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The Eastern Gray Squirrel is a rodent that is native from the Midwestern to the east coast of North America. This forest tree squirrel is found in abundance throughout small towns and communities and is considered to be an invasive pest by many do to their ability to easily enter attics and crawl spaces of residential homes and buildings.
During the spring and summer months the fur coat of the Eastern Gray Squirrel appears grayish brown on its head, shoulders, back, and tail with a stronger hint of brown the face and legs. In the fall and winter they may appear to be more silverish gray as their fur thickens for the cold weather. Their belly and chest is white to whitish with a hint of yellow. The rings around or under the eyes are a buff brown to a whitish and are typically lighter in the winter months. Their ears are a cinnamon tan and have lighter or whitish tips in the winter. They have a multi-functional long bushy tail that works as a blanket when they wrap it around their body in the cold winter months and it also works to help counter balance the squirrel as it run across branches and electrical wire.
The body length of the Eastern Gray Squirrel is about 9 to 12 inches from the tip of the nose to the tip of the hind end and the tail is about 7 to 10 inches long. Adults weigh 1 to 1 ½ pounds and both male and females look the same. The track of their front feet shows up as four toes and the track on the hind foot shows up with five toes and the hind foot pad is usually not visible. They have four large incisor teeth with two on top in the front and two in back on the front. These incisor teeth constantly grow like finger nails throughout the squirrels life which is why they must gnaw on hard materials such as wood to prevent over growth.
Eastern Gray Squirrels are found from dense forested land to suburban communities to urban parks from the Midwest to the east coast. They build their den and nest for raising young on large branches in mature trees, in abandoned bird nest, in hollow tree trunks, in attics of residential homes, in apartment buildings, and other man-made structures. To insulate their nest or den site they use moss, feathers, dried grass, dried leaves, and sometimes trash.
Ever since Europeans settled in North America and began building homes and buildings the Eastern Gray Squirrel has learned that attics are the perfect place to den in and raise their young. The Eastern Gray Squirrel has evolved and thrives living side by side with humans.
The owner of the home in the photo below was woke up at 5am one morning by scratching sounds coming from the attic above the bedroom. The homeowner assumed they had a mouse problem and called a local pest control company. Upon inspection the exterminator discovered that squirrels were the intruders and not mice. Live capture traps were installed on top of the gutters of this home and within 8 hours two squirrels were trapped and removed. After removing the squirrels two baseball size holes were repaired to prevent other squirrels or pest such as birds from entering.
Eastern Gray Squirrels are notorious for causing costly damages to homes and buildings especially from fall through to spring in the colder regions and during the winter months in the south. These damages range from a signal minor baseball size entry hole around the rooftop to extreme damage when they gnaw on electrical wiring in the attic causing a house to burns to the ground. The most common damages they cause is gnawing holes in the soffit boards, soffit vent meshing, rake boards, fascia boards, gable vent meshing, and gutters. They gnaw on roof trusses and gnaw attic support beams in half as well as rip apart attic and crawl space insulation, urinate and defecate throughout the attic insulation, gnaw through roof shingles and siding and gnaw on electrical wiring in homes and cars and solar panels. They also do significant damage to trees by gnawing on the fleshy trunk under tree bark and gnawing on twigs and small branches. Shrubs as well as flower and vegetable gardens provide plenty to feed on and can often fall victim to the local squirrel population. They also cause damage to bird feeders and bird houses.
The photo below shows a large hole on the exterior of a home in Columbia, Maryland. This hole was created by a squirrel that was climbing up the brick on the corner of the exterior of the home. During the squirrels travels it discovered a vulnerable spot where the brick and vinyl siding meet and chewed a hole through the plywood to make its self a home in the interior wall cavity of this homeowners bedroom. The homeowners did not realize that the hole was there until high winds ripped a layer of the vinyl siding completely off exposing the squirrel’s entry point. After this entry point was discovered the homeowner reported frequently hearing noises coming from the front bedroom wall for about two months. Unfortunately a great deal of rain water got into the hole over the past few weeks causing water damage as well.
The photo below shows squirrel feces on top of the attic insulation. This Frederick, Maryland homeowner reported hearing squirrels in the attic for a month but never saw them. The homeowner called Mid-Atlantic Wildlife Control to inspect the attic and exterior of the rooftop to identify the problem. Upon inspection Mid-Atlantic Wildlife Control discovered squirrel feces in the attic on top of the insulation and chew marks on the roof support beams.
Eastern Gray Squirrels are very acrobatic and are able to access a rooftop in many ways. They have sharp curved nails at the end of each toe which allows them to climb straight up the vertical side of homes or chimneys that have a porous or rough facade such as brick, stone, or wood siding. The porous or rough facade allows the squirrel to grip the vertical surface and climb up as if they were climbing a tree.
As you can see in the photo below a squirrel is easily running up the side of a brick home. The side of this home was brick for about the first 7’ feet above the ground then vinyl siding the rest of the way up to the roof. The squirrel was not able to climb the smooth vinyl siding however the front of the home has a brick façade so he was able to climb up to where to soffit and corner of the gable meet and chewed a baseball size hole to gain entry into the attic space. A Baltimore pest control company that specializes in squirrel removal set live capture traps to remove this squirrel. They also repaired the entry hole so no other wildlife could get into the attic space.
This photo shows the brick façade on the front of the home that the squirrel was climbing up to access the roofline. This photo also shows the baseball size hole that the squirrel chewed through where the corner of the gable and soffit meet.
Another easy route they use to access rooftops is by climbing up trees and shrubs that are within 9 feet of the roof. They climb to the top of the tree or shrub then jump to the rooftop. They can also run from one home to the next by running across electrical lines or by jumping from a tree to an electrical line.
Eastern Gray Squirrels cause many house fires each year by gnawing on the softer rubber material on the outside of electrical wiring which protects the hot electrical wiring inside. The outer rubber material prevents the inner hot electrical wiring from contacting flammable materials like attic insulation. When the hot inner electric wire contacts an object or material a fire can occur or the electric will stop working do to a short circuit.
You can see in the blue circle in the photo below that squirrels had been chewing on the roof support beams and the electrical wires in the soffit of this Germantown Maryland home. Luck for this homeowner nothing tragic happened however an electrician had to be called in to replace the damaged wiring to prevent electrical shortages or even a fire.
The Eastern Gray Squirrel is a food hoarder. They bury their food in small stashes to feed on at a later time. If they come across an abundance of food they will quickly bury the food wright on the spot then come back and retrieve one piece at a time and rebury it at a more secure area to prevent losing the hoard to another animal.
These stashes of food can be buried for months before the squirrel comes back to eat it. One Eastern Gray Squirrel can stash a couple thousand nuts each season. Their long term memory of where they buried their food hoards is very accurate. They rely on sent and the memory of the distance and nearby structures and landmarks to identify the exact area where they buried their food hoards. They will also use their sent to steal food hoards that other squirrels buried. Eastern Gray Squirrels are so clever they will use deception to mislead other animals from stealing their food hoards. If they think another animal is watching them then they will act like they are burying food when they are really not. If the area has other animals that eat the same foods as the squirrel then the squirrel will hid behind vegetation or other objects when burying their food hoards.
The Eastern Gray Squirrel is quite the acrobatic expert. They are able to climb down a tree head first by turning their hind paws backward so the claws are able to safely grip the bark on a tree. They can run full speed across electrical lines and jump up to 4 feet high and up to 9 feet horizontal. They use their long bushy tail to navigate their direct, balance their body and bring a long jump to a stop by twitching it side to side or up and down. They are as quick as they are acrobatic and are able to reach speeds up to 15 MPH when they combined running and jumping. Even though Eastern Gray Squirrels prefer dry land they are capable of swimming several miles if needed.
The Eastern Gray Squirrel is most active between 2 to 4 hours after the sun raises and 2 to 4 hours before the sun sets. Males spend the rest of the day relaxing on a tree branch as do females when young do not need to be tended to.
The number of times the Eastern Gray Squirrel breeds in one years’ time period depends on the availability of food, region and weather trend. In the Mid-Atlantic States of Pennsylvania and Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, Delaware, and New Jersey they usually have two litters per year during years when the food sources are readily available. During years when food sources are less abundant do to a poor nut harvest females will only mate once. In the northeast states of New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Vermont where winters are cold and harsh the Eastern Gray Squirrel usually breeds once per year. However, if the winter is mild and food is abundant then they will breed two times in a year. In the southern states of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida they almost always breed twice per year as long as the food supply supports a second breeding.
The time of year breeding occurs depends on the region. The breeding for Eastern Gray Squirrels occurs from December to February and June to July in the Mid-Atlantic States. In colder northeastern states breed happens March to April and July to August. In the southeastern states breeding is from December to February and June to July. The young are born an average of 44 days after mating occurs. Between 60% and 68% of females successfully breed during each mating season. If a female loses her young do to predators or cold weather or other problems she will immediately go into heat and give birth to a late litter.
A few days before female Eastern Gray Squirrels enter into estrus or heat she may attract up to 10 males from distances up to 550 yards away with a sent hormone. Male Eastern Gray Squirrels compete for the chance to mate with a female and a hierarchy of the most dominant males is formed. Out of the group of dominant males the most dominant or the top dog will mate with the female first. An individual female will mate with multiple dominant males during each breeding season to ensure her young have the healthies and strongest genetics.
Female Eastern Gray Squirrels can go into estrus or heat as early as 6 months old however that is rare. They usually enter into heat the following spring or summer which is between 12 months and 16 months old. Males reach sexual maturity around the age of one to two years.
The female Eastern Gray Squirrel has a gestation period of around 44 days. On average the female will give birth to between 2 to 4 young but has been known to have between 1 and 9 young at a time. At a weight of a half of an ounce when born the babies are hairless and blind. At around 30 days old their eyes open. By day 40 to 50 they have a full coat of fur and begin to leave the nest to explore. The young squirrels are wean from their mother’s milk between 8 and 10 weeks old. As weaning ends and the young squirrels become self-sufficient they begin life without their mother and disperse from the nest never to return. However, in colder regions if the female gave birth late in the summer then the young will remain with her through the winter.
The Eastern Gray Squirrel lives in dens or nest. The nest are also known as drey and are typically used in the warmer months from late spring to the end of summer and possibly into fall depending on the weather trends and region. The outer shell of the nest is built by both males and females by gnawing small thin twigs off of trees and weaving them together. The inside of the nest is lined with dried grass, dried leaves, moss, dried pine needles and sometimes bits of trash. These well-constructed nest are built in one day and are weather proof. Like any home these nest require some maintains from time to time. Nest are usually located in the fork of a mature tree between the main trunk of the tree and a large branch about 30 feet off the ground. These well-built nest only have one entrance which always faces the main truck of the tree. During the warmer breeding months females raise their young in these nest. Most adults have more than one nest in case one is destroyed by predators or in case one is infested by insects such as fleas or lice or mites. The nest size is big enough for one squirrel typically but is capable of housing two if the temperature drops at night. A pregnant female may construct a larger nest to house her and her young when they are born.
Eastern Gray Squirrels prefer to use dens during the colder months from mid-fall to late winter to early spring depending of the weather trends and the region. Eastern Gray Squirrels are resourceful when locating a den site. Often they will use abandoned woodpecker nest which is a cavity inside of a tree truck. Typically they will have two den sites within their one to 8 acer home range.
Eastern Gray Squirrels also use man-made structures such as the attics and crawl spaces of residential homes and apartment buildings. They can easily access the attic of a home or apartment building by gnawing a baseball size hole in the soffit or rake board or other vulnerable areas. Once inside they choose a corner and begin ripping apart insulation or other accessible materials to build a nest. The extreme heat during hot summer months proves to be too much for them so they usually den in attics and crawl spaces during the cold winter and cool spring.
The Eastern Gray Squirrel has a home range from one to eight acres. Their home range typically overlaps with that of other Eastern Gray Squirrels however a dominance hierarchy is established. Males in general but older males especially have a larger home range then females. When food sources are limited or scarce they will leave their home range in search of a new home range that has a healthy harvest of foods.
Eastern Gray Squirrels eat a variety of foods including berries, wild grown seeds, seed in bird feeders, acorns, walnuts, hickory nuts, tree bark, sunflower seeds, tree buds, as well as some types of mushrooms and fungi that are found of the floor of the forest. They occasionally feed on small rodents, insects, baby birds, bird eggs, frogs, and on rare moments will also cannibalize the new born young of other squirrels. Advent gardeners consider the Eastern Gray Squirrel to be a nuisance because they are known to invade vegetable gardens and eat tomatoes, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, corn, and other fruits and vegetables.
Eastern Gray Squirrels are rodents and all rodents are known to carry several different diseases however only a few are hazardous to humans. These disease include typhus, plague, and tularemia which may show up with flu like symptoms but eventually cause death if untreated. Humans can contract these diseases from squirrels by being bitten or by having direct contacted with the squirrel. Squirrels can carry rabies however it is extremely rare.
Eastern Gray Squirrels carry parasites such as ringworms, fleas, lice, mites, and ticks. These parasites can be deadly to squirrels. The Mange mite will cause a squirrels skin to become scabby like and hard and cause its hair to fall out which increases the squirrel’s chances of dying during cold winter months. These parasites are rarely passed onto humans and pets when squirrels live in the attics or crawl spaces of residential home or apartment buildings. These parasites can also pass diseases such as Lyme disease, Encephalitis, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever on to humans.
The average life span of the Eastern Gray Squirrel is around one year in the wild however individuals have been known to live up to 10 years in the wild. In captivity they are known to live as long as 15 years. Many factors such as predators, being ran over by a vehicle, starvation, parasites, weather and diseases play into the short life span of the Eastern Gray Squirrel. Young squirrels have a high mortality rate during the first year. One out of four squirrels live past the first year. During the second year of live the mortality rate is about 55 and the third year takes a turn in a positive direction at 30% mortality rate.
Adult Eastern Gray Squirrels fall prey to fox, domestic cats, dogs, owls, hawks, weasels, raccoons, and humans. Many animals such as snakes, rats, weasels, raccoons, other squirrels, hawks, owls, and some non-prey birds commonly raid dens and nest to feed on new born squirrels and juveniles.
The Eastern Gray Squirrel can be quite difficult to get rid of and keep out. The longer period of time that a squirrel uses your attic or crawl space to nest in the more costly damage will be done. The eviction and exclusion of squirrels from an attic usually results in epic failure when attempted by a homeowner. This is not a weekend DIY project and it’s not something a google search on how to get rid of squirrels will resolve. The most common outcome that occurs when homeowners try trapping the invasive squirrels and sealing up the entry hole is at least one squirrel will be missed and sealed up inside the attic. The squirrels that are sealed inside the attic will either die and smell up the home for a week or more or the squirrels will dig a hole in the sheet rock or plaster ceiling below the attic and get into the bedrooms or other parts of the home.
As you can see in the photo below a squirrel has made its way into the living space of a home. The homeowner sealed up the entry hole that the squirrel had been using in the soffit of the home. The homeowner thought all of the squirrels were out of the attic however two squirrels was still inside when he sealed up the hole. After 2 days of being trapped in the attic without food the squirrels began to dig a hole in the ceiling of the master bedroom. Once the hole in the ceiling was large enough one of the squirrels jumped down into the bedroom.
The photo below shows the hole that the squirrels were digging in the sheet rock ceiling after the homeowner un-knowingly sealed them inside the attic.
The most cost effective way and the best solution to resolve your squirrel control problem including the damage repair is to contact a licensed and insured company like Mid-Atlantic Wildlife Control. Our squirrel control experts will conduct a very detailed inspection of the roofline to identify where the entry points are located and how many entry points there are. We will also identify the route in which the squirrels are using to access your roofline and will fully evaluate the attic or crawl space to see if a nest of young exist. Once the inspection is complete we will provide you with a detailed inspection report and an estimated cost of the project.
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