels rely heavily on each other for body heat in their nests during the winter (possibly because of their small size) so a flyer moved by itself in winter is doomed. Flying squirrels are also more fragile than the grays and reds when trapped. The stress is much harder on them. We have had several flying squirrels brought to us after being trapped who died within twenty-four hours despite having no apparent injuries. My suspicion is that their higher metabolism is part of it and therefore I tell people it is absolutely essential when using havahart traps to provide water and food in them and check them at least twice a day - and to get the animal to a rehabber as soon as they find it in a trap. The other reason I think flyers die so much more often is that in a cold attic, a little flyer with no warm bodies next to it for an extended period it is much more subject to hypothermia.

I notice you said you use the babies as bait to trap the mom. If you have a homeowner who is willing to be a little compassionate, you can avoid having to trap mom at all. As long as you are able to close off the entry point(s) to the house, if you allow the mother access to the babies by leaving the trap locked in an open position outside the house (or put the babies in a box outside), there is a very good chance that she will come and take her babies to one of her back-up nest sites. This is why I say you need compassionate homeowners, because the squirrels will still be in the area, just not in the house. Mom usually comes back for her babies within two hours (usually less) if the area is left undisturbed. There are some things that need to be done for the safety of the babies: first, if they are not fully furred (not just fuzz, but fur) they need a supplemental heat source. Baby squirrels can't regulate their body temperature before they have real fur, and even a group of them will get cold. An easy way to provide heat is to put hot water in a zip-lock bag, zip it, put it in another zip-lock bag, and wrap that in an old towel or tshirt and put it in with the babies or under them. You don't want them directly in contact with the bag or they can get burnt. You can also use a water bottle filled with hot water and wrapped in a towel or t-shirt. Just providing a blanket or towel is not enough - they need something that is giving off heat like their mom would be, even in relatively warm weather. The babies also need to be sheltered from rain or from hot sun - tipping a carboard box on its side and putting the babies inside is one way to do this. As long as the mom can hear and smell her babies, she will find them. If the babies are starting to crawl around, they may need to be put in a box with sides to prevent them from getting lost. Everyone needs to leave the area - people can watch from inside the house if they want, but mom won't come if people are nearby. And it is essential when trying these techniques that there are no outdoor cats or dogs around, or the babies are in peril. If mom doesn't come for her babies within two hours, something is wrong and a rehabilitator needs to be contacted.

I am SO glad to see you giving advice about how to prevent re-occupation of an attic. I always tell people that moving the animal does not take care of the root cause of the problem: how the animal got inside in the first place! Removing one animal just opens up a luxury condominium for the next tenant unless the homeowner takes the proper steps to prevent it. Trapping and moving animals without this step is, in my opinion, irresponsible.

I was happy to hear you mention the trick of providing a rope for squirrels or other critters to climb out of chimneys. As a point of interest, the squirrel on the rope in the photo is still a baby and at that age still needs mom - that baby is about two weeks from final weaning, believe it or not! People are always surprised to hear that, but I've raised hundreds of these guys and I promise it's true! So I hope the little guy in your photo was reunited with mom or taken to a rehabilitator.

I am not nearly as knowledgeable about raccoons as I am about squirrels, as we do not take raccoons at the Center for Wildlife. But I know several excellent raccoon rehabilitators and if any of them has the time to check out your raccoon site, I will have them contact you directly. I'll have a look too, just in case anything leaps out at me.

I hope my comments are helpful. If you have any questions or comments of your own, feel free to contact me. Thank you again for your concern for the animals! Wildlife rehabilitators unfortunately hear a lot of horror stories about ignorant or irresponsible practices from people in your line of work, and it is heartening to hear from a professional like you who has the best interests of both animals and people at heart.

Kind regards,

P.S. I am glad to see the link on your site to the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association. Their web-site is extremely valuable to people who have found animals in need of help - it contains a list of rehabilitators by state and region within each state, including what species they take and contact information. I sometimes get calls from people in completely different parts of the country and often use the NWRA web site to help them find help nearby.

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