By Kathy Brown
OSU Ext. master gardener volunteer, Ohio-certified volunteer naturalist
Now that fall is upon us, it is time to consider those furry comedians that we have been enjoying, and/or waging war with at the birdfeeder. Where do squirrels go in the winter? Do they migrate or hibernate? What do squirrels eat during these months? Can any of these answers be a problem for me?
Though many believe squirrels spend the cold weather in tree dens or tree nests, there are many other locations they will spend the winter. These other sites may not be acceptable to you; they include your attic, barn, shed and under your automobile hoods, to name just a few.
It is rare today to hear of squirrels migrating, but when the settlers first reached Ohio they were plagued by “armies” of squirrels pillaging fields and grain bins. Rivers and lakes were not obstacles to their migration. Squirrels do not hibernate because they are in the rodent family, and one characteristic they all share is continuously growing teeth. To keep this growth in check they gnaw on just about anything. During the winter, squirrels eat the nuts and seeds they have buried, placed in middens or stored in their nests.
So if squirrels aren’t migrating or hibernating, what are they doing? They are eating, sleeping and satisfying their need to gnaw. Some estimated that more than 30,000 house fires a year are caused by squirrels gnawing on electrical wires. Even if a fire does not occur, the odor that accompanies these electrocutions in your home is sickening and sometimes hard to locate. The cost of finding a dead squirrel in your attic or walls, along with the need for an electrician, will far exceed the cost of a hammer, nails, and proper wire mesh used to prevent their entry into your home.
Power outages caused by squirrels gnawing costs utility and cable companies millions of dollars each year. Locally, a community is paying to install devices to keep the squirrels away from the transformers. Despite squirrel guards on poles and lines, the squirrels adapt. They do not discriminate in their gnawing. The New York Stock Market has been shut down twice due to power outages caused by squirrels.
Squirrels get into vending machines and squirrel-proof birdfeeders without any trouble, so once they reach your roof from overhanging branches, invasion is just a matter of time. Now is a good time to check your roof for irregularities and loose flashing.
For more information visit go.osu.edu/squirrels and go.osu.edu/squirrels2.