How to recognise it
Grey squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) are usually seen when present in gardens; running up trees or hanging from bird feeders. Evidence of the damage they can cause includes bulbs being dug up and eaten, bark being bitten off branches of trees and young shoots, buds, flowers and cones being eaten. You may also find that ornaments, hose pipes, plant labels and plant supports have been gnawed.
The red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) is found less commonly in gardens since it dwells in coniferous forests, but it is capable of doing similar damage to grey squirrels.
Squirrels live for up to 6 years, although males have a shorter lifespan, and inhabit large nests called dreys built in the tops of trees. The female will reside alone in breeding dreys, or holes, and bear three or four live young in late February or July.
Why it’s a problem
Squirrels feed on a wide range of garden produce. Particularly vulnerable are:
- Bulbs and corms including crocuses, lilies and tulips.
- Fruits including strawberries, hazelnuts and walnuts.
- Bark, young shoots, buds, flowers and cones from various trees and shrubs.
They also enjoy feeding from bird feeders and often clear them before the birds have a chance to feed!
Where you are likely to find it
Squirrels are most commonly found in gardens which are near woodland, their natural habitat. They are commonly seen in gardens and their presence can also be identified by their dreys high in trees, which are visible after leaf-fall in the autumn.
How to deter it
Bulbs can be protected by wire netting pegged to the ground, which can be removed once the shoots start showing. Prickly stems, such as gorse or berberis, can be planted alongside the bulbs to deter squirrels from digging out the bulbs.
Fruit can be covered by fruit cages, netting or chicken wire, which will also protect them from other pests such as birds. These measures may also be used to protect valuable or young shrubs and trees. Plastic tree protectors or chicken wire can protect the stems/trunks of trees, although these are more commonly used to prevent rabbit or deer damage, since the branches are still left exposed to a squirrel attack.
Numerous different bird feeders are available which claim to be ’squirrel proof’, however squirrels do seem to see these more as a challenge to be overcome than as a deterrent!
How to get rid of it
There aren’t any methods for getting rid of squirrels which are appropriate for gardens. They can be controlled in woodlands by shooting, trapping or the destruction of dreys, which may reduce the numbers travelling into gardens. Before this action is taken the local authorities should be contacted to ensure that there are no conservation orders protecting specific squirrel species in that area.
Is it good for anything?!
Many people enjoy the acrobatics of squirrels in the garden and, if appropriate preventative measures are taken, the damage they do can be kept to a minimum.
Other useful information
Squirrels are biologically rodents, of the same order as rats and mice. They are closely related to chipmunks, meerkats and marmots.
The name ’squirrel’ derives from the ancient Greek for ’shadow-tailed’, referring to their bushy tails.