June 24, 2019
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There’s a scurrying in the ceiling

Aislinn Sarnacki | BDN
Aislinn Sarnacki | BDN
They may be cute, but flying squirrels can nest in colonies of up to 30 members inside attics or the walls of homes.

It’s war.

For the past several years, I’ve had flying squirrels in my ceiling. The pitter-patter of little feet in the evening has been barely tolerable. But last year, nature went nuts — literally. The trees produced so much natural food that the rodent population soared throughout Maine.

I guess I should count my blessings. I haven’t experienced the rat problem that has plagued many people. And I have plenty of experience dispatching mice and fending off squirrels – well, the red and gray varieties, anyway.

Flying squirrels are a different story. They don’t fight fair.

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For starters, flying squirrels are strictly nocturnal, an invisible enemy. They’re tiny, able to squeeze through a hole the size of a nickel. They gang up. If you have one flying squirrel in the ceiling, than you have a battalion. They’re noisy. Even though they weigh merely 5 ounces, the scurrying in the ceiling sounds like Clydesdales. There are times that it sounds like Circus Maximus up there.

To make matters worse, my home is ideal squirrel habitat. It’s a log cabin surrounded by trees. There is no attic or crawl space. There is just a layer of insulation between the ceiling and roof, and undoubtedly that layer is perforated by squirrel tunnels. There are tiny gaps between uneven logs and the roof, just large enough to allow a squirrel to squeeze through.

I tried trapping them, but the red and gray squirrels sprung the traps before the flying squirrels ever got near. Besides, trapping has its own problems. Trapping a parent could starve an abandoned litter in the ceiling. If there is anything worse than a bunch of live squirrels in the ceiling, it’s a bunch of dead ones. Furthermore, because they are so colonial, new squirrels just replace the old ones. Meanwhile, what do you do with your latest captive? A rat trap may be the most humane solution, since relocating a live-trapped animal often just delays its demise.

The only solution is to seal off all possible entrances. However, this must be done after all the squirrels are gone, lest you end up with a ceiling full of dead squirrels. And how do you really know they’re all gone?

Professionals resort to one-way doors. Squirrels can get out through these excluders, but can’t get back in. When mounted at the squirrel entrance, eventually the attic empties. Unless the attic has a back door that only the squirrel knows about.

I needed help. I arranged a visit with a pest control expert last spring, and the conversation went as I feared it would. He took one look at my obviously vulnerable house, noted the many potential problems, and advised that the war would be long and costly. It would take much preparation and many visits to figure out all the potential entrances. He counseled that if I was comfortable on ladders, there were steps I could try on my own.

I heeded his advice. I poked newspaper into holes. Squirrels will push it out, revealing which holes are actual entrances. Unfortunately, for the next six months none of the newspaper was ever disturbed. Later, I tucked lighter tissues into smaller holes, figuring I’d make it as easy as possible for them to give themselves away. Those weren’t disturbed either. I set out baited mouse traps. The traps are too small to catch a squirrel, but a sprung trap reveals where squirrel activity is likely. Mostly, that strategy also failed.

Finally, I caught a break. One fine summer morning, I was doing some maintenance on the back corner of the house. Apparently, the scratching noise attracted attention. Just 3 feet away, a flying squirrel poked his head out of a crevice and eyed me suspiciously. Aha! I may not know all the entrances, but I know one!

It’s been a war ever since. Sometimes I catch the squirrel. Sometimes the squirrel snatches the bait. I began to keep score. For two weeks following Thanksgiving, I was ahead 14-3. But should I take this as a sign of victory, or that I am hopelessly outnumbered? Were all these squirrels actually coming from my house, or were some of them coming from the trees?

I stapled some wire screening under the eaves, trying to exclude woodland squirrels while restricting house squirrels to the direction I wanted them to take. I expect to battle all winter. If the ceiling is still noisy this spring, I’ve lost. But I’ll declare victory if, finally, it’s all quiet on the western front.

This story was originally published in Bangor Metro’s March 2019 issue. To subscribe to the magazine, click here.



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