The Most Humane Way Remove Squirrels From Attics
Squirrels are one of the most common animals to invade people’s attics. Over the last 27 years as a professional humane wildlife trapper I have seen more squirrels and other animals in attics than I could ever remember. But just setting out some traps or throwing mothballs into your attic are rarely good plans of action. After trapping “the old fashioned way” for years, I knew there had to be a better way…and I finally came up with it!
First, be sure that you have squirrels and not something else like mice, rats or racoons? Anytime someone calls my company, Creepy Creatures, Inc. and says they believe they have an animal in their attic, the first thing we ask is “When do you hear it?”
This question will in most cases quickly identify the problem as either a squirrel or a nocturnal animal. Squirrels are active during the day and early morning, sometimes as early as 4:00 am. If the caller says they hear noises in the middle of the night, it is more likely they have mice, rats or raccoons…less common nocturnal invaders are opossums and flying squirrels.
In some cases, people actually see the animal, however the majority of cases the animal is heard and not seen.
Nudging Squirrels To Leave
The best way to resolve an issue with squirrels in the attic is to convince the squirrels that life would be much better if they moved out. I call this process “nudging”. When we nudge squirrels (and even raccoons), we set things up so that it makes life difficult for the animal. It is completely humane and solves all the problems of trapping and excluding squirrels from attics.
Nudging is not an exact science and we are constantly working to find better ways to nudge squirrels and raccoons from attics.
What makes nudging the most humane method of removing squirrels from attics?
- Squirrels are not “relocated”, so they get to stay in their established territory where they know where to find food and water
- Since they are not relocated, squirrels do not need to fight to establish their territory against other squirrels.
- Because the mother squirrel leaves on her own, she will take the babies out of the attic herself.
There are various challenges when dealing with squirrels in attics. The “old fashioned way” was setting traps for the squirrels. But trapping squirrels would lead to either dead squirrels or catching non-target animals.
The Truth About “Humane” Wildlife Relocation
The little white lie in the wildlife trapping industry is trappers telling people they will “humanely relocate their squirrels out into the woods.” People deserve to know that there is no such thing as “humane relocation”. Consider if someone came in, picked you up, flew you to a war zone and dropped you off…is this humane?
Trappers and pest control professionals tell the public that they humanely relocate wildlife because either they do not understand the low probability of survival of the animal and/or they just want the customer to feel good about the process so they can sell the job. Either way, trappers should be honest. There are people that make their decision to trap or not to trap by believing the animal will be “going to a better place.”
This is what it is like when animals are relocated. Most animals are territorial and most places only have enough food and resources to sustain a finite amount of life. And when more squirrels are added, the existing squirrels are not going to make life good for that other squirrel.
Many people have this idea that you can just put wildlife “out in the woods where they belong” and they with thrive when really, this could not be farther from the truth.
When an environment has enough food to feed 10 squirrels, there will be 10 squirrels; or maybe 11 squirrels with one on the way out. If there are only 8 squirrels, other squirrels will move in or they will just make more squirrels…wait,what?
Yes, nature has created many animals that have an innate, unconscious ability to have larger litter sizes and/or more littles when population numbers are low. This ability always insures that all of nature’s resources, one way or another, are consumed.
Relocation is also not a healthy practice in that it increases the risk of relocated squirrels spreading disease into the new location.
In most cases, the best place to set squirrel traps when squirrels are in the attic is on the roof, next to where the squirrel is entering the attic. Setting the trap on the ground may catch squirrels but if left overnight, it is very likely that a raccoon or opossum will invade the trap, either getting caught or setting off the trap because they are too big. Setting the trap on the roof will greatly reduce the likelihood of raccoons or opossums hitting the trap.
In the even that you do catch a squirrel in the trap on the ground, if the trap sits overnight, there is a possibly a raccoon will find the trap and pull the squirrel out piece by piece…not a good thing to find the next day…
When placing a squirrel trap on the roof, it is best to secure the trap to a piece of plywood underneath the trap and securing both the trap and the plywood to the roof. This will prevent squirrels from getting into the trap and wiggling it off the roof.
Squirrel traps placed on roofs should also be protected from the elements, whether it is snow, rain or sun, leaving a trapped squirrel in these conditions is incredibly inhumane. Typically, securing cardboard over the trap will do the job.
And when live trapping animals, traps need to be checked daily and trapped animals should never be kept in traps for more than 24 hours.
But even when you take all of these steps to trap as humanely as possible, things do not always go right. In many cases, especially where I am in South Florida, squirrels normally only go in attics to have babies. When trapping squirrels, you will catch the adults but there is a high likelihood that the babies will be left in the attic to die. A baby hunt in the attic will sometimes turn up babies but in most cases, the babies cannot be found.
Keep in mind, squirrels are high strung and do not like being trapped. A trapped squirrel will bounce around like crazy in a trap. They will tear up their nose trying to get out and in many cases, they will bounce around until their heart seizes up and they die.
Excluders & One Way Doors
Then the industry evolved so that most trappers started using “excluders” or “one-way doors”. Excluders were great in that squirrels would not die in traps, but they still allowed babies to be left behind in the attic.
Excluders are placed over the areas of which the squirrels are entering the attic. They are one-way doors that allow the squirrels to leave but cannot re-enter. The concept is great and it is a step ahead of trapping, but the system still has its flaws.
First, if you are dealing with a female squirrel in an attic with babies, she will leave the attic to go outside and feed. When the babies are still young (1-3 babies normally), they will be left behind while momma feeds. With the one-way door installed, the mother squirrel cannot get back inside to nurse her young.
Mother squirrels do not like being separated from their babies and will tear up a house trying to get back in. Most professional and ethical trappers will go in the attic looking for the babies. But as mentioned before, finding baby squirrels in an attic is not always easy or even possible.
One way doors come already assembled and fairly easy to install depending on the location of the opening. In other cases, a crafty dude can create something that will allow the squirrels to leave but not get back in.
When nudging cannot be done, exclusion by one way door is the preferred method.
It is my goal to show trappers that nudging is a better process. But it is tough trying to tell someone that makes a living catching squirrels that this is a better way. I understand; I was taught that there is only one way, it is the best way and any other way is the wrong way.
But most trappers are business people. Some care about animals, some don’t and some confuse “liking animals” with trapping animals. And if you truly are compassionate about animals, then being a trapper may not be the right profession.
This is where the discussion gets muddled. I created “nudging” because I love animals…but it also solves “business” type problems and this should be appealing to the trapper that makes a living getting squirrels out of attics.
There are some occasions where squirrels leave the very day we set up a nudge. And there are other times if may take a few visits to a home.
Trappers will tell me they exclude squirrels with one-way doors and it works perfectly for them. But then in private conversations, I tell them nudging eliminates mother squirrels from tearing up houses trying to get back in, they confide in me that yes, mother squirrels tearing up homes trying to get back in is an issue.
I explain that nuding means you will never leave babies up in an attic. More times than not, the trapper will do their best to assure me that they NEVER leave baby squirrels up in an attic. But the truth is, I have done this for a long time. I have spent what seems to be half my life in attics…finding baby squirrels in attics is just not possible most of the time.
If they are truly babies, in most cases the nest will be hidden in a small, tight area of the attic. And if they are juvenile squirrels, they will be next to impossible to catch in an attic without trapping. There are exceptions, but this is the general truth.
Nudging Squirrels Out Of Attics
Nuding is not an exact science. And I will admit, I do not know exactly what part of the process causes it to work, but it has worked in every case we have tried. There are some cases that require more effort, but in general, the process has worked great.
Nudging squirrels eliminates:
- having to check traps and be available to pick up trapped squirrels each day, 7 days a week.
- the need to crawl through an attic to look for baby squirrels.
- Euthanizing squirrels
- The pitfalls of relocating squirrels
I am the first to admit, nudging does not look very “professional”. Yes, that is completely true. And 20 years ago, I’m sure I would laugh at any legitimate trapper that proposed such a thing. But I have had enough experience to stand behind the process.
Nudging is the process of frustrating the squirrels so much, they decide to pack their bags, grab their babies and move.
Steps To Nudging:
- Put on rubber gloves.
- Apply wolf urine (yes, wolf urine, though you can also try bear, fox and coyote) to a crumpled up paper towel and insert it into the squirrel entrance.
- Apply peppermint oil to a paper towel and smear the peppermint oil all over the area.
- Leave the peppermint paper towel in the opening.
- Cut ¼” hardware cloth so that you can bend it to cover the opening. The point of the hardware cloth is to give the squirrels the feeling they are trapped either inside or outside of the attic. Often times, when squirrels are trapped outside of an attic, if the opening is re-opened, most of the time the squirrel will go back in, grab her babies and leave.
- Make sure that the hardware cloth is tight enough that the squirrel has to work to get in or out but is still able to get in or out. ***If you see an angry squirrel on the outside of the house, you may have locked her out. If you hear chewing all night, you most likely locked her in. Either way, be sure to pull the screen out the next day so the entrance is open. Squirrels hate to be trapped and trapping them in or out for a night should cause them to leave. However, it is not a good practice to intentionally seal them up just to let them out the next day. Squirrels will do damage trying to get in or out. This means tearing up wood on the exterior of the house and more importantly, it could mean chewing wires on the inside. This also increases the likelihood of squirrels dying in the attic…and smelling very bad.
- Set governed mouse traps. Governed traps are simply traps that have been wired so they can only close halfway. We have also used rat traps for this but mouse traps are a safer alternative. NOTE: You must govern the traps so that they cannot close all of the way. I AM NOT SUGGESTING YOU SET FULLY OPEN LIVE TRAPS FOR SQUIRRELS. Setting the governed traps will go off when the squirrel enters or exits. This will startle the squirrel and make it feel that the attic is no longer safe.
- This Spring, we will be experimenting with the Evictor strobe light in the attic. As of yet, we have no experience with the light but it seems to have some promise.
- Marking the hole is critical. This just means you are doing something to the entrance that will act as an indicator to tell you if there has been any activity. In some cases, your hardware cloth set up will act as a mark. In other cases, you can take a plastic grocery bag, crumple it up and put it in the opening. I also recommend you put a crumpled bag or paper towel in the opening BEFORE you put the hardware cloth down. This will act as an indicator to tell you if you trapped squirrels inside that cannot get out past the hardware cloth. If you check the opening the next day and the hardware cloth is still in place but the paper towel behind it is shredded, you have trapped the squirrels inside and you need to open it immediately.
- Once you have gone 3-5 days without hearing noises, without the nudge setting being hit and your mark has not been disturbed, it is safe to seal up the opening permanently.
Over the years, I have seen so many things that do not work. Many people will first try to put out mothballs. Then they will try ammonia soaked rags. Perhaps some talk radio and a light in the attic. Some people drive themselves crazy trying to get squirrels out of the attic. Don’t be afraid to experiment. We have also used motion activated rubber spiders, noise devices and more. Just remember to be humane and safe.
Keep in mind, if you think you have trapped a squirrel inside the attic or out, in most cases, if you open the entrance, the squirrel should take her babies and move out. If this is your case, open the entrance, let things sit for a day then mark the hole. If you go 3-5 day with no activity, seal it up. If she is stubborn and still there, nudge.
People also have this fear that when doing this, squirrels will attack them. I have never, ever been attacked by a squirrel. Odds are, you will never see a squirrel when doing this, however, it is possible. I know, you have seen squirrel attacks on the internet. People confuse squirrels attacking with squirrels wanting food. These “attacks” normally happen at golf courses or parks…places where people feed squirrels. The squirrels get used to being fed and soon they begin to demand food from people. These are not attacks, just hungry, demanding squirrels.
Keep in mind, this is not an exact science and there will be variables. I live in warm, South Florida. Animals do not typically need shelter from the winter elements. Nudging raccoons and squirrels out of attics in the winter up North may be more of a challenge, however, you do not have baby issues in the Winter like we occasionally see here.
I have little doubt, with a bit of knowledge, a bit of creativity and maybe some persistence, you will be able to outsmart your squirrels 🙂