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. Occasionally, they will eat birds' eggs and nestlings.
Eastern Grey Squirrel
The most common squirrel in urban B.C., the Eastern Grey Squirrel, is actually an import from eastern Canada which was released into Stanley Park in 1909.
They were then introduced to Vancouver Island in 1966. Eastern Grey Squirrels are much larger than native squirrels, are either grey or black in colour, and flourish in urban environments.
The increasing number of Eastern Grey Squirrels is often blamed for the decrease in native squirrel populations, however given that these squirrels have different food and shelter preferences, its more likely that urban development and the loss of coniferous forests is responsible.
Red Squirrels and Douglas Squirrels
Red Squirrels and Douglas Squirrels are our native tree squirrels and are approximately the same size (about half the size of Eastern Grey Squirrels).
The Red Squirrel is just that, rusty-red in colour with white underparts, whereas its cousin the Douglas Squirrel is reddish-brown with yellow underparts.
Both are adapted to a life in coniferous forests but the Douglas Squirrel is found only on B.C.'s southern coast, whereas the Red Squirrel is absent here but found virtually everywhere else in B.C.
Northern Flying Squirrels
Northern Flying Squirrels are nocturnal squirrels that glide rather than fly, and are rarely seen despite being fairly common in mature forests.
Skin flaps stretching between their front and rear legs create "wings", and give them the ability to leap great distances.
Interactions between people and squirrels generally involve Eastern Grey Squirrels since they are more often found where people live and thrive amongst our bird feeders, ornamental nut trees and garden bulbs.
However, it's their role in gathering and planting acorns and nuts that helps plant distribution.
Yes, squirrels can make a mess out of a garden or devastate a budding tree, however when they start to cause damage to buildings, chewing electrical wires and using insulation as a nest, it really gets messy. If a squirrel climbs down a chimney, it often can not get out and can end up reeking havoc in your home.
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.
Should you feed a squirrel?
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 carriers in B.C., but they carry parasites like mites and ticks.
Possible conflicts and solutions
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 and feeding baby squirrels inappropriate foods will cause them much more harm. Download our brochure "Don't feed the animals - Keeping wildlife healthy and wild" to learn more or print off and drop in a neighbours mailbox if you suspect they are feeding squirrels.
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.
You can encourage squirrels to move along by considering the following information and tips.
First, consider the time of year as babies may be in nests starting as early as February. The best time to address resident squirrel problems is before February or after September as the potential to separate a mother from its young is too high. If young 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 ammonia-soaked rags 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 ammonia as needed every couple days if effect is not working. Seal entry points when assured squirrels have moved out.
Install a one-way door to allow the squirrel to leave and patch 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.
Prevention is the key to co-existing
Never attempt to feed any wildlife as they will lose their fear of humans and often become more daring and prone to be hit by cars or attacked by pets
Maintain roofs and buildings to prevent unwelcome tenants
Trim branches that provide access to rooftops
Install a chimney cap to prevent entry
Be sure you are not feeding squirrels without knowing!