Ground squirrels may look cute and harmless at first. Then, they take over your yard! They can damage grass, plants, trees, gardens, and even buildings with their sharp teeth and crazy tunnel systems. Take back your yard from a ground squirrel invasion with these steps!
- What Are Ground Squirrels?
- Where Do Ground Squirrels Live?
- How Do I Get Rid of Ground Squirrels?
- How Do I Prevent Ground Squirrels?
- What Kind of Damage Do Ground Squirrels Cause?
- Do Ground Squirrels Carry Diseases?
What Are Ground Squirrels?
Ground squirrels are small rodents that, as their name suggests, live underground. There are over 26 species of ground squirrel in North America. They are able to climb trees, but would much rather duck into one of their tunnels when threatened.
Ground squirrels are 5-11 inches long, with a bushy tail that is another 5-9 inches long. They usually have mottled fur that is either brown or gray with white spots on their backs.
They have one litter of kits per year. These litters average 5-8 babies, but they can have as many as 15 young at one time! The babies emerge from the tunnels at 6 weeks and are fully grown at 6 months old.
Some ground squirrels hibernate, depending on the variety of squirrels, and their habitat. In the hot parts of the country, they may go into a period of inactivity during the hottest days of the year. This is called estivation and may last a few days, or a few weeks.
Generally, ground squirrels enjoy the sunshine, and are most active during the warmest parts of the day, and sleep during the night.
Where Do Ground Squirrels Live?
Ground squirrels live in colonies underground. They have elaborate burrow systems that can be up to 30 feet in length, and 2-4 feet under the surface of the soil. They like to live in open grasslands, such as fields or prairies, or your yard!
How Do I Get Rid of Ground Squirrels?
In most areas, ground squirrels are classified as pests, and not protected under law. However, check your local statutes and laws before trapping or killing any wild animal.
Squirrels enjoy hiding just about anywhere! A wide-open, tidy lawn will give them fewer places to shelter and hide.
Destroy Old Burrows
Squirrels will come back to the same burrow year after year. Remove their generational home by digging at least two feet underground in areas with known burrows.
If you don’t want to dig up your yard, you can use a blend of sand and water to fill in burrows.
A Conibear trap, like this one, is a live trap that can hold up to 25 squirrels at a time. Peanuts, nuts, or seeds are the perfect bait for ground squirrels! A live trap can be complicated, however.
Once you trap the ground squirrels, then what? In some areas, relocating wild animals is against the local statutes. Check local laws before you choose this option. If you relocate the squirrels, they need to be deposited at least 10 miles from your home, or they will return.
The other option is to humanely drown the squirrels after you catch them. Some ground squirrel traps include a water box.
Tube Snap Trap
A tube snap trap is lethal. These traps require baits like nuts, raisins, peanut butter, or bread to lure the ground squirrels into the trap. Much like a mouse trap, once the animal hits the trigger plate, the trap snaps shut, killing the squirrel.
These types of traps are ideal if you have a curious pet or child who shares the yard with the squirrels. Due to the tube shape, your pet will not be able to get to the trap or the bait.
Body Grip Trap
A body grip trap, like this one, is a lethal trap that is placed at the entrance to the squirrels’ tunnel. Once the squirrel sticks its head out to exit the tunnel, the trap is triggered. Do not use these if you have pets or children who go near the squirrel tunnels. A word of warning, this trap maybe a little grisly to empty.
Electric Rodent Zapper
This electric trap uses batteries to instantly kill the squirrel with the power of electricity! Place a bait, like nuts, seeds, peanut butter, or raisins, in the trap, and set it. Once the rodent enters the trap, it will be met with electric currents that cause a quick, painless death.
This particular trap boasts infrared sensors that are supposed to only zap rodents, instead of curious pets or children.
These gas bombs are simple to use and kill ground squirrels quickly. Fumigation is an effective way to deal with a large-scale squirrel infestation. Simply light the gas bomb, and drop it in a squirrel hole. If you have a lot of squirrels, it’s best to drop a gas bomb down as many squirrel holes as you can find.
The downside is the smell! You may want to warn the neighbors of your plans beforehand. Keep children and animals out of the area for the day.
Diphacinone is the active ingredient in rodent bait traps. This slow-acting poison usually requires a little patience, but it is effective! It is known as a “first-generation anticoagulant”, which means the rodent needs to nibble on it for a few days before it succumbs to the poison.
For safety reasons, I recommend using a bait station like this one. It has a child-resistant lid so that the bait can be placed safely inside without endangering any children or pets.
These bait blocks are a blend of a tempting peanut butter flavor and diphacinone. When handling poisons, always follow all the instructions on the container, and store them away from children.
I recommend this repellent to keep the squirrels away! Spray all non-edible vegetation in your yard every two weeks during the summer. This spray is pollinator-friendly, and safe to use in yards with pets and children.
How Do I Prevent Ground Squirrels?
Destroy Old Burrows
Don’t give the squirrels a chance to move back in! Either dig up or fill old burrows with a sand and water mixture.
Ground squirrels can climb over and dig under fences. If you’re serious about protecting your garden from these pests, you can construct a squirrel-proof cage to enclose your precious garden plants.
Use a fine-mesh chicken wire on a wooden frame. Make sure the wire extends at least 1-2 feet underground so the squirrels cannot simply tunnel under it. Leave a screen door so that you can enter and exit the garden.
Don’t leave any gaps! Curious squirrels will check out the whole structure. If there’s an opening, they’ll find it!
If you have fruit or nut trees, this solution is as simple as using a rake! Rake up fruit debris from the ground regularly. Make sure all trash and yard waste cans are sealed or stored indoors.
If you have bird feeders, use a device like this to protect your bird feeder. Or, purchase a squirrel-proof bird feeder instead. If your yard is a haven for birds who scatter seeds everywhere, it may be best to temporarily remove bird feeders.
Clean up any sources of water around your yard. This includes leaky hoses, ponds, and birdbaths.
Ground squirrels are near the bottom of the food chain and have many predators. Decoys in the shape of the most common squirrel predators can be an effective squirrel deterrent.
An owl decoy, a cat decoy, or an eagle decoy all mimic the appearance of predators that dine on squirrels. Place the decoys in areas where predators would naturally lurk, then move them every couple of days.
What Kind of Damage Do Ground Squirrels Cause?
Their hearty appetites and extensive tunnels both can cause extensive damage to your property. They will go after garden plants when the plants are in the seedling stage. These squirrels also particularly enjoy fruit and nut trees, and will ruin your harvest!
Ground squirrels have been known to strip young trees of bark. They will also gnaw on sprinkler heads and lines to get to the water inside.
Their tunnels can damage the roots of trees, bushes, and grass. Tunnels and holes can cause a tripping hazard, as well. If they burrow under a house or building, it can cause structural damage.
Do Ground Squirrels Carry Diseases?
Ground squirrels have been documented as carriers of the bubonic plague. It is transmitted by fleas on the infected squirrel and can be transmitted to humans. The bubonic plague has been known to wipe out large groups of ground squirrels.
If you find a large number of dead squirrels with no obvious reason for their death, contact public health officials. Do not handle the dead squirrels.
Ground squirrels are also carriers of the usual pests, such as fleas, ticks, and lice. They can pass these along to your pets, and, in turn to you. Always wear gloves when dealing with ground squirrels.
Ground squirrels may be persistent pests, but, fortunately, there are a lot of solutions to a ground squirrel problem! Don’t let these little pests destroy your yard this year, and fight back!