Wildlife Education - Information, Advice, and Techniques for the Safe Trapping of Squirrels

Squirrel Trapping Tips and Techniques

Do Traps Work? Yes. But it has to be the right type of trap, and it has to be used in the right way. There are dozens of types of squirrel traps, some live traps, some lethal traps. I’ll quickly discuss the various types of traps, but before I do, I must point out the single most important thing to keep in mind regarding squirrels in the attic, and the reason a squirrel in the attic is not such a simple matter.

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Body Grip Traps: These are lethal traps, kind of like giant rat traps. There are several types, with the most common the double spring-loaded connibear traps. These types of traps are used mostly by olde-time fur trappers. The basic gist is that they are set over an area a squirrel will move, such as over a hole leading into an attic, and when sprung, snap down on the animal and kill it via choking or crushing. They are dangerous and difficult to use, and very few people, other than old fur trappers, would use them. If you hire a wildlife trapper who uses this type of trap, please be aware that there are better alternatives.

Single Animal Live Cage Trap: This is by far the most common type of trap used by wildlife control companies and do-it-yourself homeowners. There are many different makes and models of cage trap. Cage traps are generally metal cages into which the squirrel enters, lured in by food. Near the back of the cage is a trip pan. When the squirrel steps on the pan, it triggers the trap door shut, and the animal is trapped inside, alive. Some of these traps are made from different materials, such as solid-walled plastic or other materials. Most are made from steel bars. A cage trap needs to be large enough to hold the squirrel, and most squirrel-size cage traps are at least 16 inches long and 5 inches high and wide. If it’s too small, the animal won’t fit inside, or may trigger the trip pan, but not allow clearance for the door to shut all the way. If it’s too large, the squirrel may run around and smash itself against the cage walls and hurt itself. The most commonly sold brand in the United States is the Havahart brand, which is sometimes sold in large hardware stores. The fact that it’s readily sold to the public often leads people to believe that they can just go out and trap animals. However, there are many very important considerations when squirrel trapping that one should consider before just buying a trap and setting it.

Repeating Live Cage Trap: A great trapping option used by professionals. Mount this trap on the hole that the squirrels are using to enter and exit the house. If all alternative routes of escape are sealed off, the squirrels have no choice but to enter this trap on their way outside to get food and water. This trap has a one-way door that allows the squirrels into the trap, but not back out. These traps can hold many, I’ve caught up to six, squirrels at once.

One-Way Exclusion Door: Even better than the repeater, in my opinion. This may be the best method for removing squirrels from attics. The one-way squirrel door is like the repeater trap, but it is simply open on the end. The squirrels are able to leave the attic, and push their way through the spring loaded one-way door, but then they can’t get back in. They are all blocked outside, and the problem is solved! The only drawback is if the home has much wood or is in a bad state of disrepair. In such a case, the squirrels will simply chew their way back in elsewhere, or do a lot of damage chewing all over the place. If this is a concern, or if you don’t want the animals acclimated to your attic on your property any more, then cage trapping and relocation is the better option. The below photo is of a similar device, a one-way funnel. Squirrels slip out through them like butter, but they have to be the correct size to work properly.

Do you want to make your own one-way door like seen below? Here are steps to make your own one-way door.

1) How To Target The Correct Animal? One problem amateurs encounter is that they set a trap and catch non-target animals instead of the animal that is causing the problem. This isn’t often the case with squirrels, however, as they are often territorial. Still, the best way to get the squirrels you want is to set the traps on the roof, near the entry points. Traps set in the attic will not catch the squirrels. They do not enter traps in attics, ever, for whatever reason. Of course, setting a repeater trap on the exit hole ensures complete capture of the target squirrels.

2) What if I Can’t Catch it at All? Failure to catch the animal commonly arises amongst people who don’t know much about trapping. So many important and subtle nuances go into successful trapping. The right type of traps must be set, they must have no defects, they must have the correct pan tension. It must be flush to the roof or bolted to fascia boards with no wobble. It must be set in the animal’s path of travel or exploration. If it’s a repeater trap, there must be no other alternative areas of exit, the spring must be the right tension with no blockage, etc.

3) What Type of Bait Should I Use? This factor isn’t nearly as important as other factors in terms of success. Squirrels are gluttons, and they are curious. They are easy to trap. The best bait is peanut butter smeared on the pan, and whole peanuts, in shell, on the pan, behind the pan, and leading into the trap. If the squirrel is dehydrated, oranges make a great squirrel bait, because they want the water in the fruit.

4) What Types Of Accidents Can Occur With Trapping? With squirrel trapping, this isn’t much of a concern. But if you are working on the roof, which is pretty much the only way to go for successful squirrel trapping, then there are ladder and roof safety concerns. I would never advocate an inexperienced person to work on a roof or with ladders.

5) Is it Legal for me to Trap the Squirrel? In most states, no. Or, if it is legal, you must kill and dispose of the animal on your property at the time of capture. Are you able and willing to do so? It is not legal, in almost all states, to trap a squirrel, stick it in the trunk of your car, drive it off to the woods, and release it. Check the regulations posted by your state’s department of wildlife (or fish & game) and you will see that it is illegal to do so if you are not a licensed wildlife control professional. That said, no one is going to set up any roadblocks and call the hounds after you if you do trap and relocate some squirrels.

OFTENTIMES, A SQUIRREL IN AN ATTIC IS A FEMALE WITH YOUNG – Yes, in about 66% of cases of any squirrel in an attic, there’s a litter of 3-5 baby squirrels. The most common reason for a squirrel to enter an attic and choose to live there is the case of a female who needs a safe place to give birth and raise its babies. The mother squirrel usually gives birth shortly after moving into the attic, within 1-2 weeks, and then spends about 8 weeks nursing the baby squirrels. At about 6-8 weeks and beyond, the young squirrels start to run around the attic on their own, and that’s when homeowners really start to hear a lot of noise – one squirrel has now become five! The presence of these young complicates the matter of removing squirrels, because if you trap and remove the adult female during the first 6 weeks after birth, the young are left behind. I’ve seen several dozen such cases: a homeowner uses some sort of trap to remove the mom, but the noise continues, and no more are caught. When I get called out to such homes, I crawl through the attic and find the babies, remove them by hand, put them in a sack, and remove them from the attic. I then bring them to a wildlife rehabber who will feed and raise them and relocate them to the wild when they are large enough to fend for themselves. If the problem had been taken care of properly in the first place, the young would be able to stay with the mother during relocation, where they would stand the best chance of survival and being raised properly. Thus, the presence of baby squirrels makes simple trapping a not-so-simple matter. The babies, as they lay in a cluster in an attic, aren’t capable of entering traps. If you do trap a squirrel, check for nipples! If you can see them, you’ve got babies up there, and they’ve got to be found and removed, and it’s often no easy task. The good thing about squirrels is that people don’t often notice or do anything until the young are up and running around, and at that time it’s easy to trap or exclude the young as well. By 12 weeks old, they are pretty much adult size.

6) Okay then, I Want to Avoid the Law and do it Myself – How? Okay, here’s the deal. As stated, much of the time, the squirrel in the attic is a mother with babies. You don’t trap the mother and leave the babies up there to die, and cause an odor. First, try to determine if the young are large enough to go outside on their own. You can watch the exit hole and see if there’s more than one squirrel, or you can listen to see if you hear more than one running around. If so, set the traps or the repeater trap or the one-way exclusion door. If it’s just one squirrel, especially in August or February, there’s likely a nest of babies. You then have the option of waiting a few weeks for the young to get big enough to be active, which is what I recommend, or you can go into the attic and find the babies! That’s right, you explore the whole attic, find the built-up nest of insulation and debris, often near the edge of the attic near the roofline, and remove the young by hand. Of course, when in an attic, be mindful to walk only on the wooden beams, or you’ll fall through the ceiling. And be careful not to get insulation on your skin. I wear a HEPA filter mask to avoid breathing in airborne dust particles. And I wear thick gloves, particularly when handling wildlife, even baby squirrels, which are usually gentle, but can bite and claw. I put them in a pillowcase, and bring them out of the attic. They can often be very hard to find. The mother squirrel stashes them in a safe place, often down at the very tight edge of the attic, down in the soffit, or down a wall. I usually find myself climbing through very tight quarters to find the young. It can be hard to do. I bring the young outside, and then – here’s one of the tricks to solving a problem with squirrels in the attic – I use the babies as “live bait” to trap the mom! There are usually four babies, so I set two traps (one is backup) with two babies in the back of each trap. They are held back there by a metal cage divider. A mother squirrel will always enter a trap to get to its young. If I were ever to trap a squirrel with visible nipples, I’d be sure to go find the young, and if I could not, I would release the squirrel on the spot, so as not to leave orphaned young.

What if I Can’t Find the Litter of Baby Squirrels? They can be very hard to find at times. If you can’t find them, you may want to just wait it out for a few weeks until they are bigger and moving on their own. If you must find the, now, the only answer is to keep trying. Listening for scratching is a great tactic. If that doesn’t work, or to pin down the exact spot, I carefully run my hand over the wall or ceiling, and when I feel a warm spot, I know that’s where the litter of young are nesting! I cut a hole in the drywall adjacent to the area, and remove the young, and then patch up the hole. Persistence is the key to success. If you can't find them, just wait a few weeks, and they'll be big enough to go out on their own.

What Do I Do with the Squirrel Once I’ve Caught It? First of all, check the traps every day, or several times a day, so that you don’t leave an animal suffering in a cage for long. Don’t let your fingers enter the cage, or the squirrel may lunge and bite! Some states require that the animal be euthanized, often under laws regarding the spread of an animal that could possibly carry rabies. Many people and wildlife removal companies ignore such laws, because they don’t want to kill wildlife, just like many people ignore wildlife regulations out of ignorance or lack of concern for laws. If you do relocate the squirrel, it should be at least five miles from the capture site. Some people recommend at least ten miles. Many critters are amazingly adept at tracking their way back to a home range. If you relocate a mother squirrel with babies, the mother will bolt from the trap and run away as soon as it’s opened. Let the babies go as well, even if they are very young, and the mother squirrel will always come back for them and bring them to a new shelter. Bear in mind, this time period may be tough for her and her young, but the young stand the best chance of survival with their mother, even over a licensed wildlife rehabber.

I also recommend attic cleanup to get rid of and decontaminate the feces and urine in the attic, to get rid of the smell and squirrel diseases and health risks.

Some people have asked me about the use of poison for squirrels, but there is no registered legal poison, nor any effective one that I know of. And if poison does work, you'll just end up with the stench of rotting squirrel carcasses in your attic. Always use trapping and removal to get rid of squirrels.

Due to requests from readers for competent and honest wildlife professionals to assist with squirrel problems, I have been doing research on the matter, and can confidently recommend companies in these cities: - Jacksonville Florida - Tampa Florida - Orlando Florida - Chicago Illinois - Austin Texas - Denver Colorado - Los Angeles California - Fort Worth Texas - Arlington Texas

Please be kind to squirrels! They are intelligent animals, and believe it or not, they definitely have emotions!
If you have any questions about squirrels in attics, just email me at david@squirrel-attic.com