Christmas is the most beautiful time of the year. However, it becomes a little less wonderful when the lights you painstakingly strung up outside your home start to go missing, one by one. You can see the frayed, destroyed wires and ropes dangling uselessly down, and all its merry and bright Christmas cheer has inexplicably vanished – what could possibly be happening?
Squirrels commonly chew on C7 and C9 type lights, mistaking them for acorns due to their pointy and oblong shape. To prevent squirrels from eating your lights, spray a peppermint oil solution near your lights and install a motion-activated sprinkler to spray squirrels with a blast of water.
Squirrels, really? Squirrels eat lights? Strangely enough, yes. Luckily, we’ve got 12 GREAT ways on how to keep this furry rodent from ruining your decorations. So let’s get to it!
Why Do Squirrels Eat Christmas Lights?
Before we can get into how to stop squirrels from eating your Christmas lights, let’s talk a bit about why they do so. After all, it’s essential to understand the minds of these furry little criminals before we can go about stopping them.
So, why do squirrels eat Christmas lights?
Essentially, squirrels chew through the wires or ropes that string the lights together to get to the lights themselves, under the mistaken impression that each tiny bulb is a nut or some other kind of treat. Either they eat the lights right then and there (yikes), or they take them back to their nest to enjoy later (also yikes).
The two main types of squirrels found in the United States are the common gray squirrel and the slightly less common fox squirrel. Both are foragers; they rely on a diet of mainly hickory and walnut to sustain themselves during the spring, summer, and fall.
However, by the time winter rolls around, squirrels are scrambling for whatever food source they can find. They usually find this in the form of acorns, but even this type of squirrel snack can be difficult to find at that time of year.
So, as the squirrels get more desperate for food, they start hunting for whatever they can possibly find. That’s typically how they end up ravaging a string of Christmas lights at any time of day or night, hoping it’s something that will sustain them.
While no Christmas light is safe from these pests, the most common victims of misidentification typically tend to be the lights that are oblong and pointy at the end since they resemble the acorns squirrels eat on a regular basis. They are most commonly referred to as C7 and C9 lights.
So, if these are the kind you like to string up around your home, this article is especially for you!
How To Stop Squirrels From Chewing Christmas Lights
Now that we’ve gotten inside the mind of these rodent criminals, what can be done to prevent them from scampering up the side of your home and going to town on your family’s Christmas decorations?
To deter squirrels from eating lights, you must make your displays and your yard an unappealing, unpleasant, and inhospitable place for them.
So, how do we do that? Let’s take a look at some simple home remedies that can keep these pests away for good.
Use Scents To Repel Squirrels
The go-to solution for many homeowners is to find scents and repellents that the squirrels find both unappealing and unpleasant. So, what kind of scents do squirrels hate? There are a few! You can use these scents and apply them near your Christmas lights to repel squirrels.
The reason why using scents, in this case, is actually one of the best available methods is because squirrels are eating your outdoor lights, most likely BECAUSE they think they’re acorns.
So, if a squirrel approaches the lights and gets a whiff of a scent that they don’t like, then they’ll be much more likely to realize that the object is, in fact, not an acorn.
While you may see some people suggesting pepper spraying the lights themselves, this may cause them to damage and short-circuit. Instead, try sprinkling dry peppered powder over the string of lights. This light, spicy dusting will have squirrels quickly realizing your lights are not snacks.
It can also be helpful to coat the ground with additional dried pepper to really amp up the smell.
This method will require fairly frequent re-application, as you will need to re-coat your lights following rainfall or an especially blustery day.
It seems that squirrels just hate everything with the word “pepper” in them! In order to repel your rodent trespassers with peppermint, we recommend purchasing a peppermint essential oil and then soaking cotton balls in the mixture and leaving them around where your lights are hung. Like with pepper spray, it’s recommended you do not apply any liquid directly to the lights themselves.
If you’re looking for a more ready-made solution, you can take a look at Mighty Mint’s Peppermint Oil Rodent Repellent Spray. This spray is formulated to deter rodents and contains a high concentration of pure origin peppermint essential oil as its main active ingredient!
This is both an effective and seasonally friendly option!
Citrus & Citronella
While humans may love the smell of oranges and other citrus fruits, squirrels disagree. Like with peppermint essential oil, simply soak cotton balls in citrus oil and place them near where your lights are displayed (not directly on the heated part of the lights.)
When the squirrels smell the citrus, they will quickly realize that your Christmas displays are not lunch buffets!
If you have any citronella candles or spray lying around from your mosquito-repelling summer days, that may also work!
Similar to peppermint, any type of mint should work quite well to deter squirrels.
Mint is simply another smell and taste that squirrels simply cannot stand. Typically, mint mouthwash works the best for deterring squirrels. Who would have thought squirrels couldn’t stand the thought of a clean mouth?
If you already have some mouthwash lying around, it’s worth a shot. Like with the various essential oil remedies, just soak a few cotton balls in the mouthwash and then leave around the base of your light displays. If your lights are near a gutter, putting the cotton balls directly into them is also a good option.
For a ready-made solution, MDXconcepts created their “Pesto Rodent Organic Peppermint Oil Pellets” with primary ingredients of peppermint oil, cinnamon oil, cedarwood oil, and spearmint oil.
Easy to use – you can spread these pellets right around your lights, and they’ll last for up to a year! While the product lists mice as their main target rodent to deter, keep in mind that squirrels ARE rodents in themselves and that the product contains several of the scents that squirrels hate.
Make Your Yard Inhospitable To Squirrels
Suppose you’d prefer not to use scents to deter squirrels, no problem! Another good option is simply to make your yard an uninviting and unpleasant place for them. There are a few ways to go about doing this.
Scare Them Away
Squirrels, like most rodents, are skittish. Since they are prey animals, they are constantly on the lookout for predators who may see them as their next easy meal. So, utilizing these many fears can easily work to your advantage.
Using predator urine is a tried and true way to get squirrels and other pests out of your yard. A squirrel’s natural predators are typically lynxes, cougars, bobcats, wolves, and coyotes. Typically, you can find one or more of these scents at your local hardware store.
Buying pre-made granules can make the application of these scents easy and a little less gross for you.
It’s best to figure out what kind of predators are in your area and match up the predator scent with the most common type of predator that lives near you.
One of the most popular predator scents is Predator Pee 100% Wolf Urine – which creates the illusion that wolves are nearby!
Motion Sensor Lights
Sudden lights and noises also often startle squirrels. So, installing motion sensors near where your Christmas lights are displayed can help ward off squirrels that decide they want to sneak out for a midnight snack.
Since this won’t be of much help during the day, it’s recommended you not use this as your only deterrent, but it can be effective for nighttime use! Motion sensor lights are always best paired with another deterrent method (more on that here.)
Along with coyotes, bobcats, lynxes, and cougars, Penn State University names owls as one of a squirrel’s most aggressive predators. For this reason, purchasing an owl decoy can be incredibly effective.
However, similar to motion sensor lights, it’s best paired with another aversive stimulus since squirrels can quickly learn that the owl is fake if they revisit the area.
Not to mention though, this method is both a mess-free and a smell-free way to keep squirrels away from your Christmas lights, and it works both day and night! Simply place the decoy on a roof or ledge near your display, and it will guard your lights for you 24/7.
Motion Sensor Water Sprinkler
We saved the best for last, here. Using a motion sensor water sprinkler is one of the BEST things you can do to deter squirrels and pests of any kind.
Once an animal gets close to the sprinkler, they’ll get BLASTED with a spray of harmless water, giving them a bath and keeping them away from your Christmas lights.
Take a peek at the Orbit 62100 Yard Enforcer Motion-Activated Sprinkler, as it’s one of the most highly regarded motion-activated sprinklers on the market!
Make It Difficult For Squirrels To Reach Your Lights
Squirrels are scavengers and can quickly adapt to finding alternate food sources. So, sometimes your best option is to make it next to impossible for the squirrel to even reach your lights.
According to literature published by the University of Missouri, a great way to physically stop squirrels from getting to your lights is to use polybutenes.
Polybutenes are sticky materials that can easily be applied to drains, downspouts, and even buildings themselves to make your Christmas lights an unattainable goal for squirrels. If you decide to go this route, make sure you are wearing gloves, and pre-applying the areas with tape. This can get messy, but it is highly effective!
For this method, you’ll want to do your research and purchase at your local home goods store and speak to an expert in your local area who may have already had experience using polybutenes.
Purchase Lights Encased In Plastic
If you are still on the market for Christmas lights while reading this, one good option is to buy lights that are harder for squirrels to get to.
Some companies have started making lights that are already encased in a thin layer of PVC plastic, which makes it difficult for the squirrels to break through the casing.
Keep Your Yard A Squirrel-Free Zone
One way to easily keep squirrels away from your Christmas lights is to make sure there is nothing else in your yard that attracts them there in the first place.
In order to do this effectively, you’ll want to use this simple checklist to see if your yard is a potential squirrel hangout.
Squirrels love bird feeders. After all, it’s a place where they can gorge themselves to their heart’s content without having to worry about scavenging for food. This is especially true during winter months where food may be much more difficult for them to find.
While you may love feeding your neighborhood’s bird population, chances are you don’t love the squirrels that are attracted to these easy buffets.
Taking your bird feeder down completely is the most effective option; however, that’s also letting the squirrels win! Instead, simply place your birdfeeder in a place that is inaccessible to roofs, fences, or tall shrubs that squirrels can easily jump to.
Another great option is to buy birdseed that is hot and spicy, which we already know squirrels hate! Since birds don’t have the same smell and taste receptors, they won’t even know the difference.
To buy hot and spicy birdseed, take a peek at Cole’s BH10 Blazing Hot Blend Bird Seed here.
Cat And Dog Food
Do you have a habit of feeding your pets outside of your home? Well, you should probably stop unless you want your yard to turn into a feeding frenzy of squirrels, raccoons, and possums.
If you do want or need to feed your cat or dog outside, just make sure you are bringing the bowl inside when they are done or emptying out so there’s nothing that can attract rodents.
Remove Ground Cover
Squirrels love to burrow in areas where they can easily feed and hide from potential predators. So, for this reason, it may be a good idea to remove the brush and ground cover from any and all parts of your yard. This is especially true for ground cover that is directly below trees; the combination of food and shelter is a squirrel’s paradise!
That’s A Wrap!
Now that we’ve covered a plethora of options, it’s time to figure out which one of these works best for you and get to work! Make things a little less stressful by not worrying about a hungry colony of squirrels mistaking your light displays as an all-you-can-eat buffet.
Smith, C. C., & Follmer, D. (1972). Food preferences of squirrels. Ecology, 53(1), 82-91.
Pierce, R. A. (2012). Tree squirrels: managing habitat and controlling damage (2012). Natural resources.
Nixon, C. M., Worley, D. M., & McClain, M. W. (1968). Food habits of squirrels in southeast Ohio. The Journal of Wildlife Management, 294-305.
Xiao, Z., Gao, X., Jiang, M., & Zhang, Z. (2009). Behavioral adaptation of Pallas’s squirrels to germination schedule and tannins in acorns. Behavioral Ecology, 20(5), 1050-1055.
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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