- Dreys (Nests), Habitat and Food
- Types of Squirrel Nests
- How a Squirrel Makes a Leaf Nest
- What a Squirrel’s Drey or Nest looks like
- A Squirrel’s Additional Nests
- Timeline of a Squirrels Nest
- How Many Squirrels Live in a Squirrel Nest?
- Squirrel Nests (Dreys) Could Be Confused With Bird Nests
- Do Squirrels Come Back to the Same Nest?
- Why Do Squirrels Build Nests so High in Trees?
- How Do Squirrel Nests Stay Together?
- Squirrel Nests Near You
- Removing a squirrels drey
- So Finally
- All about Squirrel Nests
- How is a Squirrel Leaf Nest Constructed?
- Squirrel Vacation Homes
- A Squirrel Nest Timeline
- Preventing Squirrels from Eating Bird Seed
- Squirrel Benefits
- Your Squirrel Nests
- Do Squirrels Harm Trees: How To Minimize Squirrel Tree Damage
- Do Squirrels Harm Trees?
- Preventing Squirrels from Making Tree Holes
- Bark Stripping
- Bark Stripping Damage
- Effects of Damage
- Damage Prediction
- Damage Control Strategy
- Bark stripping
- Money talks
- What motivates the (grey) squirrels racing round my tree – sex/simple aggression/play? And do they get all that manic energy from nuts?
- I’m 50-odd and it’s high time I saw my first opera. Which one should I see?
- Why do chefs traditionally wear blue and white check trousers?
- Why Do Squirrels Eat Bark?
- Do All Squirrels Eat Bark?
- Why Do Squirrels Chew Off Branches?
- Do Squirrels Damage Trees?
- How to Keep Squirrels From Eating Tree Bark?
- Bottom Line
- References and Further Reading
- Tree Damage Caused by Squirrels
- How to Prevent & Stop Tree Damage from Squirrels
- Tree Services in McDonough, Jackson, Jonesboro, Fayetteville, Hampton, Sunny Side GA | Fayette, Clayton & Henry Counties, Georgia
Dreys (Nests), Habitat and Food
Squirrels are active all year round and do not hibernate. A squirrel lives in a nest known as a ‘drey’, comprising of a dense ball of interwoven twigs (roughly the size of a football), lined inside with soft materials including moss, leaves, grass and fir. Dreys are usually located in the fork of a branch tight against the tree trunk, around two-thirds of the way up the tree.
Red squirrels will usually have more than one drey and have often been observed moving their kits from one to another.
Moving young, Escot Park
Red squirrels live in trees, so are known as ‘arboreal,’ living in all types of woodland. In more fragmented landscapes such as agricultural and suburban areas, they exploit pockets of trees and woodlands connected by hedgerows and other wildlife corridors.
The notion that red squirrels prefer conifers is somewhat confusing. They are increasingly restricted to large conifer woodlands and plantations due to competition from encroaching grey squirrels. They can exist in conifers better than grey squirrels but red squirrels will reach their highest population densities in mixed or broadleaf woodlands with a diversity of species and availability of food.
Red squirrels primarily eat seeds from plants and trees, but their diet can vary greatly throughout the year. Food is plentiful during the autumn and winter months when trees are rich with seeds and fungi are available. However, food can be scarcer during spring and summer, when their diet extends to include plant shoots, bulbs, flowers, wild fruits and berries, and even insects and occasionally bird eggs.
Supplementary feeding in boxes should include a good quality squirrel mix of hazlenuts (in shells), wheat, linseed, pine nuts, peanuts (limited), sunflower seeds and fruit or vegetables such as apples and carrots. Supplementary feeding should not take the place of natural food sources and only small amounts of food should be put out every 3-4 days. For more information go to Red Squirrels in My Garden or Gwiwerod-Coch-ynfy-Ngardd-GWE.
‘Fred the Red’ by G Dunn
Trevor Cooper, Grasmere Red Squirrel Group
Squirrels are cute little creatures that never fail to entertain people in their back yards. They hop and jump around looking cute thanks to their frizzy tails and cute button-shaped eyes. Their acrobatics and climbing ability are amazing. They’re also very intelligent – more intelligent than your average creature, learning, solving problems and they can even be trained to feed straight out of people’s hands.
Do Squirrels live In nests? What do Squirrel Nests Look like? You may have been forgiven for wondering these things as you see them adeptly moving among the trees. Well, let’s answer that question for you! Here’s the quick take away answer first…
How do squirrels nest? Squirrels usually nest about 20′ high, in the fork of tree branches, a cavity in tree trunks or in an abandoned birds nest such as Woodpecker. Also called ‘dreys’ they’ll often have 2 or 3 nests. They nest alone but will build up the primary nest prior to the mating season, and to share over winter.
Let’s help you get a greater understanding of Squirrel nesting habitat and habits.
Types of Squirrel Nests
There are ground squirrels and tree squirrels, ground squirrels will burrow a hole in the ground for nesting in.
Essentially for tree squirrels like the red and the gray squirrels, there are two different types of squirrel nests, mostly found in trees and quite probably trees surrounding your backyard: Tree cavity dens or leaf nests, are often built near humans as a ready food source, but they’re equally at home in the wild.
- Leaf Nests – These nested constructions are usually at minimum 20 feet up in a tree. Leaf nests are also usually tucked in the fork of a major tree branch, which also helps to add stability and protection against the elements. They differ from birds nests because they’re noticeably more sizeable than a typical bird nest.
- Tree Cavity Den – These are often nesting areas initially created by a woodpecker, or perhaps a split in tree bark. Abandoned nest areas are often later claimed by squirrels. Other tree cavity dens are created through the natural processes that can often hollow out an aged tree. Homes like these are favorites for squirrels because they provide the very best protection from rain, wind, and snow that nature can provide.
squirrel nest in tree trunk cavity
How a Squirrel Makes a Leaf Nest
Leaf nests are constructed from various flora and fauna from the woods, such as twigs, leaves, moss and other natural materials. To begin with, twigs are loosely woven together to make up a stable floor of the nest. Then next, squirrels create even more stability by tightly packing damp leaves and moss on top of and around the sides of the twig platform to reinforce the structure.
Next, a pretty clever spherical shaped frame is woven around the base, this forms the outer shell of the nest. The final touches include packing it even more tightly with moss, leaves, twigs and other debris and sometimes even paper or cardboard scraps (in urban areas) to build up the outer shell of the new home.
This creates a large, mostly enclosed, dry, warm and protective casing around the squirrels and their brood.
The inner cavity of a squirrels nest is usually about eight inches in diameter and lined with further material, these can comprise of shredded pieces of bark, dry grasses, and dry leaves.
However, some squirrel species, including Gray Squirrels, often have nests that are much larger. Some nest cavities can span as much as 2 feet in overall width!
What a Squirrel’s Drey or Nest looks like
Squirrels drey or nest
image source: creative commons
A Squirrel’s Additional Nests
Squirrels are constantly on the move, moving around between various bird feeders, and even between numerous back yards.
Because of this, it’s quite common for squirrels to build second and even third nests located near their main primary home, the distances can vary.
These second and third squirrel nests are often used for emergency purposes, to hide from any nearby predators, or to store extra food, or even as a temporary rest stop throughout a day’s activity. They can also be used if a nest is overrun with an insect infestation.
You can get nests for squirrels too if you particularly wanted to give them a home. Squirrels can be a pain when they’re after your birdseed, but they can also be the cutest and funniest things in your back yard – if you ever get the chance to watch them.
You can get some really ornate squirrel nests on Amazon and other local places. Here’s a Squirrel nest on Amazon that has everything they’ll ever need!
There are enough species in danger or have left us already, so it’s always a good idea to aid those that are left – however much of a naughty nuisance they may sometimes be!
Timeline of a Squirrels Nest
Squirrels usually nest solo. However, during the very height of the mating season, which usually starts at the beginning of the calendar year, both male and female squirrels will increase the workload on a nest for the purpose of mating. They may also share a nest which can help conserve body heat during the coldest stage of the winter weather onslaught.
Squirrels do not hibernate, and will regularly venture out to their food stores for supplies! Once spring arrives, female squirrels turn their attention to nursing and raising their new litter. Younger squirrels begin to venture outside of the nest when they reach around six weeks old.
After the mother squirrel teaches her brood the essential rules of survival, and after lots of running around acquiring new climbing and agility skills, most young squirrels will leave to venture away from the nest for good around the 10 to 12 weeks of age mark.
Some get extensions to their training period where required and will stay with Mom until the second litter arrives – often into late summer, usually in August.
Squirrel nest-building activity is most noticeable between around June to July. That’s when mother squirrels are teaching their spring-born young how to build nests. But actually, there are much busier periods of a squirrels day.
The real squirrel nest construction boom happens during the fall. While many wild birds and animals are migrating to avoid the colder winter months, squirrels are busy collecting material and assembling strong, secure nests that can make it through a blustery winter.
If you have both red and gray squirrels where you live, then you’ll notice red squirrels tend to spend much more of their time in trees than gray squirrels, springtime is a good time to spot them, just after winter and before the trees develop too many leaves that means the canopy hides any movements. At this point, they tend to leave their winter hideouts and venture out for food to build back up their depleted energy levels AND to feed the kittens they’ve had during the first few weeks of spring.
You’ll see young babies with bushy tales around mid to late April, they’ll start to venture out of the drey and a month or so later will leave to build their own homes, often not far away.
Around May, adult squirrels will be looking to breed for a second time, so you may see them springing around the place more often looking for a suitable mate – these kittens will be born around July and August.
How Many Squirrels Live in a Squirrel Nest?
Squirrels will mostly nest alone. However, there are exceptions
- During harsh winter seasons, Squirrels will huddle and best together for warmth.
- During the mating season when they’re rearing young, the male may still be around to assist the female
Squirrel Nests (Dreys) Could Be Confused With Bird Nests
It’s often hard to tell from looking up into a tree if the nest you’re looking at belongs to a bird or a squirrel, often they can be the same football type size. Add to this that sometimes Squirrels will build their nests inside abandoned birds nests, often Magpies or Rooks nests are large enough. More confusingly, Birds have also been known to build their nests inside older Squirrels dreys. Over different seasons, nests may end up being used for different purposes.
One way to tell (if you can get close enough) is to see if there are leaves woven into the nest s birds tend not to use leaves. Birds nest also tend to be nearer to the top of a tree and often further out along the branches. Due more to the creature’s weight.
A further clue might be what lies under the nest. Check the floor around the base. If you discover chewed pine cones and small fairly fresh scratch marks on the base of the tree, that’s a sure sign it’s being used a squirrels drey. a ‘chuk, chuk’ing,’ sound is also a good sign as you’re probably hearing Red or Gray Squirrels nearby.
Of course, finding a good vantage point nearby and simply watching out for any visitors to the nest is the best way of knowing for sure. I couldn’t think of a better reason to sit quietly for a while.
Do Squirrels Come Back to the Same Nest?
It’s not unusual for squirrels to return to the same nest, if they’re familiar with taking previous woodpecker nests then there’s no reason why they would not choose another uninhabited nest.
Also, it may well be possible for Squirrels to return to the same nest they had previously, this could go for all other secondary and tertiary nests they have too.
Why Do Squirrels Build Nests so High in Trees?
Most squirrel nests are built high up for a reason, the main reason being the safety of height, most ground predators will be unable (or unwilling) to attempt to gain access to a Squirrels nest if it’s held high up in the branches. For this same reason, squirrels will rarely remain at floor level for long, preferring some form of height away from potential ground predators.
Secondly, there is an obvious height advantage to having a nest high up. The advantage of being able to mark out surrounding prey, predators as well as other potential squirrel activity.
How Do Squirrel Nests Stay Together?
As mentioned previously squirrels nests are a tightly woven mesh of branches, moss, leaves, and other debris and material found from their surroundings. The branches, leaves, and moss all fuse together to form a rigid structure that in most cases can withstand most winter and other elements.
Squirrel Nests Near You
Take the time to look around the area you live in. See how many squirrel nests you can see around your yard? or in the nearest woodland or park. Did you notice them before you read this article? Perhaps now you’ll see them more commonly around the neighborhood!
Squirrels tend to be most active either early in the morning or late into the afternoon. If you live within a red squirrel area, then visit your local woods with some binoculars and take a look around and you may get to see the whole family.
Removing a squirrels drey
If you have a squirrel’s drey or nest on your property that you need to remove, then do not try to remove the nest yourself. When disturbed squirrels will attempt to defend themselves.
They can bite and scratch (and carry diseases which can be bacterial in nature). This is especially the case in the mating season with squirrel young around. Always ask a professional to carry out the task. But for the most part, unless they are causing a particular nuisance, then Squirrels are largely harmless and can be fascinating to observe.
If you want to learn more, then I’d recommend this book called ‘The Wonderful World of Squirrels‘ for much more insight into Squirrel life!
I hope this has helped answer some of those quirky questions you can sometimes get regarding the nesting habits of Squirrels. Let me know any experience or unusual circumstances you might find regarding squirrels in your back yard. Tell me what you’ve spotted!
I’m going to leave you with this short YouTube video of an actual Squirrel in a squirrels nest, so cute!
All about Squirrel Nests
Squirrels are always entertaining guests in your yard. They bound around and look cute thanks to their fuzzy tails and adorable little button eyes. They’re amazing acrobats and climbers. They’re also highly intelligent — they can learn, solve problems and even be trained to feed straight out of our hands.
But what do we really know about squirrels? What can we learn about squirrels to help us understand them better? What other tools do we need as we try to coexist with them as people who also love to feed birds?
If you’ve observed these creatures darting up a tree, you may have asked yourself “Where do squirrels live?” and “What do squirrel nests look like?”
We are ready to help you find those answers, and with them you’ll have a greater understanding of squirrel habits.
There are two different types of squirrel nests that can be found in the trees surrounding your backyard: Tree cavity dens or leaf nests.
- Tree Cavity Den – A tree cavity den is often first created by a woodpecker, abandoned by that bird and later claimed by a squirrel. Other tree cavity dens are created through the natural processes that can hollow out an old tree. These homes are squirrel favorites because they provide the best protection from rain, wind and snow.
- Leaf Nests – These constructions are found at least 20 feet up in a tree. Leaf nests are usually tucked in the fork of a large tree branch, which adds stability. You can tell them apart from bird nests because they are noticeably larger than a typical bird nest.
How is a Squirrel Leaf Nest Constructed?
Leaf nests are constructed from various twigs, leaves, moss and other material. To start, twigs are loosely woven together to make up the floor of the nest. Next, squirrels create more stability by packing damp leaves and moss on top of the twig platform to reinforce the structure. Then a spherical frame is woven around the base, which creates the outer shell. The final touches include stuffing in leaves, moss, twigs and sometimes even paper to build up the outer shell of the new home.
The inner cavity of its leaf nest is about six to eight inches in diameter and lined with more material, usually shredded bark, grass and leaves. However, some squirrel species, including Gray Squirrels, can have nests that are much larger. Some nest cavities can span 2 feet wide!
Squirrel Vacation Homes
Squirrels are constantly on the move, scurrying about from bird feeder to bird feeder and even from yard to yard. Because of that, it’s common for squirrels to have second and third nests located near their main home, but at varying distances. These additional squirrel nests are often used in an emergency to hide from a nearby predator, to store extra food and even as a temporary rest stop throughout a day’s activity.
A Squirrel Nest Timeline
Squirrels usually nest by themselves. However, during the height of mating time, usually at the beginning of the calendar year, male and female squirrels will double up in a nest briefly for the purpose of mating. They may also share a nest to conserve body heat during the coldest stage of winter weather.
Once spring arrives, the female squirrels turn their focus to nursing and raising their new litters. Young squirrels venture outside of the nest beginning around the six-week-old mark. After the mother squirrel teaches her brood the rules of survival, most young squirrels leave the nest for good around 10 to 12 weeks of age. Some get extended training and will stay with Mom until the second litter arrives in late summer, usually in August.
Squirrel nest-building activity is often noticeable in June and July. That’s when mother squirrels are teaching their spring-born young how to build nests. But that isn’t the busy period! Not even close!
The real squirrel nest construction boom happens during the fall. While many wild birds and animals are migrating to avoid the colder winter months, squirrels are busy collecting material and assembling strong, secure nests that can make it through a blustery winter.
Preventing Squirrels from Eating Bird Seed
Since just about any tree in a backyard can be a paradise for a nesting squirrel, it’s not surprising that they’ll show interest in your bird feeders.
If you want to save your bird seed for birds, your best option is to limit a squirrel’s ability to get to the feeder. If they do get to the feeder, then you can also try to keep them from enjoying what they find! Some ideas:
- Focus on placement –You need to place your bird feeders in areas that work against a squirrel’s physical prowess. Avoid branches, poles and platforms that squirrels could use to reach a feeder. Try using a squirrel baffle or pole-mounted feeder for extra squirrel-proofing measures.
- Select the best type of squirrel resistant feeder – Weight activated squirrel resistant feeders are popular among bird lovers who have large numbers of squirrels visiting their yards. Also, investing in bird feeders that have a baffle or cage will limit squirrel access to bird seed.
- Change the taste – Look for seed that birds love but squirrels hate. Try a thistle feeder or switch to safflower seeds, both of which squirrels dislike. You can also “season” your bird seed with cayenne pepper, another squirrel deterrent.
- Monitor feeder activity – Monitor the bird feeders in your backyard not only for birds, but for squirrels and other unwanted backyard pests. Learn how squirrels and other critters are accessing your feeders and try to come up with a plan to stop them.
- Understand how persistent they are – Let’s face it, squirrels have all day to think of ways to get bird seed out of your feeder. With all that time, along with their keen intelligence, they are a difficult opponent to overcome. Even when you think a squirrel has been defeated, it may surprise you later on!
Of course it’s also good to remember that squirrels are good for the environment, too. As one of the most common creatures in towns, cities and suburbs, they provide a lot of benefits to our neighborhoods.
- They’re fun for us to watch. In fact, for many people a squirrel is one of the few wild animals they see on a daily basis!
- By digging for food, squirrels aerate the soil, which promotes better vegetation growth.
- The nuts and seeds that they hide and forget are either eaten by other animals. If they aren’t eaten, then many grow into new plants.
- Squirrels also eat insects, including tree-infesting beetles and grubs that damage lawns.
- Their unused nests, particularly those in tree cavities, are almost always reused by other animals.
- Squirrels are an important food source for birds of prey.
- Did we mention squirrels are really cute?
Your Squirrel Nests
Take the time to look up today. How many squirrel nests can you see around your yard? Did you ever notice them before? Now that you know what to look for, you’ll start to see them everywhere!
Do Squirrels Harm Trees: How To Minimize Squirrel Tree Damage
Why do squirrels dig holes in trees? Good question! Squirrels typically build nests, also known as dreys. In generally, squirrels don’t create holes, but they sometimes take advantage of abandoned woodpecker holes or other pre-existing cavities. Additionally, squirrels sometimes gnaw trees, usually where bark is rotten or a dead branch has fallen from the tree, to get to the sweet sap just below the bark. Let’s take a closer look.
Do Squirrels Harm Trees?
Squirrel tree damage is generally limited on healthy trees. However, although it is uncommon, removal of too much bark around the circumference of a branch can block movement of sugars and the branch can be damaged.
Bark may also be damaged if fungal infections enter the damaged wood. Broad-leaved trees are most vulnerable to damage by squirrels. Again, tree damage by squirrels isn’t a common occurrence.
Preventing Squirrels from Making Tree Holes
You may be fighting a losing battle when it comes to preventing squirrels from making tree holes. It’s extremely difficult to remove squirrels and even if you do, more will move into the vacated area. However, you can take steps to limit squirrel tree damage.
The most effective way to limit squirrel tree damage is to care for trees properly, as a healthy tree is very resistant to damage by squirrels. Water, fertilize and prune properly. Treat insects and diseases as soon they appear.
Wrap the base of the tree with a sheet of tin to prevent squirrels from climbing up the tree. Be sure the top of the tin sheet is at least 5 feet (1.5 m.) from the ground. Keep in mind, however, that this method won’t work if the tree is within jumping distance of structures or other trees. You’ll also need to remove all low-hanging branches.
You can also wrap the base of young trees with 1-inch (2.5 cm.) thick chicken wire to prevent squirrels from digging in the tender bark.
Try spraying trees with squirrel repellant such as a capsaicin-based product. Reapply the repellant if it rains.
If your squirrel problem is out of control, contact your local fish and wildlife department for advice.
Grey squirrels damage trees by gnawing at the stem to get to the sweet, sap filled layers (phloem tissue) just beneath the bark. This tissue is responsible for the movement of sugars around the plant (known as translocation). If this gnawing extends around the stem so the tree is ‘ringed’ i.e. a complete circle of bark and underlying tissue is removed, then the movement of sugars around the plant will come to a halt and the tree will die. Removal of any bark and associated tissue will check or restrict the growth of trees.
This bark stripping occurs between late April and the end of July. Very young trees or saplings (stem diameter less than 5 cm) are generally not attacked as they cannot support the weight of a squirrel, the main stem of older trees (40 years+) are usually safe as the bark is too thick for the squirrels to strip.
The most vulnerable trees are sycamore, beech, oak, sweet chestnut, pine, larch and Norway spruce, aged between 10 and 40 years old; though almost any broadleaved species of tree can be attacked. Bark stripping is a problem in woodland where the squirrel numbers are greater than 5 squirrels per hectare. The risk of damage may be greatest where there are vulnerable trees next to mature woodland that produces a good seed crop, which in turn supports a high density of squirrels.
Some of the damaged trees will die, some will succumb to fungal infection. Where the fungus enters, the wood will become stained and may rot. In many cases, the stems will be deformed which reduces the value of the timber. If branches in the canopy are attacked, dieback may result and again the quality and quantity of timber produced is affected.
Bark Stripping Damage
Damage is recognised to be associated with high numbers of squirrels, especially juveniles entering the population during early summer, and tends to occur at densities of 5 or more squirrels per hectare (ha).
This occurs when there has been successful spring breeding (from January to April) following a good seed/mast crop the previous autumn. Note that average summer densities in mixed woodland habitats are around 8, but may reach 16 per ha.
Fresh Bark Stripping
Damage risk will be highest where stands of vulnerable trees are adjacent or in close proximity to mature mixed woodland areas producing good seed crops, as these will support high squirrel densities.
Effects of Damage
Up to 5% of damaged trees may die and many more will have degraded timber value through stem deformation, rot and broken tops. Oak, poplar, Scots pine and Norway spruce are particularly vulnerable to stem breakage.
Top blown out of 40-year-old Norway Spruce following squirrel damage (Forest of Dean).
Fungal invasion at the damage site causes staining and rotting, reducing the value of the timber. Callusing is common and disguises damage or staining present in the timber at felling age. There may be a reduction in annual increment of up to 2 yield classes, and damage to branches in the canopy may cause dieback, with timber yield being affected if 30% of the canopy is lost.
Predicting years of high squirrel damage will enable better targeting of control, reducing both costs and the number of squirrels killed. A new method (Index Trapping) is currently being developed. This explores the relationship between grey squirrel populations, winter food availability, spring breeding success and damage the following summer.
Bark stripping at a National Trust property in the South of England.
Grey squirrel traps are set during a week in early January in habitats likely to hold high density squirrel populations (i.e. mature broadleaved or mixed woodland) adjacent to damage vulnerable habitat.
Damage Control Strategy
Control for tree damage prevention should aim to reduce resident squirrel densities to below damaging levels (<5 per ha) just prior to and during the main damage period (April–July). It should be targeted in good squirrel ‘holding’ habitat adjacent to damage-vulnerable plantations. However in areas managed under ‘continuous cover’ holding and vulnerable areas will be intimately mixed. Studies have shown that all resident squirrels in a previously marked population can be trapped or poisoned within 5 weeks.
However, grey squirrels are extremely mobile and can recolonise isolated woodland within 3
months and a non-isolated area within 1 month. Thus killing squirrels at any other time of year will not reduce subsequent levels of squirrel damage.
The timing of control is important. Starting too early will allow grey squirrels in neighbouring areas to move in before the beginning of the damage period, resulting in a greater control effort and unnecessary killing of animals. Tree seed remaining on the woodland floor will also reduce the efficacy of the control measures9. Starting too late may not allow time to reduce the population sufficiently to prevent damage. Control, using live and spring traps or warfarin poison, should continue throughout the damage period to remove recolonising animals.
Effective squirrel control may be difficult where the holding and adjacent damage-vulnerable woodlands are in different ownership. Collaborative control, through either informal or formal ‘Squirrel Control Groups’, enables better planning of control over wide geographic areas. It also provides the potential for joint contracts for control, or other strategies.
In relatively low densities, squirrels can be beneficial to our woodlands; they play an important role in the spread, regeneration and structure of the tree species and, in particular the Red squirrel, aid the dispersal of several species of fungi (see Woodland Regeneration). Squirrels can, nonetheless, also be a significant pest to forestry, particularly when densities exceed about five per hectare (500 per sq-km or 1,300 per sq-mile).
Today it is the Grey squirrel that is the focus of persecution from forestry owners, but historically Reds have been considered pests and were targeted by squirrel ‘destruction societies’. Indeed, in his 1930 appraisal of the Red squirrel in Britain, Adrian Middleton noted how in the New Forest, Hampshire, between 1880 and 1927 some 21,352 Red squirrels were shot as forestry pests; 2,281 of these were killed in 1889 alone. To the best of my knowledge, there are no figures for the number of Greys shot annually in the UK.
Probably the most significant problem that squirrels cause forestry owners is tree damage caused by bark stripping. Both species will strip bark, but Greys are considered a more significant pest because they are more widespread and live at higher densities than Reds, meaning that they have the potential to do more damage in a given woodland. Squirrels will strip off bark to eat and to use in the construction of their dreys, but in many cases it appears that the bark is removed in order to satisfy a nutritional need. During the winter, Red squirrels will also strip bark from dead or dying oak trees in order to harvest the Vuilleminia fungal mycelium (the body of the fungi that spreads masses of filaments out into its food source) underneath. Sycamore and beech appear to be at greatest risk, followed by oak, while cherry and hazel are seldom targeted.
In their chapter on Grey squirrel bark stripping behaviour in The Grey Squirrel, Christopher Nichols and Robin Gill note that, on the trunk at least, it is generally accepted that trees between 10 and 40 years of age are most susceptible; younger trees appear unappealing while beyond the upper age the bark is apparently too thick to allow damage. Indeed, during his study of bark stripping at Lady Park Wood in the Wye Valley on the England-Wales border, Edward Mountford found that stands of 40-50 year old trees were most at risk, while those more than 100 years old remained largely unscathed. Nichols and Gill are quick to point out, however, that the picture may be more complicated and that ease of bark removal is not correlated with tree species preferred by Greys. They mention that the bark stripping “season” typically runs from late April until late July, although can continue into September – most economic damage is done to the timber crop in June and July.
Squirrels will strip patches of bark from a tree trunk or branch, which essentially creates a wound that leaves the tree open to attack from insects and infection by fungus. Perhaps a more significant form of the behaviour, however, is so-called ring-barking or girdling, where they chew away a narrow ring of bark tissue from a branch. Bark, as it is phytologically defined, is an inclusive term for the part of the tree comprising four tissues: the cork; cork cambium; phelloderm; and the phloem. The tissue of interest here is phloem. Basically, a plant’s vascular system is composed of two “conducting” tissues: the phloem and the xylem.
The xylem is a dead tissue made up of tubular cells that carry water and minerals up from the roots, while the phloem is a similarly structured but living tissue that distributes sugars, amino acids and various other organic nutrients throughout the plant. Consequently, bark stripping involves the removal of the phloem tissue and causes a break in the food transport system to the affected limb. This process is something akin to wearing a very tight ring on your finger; after a while the finger begins to turn purple because the blood vessels that usually supply the tissues with oxygen and food, and remove metabolic waste, have been vastly restricted by the ring – if the ring isn’t removed the finger will die. The same process happens in ring-barked trees: the branch dies and either falls to the ground or is snapped off by the wind – either way there is a dieback of the tree. During their study of bark stripping damage in the Forest of Dean, south-west England, Brenda Mayle and colleagues observed that between 2% and 17% of trees were ring barked in any given year, with most damage concentrated above four metres (10 ft.) up the main trunk.
Why strip bark?
The reasons for this debarking behaviour are poorly understood. It has been suggested that squirrels may strip bark as a means of grinding down their incisors, which grow continuously throughout their lifetime, but in such cases one might expect incidents of bark stripping to correlate with availability of other hard foods and it does not. Captive squirrels, provided with food ad libitum, still strip bark, suggesting it is not a response to hunger. Observations of Grey squirrels at Wytham Woods in Oxford suggest that bark may be an important source of nutrition to squirrels at certain times of the year – here adult females and spring-born young were seen returning to the same trees each day to feed on the inner layers of the bark. Indeed, it may be a particularly rich source of calcium for squirrels.
Bark is often collected for use in drey (nest) construction. – Credit: Sergii Dymchenko
The calcium connection
In a recent paper to the journal Forest Ecology and Management, a team at the Royal Veterinary College investigated the idea that squirrels may strip bark to get at the calcium contained within the phloem. The team, led by Chris Nichols at the RVC, reviewed the literature on bark stripping in light of particular phases of the Grey squirrel’s reproductive cycle and the minerals contained both in the phloem and other food sources during different seasons. They found that the peak period of bark stripping, May to July, coincides with newly-weaned squirrel kittens gaining their independence. These young squirrels are undergoing their main period of bone growth, while the adult females are recovering from the bodily calcium drain caused by lactation. Furthermore, during these months the trees themselves are growing (the amount of calcium in the phloem during spring/summer can be 40% greater than that present during winter) and the tree species favoured for de-barking, oak and beech, both have a high percentage of calcium and exceptionally high calcium to phosphate ratio.
It has long been known that squirrels will gnaw at limestone rocks and other calcium-rich objects, such as skulls and deer antlers, and calcium-seeking behaviour during and after lactation is well documented in other mammals, such as rats. Indeed, in lab rats we know that the calcium content of their bones declines by up to a third during peak lactation. The squirrels’ normal food is relatively low in calcium; a hazel nut, for example, contains about 0.1% calcium, whereas oak bark contains almost 3%, so thirty times more.
A Red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) stripping bark. – Credit: Marc Baldwin
Nichols and his colleagues also noted how trees vary in their calcium levels, both within and between individual trees, with branches often having higher concentrations than the trunk – this might explain why some trees are more vulnerable to de-barking than others, and why branches tend to be afflicted most frequently. More work needs to be done, particularly looking at whether the form that calcium takes in tree bark, the inert compound calcium oxalate, can be absorbed by squirrels, but this review lends considerable support to the so-called ‘Calcium Hypothesis’ as an explanation for bark stripping behaviour in squirrels.
Another popular theory is that the squirrels are after the tree sap; probably phloem sap, which is predominantly sucrose. This theory helps explain why some species and ages of tree are targeted more than others; the apparent preference of Greys for beech and sycamore during their most intense growth phase, for example. If the squirrels are attacking trees in order to gain access to the sap, it is presumably quantity of sap rather than quality that they are looking for: squirrels do not appear to target trees with the highest sap sugar content, but the peak bark stripping period coincides with peak sap production and width of the phloem tissue itself.
In a study of 30 English woodlands in the Midlands between Stamford, Luton, Reading and Oxford, during the 1980s, for example, Robert Kenward and Tim Parish found that bark stripping by Greys was most consistently correlated with phloem width – trees with wider phloem (and therefore greater sap volume) were targeted most often. In their paper to the Journal of Zoology in 1986, Kenward and Parish noted that:
“Although squirrels were not responding significantly to sugar concentration, they were obtaining most sugar per unit area from the most extensively stripped trees.”
A melanistic Grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) licking sap. – Credit: Marc Baldwin.
If we think of sap as a can of sugary drink, this is akin to saying that, overall, the squirrels can consume more sugar by going for a less concentrated drink that can be drunk through a wide straw than a more concentrated one that can only be drunk with a narrow straw. That said, it has also been suggested that other factors, such as tannins, may reduce the palatability of sap of some trees and that affects the squirrel’s choice of tree, although this has yet to be confirmed.
Finally, it has been conjectured that bark stripping may be an agnostic or displacement behaviour, because it frequently occurs when squirrel densities are high. Interestingly, during her Berkshire-based study on Grey squirrel behaviour, Jan Taylor found that bark stripping was most prevalent just after oestrus at the points in her study area where two or more female ranges overlapped, suggesting that females were largely responsible and it was in some way connected to areas where territory holders meet. Similarly, a study led by Scottish Natural Heritage’s Jenny Bryce, published in 1997, looked at bark damage caused by Red squirrels in a pine forest in Fife, Scotland and found the compartments with the highest squirrel density also suffered the greatest bark damage. In The Eurasian Red Squirrel, Stefan Bosch and Peter Lurz note:
“The scale of the damage is influenced by the local density of squirrels and may be linked to agonistic behaviour. Aggressive interactions with other squirrels may trigger displacement activity such as gnawing on bark when densities of squirrels, and especially juveniles from spring litters, are high.”
During their study, Kenward and Parish also found that bark stripping always occurred when juvenile densities were high and they noticed a tendency for damage to reoccur in the same location during subsequent years, suggesting that squirrels may learn the behaviour. They concluded:
“The results are consistent with bark-stripping being initiated by juvenile squirrels, or by older squirrels which had learned the habit …”
Some authors have suggested that bark stripping is a UK phenomenon and not something that Greys do in their native North America. In fact, this is a misconception Greys do strip bark in the USA, although it is much less common. The North American sugar maple (Acer saccharinum), which is a source of maple syrup, suffers significant bark stripping in some areas of the US. Nichols and Gill point out that economically important bark stripping occurs when the width of the phloem exceeds 0.3 cubic centimetres under each square centimetre of bark. They also note that, based on a study of 16 woodland sites in the USA where the Grey is native, the trees had low phloem widths. Low phloem widths and the observation that the bark of many of the tree species thickened more quickly with age than their UK equivalents are thought to be the main reason bark stripping by Greys in North America is uncommon.
Whatever the root cause(s) for bark stripping, this behaviour can cause considerable damage to a plantation. Damage from bark stripping is particularly apparent in orchards, market gardens and arable crop plantations that are inopportunely located in, or peripheral to, prime squirrel habitat. As a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences back in 1993 pointed out, however, bark stripping might also have important positive ecological consequences for native species. Branches that die, or become infected with fungal growth, provide important habitat for some invertebrate species and consequently their predators – woodpeckers will, for example, feed on saproxylic (i.e. wood-eating) invertebrates found living in rotting branches and stems.
Removal of leaves
In addition to debarking, squirrels can also cause defoliation, although this may not always be problematic. In 1934, Assistant Professor of Plant Physiology at Yale University, Carl Deuber, wrote a brief article to The Scientific Monthly journal detailing some defoliation activities of Grey squirrels in American elm trees (Ulmus americana) on the university campus. From early May, Dueber observed squirrels feeding on elm seeds, during which time they would remove small twigs, strip off the seed cluster (or dexterously remove the oily kernel) and discard the branch and associated leaves.
Dueber recognised that the loss of leaves represented a physiological loss to the trees and began monitoring the squirrel’s behaviour. The squirrels were observed to cut twigs rapidly (almost four per minute by one individual) and two squirrels cut 517 twigs, with 2,685 leaves adding up to a surface area of nearly seven square-metres (75 sq-ft)—roughly equivalent to a 2.5m x 3m (8 x 9 ft.) rug—in only one day. Defoliation was marginally reduced on cloudy and wet days—just fewer than six square-metres (63 sq-ft)—while on one very warm and sunny day, defoliation increased to more than 12 sq-m (131 sq-ft).
Cumulatively, Dueber estimated that these two squirrels removed more than 46 sq-m (500 sq-ft) from a single tree during the ten days over which he observed them – Dueber calculated that this represented a decline of some 4% in the tree’s tissue and food generating capacity. Far from being disastrous for the elms, however, Dueber suggested that the squirrels might be providing a service to the trees. The theory was that, because American elms are not native to the campus region, they often showed signs of water stress (i.e. dehydration) and one way they could combat this would be to reduce the amount of foliage. In other words, defoliate to a level that can be sustained by the water extraction capacity of the roots. Considering that Grey squirrels only targeted the most vigorously growing trees, for their abundant seed crops, Dueber concluded that this brief (roughly two-week) stint of defoliation was “about as beneficial as destructive so far as the well-being of the tree is concerned”.
There are few cost estimates for the damage squirrels inflict on timber crops but, in their chapter on economic damage in The Grey Squirrel, Jonathan Derbridge and colleagues suggest that high quality timber from the main stem of trees can sell for around £15,000 (US$ 19,000) per hectare at 2015 prices, while wood severely damaged by bark stripping, which develops calluses, is suitable only for firewood and sells at about £4,500 (US$5,600) per hectare – a 70% drop in value. Based on historical surveys indicating that squirrel damage affected 28% of beech, 24% of sycamore and 7% of oak, the estimated loss on the current British timber crop rotation was £10 million (US$12.6 m).
Even setting aside any economic impact for foresters, bark stripping may hamper woodland regeneration. Indeed, over the 10 years of his study at Lady Park Wood, Mountford observed that “squirrels had critically affected the successional development of the wood”. Similarly, an article published in The Guardian in April 2004 noted that Greys remove the leading shoots of broadleaved trees, inhibiting their growth, and in the Cotswolds and Chilterns, young planted beech were failing to develop as a result of such damage.
Squirrels can easily navigate their arboreal homes by coordinating two structures in their feet. They can quickly change direction and even run headfirst down trees by swiveling their back ankle joints. At the same time, well-developed claws in both the front and hind feet dig into the substrate as anchor points.
Friction-based grip suffices on small tree branches. This is because the squirrel is light, and forces applied by the pads of its paws are at a wide enough angle that friction overcomes the competing downward force of gravity. As a tree branch or trunk gets thicker, however, the squirrel cannot reach around to get this same grip, and friction is not enough to keep from falling. At this point, the squirrel’s claws contribute to its ability to cling to structures that have a wide diameter.
While it seems intuitive that a squirrel’s small size contributes to its agility, its claws also play a critical role as the animal traverses all the possible angles of a tree. As a squirrel moves in various directions on different surfaces, gravity interacts with its actual mass. To prevent falling, the squirrel must keep its mass oriented in a way to counter this downward force: a process known as finding its center of gravity. All forces associated with the squirrel’s weight and its position must be balanced. The squirrel’s sharp claws help by evenly distributing mass across the various diameters of the climbing surface.
Upon digging into a surface, the force of gravity shifts from the squirrel’s paw pads to the underside of its claws. If the surface is porous enough to embed its claws at an angle of 90 degrees or greater, the squirrel can ensure a successful grip and evenly distribute its mass across its claws. This is true at any orientation–whether the squirrel is moving up, down, sideways, or at an angle across the surface. This, in turn, keeps the squirrel’s center of gravity close to the tree, preventing the squirrel from falling.
Squirrels can quickly respond to the challenges they encounter as they move through wooded areas by instantly changing direction. This is a function of their claws’ ability to shift their weight to find the center of gravity, and a wide range of motion offered by their uniquely rotating back ankles. With these adaptations, squirrels are secure with only two points of attachment, whereas humans need no less than three as they climb. Because of this, squirrels can swing from their swiveling back feet while grabbing onto new surfaces at angles that would be impossible for most animals.
In essence, squirrels can deftly hug porous surfaces close enough to keep from sliding down or falling due to gravity. Compare the agility of a squirrel with a human utility pole climber. Even when fully outfitted with gaff hooks, a human cannot achieve the acrobatic agility of a well-adapted squirrel.
This summary was contributed by Sue White.
What motivates the (grey) squirrels racing round my tree – sex/simple aggression/play? And do they get all that manic energy from nuts?
If they are chasing each other it might be turf wars, but it’s probably sex. They can go at it for quite some time and there’s a lot of chasing each other round trees. I’ve seen the male squirrel fall off in the middle of things, pick himself up, apparently unharmed, race back up the tree and carry on where he left off.
Some of it is mating chases – we hear them thundering across our flat roof in the proper season – and they probably breed twice a year, as they do here in Maryland. Some of it is territorial. Our town has big old trees and a high population of squirrels, and I sometimes see one with a big gash on its flank, or no tail, probably from fights among themselves.
In 1980s New York, drug dealers hid stashes of crack cocaine in Central Park. This sparked turf wars when it appeared that the stashes were being stolen by rival gangs. It was eventually discovered, after much bloodshed, that the park’s squirrels were getting into the packs of drugs and becoming addicted – visitors to the park described highly active squirrels behaving aggressively. The phenomena of “crack-squirrel” was later observed in other areas and other countries. Have the police inspected your garden yet?
Their energy is not just from nuts. They eat birds’ eggs, nestlings and tulip bulbs etc. I saw one recently eating a dead blue tit.
Are they chasing a little ball?
It’s the Olympic legacy.
Pure joie de vivre.
Why do they have to have a reason?
I’m 50-odd and it’s high time I saw my first opera. Which one should I see?
When asked what he thought of his first visit to the opera, Mark Twain said he hadn’t “heard anything like that since the orphanage burned down”.
Ian Joyce, Milton Keynes, Bucks
My first opera was Madame Butterfly. I can heartily recommend the music (sublime!), the story and the whole experience. I still shiver when I hear The Humming Chorus or Un Bel Di. Have a wonderful time.
The first one I saw was Rigoletto. I recognised a few tunes, didn’t expect the full frontal nudity, and enjoyed the spectacle. I’ve also seen Terry Gilliam’s staging of Faust as the rise of nazism, the Marriage of Figaro and Othello. I still don’t get the weird singing, but enjoy much of the music and the whole theatricality of the show. I would suggest not going to anything minimalist or too long.
Tosca, or perhaps Don Giovanni. Both musically stunning: the first is more of a totally bonkers sex melodrama, the second is also pretty raunchy – and surprisingly funny.
Why do chefs traditionally wear blue and white check trousers?
I asked my dad (a sometime chef) about this 30 years ago. He told me they may have to go into the dining room and look presentable; they can have a spare white jacket to change into, but not trousers, so they are checked to hide the stains/spillages. When I worked in a high end place, the head chef wore plain black trousers (and said all HCs do in France) to distinguish them from the other chefs.
I believe it goes back to the Ritz and Escoffier; things were run on an almost military basis and so the blue check evolved. Interestingly, there was a backlash against the Francophile influence and many English gentleman’s clubs appointed a master cook who wore a black tunic and hat. This tradition still continues today.
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The sight of squirrels vivaciously chasing each other across a park lawn or spiraling down a tree trunk is one that everyone is familiar with. But why do they do it?
There are several reasons why squirrels “play tag,” and a lot depends on the age and the sex of the squirrels in question.
In adult squirrels, chasing is most often related to establishing or maintaining dominance, which is how they settle territorial disputes, according to John L. Koprowski, a squirrel expert and professor of wildlife conservation and management at the University of Arizona.
Squirrels will chase or nip at other squirrels that are feeding in their territory, Koprowski said. The up-and-down spiraling pattern around a tree displayed during some chases is a sure sign of a territorial dispute.
Many species of squirrels are territorial, including northern flying squirrels (Glaucomys sabrinus) and American red squirrels (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus). However, other species, such as the fox squirrel (Sciurus niger), are not. Grey squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis), which are among the most common squirrels in the United States, are not territorial, but they also use chasing as a way to show other squirrels who’s the boss.
“Eastern gray squirrels are not territorial but do form dominance hierarchies in which they establish dominance over each other,” said Michael Steele of Wilkes University in Pennsylvania, who has studied squirrel behavior. “Establishing dominance involves aggression and chasing.”
Another form of chasing, although in a different pattern, takes place in the late winter or very early spring, when adult squirrels start looking for a mate. The males chase females as part of the mating process, using a slow-paced, following technique during which they use scent to assess the female’s reproductive state, according to Koprowski.
The final kind of chasing behavior is seen in young squirrels, who happily chase each other around in the same way that puppies and kittens “play act” fighting, Koprowski told Life’s Little Mysteries.
“Juvenile squirrels chase for much more playful reasons and will chase each other or their motherfather’s don’t provide care or assist in raising young in any wayas they try to develop coordination, strength, and skills…and perhaps just for fun!”
Got a question? Email it to Life’s Little Mysteries and we’ll try to answer it. Due to the volume of questions, we unfortunately can’t reply individually, but we will publish answers to the most intriguing questions, so check back soon.
If you’ve been feeding squirrels in the backyard, there’s a good possibility that you’ve noticed animals chewing the bark off trees. We seem to have a tree that our backyard squirrels love eating. This is why I started doing some research on “why do squirrels eat bark,” so I can take some steps to stop them.
Why Do Squirrels Eat Bark?
Squirrels are known for their habits of chewing on things, which also includes the trees in your backyard. They chew the bark off to use for their nests, and once the bark is removed, the cambium layer of the tree contains sugars and nutrients they love. We’ll also take a look at some other reasons they may be damaging your trees.
The great thing is that most squirrels will only eat the bark of a tree during the winter when other food is short on supply. However, this doesn’t make it right, especially, if they are damaging trees on your property. If you’re having this issue, the best way to control this issue is to provide them with their favorite food, so they leave your trees alone.
If you’ve been noticing trees or branches in your backyard looking like an animal is eating them, you’re not wrong. This is most likely the work of a squirrel. However there are other animals that are known to eat bark and some of them are porcupines, Field mice, Black bears, Beavers, and Mountain beavers.
Do All Squirrels Eat Bark?
After doing some research, I found that the following squirrels love to eat bark:
The types of trees that they love to strip will vary from specie to specie. However, it’s not uncommon for them to strip bark or chew branches from the following trees.
- Japanese Maple
- Autumn Olives
- Atlas Cedar
- Honey Locus
- Pecan (red squirrels love this type)
- Honey Suckle
- Red Maple
- Sugar Maple
- Russian Olive
They prefer to chew on trees that have thin bark because it’s easier for them to get their teeth under than thicker trees. We all know that squirrels love to eat pretty much anything.
Why Do Squirrels Chew Off Branches?
Believe it or not, it’s not common for squirrels to chew bark or chew off branches. If they are doing this in your yard, there’s likely a reason and I’ve listed some of the common reasons below.
If a squirrel is eating the bark or chewing away at the branches in your backyard, there’s a good chance that they are trying to keep their teeth shiny and strong. You and I brush and floss our teeth to maintain their health.
They also use trees to keep their teeth razor sharp. They have long front incisors with sharp edges that help them cut grass, eat nuts, seeds, and other foods. This is one of the reasons feeding them peanuts can help with maintaining their teeth health.
NOT all peanuts are good for them, we highly recommend feeding them the Virginia Inshell Peanuts, which you can get here.
Branches and Nesting
Tree squirrels are known to chew off trees and bark as a means for constructing nests or dreys which are constructed above about 30 feet off the ground. A squirrel’s nest consists of twigs, dry leaves, and grass.
They use the dreys to prepare for the winter and when they are having babies. According to some research, pregnant females will gnaw on bark to help cope with pain.
The sap under trees is packed with sodium and other nutrients that are good for squirrels. Some squirrels like the Easter gray squirrels love pulling the bark off of branches high on the tree. They usually do this at the beginning of the spring and autumn seasons, when the buds and flowers are beginning to bloom.
If this is a problem in your backyard, you can try setting out tiny salt blocks for them, which can be found at your local pet store or online at Amazon. Place the salt blocks at the foundation of your trees and it may help keep them from damaging your branches.
While a lot of salt is not good for squirrels, they do need some in their diet.
Food Shortages and Tree Bark
Dealing with food shortages and predators can also lead to some squirrels going after bark. When they can’t find their favorite foods are food is just in short supply, they will start chewing tree bark from the branches of the tree in your backyard.
Fox and gray squirrels are the tree squirrels that are notorious for this type of behavior, although red squirrels do it too. They are not ashamed to dine on your growing tree buds that haven’t fully bloomed yet.
Squirrels are survivalists and will eat pretty much anything, especially if they can’t find food. While they are known to get food from the destruction of bark from branches and trees. They are also foragers and will feed on berries, nuts, acorns, seeds, and vegetables.
However, they have a wide food palette that allows them to consume pretty much anything. They will dine on eggs from birds, mushrooms, bugs, and even human food.
They love eating, in fact, you’d be surprised at how much a squirrel can eat.
In Search of Water
Some studies theorize that a squirrel will strip the bark during the dry months in search of water. If they can remove the bark and get to the sap, it contains water, dissolved sugars, and other nutrients that are good for their diet.
Do Squirrels Damage Trees?
While it’s true that some squirrels will eat the bark or chew off the branches. The truth is that it won’t really damage your tree unless they remove a lot of it. The bark of a tree protects their growing cambium layer from the different weather elements, pathogens, and pests.
While it is possible for a tree to survive with some of its bark removed, it will die if they have removed a large portion of it around the circumference of the tree.
How to Keep Squirrels From Eating Tree Bark?
One of the best ways to keep squirrels from eating your trees is to place a metal flashing around the tree’s trunk. Make sure that it is at least 2 feet wide or tall and long enough to wrap around the entire tree.
I’ve also read that it’s good to remove the flashing every once in a while so it doesn’t kill the tree. At least that’s we’ve been doing with our own trees.
Unfortunately, there’s not a lot that can be done to keep your yard squirrels from eating the bark from your trees. Some people use traps to relocate them to other areas, but the truth is that they’ll probably just come back.
Since we’ve put the flash on the tree and kept our squirrel feeders full, they’ve stopped gnawing on our trees. Make sure you read our in-depth guide to find out what squirrels love to eat.
References and Further Reading
Home Guides – Will A Squirrel Stripping The Bark Off My Tree Kill The Tree?
Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management – Barkstripping
Trees Charlotte – How a Tree Works
Extension – Wildlife Damage Management – Barkstripping
Squirrels make their homes in trees and can be relaxing and fun to watch. For the most part they don’t pose a risk to trees, but that doesn’t mean they can’t. Milam’s Tree Services addresses some of the ways squirrels cause tree damage and how to stop it!
Tree Damage Caused by Squirrels
Tree bark protects a tree’s vulnerable, growing cambium layer from the damaging effects of weather, pests and pathogens. Trees can survive some bark removed from the tree but if damage is too severe it can kill the tree. Squirrels can damage and kill trees. Seedlings and young trees can have an expandable protective wrap around their trunks. If there is a lot of competition for food, squirrels will strip tree bark to eat the inner tree bark. When the bark is removed from the tree it makes the tree vulnerable to parasites and microorganisms that can enter the tree. This can be more common in the colder months. This can be severe, if not fatal for trees that are chosen for this assault. If the inner bark is removed all away around a branch, the tree will die. If the inner bark is removed all the way around the main stem of a tree, the whole tree will most likely be lost. When emergent buds start to emerge, and leaves are also at risk when squirrels are hungry. When too many of these buds and leaves are eaten, it can stunt the growth of the tree and can make the tree look odd. If you have nut trees, then squirrels will harvest them too. When squirrels remove too many nuts it can affect the normal reproductive processes.
How to Prevent & Stop Tree Damage from Squirrels
There are several ways you can protect trees from squirrels. Trees can be fitted with large metal bands that will make it more difficult or impossible for them to climb them. Metal flashing can be placed around the trunk of the tree. The flashing needs to be at least two feet wide, or tall, and more than long enough to wrap around the tree so it can be adjusted as the tree grows and so it can be secured with screws. The top of the flashing needs to be at least five feet from the ground. There are also special chemical repellents that can be applied to deter squirrels. These repellents can keep squirrels away but can’t completely stop them from gnawing. However, it can reduce the severity of the damage. Depending on where the tree is on the property and its proximity to power lines or other structures, you can have the limbs trimmed to make it harder for them to gain access.
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You shouldn’t wait if squirrels are damaging your trees. The damage done to the tree and the health of the tree will determine if it can survive. A professional tree service like Milam’s Tree Service can give you advice and come up with the best ways to save your trees. If you’re having problems with squirrels damaging your trees, you can contact Milam’s Tree Service for help.