Do squirrels cause damage to trees?

Squirrels are, by nature, arboreal. They live in trees. I wrote this website because squirrels also choose to live in attics and chimneys of houses, which are often superior to trees. But, when no attic or chimney is available, a squirrel will settle for the old standard, a woody, leafy tree.

Many people, arborists in particular, have asked me: "how do I keep squirrels away from my trees?" Specifically, arborists seem concerned when a squirrel sets up a nest in a tree, because of the concern that the squirrels might cause some damage to the plant. Here is an example of such a concern: "We are seeing squirrels going into a knot hole in our large tree. We assume there is a squirrel nest in the tree. Is this dangerous for the tree? If so, how do we get the squirrels out, remove the nest (babies?) and keep the squirrels from coming back to that hole? Thank you!!!" So basically, people want to know how to get rid of squirrels nesting in trees, because they are worried that the squirrels are hurting the tree in some way.

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Well, I'm here to happily tell you that squirrels cause little damage to trees that they nest in. They don't dig holes in trees. They don't eat wood. They simply take advantage of pre-existing holes in trees, and live in those. When no knot hole or decomposed hole is available, squirrels will often build a nest out of sticks and leaves. This also does no harm to the tree unto itself, although, on occasion, squirrels will strip bark off of limbs. But this is not terribly common, or very damaging.

It is true that squirrels are rodents, so they do gnaw. But in general, they have enough nuts to gnaw on that they don't habitually gnaw on trees a whole lot. You can see from the above photos that we simply don't have a whole lot of tree damage. In fact, there's none that I can see, or see in general from squirrels in trees, other than the rare small bit of bark stripping.

Still, what do you do if you want to know how to get rid of squirrels in trees? Well, the short answer is that you're kind of fighting a losing battle. There are plenty of squirrels out there, and they live in trees, and that's part of nature, and that's that. If you really must remove squirrels that are harming your trees, you can trap and remove them. Squirrels are probably the easiest of all animals to trap. Of course, you must have the right trap first, one that is squirrel-sized, and you must mount it right. You can bait it with peanut butter and whole peanuts in the shell, or use a variety of seeds. Squirrels are naturally pretty curious. If you do trap one, be sure to relocate it at least ten miles away, and don't leave it in the trap for too long - it'll go hyper and injure itself. Just be aware that as fast as you remove squirrels, new ones will move in, so it's kind of a losing battle.

What if you want to keep squirrels off of trees? That's very difficult, and for some trees pretty much impossible. Some people have tried to wrap slick metal sheeting around part of the trunk. This will actually work, so long as there is no opportunity for the squirrel to jump from tree to tree. However, if you simply want to keep the squirrels out of a knot hole, and prevent them from nesting inside a tree (even though they cause no harm there), you can simply tack some steel mesh or screening, such as quarter inch hardware cloth that you can buy at Home Depot, over the tree knot. That'll keep them out, because they can't chew through steel screening.

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