Having squirrels in your yard can lead to garden, yard, and house damage along with disruption to the other wildlife. Without realizing it, you might be rolling out the red carpet for squirrels and providing the perfect environment for your furry visitors!
There are eight key things that squirrels look for when selecting a place to live in your yard. Squirrels are most commonly attracted to:
- Having trees
- Providing food
- Bird feeders
- Access to bird houses
- A lack of predators
- Open access to trees
- A quiet and calm yard
- Loose soil
- Pleasant yard smells
Addressing these 9 issues in your yard and pinpointing the reasons squirrels are flocking to are key to helping solve your squirrel problem. So why do these things specifically bring these furry climbers to your yard? Read on to find out!
Most Common Types of Squirrels In Your Yard
Gray squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) and red squirrels (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) are the most common types of squirrels in the United States. They inhabit most of the Eastern United States and a large part of the Western United States.
The gray squirrels range from roughly 1.5ft – 2ft in length while red squirrels are smaller ranging from roughly 1ft-1.5ft long. But despite their size differences, these squirrels are attracted to many of the same things!
So, that’s good for us in repelling them!
Yard Trees Attract Squirrels
Squirrels are happy to scamper across the ground but need trees to thrive. Trees provide a food source, a place to reproduce, and protection for live long lives. If you have an abundance of healthy trees living in your yard, that could be what’s attracting the squirrels.
Grey and red squirrels are born in nests, called dreys, which they build 10-60 feet off the ground according to the Adirondack Ecological Center.
Squirrel nests look like large, messy collections of twigs, leaves, and straw. If squirrels can find an abandoned or empty crevice left by a woodpecker or other animal, they’ll use that as a den instead.
Even worse for us, squirrels will reuse dens, or nests, year after year if they are still in good condition.
If you see branches broken off on the ground, chewed-up pinecones, or stripped bark, you probably have squirrels making nests or living nearby!
Squirrels will strip the bark off of trees to use it to line their nests and in some trees to get to the sap or tender bark inside the tree. While some bark stripping won’t hurt the tree, if too much gets stripped off, it can cause damage to the tree or even end the tree.
Squirrels need to be able to escape into trees and camouflage themselves to hide away from predators
Since squirrels have very few defensive abilities, aside from their defensive calls, they need to be able to climb up into trees. Some predators that squirrels might need to escape from include cats, dogs, large birds, coyotes, foxes, and bobcats.
How To Fix It
Metal bands, called baffling, wrapped around trees to prevent squirrels from climbing are the easiest way to keep squirrels out of your trees.
These sheets can be crafted out of aluminum or other slick material. It’s only effective if there are no other trees nearby or if all your trees have metal bands. According to an article from the University Of Illinois, we should make sure that all metal bands are at least 6 feet off the ground.
Not everyone wants a shiny metal tree wrapping marring their landscape. It is easy to paint these bands dark colors to make them blend in.
Another method of keeping squirrels out of your trees is to use a repellent such as cayenne pepper or a spray like Nature’s Mace Squirrel Repellent, but these have to be reapplied every few days and after every rain.
If you’d like to learn more about the specifics of repelling squirrels with smells, take a look at our guide on the scents that squirrels hate here!
Squirrels Are Attracted To Food
If you have nuts growing in your yard such as acorns, pecans, pine nuts, or any other nuts they are a prime food for squirrels, which will attract them to your yard. Nuts are the classic favorite and are easy to save. They can “squirrel” them away for later!
Squirrels do have nut preferences looking for certain nuts. According to William & Mary’s Department of Biology, they like nuts that are have low tannin contents with high lipids. Specifically, squirrels LOVE walnuts!
While we enjoy picking the fruits of our hardworking nut trees, with squirrels around you might never get anything because they’ll beat you to it.
But not only your nut trees are in harm’s way, but squirrels will also eat the developing buds and shoots coming from most trees and scrubs. These highly nutrient-dense and soft plant parts are primary squirrel food during the spring.
Without the buds and shoots, trees and shrubs can’t produce fruits or flowers. They also like the seeds plants produce and will do extreme damage to get to those succulent seeds.
Your vegetable garden and fruit trees can be in danger from these voracious scavengers along with nut trees and new growth. Berries grown in the wild or cultivated in your yard are both scrumptious delicacies.
These berries can include blueberries, strawberries, cherries, mulberries, and blackberries. They’ll eat apples or oranges if a tree is nearby as well. If hungry enough they will eat any vegetables out of your garden especially squash, cabbage, carrots, or lettuce.
If you have food near your house, squirrels may also be inclined to make their way inside. Read up on some of the most common ways that squirrels use to get into your house!
How To Fix It
Putting up netting around your nut and fruit trees will give them a chance to fully develop. These plastic or mesh nets provide a barrier between squirrels, birds, and other hungry pests giving your tree time to finish its job.
One of the beneficial aspects of tree netting is that it is reusable, you can pull it out every year. Although if squirrels are hungry enough they might try to chew through and cause damage that needs to be repaired.
Once those nuts fall, be prepared to pick them up as soon as they fall or squirrels will beat you to them, it’s first come first serve.
Another method that will deter squirrels away from your harvest is spraying predator urine around your tree.
In your garden, covering it with metal chicken wire and quickly gathering the produce as soon as it’s ripe will allow you to harvest more of your bounty and discourage squirrels from hanging around. We really like this Amagabeli Hardware Cloth as the gaps are 1/2in, so the squirrels won’t be able to fit their paws through easily.
If you do go the galvanized cloth (wire) route, make sure to give the tree enough room to grow, but also put mesh netting over the top gap between the tree and the wire. This will stop squirrels from getting into the actual to the tree.
It’s not necessary at all, but something that can help.
Remember, if there is an easy food source, squirrels are more likely to stick around and propagate in your yard, removing those easy food sources encourages them to move on and seek shelter elsewhere!
Bird Feeders Are A Squirrel Hot Spot
Forever industrious, squirrels will happily raid your bird feeders, and if you have any in your yard they can be what is attracting squirrels.
Creating an environment to attract birds into your yard also brings all the squirrels to your yard. Those colorful, feathered singers like the same kind of food that squirrels do.
The sunflower seeds, one of the more common ingredients in birdseed, are a squirrel favorite. Millet and cracked corn are two other common parts of birdseed that squirrels love and will happily work to get.
They’ll chew up the plastic opening to make it bigger trying to get to the seeds. The plastic perch can also be damaged making it impossible for birds to continue enjoying the feeder.
While watching them can be entertaining, allowing them access to bird feeders only encourages squirrels to hang around.
They will also happily use bird baths as a water source and keep your birds from enjoying their bath.
If your birds are feeling harassed by the more determined squirrels, they might decide there are easier places to feed.
How To Fix It
Luckily you don’t have to completely ditch the bird feeders to discourage squirrels from munching down. The first step is to pick birdseed with ingredients that squirrels don’t like. Choosing nyjer and safflower seed mixes instead of sunflower heavy options is a perfect swap.
Adding peppers like cayenne and red pepper to your bird seed will also deter squirrels. While birds don’t mind or taste the heat, squirrels can smell it and won’t bother with it.
Keeping the ground under your birdfeeder clean is also an important part of dissuading squirrels. Without the discards that fall to the ground, they don’t have anything to scavenge.
Using specialty bird feeder cones that are designed to keep squirrels out is another easy fix. Try using a cone to keep them from climbing the bird feeder pole like this Squirrel Guard Baffle!
I sometimes recommend using a squirrel proof bird feeder, but you probably already like the look of your current feeder so this is a simple solution!
Bird Houses May Be Attracting Squirrels
Birdhouses intended for owls, ducks, songbirds, or other native birds can provide great nesting space for squirrels. Being able to use these premanufactured homes instead of finding and creating a den can be one of the factors attracting squirrels to your yard.
If you see birds avoiding a box there might be a squirrel in there planning to spend the winter. Since they are omnivores, eating plants and meat, squirrels will eat the eggs of the birds. Without their eggs to care for, birds will quickly move on, and not come back.
Even if they aren’t nesting in your bird boxes squirrels might use them for storing food. With a squirrel’s winter hoard stored in their previously spacious home, no birds will be able to use it for shelter.
Not only taking up prime real estate from your native bird but squirrels gnawing on birdhouses entrances can damage your bird houses long term. They’ll chew on the wooden front door to enlarge it enough to fit inside.
How To Fix It
Make sure all trees or shrubs are at least 8 feet from any birdhouse posts to prevent squirrels from jumping to them. Keep plant growth and vines from growing up, which will prevent easy climbing.
According to this Alabama A&M article, squirrels can jump up to 4 feet vertically and 8 feet horizontally.
So make sure your posts are high enough!
The cone guard baffle will also work the same way on your bird box post as it does on your trees. The cone shape will keep squirrels from climbing up to the bird box and making themselves at home.
Make sure that the entrance to your bird box has a metal ring around it. This metal guard can prevent squirrels from chewing their way in and keep the entrance to your bird box small enough the squirrels can’t come in.
Squirrels Like A Lack Of Predators
Making your yard completely predator-free will inspire squirrels to take up residence in your yard and attract them into thinking it’s a squirrel sanctuary and attracting them to your yard.
Coyotes, raccoons, and foxes are all-natural predators of squirrels. Snakes will also look for young squirrels in their nests.
Not only land hunters, but predator birds from the sky are also on the lookout for squirrels. Falcons, owls, hawks, and eagles will also make a meal out of an unwatching squirrel. Without these natural deterrents, squirrels will flock to your safe yard.
Squirrels are diurnal animals, meaning they are most active during the day, which allows them to be on the lookout when a lot of their predators are on the hunt.
If you are allowing hiding places in your yard the squirrels won’t be as worried about having a safe sleeping area. With a safe place to bunk down for the night allowing them to stay camouflaged from nighttime predators, squirrels might not avoid the area.
How To Fix It
No one wants wildlife taking over their yard just to get rid of squirrels, but you can use a squirrel’s fear of these creatures to convince them that your yard isn’t a safe place.
Placing urine around your yard from these predators will make it seem like they live there, just make sure to apply it regularly and after rain. You can get fox and other predator urine online such as Red Fox Urine.
Keep in mind, this may actually ATTRACT other foxes to your yard if there are some in the area.
Your furry family can also be a huge part of your war against squirrels. Both cats and dogs chase squirrels making sure they know they aren’t welcome.
Despite their cuddly love for their humans, cats and dogs are natural predators and love nothing more than a chase. Squirrels scampering around trigger your pet’s prey drive.
Keeping your grass cut short makes it easier for prey birds to be on the hunt and squirrels will look for more sheltered areas.
Squirrels Are Attracted To Calm And Quiet Places
Since squirrels don’t have any defensive methods they are mostly timid looking for yards that are still and quiet. This stillness and lack of certain noises can be what’s attracting squirrels to your yard.
While you are enjoying your peaceful backyard, it might not stay that way for long if a family of squirrels moves in to start chattering and barking. Tranquility is hard to have with the hyperactive rodents around.
They’ll quickly turn it into their playground, enjoying your domain more than you can!
Predator noises like owls hooting or dogs barking will go a long way in repelling these pesky rodents from your backyard, so if you have a dog, he might already be helping you out and having fun doing it.
Sudden movements make squirrels retreat quickly. These sudden movements might be predators stalking them or getting ready to attack
If you have a yard that is serene and still it’s perfect for squirrels to make a long-term home. That stillness convinces them that all is well and it’s a safe space.
How To Fix It
Generating sounds in your yard is one way to help keep squirrels from settling in the area. If you don’t have neighbors, I highly recommend using an old radio by keeping it plugged in and on a conversational radio channel.
The noise will make squirrels and other animals think humans may be nearby. Couple this with dumping spent coffee grounds nearby and they may think you’re out having coffee!
Keep in mind, if squirrels are already used to seeing lots of people, this won’t work as well (since they’re not afraid of humans.)
Another method is to look at getting motion-activated devices. Lights that pop on when a squirrel scampers to will scare them or a water sprinkler that turns on to soak any encroaching rodents will make the area seem less safe.
You might also consider playing predator noises over a speaker system. The sounds of owls or coyotes will convince squirrels that your yard is not a safe place. Especially if paired with a decoy such as a Fake Horned Owl decoy.
Easy Digging Attracts Squirrels
One of the most damaging activities that squirrels partake in can be digging. It’s very annoying when you plant bulbs for your flowers or plants, but they keep disappearing. They will also dig up stems and roots for an easy meal. Having open, available soil can attract squirrels to your yard.
Squirrels are scattering hoarders, which means that they will bury their food in various locations to come back for in lean times, such as winter. Watching a squirrel you’ll notice that they pick up nuts and discard some.
The squirrels are weighing the nuts looking for hollow ones that are no good to discard, and keeping the heavy nutrient ones. Once they determine that a nut or food source is good they’ll bury it to save for later.
Ever wonder how squirrels find their hidden food again? Using their sense of smell and a sharp memory they backtrack to where they’ve hidden the food and dig it up to eat when they are hungry.
One of the benefits squirrels can bring to your yard is when they forget where they buried their nuts. These forgotten nuts can grow into trees.
Squirrels also like to eat grass and grass seeds. Luckily however, there are a few things you can do to get them to stop!
How To Fix It
One of the easier ways to protect your garden directly after planting is to lay down chicken wire. With the chicken wire to protect the fledgling bulbs, seeds, and plants will discourage squirrels from hanging around. Use large rocks to anchor the chicken wire.
If you don’t care for the look of chicken wire across your beds or gardens try using mulch or gravel.
Mulch will discourage squirrels because of the feel of it. Freshly laid mulch will also help hide the scent of the newly planted bulbs, seeds, and plants.
Gravel is so heavy that it’s hard for squirrels to move, they’ll usually move on to easier foraging grounds.
Not only using these materials in your garden or beds but also placing them around trees where you have seen squirrels digging will help keep them from hanging around. Used correctly it can be a beautiful element of your landscaping as well as an effective squirrel fighter.
Squirrels Love Good Smells
Smelling food sources will draw squirrels into your yard and make them want to stay. While you might be expecting your garden and producing trees to be an enticing smell for the squirrels, your landscaping is a big issue attracting squirrels.
Some flowers and shrubs that squirrels will come looking for:
- Rhododendrons and azaleas
- Knock Out Roses
Squirrels will also chow down on your herb gardens if left unprotected. Dill, parsley, thyme, and basil can all become part of the local squirrel’s diet.
How To Fix It
Creating a border of plants that squirrels don’t like can help mask your more vulnerable flowers or shrubs. But don’t worry – just because a squirrel doesn’t find it appealing doesn’t mean you won’t.
Try using the following flowers to squirrel proof your garden:
- Select Lilies
There are also smells that squirrels dislike such as peppermint, coffee, and cinnamon. Planting a peppermint plant or putting your coffee grounds outside will also help create a less than favorable environment.
Make sure to include some of those less squirrel-friendly plants in your garden. Peppermint or Spearmint especially will help keep a host of pests away.
Using pepper or hot pepper squirrel spray is an easier way to blanket a larger area, but make sure to reapply after any rain or every couple of days.
Besides the destruction that squirrels cause in your yard, they can also carry diseases like ringworms or the plague. There are many reasons to block squirrels from settling in your yard.
Trying a combination of these methods will hamper squirrel populations and hopefully resolve any problems you are having.
Worst case scenario using live traps can remove squirrels from your yard. Make sure that you check your local laws because most states have regulations and call a professional if you need help.
Squirrels don’t have to be the reason you can’t enjoy your yard with thriving flowers and delicious produce.
Moller, H. “Foods and foraging behaviour of red (Sciurus vulgaris) and grey (Sciurus carolinensis) squirrels.” Mammal review 13.2‐4 (1983): 81-98.
Mayle, B. A., J. Proudfoot, and J. Poole. “Influence of tree size and dominance on incidence of bark stripping by grey squirrels to oak and impact on tree growth.” Forestry 82.4 (2009): 431-444.
Sullivan, Steve, Kristi Backe, and Michelle Rabkin. “Tree Squirrels.” Citizen Science: 15 Lessons that Bring Biology to Life, 6-12 (2013).
Zack is a Nature & Wildlife specialist based in Upstate, NY, and is the founder of his Tree Journey and Pest Pointers brands. He has a vast experience with nature while living and growing up on 50+ acres of fields, woodlands, and a freshwater bass pond. Zack has encountered many pest situations over the years and has spent his time maintaining and planting over 35 species of trees since his youth with his family on their property.
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