Pest Control in February
Easterly winds bring an Arctic blast to the UK and for many animals this is a difficult time of year, food is scarce and the weather is a killer - its now the time that squirrels start giving birth to their first litter of the year, having a sharp memory and an abundance of energy means that squirrels have been busy caching food and they remember where it all is - well around 90% of it. Which is pretty amazing when I can't even remember where I left my car keys overnight!
Squirrels have an early breeding season to get a head start on other species, they have between two and five young at a time and these are ready to venture out of the nest around April or May which is excellent timing when you consider that they are predators and they prey on nesting birds and their egg's. There is an abundance of food at that time of yea, squirrels are true omnivores and will eat bark, seeds, flower bulbs, birds and mice, these youngsters have the best chance for getting strong enough to get through the coming winter.
The grey squirrel has two breeding seasons and the second litter will be born in late summer and even though there is plenty of food in the hedgerow's and on fruit tree's, these youngsters will have the hardest time getting through the autumn and winter which is just around the corner. Mum may allow the females from this last brood to stay with her over winter if there has been sufficient food to stack away; keeping warm is important and with the advantage of incredibly strong jaws and sharp teeth getting into your loft is easy - they can even gnaw through sheet steel.
Squirrels will gnaw through the fascia boards and gain access to a loft, up there they'll scrape the insulation into a great big ball and build their nest which we call a drey inside the middle, we often see all the insulation removed into two or three dreys, each with a squirrel in it.
Although not as damaging as rats with their gnawing, squirrels will chew up soft fabrics to nest in and we've seen them destroy the contents of boxes, the worst thing about having squirrels in your loft is the noise. If we think of rats as being furtive and stealthy, the squirrels are boisterous and very bold. They clump about in the daytime as if they were wearing hobnailed boots and they are not afraid of use, coming into rooms through open windows.
How can we stop squirrels getting into the loft?
That's the million dollar question, squirrels will often use an aerial route into your home and as they can jump over five times their body length any large bushes and tree's within that zone - say two metres , should be cut back. This is a guaranteed plan as they are adept climbers and will just run up the brickwork of the house but it's a simple enough start in preventing squirrels getting into the loft.
They have really sharp teeth and powerful jaws so replacing worn or rotten wooden fascia boards with plastic will just not stop them; one thing that can help if you're prone to squirrel infestation and thinking of replacing the existing boards is to remove the bottom row of roof tiles and run a wall of metal wire mesh down and under the ends of the roof joists to create an inner barrier.
Do squirrels hibernate?
The answer is no they don't, around the northern parts of Berkshire, south Oxfordshire and south Buckinghamshire we have the edible dormouse or Glis glis which people can mistake for a squirrel and that animal hibernates. Squirrels store food away and as they can survive on just about anything they will strip the older bark of saplings to get at the fresh layer beneath - killing the tree in many cases.
What do squirrels eat?
Squirrels are true omnivores and eat whatever is available at the time, you'll often see them eating acorns; acorns contain huge amounts of a chemical called tannin's and one side effect of a diet rich in tannin's is that they get a lot of extra energy and this effects the squirrels in an adverse way. Think of having too many cups of coffee, you end up getting bad tempered - the term "squirrly" comes from the USA and is used to describe anyone thought to be in that state of mind.