Squirrels in the Austin area are considered cute to many local Austin area residents. We like to watch them play and chase each other around the tree trunks and across the lawns. We like to watch them sun themselves on the tree trunks, and many people feed them to help promote their presence in the landscape.
This all would be great if they were not destructive to local trees and even homes! Many people do not know that squirrels destroy trees by stripping the bark off local trees and even stripping insulation from attic wiring! Often soffit and insulation damage occurs as they chew into and around the attic and roof areas.
In many parts of town, especially areas with a large urban forest, squirrel populations have exploded. With large amounts of food such as acorns and pecans, not to mention bird feeders, and virtually no natural predators, there are simply too many squirrels per acre. When the squirrel populations explode, trees suffer.
Maples, cedar elms, lacebark elms, hackberry trees, mulberry trees and red oaks all suffer damage from squirrels. They strip off the bark on the tops of limbs, sometimes ‘circumventing the cambium’ or stripping the bark off all the way around the limb, killing the branch from that point to the tips. Often they strip the bark from the upper sides of large limb crotches, drying out the limbs and weakening the unions, causing limbs failure.
In certain cases, I have even had to remove trees due to excessive squirrel damage causing large, continual and dangerous limb failure. Why do they do this? Apparently, they are eating the stored sugars made by the leaves in the summer, and that are now stored under the cambium and other cells under the bark. They often peel the bark off in strips, and may also be using it to line/weave their dens. They like the thinner, smooth barked trees and branches on the species listed above.
Squirrels do not hibernate, and may have as many as three dens they frequent at any one time. Their food sources are typically lower during the winter months and early spring, so this is when most damage occurs. Limiting and/or reducing squirrel populations is a good idea, but can be extremely difficult, time consuming and often costly. I have spoken to customers that have trapped and moved scores of squirrels with no apparent dent in the local population. Properties backing onto greenbelts are especially problematic when it comes to all wildlife, and squirrels are no exception.
In areas with fewer trees, squirrels are less prevalent and also easier to keep out of the trees. There are ways to wrap the trunks with inverted metal cones, raise low limbs, clear limbs back from roofs and sometimes separate the trees to keep the squirrels out of the canopies in these areas. Sometimes dogs in the yards also help scare the squirrels off. Keeping bird feeders out of the trees completely or putting up squirrel-proof bird feeders is also recommended. There are also several other home remedies for keeping out squirrels such as moth balls or predator urine, but that don’t always work well.