The squirrel is nature's ultimate gatherer. B.C. has four species of tree squirrels that feed on plant material including seeds, nuts, acorns, tree buds, berries, leaves, and twigs. They gather and store food for retrieval when needed. Their role in gathering and planting acorns and nuts, helps plant distribution. For more facts about Eastern Grey Squirrels, click here.
Eastern Grey Squirrel (left, and black colour morph above), Red Squirrel (middle), Northern Flying Squirrel (right)
Interactions between people and squirrels generally involve Eastern Grey Squirrels in urban areas and result from human activities, as they thrive amongst our bird feeders, ornamental nut trees and garden bulbs.
In natural settings, squirrels den and raise young in tree cavities and leaf nests. But in developed areas, a chimney, attic, or small opening in a building wall can make a comfortable resting area which can quickly create a nuisance for people. Thus prevention is key and responsibilities fall to us to ensure we are not creating easy habitats or free food for any urban wildlife.
If you suspect that a baby squirrel has been orphaned (sounds coming from a nest, lone baby, dead mom on road) contact a professional wildlife rehabilitator in your area. Although eastern grey squirrels are designated as Schedule C animals by the BC Government, if injured they can be taken to a rehabilitator for treatment, and in conflict situations, homeowners can release them within 1km of where they were found.
Should you feed a squirrel? NO!
Although intentional squirrel feeders and unintentional bird feeders provide an often entertaining show of squirrel aerobatics, it is not a good idea to encourage such behaviour. Squirrels are fully capable of finding natural food even in urban centres, and the potential to attract unwelcome guests like rats is too great. Note that squirrels are NOT rabies or pox carriers in B.C., but they carry parasites like mites and ticks.
People may think they are helping squirrels by feeding them but in fact they may just be making enemies of their human neighbours and increasing the likelihood that the squirrels will be injured or killed. Others will even attempt to keep and raise baby squirrels. It is ILLEGAL to keep squirrels as pets in BC. Download our rack card "Don't feed the animals" to learn more or print off and drop in a neighbours mailbox if you suspect they are feeding squirrels.
Got squirrels? Humane conflict solutions:
Remember - prevention is the key to co-existing. Maintain roofs and buildings to prevent unwelcome tenants, trim branches that provide rooftop access and install a chimney cap to prevent squirrel entry. To be sure you are not feeding squirrels without knowing, make sure garbage bins and composts are secured and do not overflow birds feeders with seeds - and better yet, use a squirrel-proof feeder!
If you need to encourage squirrels to move along, the best time to address resident squirrel problems is before February or after September, to avoid separating a mother from its babies. If babies are present, please tolerate them until they are old enough to accompany the mother out.
When you are 100% sure there are no babies, you can use mild harassment techniques that are not harmful to the squirrels. To start, ensure that all potential food sources are eliminated and determine their point-of-entry or if there are multiple points. Do-it-yourself exclusion techniques are humane and inexpensive, but may take a little patience:
Place rags soaked with apple cider vinegar in a plastic container, tape-shut the lid and punch enough holes in the lid so the smell permeates. Place one or more containers in the nest or at the entry points if inside is not accessible. Refill the apple cider vinegar as needed every couple days if effect is not working. Seal entry points when you are sure the squirrels have moved out.
Install a one-way door to allow the squirrel to leave, and patch the opening once it is gone.
No luck on your own? Call the experts – contact a nuisance wildlife management company that uses only exclusion practises and does not trap!
Trapping is not the solution
Trapping of squirrels is inhumane, ineffective and illegal in certain areas of BC. Live trapping and relocation of squirrels is not humane because it takes them away from their food caches and established home, and possibly separates a mother from her young. Most wildlife that is removed from the city generally does not survive and just transfers the problem to someone else's backyard. Squirrels can be injured in traps and even if they were removed, it will only be a matter of time before another squirrel moves in to claim the existing food source and shelter. Poisoning is also inhumane and could also kill other wild animals or pets.
We can learn to live harmoniously with squirrels by respecting that they are wild animals and treating them as such. By ensuring only natural food supplies are available, the squirrel population will find a balance that is both good for the squirrels and us.