Sharing House With So Many Squirrels

Waking in the night, I hear something scurrying across the ceiling, scrambling for a foothold in among the pipes coming up from the cellar to the second floor, scratching around underneath the tub. A rat, I thought. But the next day I saw the varmint dart along the roof ridge and pop through the attic vent. A red squirrel! Not satisfied with the butternut-tree hotel that shaded the porch of our house, he was moving his family into our attic. After all, fall was coming. It would soon be cold.

"Shoot them?" my wife queried when I told her what I'd caught them in the act of doing. "You wouldn't."

"We've got to do something," I said. Lucy and I were enjoying breakfast in bed and through the window we could see the little devils scampering up and down the branches of the butternut tree. "They eat wiring," I said. "They'll burn the house down."

She gave me a withering look.

"Why don't you just close off the vent?" she said.

The next morning when I took the dog out for a walk, I glanced up at the roof and noticed that just above the attic vent, over which I'd carefully nailed some heavy screening, was a small hole about the size of a billiard ball. As if on cue, a red squirrel ran along the roof line and darted through it, flicking his tail. I felt myself begin to boil. I had no gun but I could borrow one. There were also such things as traps and poison. One thing was certain: If I closed off that hole, he would just make another. The time had come to attack the source of the problem. I had been patient for too long.

"Get yourself one of those Have-a-Heart traps," the man at the hardware store said. Relocation was the answer. I baited the trap with some ripe Cheddar and stuck it underneath the bird feeder that very day. Success! Fierce chattering from within. By evening, the two red squirrels that had been living in our tree had been resettled at the end of a deserted woods road.

"What if they don't like it there?" Lucy said. "Could they find their way back?"

"Never," I said. "They're at least three miles away."

"Oh, no," I groaned, as I looked out the window past the breakfast tray the next morning. They were back. In fact, there were three of them. They'd picked up a friend along the way.

The woman at the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife chuckled. "You have a bird feeder and a nut tree as well as a large attic? Woods on three sides? Basically, you've got a sign up saying, 'Hey, squirrels. This is a good place to live!' " She laughed again, even more merrily, apparently caught up in her own flair for the dramatic. "You're in their house!" she said.

"So what should I do?" I said.

She was silent for a moment.

"Take down the bird feeder. Let the birds go cold turkey for a while. They're probably not the same squirrels. Once you get rid of this batch, close up the holes. Maybe the next group won't try to get into the house."

"The next?" I said.

"No matter how many you got rid of, there'd always be more," she said.

I did as she suggested. By the end of the week I had relocated 12 red squirrels. The bird feeder was gone. So were the birds. I gave it another week. No squirrels in the tree. I plugged the attic hole, even painting over it so as not to suggest anything to the "next group." For two weeks peace and quiet reigned - and the butternuts ripened.

Oct. 12. Our first serious frost. I was lying in bed preparing for sleep, pleased with myself for having gotten in the last of the tomatoes, when I heard it - the scurrying of little feet, things being dragged across the attic floor.

I know when I'm beaten. Short of taking off all the branches on the house side of the tree, or putting the cat in the attic for a while, or cutting the tree down.... Temporary measures all.

Let 'em have it, I thought. Why shouldn't they have a dry, warm place for the winter, packed with supplies? We didn't want the butternuts, and there was plenty of room in the attic.

After all, Thoreau planted extra beans for his woodchucks, hoeing their rows as carefully as his own.

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