Central and southern Alberta are home to 4 main squirrel species that interact with people or their homes on a regular basis.
The European, or Eastern Grey Squirrel - sciurus carolinensis
The American Red Squirrel, Douglas Squirrel, Mearns’s Squirrel, or Pine Squirrel - Tamiasciurus Hudsonicus, Tamiasciurus Douglasii, Tamiasciurus Mearnsi
The Northern Flying Squirrel - glaucomys sabrinus
The Richardson’s Ground Squirrel - urocitellus richardsonii
(The Richardson’s Ground Squirrel is also included in the gopher section, as it is often referred to as a gopher)
Squirrel Removal & Control
While the Richardson’s Ground Squirrel, the Pine Squirrel, and the Northern Flying Squirrel are all native to the region. The Eastern Grey Squirrel has been introduced here from other parts of Canada and the US.
Squirrels can become a nuisance when they gain access and set up a nest inside your attic, soffit, walls or other area in your home, garage or shed. There, they can create a fire hazard, structural damage, or potential bio-hazard contamination if left unchecked for several seasons. If squirrels have created a nest in your home, it is best to call in a licensed professional to assess and deal with how to safely remove squirrels from your home.
Squirrels may also become a nuisance due to over population in a given area. This is often due to humans feeding squirrels and other wildlife in urban areas where there are few natural predators. Over population can create territory issues over food and nesting. This can lead to a lot of small damage as squirrels will chew on lawn furniture, bar-b-que covers, patio furniture, umbrellas, facia, plants, railings and more as they continually search for food, shelter and nesting materials. The best way to reduce the growing population is to stop feeding the squirrels, birds and other wildlife and the population will thin itself out naturally over a season or two.
The safest and most effective way to get rid of squirrels living in your home, garage or shed, is to actively exclude the squirrels from the property. At lavellan Pest Solutions, we use a form of natural exclusion. It is the most effective, as well as the least harmful to the squirrels. Our Investigators inspect and assess the structure looking for primary, and secondary entry points. We close off all the secondary entry points, and install special one-way devices over primary entry points. These one-way devices allow squirrels to easily exit the structure as they go through their daily routine, but don’t allow the squirrels to re-enter the structure. This forces the squirrels to find another place for their den/drey. This method allows the squirrels to remain, unharmed, in their home territory, and also protects the structure from future incursions.
Squirrel Trapping / Squirrel Removal
The other option for removing squirrels is trapping, or physical removal. Trapping is most often utilized for population control in areas where squirrel populations have gotten out of hand and usually goes together with a re-integration plan, or official cull and dispatch plan. If you have squirrels living in your home, garage or shed, then trapping the squirrels is only going to be a temporary solution at best. Trapping wont address the entry points, leaving the structure open to future squirrels or other pests. If you have more than one squirrel, then you may also find that trapping squirrels after the first or second can get more difficult as they get more trap aware and less likely to go for the bait. Trapping is NOT our recommended method for dealing with squirrels as it often results in the eventual death of the squirrels, it is not as effective, and it separates squirrels from their families.
Once a squirrel has been trapped, there are three ways that you can deal with the trapped squirrel:
Dispatching / Euthanizing - This involves directly killing the animal. There are a number of ways this can happen, and some are more humane than others.
Relocation - This is where you catch an animal on your property and then release it some place else, but still within its home territory (i.e. down the block). This does little to help in circumstances of nuisance pest squirrels, as they are so familiar with their own territory, they will often be back at your place before you will be.
Translocation - This is where you catch an animal on your property, and then release it some place else, far away from its home territory. The problem this carries, is that most small animals only know their home territory. They are completely lost and relatively defenseless when they suddenly find themselves in a new territory. They have no idea where it’s safe to go. They have no idea where to find food or shelter. They have no idea what predators or other dangers may exist. And, they suddenly have to figure all of this out in a matter of hours while terrified and in shock. A lot of people think this is the best method. They honestly believe that the animal has a good chance of finding a new home. The reality is, that only about 20-30% of adult, trans-located animals survive the first 30 days, and less than 3% of young, trans-located animals survive beyond 30 days. So, while it may seem like the most humane option, trapping animals without a rehabilitation, or re-integration plan is pretty much a death sentence. Out-of-sight, out-of-mind, doesn’t make it any less cruel.
The European, or Eastern Grey Squirrel
Threat: Can damage electrical wiring creating potential fire hazards. Can damage decorative and structural aspects of buildings, if nesting inside soffits, attics, or walls. Can cause damage to flowers, plants or garden spaces due to foraging and burying of food. Can damage items and materials while collecting nesting materials.
This is probably the most common squirrel in urban areas throughout central and southern Alberta. The Eastern Grey Squirrel is one of the larger tree squirrels found in North America. Native to the oak and hardwood forests of eastern Canada and the north-eastern United States, the Eastern Grey Squirrel is considered to be an introduced species in western Canada. The Eastern Grey Squirrel’s coat can range in colour, usually found as black, grey, or brown. Some people mistake these as different species of squirrel, but they are just coat colour variations that can emerge even within the same immediate family.
The Eastern Grey Squirrel is considered to be a tree squirrel, but they have a great affinity towards urban and human environments. In fact, they tend to do better in urban environments than they do in more rural, wooded areas. Unlike other tree squirrels, the Eastern Grey Squirrel prefers to build their nests inside existing enclosures. Most tree squirrel nests are called dreys, but as this name refers to the stacking and intertwining of sticks, twigs and fur, a lot of wildlife workers simply refer to Eastern Grey Squirrel nests as dens.
The Eastern Grey Squirrel will create dens inside any enclosure where they can feel isolated, dry and protected from the elements as well as from predators. Common den sites for Eastern Grey Squirrels are inside hollowed out dead-wood or tree stumps, under piles of dead-wood, under steps, inside attics or soffits, inside chimneys or chimney stacks, inside walls, under sheds, or inside abandoned machinery, structures, or vehicles. On some occasions or in non-urban areas, the Eastern Grey Squirrel will build a drey in the branches of a tree, or perhaps wedged on top of an awning, or among the lattice work above a gable or gazebo.
The American Red Squirrel, or Pine Squirrel
Threat: Can damage electrical wiring creating potential fire hazards. Can damage decorative aspects of buildings, if nesting inside soffits, attics, or walls. Can cause damage to flowers, plants or garden spaces due to foraging and burying of food. Can damage items and materials while collecting nesting materials.
The Pine Squirrel is a general name for three very similar species of squirrel all native to Canada, Alaska and the north-western United States. The American Red Squirrel, the Douglas Squirrel, and the Mearns’s Squirrel are all very similar in appearance and behaviours. They are smaller squirrels than the Eastern Grey Squirrel. The Pine Squirrel’s coat is typically a reddish, or rusty brown colour, but can sometimes be black or grey as well. Pine squirrels are native to the region, and are very common in urban areas, as well as the forests and bush lands in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies.
Similar to the Eastern Grey Squirrels, Pine Squirrels are opportunistic when it comes to nesting. They will build dens or dreys in very similar locations to those of the Eastern Grey Squirrels. They also have a similar diet and foraging habits. Because the Pine Squirrel is so small, it is often able to find its way into structures where other, larger squirrels were unable to do so.
Pine squirrels tend to fill their dens up with things. Not quite as eclectic of a collector as the Pack Rat, Pine Squirrels will collect items such as pine cones, furniture stuffing, mulch, animal hair, peanut shells, and other items which they are drawn to.
While the Pine Squirrel is smaller, it is considerably more aggressive than the Eastern Grey Squirrel. While still skittish around people, and not likely to bite or attack unless completely cornered, the Pine Squirrel will get quite close to people and is not shy about voicing disapproval when a person is too close to its den or offspring.
The Northern Flying Squirrel
Threat: Can damage electrical wiring creating potential fire hazards if nesting in attic spaces.
The Northern Flying Squirrel is smaller tree squirrel that primarily lives in dense forested areas. They are excellent gliders and climbers, but are very clumsy when walking on the ground. Unlike other squirrel species in the region, the Northern Flying Squirrel is nocturnal. They will often nest in dead trees, underground hollows, or build dreys in the upper parts of tree branches. Occasionally, they will find their way into a house or other human structure. Because they are nocturnal, and they often glide when exiting high nests, they have often been mistaken for bats by some people. Northern Flying Squirrels will often move around from one nest/drey to another throughout the year except when birthing.
The Northern Flying Squirrels do not hibernate in the winter, and while they are mostly solitary, they will usually aggregate in nests of nearly a dozen individuals to conserve body heat in the cold winter months.
The Richardson’s Ground Squirrel
Threat: Their holes create dangerous trip hazards for horses and other livestock. Can damage land stability around structures due to burrowing. Can damage garden spaces.
Often confused with some prairie dog species, or mistakenly referred to as a gopher because they live in the ground, the Richardson’s Ground Squirrel is a very common sight in both rural and urban areas throughout Alberta. They are best recognized as the cute, little creatures that sit up on their hind legs as they peer across the prairie landscape chirping back and fourth to each other with their short, high-pitched whistle.