It hardly seems necessary to describe gray squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis), as most of us have at least a speaking acquaintance with them in parks. Their gray pelage is a grizzled mixture of white, black and yellow hairs, while underparts are tan and white. Their banner tails are a prized possession, carefully preened and quite handy in balancing during aerial feats high above the forest floor. They have an alert, active temperament that makes fox squirrels seem like dullards.
They arise before dawn, feed for several hours, then seek the shelter of tree dens or leaf nests where they loaf until late afternoon when feeding is resumed until dark. Their bark, a squack-squack sound, is accompanied by vigorous tail jerks and announces displeasure or danger.
A well-fed adult female will have a litter in February or March a month and a half after mating, another in late summer. Immature or undernourished ones may have but one litter which arrives in mid summer. Litters average two or three young, and they are well protected so survival is high. March litters are usually born in tree cavities lined with leaves and shredded bark. The young are born blind and naked. Eyes do not open until they are nearly five weeks old. Summer litters are produced in leaf nests made of twigs and leaves lined with soft bark and anchored in a tree crotch or in vines on small branches. The male does not participate in family affairs after mating. Family groups wintering in dens consist of the most recent litter and the mother.
Gray squirrels are not above dining upon green field corn, but their principal diet is based upon mast nuts, acorns, wild berries and fruits. Late summer foods are wild cherries, hickory nuts, white oak acorns, tulip poplar cones, beechnuts, and dogwood and sassafras berries. Squirrels do not hibernate, but remain active all winter and feed on acorns and nuts buried the previous autumn. They cannot remember where they cached their food; in fact, the finder is probably not the one which buried it. The food is located by sense or smell, even if covered by deep snow.
From February to May, a desire for greens is satisfied by cutting buds and spring seeds. Mushrooms, insects and bird eggs are sometimes eaten.
Gray squirrels formerly occupied all woodlands throughout the state. Timber removal resulted in their withdrawal from northern farmland, although a few are occasionally found along stream courses. Their population in the south central hills equal that of fox squirrels. Annual abundance varies directly in proportion to the amount of food produced the previous autumn.
Resident landowners and tenants can live-trap a gray squirrel that is causing damage on their own property without a permit from the DNR. The gray squirrel must be euthanized or released within the county of capture on property in which you have permission. In order to prevent the spread of disease, the DNR encourages homeowners to safely and humanely euthanize the gray squirrels, if possible. Live-traps can be purchased from hardware stores and garden centers. If you do not want to trap the squirrel yourself, contact a licensed nuisance wild animal control operator.
Occasionally, squirrels may enter a house through a pet door. Quietly open windows and a door through which the animal may exit and close the doors that provide access to other parts of the house before leaving the room. Wait quietly for the animal to escape.
If the squirrel is already in your chimney or attic, combine bright lights and a pan of ammonia to encourage the squirrel(s) to leave. If the mother has had her young in your attic already, you may need to contact a licensed nuisance wild animal control operator for professional assistance. Once the squirrels leave the chimney, install a chimney cap. Also, identify and seal other attic entries after evicting the squirrel(s).
Trim overhanging tree limbs to prevent easy access to your roof and attic.
Gray squirrels have been known to strip the bark from the upper branches of trees. This behavior typically occurs in early spring and early fall in response to their increased need for sodium. Sap, flowing up from the roots into the branches of trees in the spring and energy rich sap being produced in the fall, contain higher concentrations of sodium. Squirrels will peel back the thinner, more pliable bark, on the younger tree branches to get at the sodium-rich sap. Certain glues used in making plywood, as well as chemicals found in electric wire insulation, may also contain sodium and lead to squirrels chewing on these objects. Since the damage is directly related to squirrels needing more sodium (salt), the problem can often be mitigated by making alternative sources of salt more readily available. Small mineral/salt blocks or rings can be purchased from local pet supply stores and placed at the base of the trees being damaged or in the crooks of easily-accessible branches. Soak wooden stakes in salt water for 24 hours and then either place the stakes in the ground around the affected trees or wire them to the tree trunks.