Knowing how to get squirrels out of an attic is a question people all over the country ask. Squirrels in attics are a very common problem all over the country.
But just what is the best way to get squirrels out of an attic? Well, it depend on who you ask! My name is Dusty Showers and I have been getting squirrels out of attics since 1992. Back then, the only way to get squirrels out of attics was by trapping. Things have changed a bit since then though I am sure there are still some ol’ dogs trapping squirrels.
It would makes sense that trapping squirrels in attics would be the best way to get squirrels out of attics. Yes, trapping squirrels does work, but over the years, I just kept thinking, there has to be a better way!
Squirrels are one of the most common attic invaders. In fact, depending on where you live, they may be the most common attic invader. Though where I live in the Tampa Bay Area, the squirrels do get into attics but rats (Rattus rattus) is the most common attic burglar.
Noises In The Attic
For many people, when they hear something in their attic, squirrels are the first thing they think of. Though, squirrels are not always the guilty party. So, how do you tell what is in your attic?
The most common animals in attics are rats, mice, squirrels, raccoons and on occasion, opossums and bats.
Whenever anyone calls my company, Creepy Creatures, Inc. and tells us they have squirrels, the first thing we ask is “What kind of noise are you hearing and when are you hearing it?
As a general rule, these are the descriptions for each animal:
- Squirrels-active in the daytime and early morning. People will also say they hear chewing or running around. In warmer climates, squirrels typically nest in attics to have their babies. In the Northern areas, squirrels will also enter attics to escape the cold. Squirrels have 1-2 litters of babies, typically with 1-3 babies.
- Raccoons-Active at night, sounds like someone walking around. Raccoons normally have one litter per year. In warmer climates they may have two litters per year. Often times, people will hear “purring”, “whining” or “chirping” from the babies. Just like squirrels, in the South, raccoons enter attics to have babies. Raccoons will have 3-5 babies. In the North, they will have babies in attics as well as use the attic to escape the cold of Winter. It is important to note, if you are attempting to remove a mother raccoons with babies from an attic, if you only find 1-2 babies, you are very likely missing one or more. Not only is it increadibly inhumane to leave baby raccoons in attics to die, when they do die 1-2 weeks later, the smell along with the flies will be horrible. If you do not know if there are babies and you have trapped a raccoon, confirm it is a female and inspect for swollen teats to see if she is nursing.
- Rats-Rats, especially roof rats (Rattus rattus) are the most common attic invaders through much of the country. Though there are exceptions, rats are primarily active at night. When sighted during the day, it is possibly an indication of a high population. Many people think rats only live in filthy homes. Rats need food, water and shelter. They can get food and water outside. If you have ANY way for them to get into an attic, they then have their shelter. They don’t care if you live in filth or if you have a full time cleaning staff.
- Mice-Mice are notorious for making little scratching or chewing sounds at night, especially during the Winter.
- Opossums-Opossums are constantly being blamed for things of which they are not guilty. Opossums are famous for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Often, people will hear an animal in their attic. Around the same time, they may see an opossum outside. Therefor, it must be an opossum in the attic. While opossums will live in attics, it is not very common. When I tell people this, I have been told numerous times that it is, in fact an opossums because then put a trap outside on the ground, put some dog food in the trap and caught an opossum! But then they tell me there are more opossums in the attic because they are still hearing them. The truth is, opossums live in every neighborhood across the country and are very likely, the easiest animal in the world to catch. If I put a trap out with dog food as bait, I would 100% expect to catch an opossum. But that does not mean one has opossums in their attic. Correlation does not imply causation. In other words, just seeing an opossum does not mean that it is an opossum in the attic any more than seeing a car must mean it is a car in the attic. Opossums are opportunists and on top of that, they have fragile little hands and fingers. And while they have lots of big teeth, their teeth are not meant to gnaw. This is important because when rats, mice and squirrels want to get into an attic, they will chew a hole. When raccoons want to get in an attic, they will just tear a hole with the powerful hands and claws. An opossum does not gnaw and they they do not have the strength of toughness of nails to tear their way into an attic, therefor they will only enter attics with an existing opening.
Squirrels In The Attic
Okay, so if you are hearing scratching and chewing in your attic during the day or early morning, you very likely have squirrels! So now what? You have three options. You can allow them to stay, you can hire a trapper or you can get them out on your own. What you chose is a personal decision and depends of a handful of factors.
If you are not 100% you have squirrels and not another animal, this may be a job for a professional. However, if you are pretty certain that you have squirrels, the first thing I would ask is, do you mind if they stay for awhile? I understand that many people will not tolerate letting them stay, that’s why I have a business!
But if you have a soft spot for squirrels, letting them stay a bit may be the answer for you. Like I mentioned before, squirrels normally go into attics to either have babies or in the North, escape the cold. Either way, the squirrelly tenants are most likely temporary. If you ask me, I say let them stay 🙂
BUT…and I mean a big BUT…there are some things you should know. First, squirrels are rodents and that means they are constantly chewing. Yes, it is possible squirrels could chew the wires in your attic, though this is more common for rats.
If rats are common in your area, if you have an opening large enough for squirrels, it is just a matter of time before rats move in and take over. And once rats establish themselves in a home, they never leave. And if they die, others will smell the other rats and they too will move in.
How To Get Squirrels Out Of Your Attic [Humanely]
Regardless of whether you hire a professional trapper or take on the job yourself, there are three ways to get the squirrels out of the attic. Poison is not one of those ways! Not only is poison not labeled for squirrels, if you do poison them, there is a high likelihood they will die in your attic and smell horribly! And don’t believe it if someone tells you the poison makes squirrels or rats thirsty so they go outside for water and die. This old wife’s tale has been around forever and too many people have found out the hard way that it is just not true.
Nudging The Squirrels Out Of The Attic
The first thing you must do is find out any areas where they are entering. You NEVER want to seal up the openings before the animals are gone. Too many times, people will think the animal is out of the attic and they will seal up the opening. Sometimes the logic is that since squirrels are active during the day, then the squirrels must be out during the day so it is safe to close up the opening. The same rationale is true for raccoons; since they are active at night, as long as you seal up the opening you will be fine. This could NOT be farther from the truth!
Please hear me…you NEVER want to seal up an opening before the animal is gone. “How do we know the animal is really gone?” you ask. I will tell you.
But first, what happens when you seal up an opening before the animals are gone does not mean the animal will see the hole is closed and move on. No, they will tear, chew, pull and yell at the opening. Yes, they will yell. This is especially true when there are babies inside. There have been times I have arrived at a squirrel call when the owner sealed up the opening and there are wood shaving on the ground and the mother squirrel is a few yards away screaming and aggressively twitching her tail!
One of two things will happen. If the animal cannot get back inside, the babies will die and often they will smell (depending on their size and where they died in the attic). OR the squirrel will makes it’s way back into the attic.
“Nudging” is a process I created. It works 100% BUT there are some that go easier than others. Many times, it works on the first try. Other times, it may take a another if not more tries. It is important to note, I do this in the South where we have very mild winters. This may be a factor in the squirrels not needing shelter as much as they do in the North.
After finding any and all openings, take a couple paper towels and apply some peppermint oil. Put the paper towel into the opening.
Then take a garbage bag and apply bear, wolf or coyote urine to the bag. It does not take much and there is no real technique, you just want to bag to smell like urine. Stuff the bag into the opening right behind the paper towel.
Cut a piece of 1/4″ hardware cloth. In many cases, you can cut a piece the that you will eventually use to seal the opening. Put the hardware cloth over the opening, trying to put it in a way that the squirrel has to fight a bit to get in or out but be sure they can still move it aside.
For this next part, please be sure to watch the video. If not done properly you will injure or kill the squirrels. Take some Victor rat snaps traps, 3-5 should do. It is best to drill a hole on the end of the trap, opposite of the trigger end. Take a wire or string, run it through the hole and tie it to the bale (the part that would clamp down on a rat. Tie is so the trap can only close half way, again, watch the video. Some people are tempted to just tie the wire to the staple that holds the long skinny part of what connects to the trigger. DO NOT DO THIS…the staple can pull out and the bale will close on the squirrel!
Place the traps around the opening so that the traps will get set off when the squirrel comes in or out. The intention here is to give the squirrel a feeling that it is not safe and it will move on.
Each day, check on the set up. Again, be sure the hardware cloth is in place but can still be moved. Once the squirrel has had enough, she will take her babies and move them out. Once you see that the set up has not been disturbed, give it 3-5 days. As long as nothing has been disturbed, seal up the openings.
Evictor Strobe Light
The Evictor strobe light is a great tool and in many cases, using it alone will work. This durable strobe light is placed in the attic in the area which the squirrels hang out. The flashing light freaks the squirrels out causing them to leave.
There may be some issues with large areas requiring moving the light or using more than one light.
Mark The Hole
In the event there are many openings or you just want to see if an opening is active, take something like a plastic garbage bag and stuff it in the opening. Most animals will come in and out daily/nightly but there are exceptions, especially during bad weather. Let the plastic sit for 3-5 days. If the mark has not been disturbed, seal the opening.
Not doing this can result in animals being trapped inside or out. If they are inside, they will frantically try to get out, possibly damaging wires and ducts in the process. If they are trapped outside, there will tear the building up trying to get back in.
Sealing The Hole
Squirrel holes home in all sorts of shapes and sizes and your situation may be unique. Generally speaking, most opening can be sealed with 1/4″ hardware cloth. It is easy to work with and fairly strong. Cut the hardware cloth to size, secure it with screws and or caulk. CAUTION: if using screws be sure to not put screws through the roof where it will leak. If you do put screws in the roof, be sure to cover the screws with a high grade caulk.
If you would like something more durable, you may use expanded steel. It will last much longer and will keep out bigger things, such as raccoons.
But My Trapper Uses A One Way Door
One way doors or “excluders” can be effective in removing squirrels but there are some drawbacks.
A one way door will allow able animals to leave. But mother squirrels cannot get back into the attic to get her babies. Babies and others that are too young to get around will be orphaned in the attic.
A frustrated mother squirrel will tear the building up trying to get back into her babies. Most trappers will tell you they will just go in and get the babies to reunite them. But the truth is, most squirrel nests are difficult if not impossible to find in attics so as a result, the babies will be orphaned and starve to death. Again, most trappers will tell you otherwise and when they end up telling you that they cannot find the babies, they will also tell you something like “Well, I cannot find them but this is first! I can always find the babies!” I have been in this business a very, very long time and baby hunts for small animals like squirrels is nearly impossible.
Why Not Trap The Squirrels?
Trapping squirrels is effective but it is outdated. I am sure some people still trap squirrels in attics, however most have moved to one way doors and I get calls from people all over the country that are now “nudging” their squirrels.
Even trapping squirrels properly is often done poorly. Too many times, people either put traps in the attic only to find that for for a handful of reasons, squirrels in attics do not alway like to go into traps that are set in attics. This can be for something as simple as a trap sitting in an attic is not sturdy enough for a squirrel to go in, so it must be attached to a piece of plywood. Or it may be that squirrels do not like feeding in dark attics. There are exceptions and squirrels can be caught in attics but they are not good places to set traps.
The other mistake people make when trapping squirrels is they just put some food in a trap and set the trap on the ground. More times than not, they wake up to find an opossum in the trap or the door is closed and no animal in the trap because a raccoon went in, ate the bait and backed out of the trap that was too small to catch a raccoon.
When you set a baited trap on the ground, you are open to catching countless non-target animals, this includes catching all of the neighborhood squirrels except the one you really want to catch.
When trapping squirrels, it is best to get the trap, secured on plywood and placed as close to the opening on the roof as possible. Traps set on roofs must be covered or somehow shaded and protected from the elements.
In most if not all states, traps must be checked daily and an animal cannot be left in a trap fro more that 24 hours. Squirrel do not like being trapped and will bounce around in a trap, injuring their noses until they finally have a heart attack and die.
I hope you see the benefits to nudging squirrels rather than trapping or excluding them.
Keep in mind, it does not always work on the first try; but when done properly, you should have some great results, save some money and know that you used the most humane method possible.
Always be safe when working on a roof or in an attic. If you are not comfortable, hire a professional nuisance wildlife trapper in your area.