You may love watching these cute little rodents as they leap from tree to tree or you may find them frustrating pests when they tease your dog, strip bark from a favorite tree or steal your birdseed. Agile, intelligent and adaptable fox squirrels (Sciurus niger) are the only tree squirrel species found in Broomfield County.
Not native to Colorado, fox squirrels moved into our state from the east along riparian corridors, with some populations having been deliberately introduced in the early 1900s. The species is tolerant of human activity, so it has thrived in urban environments where they have readily adapted to unusual food sources beyond the fruits, nuts and insects of their native diet.
Ranging from 18 to 24 inches from their noses to the tips of their tails and up to two and a half pounds, fox squirrels are the largest North American tree squirrel species. Active during the day, non-territorial and usually solitary, they have keen eyesight, hearing, sense of smell, sharp claws, strong abdominal muscles, bushy tails for balance and swiveling ankle joints that allow for 180-degree rotation of their hind feet, making them incredible acrobats. They’re able to jump up to 15 feet horizontally and to descend from a height of 20 feet or more.
In the west, fox squirrels generally are gray-brown above with a rufous, yellowish brown or whitish belly. Both sexes look identical. Courtship behavior includes several males pursuing one female. The winning male protects the female from other males and works with her to build a nest in a tree cavity. If a tree cavity cannot be found, which often is the case in urban areas, a leaf nest is built on a high tree branch. Framed with sticks, the nest is lined with soft materials, such as shredded leaves, bark or grasses.
In their first year, females have one litter, but thereafter have two litters each year. Three or four tiny, hairless kits are born with their eyes and ears closed. Weaned at about eight weeks, they begin to scamper around in the nest tree. At 10 weeks, they climb to the ground becoming independent at three months and able to breed at a year.
Fox squirrels can live up to 12 years, but few survive beyond six, falling prey to red-tailed hawks, great horned owls, snakes, coyotes, foxes, domestic dogs and cats and automobiles. Squirrels often are afflicted by ticks, mange mites, fleas, internal parasites and a variety of diseases.
Squirrels can be entertaining and are a normal part of our ecosystem. However, they can cause problems for homeowners, especially if they find a way into your attic, garage or cause plant or tree damage. Your Broomfield Wildlife Masters have a few tips and tricks for you.
If the squirrels are getting onto your roof then trimming your tree branches at least 6 feet from the roof line will disrupt their ability to gain access. An annual check of the roof line, soffits, overlapping roof sections and chimney are advised. If you have a chimney, placing a chimney cap over the top will keep many animals out, including the squirrel. If you are not able to trim all the branches away from the roof then placing a 2-foot wide metal band 6 feet above the ground, around the trunk of the tree, will keep them out.
If you find that a squirrel has gained access to your attic from the roof line, you’ll want to evict the squirrel and repair the damage as soon as possible. Begin by placing a wadded up piece of paper in the hole and then monitor the hole. If the paper is pushed inside, the squirrel has gone in the hole; if the paper is pushed out then the animal has exited and now is the time to seal up the hole. If the time of year is right for a potential nest and/or babies, you may want to wait to evict. Please call the wildlife master helpline for more information.
If you feed the birds and a squirrel is visiting your yard for this reason, you should separate your bird feeders by 8 feet and place them at least 6 feet off the ground. The feeders should also be 8 feet from the nearest fence or tree limb. You may also want to place a cone-shaped baffle on the bird feeder pole so the squirrel cannot climb up the pole. Cleaning up seed below the bird feeders will also help because the squirrel will no longer be able to find food.
If the squirrel is gnawing and eating the bark off your tree limbs, this can be a serious issue for the tree. Depending on how high up in the tree this is happening will depend on which deterrent technique you choose. Placing the previously mentioned 2-foot wide metal band at the base of the tree or using the squirrel baffle is one option. If the squirrel can gain access to the tree via other surrounding trees then you can trim the branches to prevent them from gaining access, think of it as limiting the “squirrel super highway.” A third option would be to spray the tree trunk, branches or fence line with hot pepper sauce (See the recipe below) to keep them away from the tree they are gnawing on. They will walk through this hot sauce and do not like the taste or feel of it.
If squirrels are digging in your garden, you’ll want to encircle your garden with chicken wire or chicken wire encased in 1 x 2 boards, like a frame. Be sure to cover the top of the garden to ensure they cannot gain access from above. The wire should be buried 2 inches deep and held down with landscape staples. This garden method should keep out most hungry visitors, as well as the squirrel.
If the squirrel is running the fence line and teasing your dog try spraying the hot pepper sauce along the fence line as a deterrent.
Hot Pepper Sauce Recipe:
1 chopped yellow onion
1 chopped jalapeno pepper
1 TBS cayenne pepper
Boil these ingredients in 2 quarts of water for 20 minutes. Strain out the chunky bits and put this sauce into a spray bottle.
To be effective, you will need to reapply the hot pepper sauce frequently, especially after watering or rain.
If you have questions for your Broomfield Wildlife Masters, call 303-464-5554, leave a message and we’ll call you back. The Broomfield Wildlife Masters are residents who volunteer to help address wildlife issues in cooperation with the City and County of Broomfield Open Space Department.