Friday, October 13, 2023

Squirrel Saga


10/7/23 I imagine that the squirrel looked like this as it flew off our second-story deck.
(reference photo by Andrey Svistunov on Unsplash)

Squirrels have not always been my enemy. Up until this year, I had always been charmed by their agility, their fat, fluffy tails, and the adorable way they hold their food. I enjoy watching them dart around our backyard or scurry across power lines and up trees. I have sketched many squirrels, both from photos and from life (a few shown here).

Back in February, I had written about the squirrel that had taken up residence inside our roof for several weeks. After trapping the (probable) perp as well as numerous innocent bypassers (including one poor Steller’s jay that we released ourselves) and having exclusion work done, we thought the ordeal was over. It turned out that it had barely begun.

Shortly thereafter, another squirrel took residence for months. Eventually that one left of its own accord, but not without first annoying us with daily noisy skittering, gnawing and damage (tiny holes are visible in our bedroom ceiling). Then over the summer, yet a third moved in.

We had long ago fired the ineffectual, incompetent Willard’s Pest Control when its business model became clear: Why install effective exclusion solutions when a much better income stream comes from trapping and removal ($200 each)?

Seeing squirrels use our lilac tree as a convenient bridge to the roof, we got that pruned (though obviously it was just a convenience – squirrels can scale siding, brick and gutters almost as easily as trees).

1/30/22 Squirrel on our suet feeder (sketched from life)

A new tactic

Rather than find another wildlife removal contractor, our next tactic was to hire a professional roofer. The shabby exclusion work installed by Willard’s had already been chewed through by the current squirrel, so we needed that repaired. To avoid trapping the squirrel inside, I had a plan:

Whenever we fed peanuts to the jays in the backyard, a squirrel usually interloped. Although it was impossible to know for certain, I suspected that it was the same one in residence because of how quickly it appeared with the birds. (What cushy accommodations we provide: Free room and board!)

When the roofer was ready to nail shut the last exclusionary piece, I went out to the backyard and put out peanuts. Sure enough, our probable perp showed up! While it was dining, the access hole was blocked, and no more squirrel in residence!

3/13/19 Squirrel on our bird feeder (sketched from life)

Of course, that would have been too easy. An hour later, we heard squirrely noises again. Somehow, it was back inside.

Three days later, I walked into the bedroom to see a squirrel diving under our bed. It was no longer confined to the roof – it had gained access to the living space. Flinging open the bedroom’s French doors, I wished I’d had my phone and the presence of mind to video the squirrel’s spectacular leap off the second-story deck.

Feeling fairly hostile by now, I half-dreaded, half-hoped that I’d find its little skull cracked open on the pavement below. Of course, it must have landed easily on its feet, because a few minutes later, the squirrely noises in the roof had commenced.

Time for the big guns

The next day, I came upstairs to find the squirrel darting around inside my studio. This time, however, the intrusion was informative: In response to my loud cussing, the squirrel had raced into an unfinished storage area, and then I immediately heard it skittering overhead. A-ha – so the storage area was the access from the roof! Now we gotcha, you little bugger. I slammed the door shut, confining the squirrel to the storage area, which fortunately contains no food.

4/27/20 Squirrel on our bird feeder (sketched from life)

It was time to pull out the big guns. After more research and frustration (three more pest removal contractors disappointed me even before they did any work), I finally found A Wildlife Pro. Extremely knowledgeable about pesky animal behavior, owner Sean also seemed compassionate and humane toward the wildlife that annoyed humans. In addition to inspecting our house and roof thoroughly for problem areas and proposing a plan to address them, he gave us a fascinating education in squirrel behavior (“know thy enemy” is the best strategy).

For example, only female squirrels chew their way into roofs – they are looking for safe, cozy nesting places. Assuming it was safe and cozy, they will also tend to return to the same location litter after litter – so it’s possible that we’ve had the same mama all year. As I know from every nature program I’ve ever watched, a mother mammal will do everything necessary to protect and raise her young, including defending her territory.

Pointing out fresh debris on the lawn on the side of the house where I had heard gnawing, Sean believed that the recent noises were coming from outside the roof, not inside. But then what about the squirrel I had seen in the bedroom and in my studio? It was probably not the same one doing the chewing. It was likely that we had a whole family in residence.

Setting live traps in the storage area, Sean said that if we happened to catch a nursing female, he would advise releasing her until the youngsters were weaned. Otherwise, a nest of young ones would die inside the roof. If it was obvious that the squirrel was not nursing, then he would take her away to be “euthanized.” (I asked why he can’t just drive her a half-mile to Green Lake and let her go? It’s illegal to “relocate” wildlife.)

Trapped in our storage area.


Less than an hour after the traps were set, we caught a squirrel. After calling Sean, I took my sketchbook into the storage area to sketch it, but it was thrashing around too much. I stayed with it a while. We had already “euthanized” many squirrels this year, and likely this one would be next. Moments earlier, its only motivation had been hunger, which drove it to the peanuts in the trap. As soon as it was trapped, however, it had left the peanuts uneaten; getting free took all of its attention. Seeing it gnaw frantically, trying to escape, I empathized completely. Trapped and hungry, I would certainly try to free myself before eating.

I’m sorry, little squirrel. I know you are only trying to live your life, just like the rest of us.

10/12/23 Sean installing hardware to keep squirrels out.
Sean carried the trap out to our backyard deck to observe the squirrel in better light. Nearly full grown and probably weaned, it was a male juvenile, he said, not mama, which helped us put the likely story together: When the roofer had completed the exclusion work several days prior, mama had been outside the roof (eating our peanuts in the backyard) and could no longer get back inside, where the kids still were. Ever since, she had been trying to gnaw a new opening into the roof to get back to her kids.

Meanwhile, youngster No. 1 had found its way to the storage area and eventually flew off our deck. Youngster No. 2 was now in the trap.

As we were talking, the trapped squirrel suddenly gave a loud, shrill cry that I had never before heard from a squirrel. A distress call, Sean said. Then another squirrel dashed into our yard: Mama had heard him!

Sean looked at me. I told him to let the squirrel go. He took the trap to the top of the fence between our yard and the neighbor’s and released the little bugger.

We haven’t heard squirrely noises in more than a week – the quietest it has been in months.

Squirrels aren’t going away, and neither are we. We must learn to coexist. More than $4,000 and nine months later, we are learning.


  1. Interesting story and lovely pictures!

  2. Oh wow! The best storytelling I’ve read about Squirrels in the House. Found my heart pounding at some point. Sean is my new urban wildlife hero - because he stopped the $$$ bleeding. Great sketches too! You rock, Tina! Thanks for releasing the kid to his mama. A loud YES - ‘We must learn to coexist.’ -Roy


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