A gray squirrel perched in a tree, holding an acorn.
Distributing seeds to promote new tree growth is an ecological service attributed to squirrels. Photo by Mathew Schwartz on Unsplash.

Heather N. Kolich, ANR Agent, UGA Extension Forsyth County

I’m feeling rather smug. It’s been four weeks since our most recent effort to keep squirrels from nesting in our gutters, and we still haven’t heard them skittering across the roof.

Gray squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) are the most common squirrel species in Georgia. Although they’re forest creatures that utilize tree canopies as transportation corridors, squirrels have adapted well to living amongst people in developed environments. Unfortunately, human-squirrel habitat sharing can create conflict.

Two squirrels climbing in at the soffit of a house.
Squirrels can enter homes through openings where the siding meets the roof. Photo courtesy of Alabama Cooperative Extension System.

In the wild, squirrels provide ecological services. They’re credited with dispersing seeds – up to 3,000 per squirrel per season. This activity presumably aids in reforestation. Researchers have learned, however, that squirrels remember where they buried nuts, know where to retrieve them for eating, and frequently dig them up and move them, so only a fraction of squirrel distributed nuts may be in the ground long enough to sprout into trees.

With less intention, squirrels provide food for hawks, foxes, and other wildlife. They were a staple food for the Creek and Cherokee people and provided food for colonial immigrants and westward pioneers. As a current-day small game species, squirrels rank second in Georgia.

On the negative side, squirrels can be a nuisance to homeowners and cause costly damage to homes. They can gnaw through siding, soffits, and roof materials to get into attics to build nests of leaves in which to raise young. Well-nourished squirrels can have broods of 1-8 young twice each year.

Asphalt shingles at the peak of a roof, appeared to be eaten away revealing a large hole.
Squirrels can gnaw through siding, soffits, and roof materials to gain entrance to attics, where they build nests of dry leaves and create fire hazards by chewing insulation off electrical wires. Photo courtesy of Alabama Cooperative Extension System.

Squirrels nesting in the attic create fire hazards. To manage their ever-growing teeth, squirrels gnaw on whatever is handy, including insulation on electrical wires. Bare wires can spark on contact, and a nest of dry leaves is highly flammable.

Our squirrel problem started over a year ago, when a mating pair squeezed under the gutter cover to build a nest. They gained access to the roof from a cherry tree planted too close to the house. When we removed the tree during their second breeding season use of our gutter, they found a new way to the roof within a day: up a porch post and across the screen.

While noise – and a blocked downspout – were tolerable nuisances, the chewing we heard during this winter’s breeding season was not. When I couldn’t find ready-made squirrel baffles large enough to go around our porch posts, I encouraged Beloved Husband to wrap the posts in sheet metal. He started the wrap about 6-feet from the ground, tacking the edges to the post, then tacked a second sheet above and slightly overlapping the lower one. This created an expanse of slick surface that denies squirrels a grip for climbing and is high enough and wide enough to prevent them from leaping past it.

From ground level, an image looking up at a second story deck. The posts are wrapped in sheet metal starting around 6 feet off the ground.
Wrapping sections of porch posts with sheet metal creates a no-climbing zone to keep squirrels from gaining access to the roof. Photo by Steve Kolich.

It is working. For several days after our home-made baffle went up, we watched the squirrels climb various trees and scope the leaping distance to the roof. This behavior showed us where to trim branches.

I’m happy to have squirrels in the yard, but not in my home. Denying squirrels access to the roof is the best way to keep them out of the attic and prevent the damage they can cause.