In part one of this mini-article series, we looked at some of the reasons squirrels have important roles in the lives of people, other animals, and the environment. We’ve learned that their caching behavior is essential in the renewal of many tree species including oak, hazel, and pine, and that their natural preference for belowground-fruiting and epigeous fungi is integral to deciduous forests’ regeneration and health. We now know that squirrels are an important link in the ecological food chain, being an important item on the menu of many animals, including badgers, snakes, bobcats, red-tailed hawks, and weasels. Finally, we saw that, despite their controversial presence in residential environments, many people are naturally drawn to the fuzzy-tailed acrobats, almost always ranking them first in their preferences for urban/suburban wildlife species.
It’s now time to analyze the other side of the coin, specifically the one that classifies squirrels as garden villains, “tree rats,” and troublesome pests for homeowners. Here are some of the reasons why the presence of squirrels in urban areas has generated such critical opprobrium.
1) Squirrels damage garden vegetation
Squirrels are rodents, so they are in a constant search for things to nibble on. Nut trees such as almond, pistachio, and walnut, as well as fruit-bearing and ornamental plants, shrubbery, and even potted plants are particularly vulnerable to hungry critters. They enter gardens and dig up flower bulbs, devour vegetable seedlings, and damage young shrubs and vines; lawns are also prone to damage during autumn, when they look for places to hide their caches. They will even gnaw on the bark of trees, clip twigs and leaves, and dig holes around roots. Their burrowing activity, whether it’s to dig up tulip bulbs in the spring or cache their winter food supply, is especially destructive for trees and shrubs, whose exposed roots may dry out and cause them to die.
2) Squirrels cause extensive damage to buildings and furnishings
Unfortunately, squirrels’ destructive activity is not limited to vegetation. Ground squirrels may chew on sprinkler heads and destroy irrigation lines; they are notorious for damaging patio furniture, shingles, deck railings, fence posts, stairs, and anything else made of wood. But perhaps the type of home damage they are most hated for is their ability to cause temporary power outages by crawling along and gnawing on power cables.
Once squirrels find their way inside a structure through ventilation screens or loose siding, they can chew on anything, from door frames and the siding itself to furniture and walls. Adult females often enter buildings to establish nests, and they may become a major nuisance due to the persistent scampering and scratching noises they make during the day, among other things. Their voracious appetite, combined with excellent climbing skills and ability to enter small holes, make squirrels a serious threat for residential and commercial structures.
3) Squirrels are carriers of disease (but not to humans)
Unlike other rodents such as mice and rats, squirrels are not important vectors of disease, and there is no relevant research to show that humans can catch rabies, hantavirus, tularemia, and other diseases associated with squirrels. The only thing that concerned the authorities about squirrels being a major health risk to humans was a plague-infected squirrel that led to one California campground closing in July, 2013.
Fortunately, health experts have confirmed that it is highly unlikely for humans to contract plague. The last case of plague in Canada was reported 75 years ago, and the CNC confirms that, in the United States, there are less than 10 cases of human plague every year, none of which is fatal. Even if a person happens to come into contact with a sick squirrel or chipmunk and gets infected, treatment with commonly available antibiotics is usually sufficient for a full recovery.
4) Squirrels raid bird feeders and steal your seeds
If you live in areas with high squirrel density and you are also a bird feeding enthusiast, chances are you are already at your wit’s end trying to keep the furry creatures out of your backyard. Squirrels are adept climbers, extremely resourceful, and very persistent, but those qualities are seldom appreciated when they’re used for the purpose of scaring off birds at the feeder, stealing all the seed intended for them, and also damaging the feeders in the process. There are, however, several methods to make the birdfeeder less accessible to the meddlesome critters, from changing their location and adding mesh around them to switching to less attractive seed types or placing traps.
Despite their adorable appearance and delightful antics, having the squirrels ravage your garden, short-circuit your power supply, cause structural damage to your house, and chase off birds can certainly not be ignored. If nothing you do seems to get you closer to winning the battle against the bushy-tailed rascals, contact your local pest control professionals for humane and effective wildlife control.
About the Author
Daniel Mackie, co-owner of Greenleaf Pest Control, is a Toronto pest control expert well-known as an industry go-to guy, an innovator of safe, effective pest control solutions, and is a regular guest on HGTV. Mackie, along with business partner Sandy Costa, were the first pest control professionals in Canada to use detection dogs and thermal remediation for the successful eradication of bed bugs. In his free time, he is an avid gardener.