NUTS TO SQUIRRELS IN THE ATTIC
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Question: You probably think I have bats in the belfry, but my real problem is squirrels in the attic. Their scurrying and chattering drive me nutty! I know this isn't part of your trade, but I suspect that people in any home repair business may have encountered this problem. How do I get rid of the creatures (a humane solution, please)?
Reply: You guessed right. Anyone who has worked in home repairs for a length of time gets it all. We fix our share of doorknobs and table legs and get asked to help with everything from auto repairs to marriage counseling. Service technicians have had to deal with pets ranging from hamsters to boa constrictors (not in the same house, you can be sure). Yep, people in the home repair business hear a thing or two about squirrels invading peoples' living space.
They can be worse house guests than a lot of mothers-in-law. Don't think for a moment that the critters actually prefer to live in tree trunks. If they had their druthers, they'd snuggle up next to you in bed waiting out the cold, cruel winter.
As long as temperatures are above freezing, approximately, squirrels prefer to scurry and chatter in the great outdoors. Once the thermometer drops, however, they are apt to invade attics and crawl spaces, which are quite a bit warmer than their natural homes.
Worse, squirrels can sense even cozier living on the other side of a ceiling or wall. They will try to improve their living standards by scratching through plaster, wallboard or even wood. Typically squirrels spend their winter daylight hours searching for scarce food. For their work activities they prefer a late shift starting at night or in the pre-dawn hours - just when most of us like to sleep. Pleasant dreams!
Scurrying and chattering are the least of the problems they can cause. In extreme cases they have been known to set houses on fire by nibbling through electrical wiring. Given enough time, they also can cause significant structural damage to wooden beams. Unfortunately, many home insurance policies exclude coverage from "rodent" damage, which is how squirrels get categorized. If you can recruit a raccoon family to move in instead, you're better off.
There are all sorts of home remedies for getting rid of them, none of which have a perfect track record of success. The presence of a dog or cat in the house sometimes serves as a deterrent, but not always. Most of the time squirrels are clever enough to set up housekeeping out of harm's way of any pets. Mothballs work sometimes, sometimes not. People have been known to set out rat poison, though this is very risky. Barbarism aside, if the critters die in an attic or crawl space...enough said, since you may be reading this over dinner.
There also are electronic devices on the market that emit noises that are supposed to annoy pests as much as rap music does normal human adults. These may work for awhile, then the critters get used to the noise and next thing you know they are dancing to the electronic "music." (Perhaps this is how the adverb "squirrely" arose to describe preferences outside the human norm.)
Squirrels are gregarious creatures, and if one makes his way into the attic, it won't be long before a whole family sets up housekeeping. A nightmare scenario is to have a female give birth up there.
So how do you get rid of the house guests from hell? The best chance of success comes with hiring a professional rodent control firm. Most use non-lethal squirrel traps. These are pretty straightforward devices. Made of tightly spaced metal rod, they have doors that allow access but shut behind the creature once inside. You also can get them in many hardware stores. Peanut butter or a variety of other common household foods can be used as bait.
Squirrels are territorial creatures with great homing instincts. This means that once you trap them, it's important to release them far away. Rodent control professionals recommend taking them over 10 miles from the place of capture. Amazingly, they may otherwise find their way back over shorter distances.
The key to capturing squirrels is to locate where they enter your home. Attic fan openings provide one common means of access. Otherwise look for holes in the roof or gaps around soffits and fascia. The baited trap needs to be placed in the vicinity of the opening.
The last thing you want to do is put the trap inside the attic itself. The odor of bait signals party time to squirrels throughout the neighborhood. Next thing you know, the homesteaders living in the attic become a tribe.
If there is more than one possible opening for them to get in, it may be necessary to put out multiple traps. A technique used by professionals is to place plastic strips across the suspect openings. The critters will chew right through the plastic, but this enables you to identify where they are coming in.
Once you have pinpointed the infiltration site(s), then put out the traps(s). VERY IMPORTANT: Don't plug up the openings until you are confident there are no more of the critters hanging around inside. Not only will this condemn them to a slow and agonizing death, it's also inhumane toward the home owners, since death odors can linger for up to two years.
I admire your respect for life of even God's lowly furry creatures. For readers not so sensitive, I conclude with the following advice:
- 1 squirrel cut up into six pieces
- 1 cup flour
- 3 TBSP butter
- 8 cups boiling water
- 1 tsp thyme
- 1 cup corn
- 1 cup lima beans
- 3 potatoes (quartered)
- 1/4 tsp cayenne
- 2 onions (sliced)
- 2 cups canned tomatoes with juice
Roll squirrel pieces in flour and salt & pepper. Brown in butter. Add squirrel and other ingredients except tomatoes to boiling water. Simmer 1.5 to 2 hours. Add tomatoes, simmer another hour.
Serve with fresh bread.