Surrounded by Supercilious Squirrels?
Here's How to Trap The Tree Rats!
Question. Dear Mike: Last spring you gave me some excellent advice, urging me to deal with mice as the vermin they are. I dutifully steeled myself, went to the hardware store, bought plain old spring-type mousetraps, learned to set them with peanut butter while wearing gloves and bagged 30 before the campaign was over.
Now, this may sound as if Oklahoma is overrun with vermin (and maybe it is!), but this time my problem is squirrels. My neighbors have oak and pecan trees, and my maples are a glorious jungle gym. They come in droves and seem to delight in driving our dogs utterly "squirrelly" (pun intended), dancing along fences and phone lines and flaunting their aerial skills from tree to tree. When they get tired of active teasing, they cluster on the other side of the fence and chatter to one another, which is equally maddening.
I MUST find a way to get rid of these pestiferous critters before our pups are fitted for four-sleeved white coats! To date, we've given up the birdfeeder and nailed extra boards to the top of our six-foot high cedar fence to stop pursuit/escapes by our very athletic canines. But the only real peace is going to come when the wretched rodents leave. I've learned to dispatch mice without turning a hair -- must I now stoop to a BB gun? There's something pretty incongruous about a 74-year-old Peace Activist Grandma carryin' heat, but I'll do it if there's no other way to preserve our dogs' peace of mind. All suggestions gratefully received. At our wits' end,
- ---Joyce in Oklahoma City
But mice are petty criminals; squirrels are super-villains! Fiendishly clever, inherently evil and relentlessly acrobatic, they only need about twenty minutes a day for food gathering and other survival chores, leaving them with a lot of time on their hands…eh, paws…to annoy us. Their tormenting your dogs is simply the equivalent of squirrel TV. Those ones on the power lines are sitting ringside, where they can see all the action.
In earlier Questions of the Week, we have detailed strategies to try and stop them from digging up Spring bulbs (xarticle.asp?ai=1130) and stripping fruit and nut trees. Just click on those links if that's the advice you need.
On the outdoor aggravation front, you are on the right track removing bird feeders and other unnatural food sources. Make sure your neighbors do the same; if someone a few houses down is feeding the tree rats, you have no hope of escaping the arboreal army.
But alas, there are those nut-bearing trees nearby. And your dogs provide great entertainment. So trapping is probably your best hope. Luckily, the website "Squirrels dot org" suggested an expert to advise us in this adventure: "Trapper Jim, The Critter Gitter", who has been imprisoning unwanted rodents in the Minneapolis area for decades.Here's the page that led us to Jim: http://www.squirrels.org/trapping.html. (But don't use that phone number; if you live in the Minneapolis area and wish to hire Jim, call his office: 651-456-9495. Otherwise, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Jim tells me he trapped his first squirrel when he was seven years old, making this his Golden Anniversary. (He has been doing it professionally for as long as he can remember, and incorporated the business a decade ago.) And although most of his work consists of evicting bushy-tailed bandits from attics they've burrowed into, he occasionally does face the kind of problem you describe. Squirrels love to tease dogs.
Jim suggests using multiple 'live capture' traps, baited with a mixture he discovered when he was nine years old and has used ever since: "crunchy peanut butter mixed with raw oatmeal and some honey". Spread this delicious bait liberally on the spring pans of the traps, with little trails of it leading up to the entrances. But do NOT set the traps.
Instead, Jim says to gain the trust of these wary reprobates by wiring the cages open for three days and replacing the bait daily so that the squirrels get used to feeding within. Then remove the wire to make the traps real. Says he's caught three squirrels in one trap the first day it was set.
Trap size? If the box says "Chipmunk", it's too small. Obviously, "Squirrel" is just right. You can use the next largest sized trap to accommodate multiple catches, but if you do, set it very sensitive, says Jim, who explains that those larger traps are typically designed to react to the weight of a larger animal, like a raccoon. (Jim says his personal squirrel-catchin' favorite is a "Tomahawk" brand trap that's around 15" long, and 8" x 8" otherwise. "Havahart" is another maker of live traps; they're more prevalent on the East Coast.)
As with mousetraps, wear gloves when you handle and bait the traps. And wash your hands well with soap and water after you release your captured prey. Jim warns that wild animals carry all sorts of disease, which you can contract when you take the gloves off. And yes, he really does release his catch—ten to twenty miles away, in the woods. I asked about—ahem—"other methods", but Jim would not hear of it. He does euthanize sick or injured animals to prevent a long demise in the wild, but that's it.
"Don't they just come back?" I asked. "Not those same squirrels", he assures me, citing homeowners who insisted on spray-painting the little terrorist's tails before release to make sure. "But other squirrels will eventually move in."
He says he always warns people of this before he accepts an outside job, but hears only one response: "I don't care! Just get rid of THESE squirrels!" With squirrels, it seems, it's always personal.
Oh, and if you just shook your head in agreement at that remark, you'll greatly enjoy a trip to this tongue-in-cheek site: www.deadsquirrel.com
And here is another, shall we say, straight-forward squirrel & trapping site: