August 20, 2018
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Squirrels have taken over this Bangor neighborhood

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
A gray squirrel seems to survey its domain from safety of a tree. Squirrels are causing some headaches this summer for residents in Bangor.
By Julia Bayly, BDN Staff
Updated:

Bob Kelly knows he’ll never trap all the squirrels in Bangor, but that’s not stopping him from live-trapping and relocating every one of the rodents he can from the city’s Tree Streets neighborhood where they seem especially numerous this summer.

“It’s awful,” Kelly said Monday afternoon. “We [own] property in two different areas and both are infested with squirrels.”

According to the squirrel experts, there is no single reason for the population explosion around Kelly’s neighborhood.

Squirrel populations can naturally fluctuate depending on availability of food, presence of predators and weather conditions, according to Griffin Dill, integrated pest management professional with University of Maine Cooperative Extension.

“For the most part, squirrel populations tend to stay relatively stable,” Dill said. “It could just be one of those things that this is a kind of a hot dry summer, and that’s making them more active than previous years.”

When the squirrels populations do explode, Dill said it’s not uncommon for it to be in a specific area, as in the Tree Streets neighborhood.

It’s also possible more squirrels than normal survived the last winter and are having larger litters this summer, according to Dill.

Trying to turn the tide

Kelly said he’s been spending quite a bit of time this summer dealing with the squirrels and the damage they are causing.

“On our Pine Street property they have gotten up into the soffits, chewed holes and moved in,” Kelly said. “They make the tenants [in that building] nervous and are damaging the house.”

Squirrels are capable of causing quite a bit of damage, according to Don Levine, licensed animal damage control trapper with Professional Wildlife Removal in Bangor.

Squirrels, he said, are capable of chewing through walls from the outside into a home and then creating their own traveling paths or routes within walls, through insulation and into attics. They also take advantage of any existing cracks or holes in a home to gain access.

“The biggest danger from squirrels is the damage and destruction they can cause to your home,” Levine said. “They can get inside the walls or in the attic and tear apart your insulation, urinate, leave their droppings, and chew on your wiring.”

Squirrels chewing on building electrical wire have been responsible for structure fires and other problems around the country, Levine said. In Maine, wire-chewing squirrels were the prime suspects in an electrical fire that destroyed a building and tools at a woodworking shop in Dedham in 2013.

Last week a squirrel also caused major commuter headaches when it damaged a protective device in a Brewer power station, cutting power to 3,000 Emera Maine customers and knocking out several Brewer traffic lights.

In May, 3,500 Emera customers in northern Penobscot County lost power when a squirrel chewed electrical equipment in a Millinocket substation.

A growing problem

This summer Levine said he’s been responding to more squirrel-nuisance calls than he has for about a decade.

“It seems to be getting worse,” he said.

Kelly would vouch for that, and he and his neighbors have noticed it’s not just their homes the squirrels are invading.

“If we have sunflowers, the squirrels climb to the top and chew them,” Kelly said. “They are eating the fruit off our fruit trees before the fruit is even ripe.”

Other residents report squirrels digging up gardens or potted flowers to bury caches of food, or helping themselves to vegetables growing above ground and chewing up roots under the dirt.

Gardens can be ground zero for a squirrel invasion, according to Dill.

“Squirrels are known to eat all sorts of different plants and vegetable matter,” he said. “We tend to think of them eating seeds and nuts, but they will dig up seedlings or bulbs and nibble on other vegetables, and that can be a nuisance.

It doesn’t help, Kelly said, that some residents are deliberately feeding the squirrels.

Dill noted that people who garden often enjoy feeding birds as well, and that bird seed attracts squirrels.

“We all know feeding birds is the same as feeding the squirrels,” he said. “Some people say if you move your bird feeder as far as possible from the garden it could entice squirrels away from your garden and to another part of the property

For the past two months, Kelly has been live-trapping squirrels around his homes on Fern and Pine streets. He estimates he’s caught about 50 of the animals and released them 4 or 5 miles from his home, making sure there is a river or highway between the squirrels and his own property.

He believes the tide is turning in the battle.

“I catch one or two a day,” Kelly said. “It seems to have made a noticeable difference [because] in the spring, we’d look out and see three or five of them in the yard. Now we don’t see that many at once.”

Leave it to the pros

Levine understands why people want to take matters into their own hands when it comes to eradicating pests such as squirrels, but stressed it’s a better idea to call in the professionals.

“One of the reasons [the problems] are getting worse is people doing their own wildlife control,” Levine said. “They are doing the catch and release, and if they release back in their own neighborhoods, those squirrels become trap-shy.”

Rather than taking on a do-it-yourself trapping project or relying on instructions from online sources such as YouTube, Levine said give professional trappers a call first.

“If you talk to a professional, at the very least you will get some useful pointers and tips that could help,” he said. “We rely on the property owner to give us information that can help them.”

If he knows when and where people are seeing squirrels he can advise them on habitat modifications to discourage squirrels such as cutting away branches and trees near a home the rodents use for cover. If a property owner does call him in to remove the squirrels, Levine said he will conduct an inspection looking for any openings or crevices where squirrels are chewing and getting into a structure.

Levine will then live-trap the squirrels and take them about 5 miles from where they were caught to release them.

And it’s not just squirrels.

According to Levine he’s seen an increase in calls from people dealing with increased populations of possums, raccoons and skunks.

“This year seems worse across the board for all animals, [and] it’s becoming a real problem for some people,” Levine said. “It’s like [the animals] want their planet back.”

Five ways to keep squirrels out of your garden:

— Install the kind of fencing that can keep squirrels out, and use materials they cannot climb or squeeze through its holes. Good examples are plastic or wire mesh fencing that hurt squirrel paws.

— Purchase squirrel baffles and install on your bird feeders to stop squirrels from stealing bird seed. Once they discover a food source in your yard, they’ll just keep on visiting.

— Use natural repellents squirrels tend to avoid such as dog or human hair mixed into the soil, or sprinkle cayenne pepper around the garden.

— Trim away any-low hanging tree branches above your garden.

— If it is possible with your garden size, you may build a makeshift mesh lid to cover the garden that you can put on and take off as needed.

Five ways to get squirrels out of your house:

— Identify where they are getting in by locating entry holes, feces and nesting debris inside the attic.

— Install a one-way “excluder” door that allows the squirrels to get back outside but not re-enter.

— Seal up all entry points, and squirrel-proof roof vents, soffit vents and eave gaps.

— Trim away branches or entire trees that are near the house as squirrels love to climb trees to access buildings.

— Clean up any animal food or debris that could be attracting them to an easy food source.

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