April 17, 2024

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How (and why) to coexist peacefully with squirrels

Bill Carver instantly recognizes the sound of rodent teeth gnashing on his roof.

“I hear it…and I jump up and hit the side of the cart, or I run out the door and scream at them,” he says. “I stopped getting a swinger, but the temptation was overwhelming.”

Carver, 64, lives in an RV full-time and works as a camp host in state parks and national forests. He says that some days he feels as if he is surrounded by the enemy.

We're talking, of course, about squirrels.

“They are capable of doing a tremendous amount of damage,” he says. They chewed through his insulation and the grill cover. They destroyed his propane tanks and left piles of walnut shells on his steps and picnic table. He's afraid they'll chew through electrical wires, or worse, sewer hoses. “It's a constant battle,” Carver says. “Constant vigilance and anxiety.”

Carver has even taken his frustration to social media, where he runs a small Facebook group called “Squirrel haters of America” Although he acknowledges that “hate” may be too strong a word: “I enjoy watching their antics. They're incredibly smart and athletic. I think it's a weird love-hate thing.”

Squirrels are everywhere (there are more than 200 species in the world, and estimates of their total population range from millions to billions), and although they are cute, most of the attention they get is negative. People stress about keeping them out of attics, bird feeders and garden beds, but “we don't really think about their more complex roles in our ecosystems and our daily lives,” says Alex Potash, a postdoctoral researcher at UCLA. Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation at the University of Florida.

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Even among the scientific community, there is little focus on the creatures. “In fact, very little is known about them ecologically,” he says. Noah PerlotProfessor and Director “Squirrel Project” In the School of Marine and Environmental Programs, University of New England. “When I first started the project, I looked at the literature and couldn’t believe there wasn’t a single published ecological study on gray squirrels in New England.”

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Experts say that if people learned more about squirrels, they might find them much more likable. North America is home to gray and red squirrels, fox squirrels, flying squirrels, and other members of the Sciuridae family (such as chipmunks, badgers, groundhogs, and prairie dogs), all of which perform important ecosystem services.

Perhaps one of the most important things squirrels do is what they're known for: hiding acorns and nuts. Because they don't hibernate, they spend most of the year as squirrels, Potash says Away from food for the winter. In the fall, that means collecting and burying as much stuff as they can find. Although they have an uncanny ability to remember where they are hidden, some of the fragments cannot be recovered.

“Maybe the squirrel dies, or can't find it, but for whatever reason the acorn stays in the ground, sprouts and grows into a tree,” Potash says. His research has found that squirrel behavior is one of the biggest factors affecting forest regeneration and where trees — and lots of other plants — grow.

“They need to eat year-round, so it's not just nuts,” Potash adds. “They spread seeds a lot because they eat a lot of other plants and berries. They even spread fungi: when they go to dig, they get covered in fungal spores, and then they go to dig somewhere else and spread them.

Thanks to their size and abundance, squirrels have “another amazing ecological value,” Perlot says, “but in a way that makes people a little squeamish. They are crucial food. That's just part of being a small mammal. Predators include foxes, coyotes, lynxes, and birds Prey animals (such as owls, hawks, eagles), and even alligators.

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How to make peace with squirrels

Many people find squirrels annoying, and it's certainly frustrating when they dig holes in your yard, chew on things they shouldn't, steal from your garden and bird feeders, and sometimes even find their way into your home. But the first step toward living more peacefully with them is understanding why They do those things.

“They are very social, and spend much of their day watching, learning and observing,” Perlot says. They have adapted incredibly well to being around us. Think about how unclear it would be, for example, for a squirrel to live in a park in a major city, and how dangerous that would be. Between cars, food items that can kill them, people that hurt them, other animals that eat them; The fact that they can survive and even thrive under all these threats is pretty remarkable.

Because they have adapted well to sharing their habitat with humans, squirrels have learned that a garden or bird feeder provides a safe, reliable meal. As any homeowner who has heard a crackling sound through the ceiling knows, they have discovered that the attic can be a nice warm place to raise a squirrel family. However, many of these inconveniences are easy to avoid.

Most species only need a 3-inch or smaller opening to enter a home, so be sure to caulk any small gaps around gutters and attic windows, repair rotten wood that could be chewed through, and place mesh or drop cloth behind openings such as vents.

“If we can keep our homes closed, squirrels will find plenty of natural habitat to nest in,” Perlot says.

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As for your garden, netting or metal cloth can help keep them away, but there are other natural repellents you can try. For example, planting garlic – such as garlic and onions – around the edges of the garden can make it smell bad to squirrels. The same is true for some flowers, such as marigolds and geraniums. If all else fails, squirrels are sensitive to capsaicin, the compound that makes peppers hot. Plant some spicy varieties or just sprinkle a generous amount of chili powder around the perimeter as a deterrent.

For birders, there are plenty of models out there that claim to be “squirrel-proof,” but the aforementioned intelligence (not to mention their climbing and jumping abilities) makes squirrels difficult to keep away. Placing a barrier — a cone-shaped barrier — on the pole can help keep them from climbing, but experts agree that the best way to deal with squirrels at a feeder is to simply cuddle them.

“People who have bird feeders talk about their frustrations to me all the time,” Perlot says. “I'm always curious why they don't like squirrels. Don't you feed wildlife because you want to see them? Why do you want to see only birds, rather than birds and squirrels together? They are wild animals that deserve our love, appreciation and study.”

Potash says people should feel lucky to be surrounded by squirrels. “If I want to see a bear, I have to go out in the middle of the woods and track it down and do all these things,” he says. “But I can walk right outside my door and see some squirrels.”

Kate Morgan is a freelance writer in Richland, Pennsylvania.