They’re just so irresistibly cute. There should be a word to describe the conflicting emotions that arise when people confront raiding squirrels that have torn up their homes.
The Advocate has heard a few tales of woe from people in Red Deer who know the feeling.
Bold and noisy, red and grey squirrels can transform from cuddly neighbours to expensive pests when they find their way into people’s homes to raid for food, build nests and horde winter supplies.
One young couple, living in Bower Place, has been trying to figure out how to prevent future “visits” from a red squirrel that made its way into the exhaust vent over the kitchen stove.
It has also been stashing food under the soffits.
Another family has been putting up with a similar invasion since remodelling an older home in Woodlea.
For the Bower Place couple, it’s quite likely that their home was targeted by a squirrel displaced since construction started on 10 new lots nearby, said Todd Nivens, programs co-ordinator for the Kerry Wood Nature Centre.
The road cuts across Piper Creek, so it’s reasonable that squirrels living in the area would be looking for new homes, said Nivens.
Now is an especially busy time of year for squirrels because they are caching up for winter, said Ken Lehman, who provides pest control for the city’s parks section.
Squirrels are an attraction in parks but a problem for homeowners, said Lehman, who has had to remove squirrels from his own home.
Lehman borrowed one of the live traps available from the Fish and Wildlife office and baited them with peanut butter and nuts.
“At one point, when we were living down in Parkvale, we trapped four squirrels out of our roof. It wasn’t too tough. I just had to make sure there were no entries for them to get back in.”
The biggest challenge was to continue changing the location each time the trap was set, because squirrels are quick learners, said Lehman.
Nivens said he has not had a single complaint about squirrels this year.
The squirrel-related calls he has been receiving have to do with unusual sightings or behaviours.
They include one report of an albino squirrel and another person who was concerned that the resident squirrel was stockpiling spruce crowns right on the ground instead of burying them.
Stockpiling is a standard practice when hyper-hoarding squirrels run out of hiding places to store the nuts, pine cones and other goodies they’re packing away for the winter, said Nivens.
Most common in Red Deer are red squirrels, although there are a few grey squirrels, he said.
Kerry Wood Nature Centre sells food and feeders for people who want to attract squirrels. The feeders come with some important advice, said Nivens.
First, don’t feed the squirrels on your balcony, unless you want them coming up for bites of your hamburger during the family picnic.
“They’re just like little bears,” he said.
It’s also not a good idea to leave food for domestic pets in the backyard, unless you actually want to attract squirrels and other wildlife, including crows and magpies.
“The big thing is to remove any artificial food source from your yard if you don’t want them,” said Nivens.
Squirrel feeders should be kept well away from the house and birdfeeders should be baffled and otherwise protected so squirrels can neither reach the food nor benefit from seed dropped on the ground, said Nivens.
Trees should be trimmed well away from the roof of the house and the roof, soffits and joints should be in good repair to make sure they don’t provide an easy way in, he said.
“Squirrels are getting into attics and soffits because they can — really.”
The area where the foundation meets the frame of the house can also have small openings that are easily big enough to let a squirrel wriggle through, said Nivens.
“They don’t need a really huge hole. There’s a lot of fur on a squirrel. All it’s got to do is get its skull through and it’s in.”
People loathe to employ deadlier solutions have the option of trapping their unwanted guests and moving them to another site, he said. Trapped squirrels can be released in well-wooded areas of the city or they can be taken out into the country and released in wooded areas there, he said.