Weighing an average of 16 to 24 ounces, the type of squirrel that is probably causing damage in your garden is the common gray squirrel. Its color varies from gray, tan, or light brown to dark brown and black. Its belly is light, from white to gray. Its body is 8 to 11 inches in length, and its tail measures 8 to 10 inches. Its vocal call is a rapid CRRK CRRK or QUACK QUACK, similar to a duck. The famous feature of the gray squirrel is its bushy tail, a luxurious puff of fur used for warmth, communication, and balance.
Squirrels have a very keen sense of smell, which most gardeners blame for their bulb pilfering. The nose of these expert foragers is a tiny but powerful tool in the search for hidden nuts and berries.
Differences Between Species
The tiniest squirrel is the aptly named African pygmy squirrel—only five inches long from nose to tail. Others reach sizes shocking to those who are only familiar with common tree squirrels. The Indian giant squirrel is three feet long.
Like other rodents, squirrels have four front teeth that never stop growing so they don’t wear down from the constant gnawing. Tree squirrels are the types most commonly recognized, often seen gracefully scampering and leaping from branch to branch. Other species are ground squirrels that live in burrow or tunnel systems, where some hibernate during the winter season.
Ground squirrels eat nuts, leaves, roots, seeds, and other plants. They also catch and eat small animals, such as insects and caterpillars.
Tree squirrels are commonly seen everywhere from woodlands to city parks. Though they are terrific climbers, these squirrels do come to the ground in search of fare such as nuts, acorns, berries, and flowers. They also eat bark, eggs, or baby birds. Tree sap is a delicacy to some species.
Flying squirrels are a third, adaptable type of squirrel. They live something like birds do, in nests or tree holes, and although they do not fly, they can really move across the sky. Flying squirrels glide, extending their arms and legs and coasting through the air from one tree to another. Flaps of skin connecting limbs to body provide a winglike surface. These gliding leaps can exceed 150 feet. Flying squirrels eat nuts and fruit, but also catch insects and even baby birds.
Why Worry About Squirrels in the Garden?
With a fondness for fresh fruits, vegetables, and flowers, the common squirrel has long spelled trouble for home gardeners. Squirrels are especially active in late summer and autumn, when they stock up for winter. They do not hibernate (although they may “lie low” during cold spells), so their underground pantries are vitally important winter warehouses. They have a major instinct for hoarding food, which helps them to survive. Gray squirrels stash food by burying it in a scattered fashion around their territory.
- Make sure you have tight-fitting trash cans and never leave food or compost scraps sitting out.
- Don’t bother trapping and relocating squirrels. This is a losing battle, since the population of squirrels is extremely high in most areas, and moving one will just make room for another! Also, if the animal is a female, there is a high likelihood that you will remove her from babies that depend on her for survival. Additionally, relocation of wildlife (yes, even squirrels) may be illegal in your area.
- If the season has been particularly hot and dry, squirrels may steal tomatoes, cucumbers, or other juicy produce from the vine because they’re thirsty. Some readers have reported that placing a dish of water (or bird bath) nearby affected crops can discourage snacking.
- Unfortunately, growing extra vegetables to “feed” the squirrels does not usually work; squirrels will simply plow through your produce and bring their friends!
- Is your yard covered in nuts and acorns from trees? If so, your place is squirrel heaven. You’ll need to pick up and move though nuts to a different part of the yard or grow/select different types of trees.
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Almanac. (n. d.). Squirrels. Retrieved March 28, 2022, from https://www.almanac.com/pest/squirrels
National Geographic. (n. d.). Squirrels. Retrieved March 28, 2022, from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/facts/squirrels