Yes, you read that right – flying squirrels!
If you live in the Northeastern United States and have an older home near a patch of woodland, there’s a good chance you’ve been renting your attic space to a group of flying squirrels during the winter months.
Do I Have Flying Squirrels or Mice?
Flying squirrels are larger than mice and travel in numbers, which makes them far noisier than mice. A flying squirrel can weigh up to four times more than your average mouse, which makes it far more difficult to move around undetected. If you hear scratching and quick movements above your ceiling, chances are that you’ve identified a flying squirrel.
Why Would Flying Squirrels Invade My Attic?
Flying squirrels don’t gather and store as much food for winter as other species.
When temperatures drop, it’s common for a group of flying to come together to stay warm.
How Do Flying Squirrels Enter My Home?
You think you might be unaffected if you have no trees in close proximity to your home, but a flying squirrel can glide up to 150 feet in the air.
It is most likely that they are entering your home from above, as flying squirrels don’t often “walk” on the ground due to their anatomy. You’ll witness this first hand when you release your first squirrel (more on that below) and watch it awkwardly “hop” to its new destination.
Trapping Flying Squirrels
Northern vs. Southern flying squirrel. As far as trapping them, there isn’t much difference. Both species will be tempted by nuts or fruit.
Habitat. The Southern variety lives anywhere in the eastern United States, from Maine down to Florida. Northern flyings can be found anywhere from the Northeastern US, up to the borders of the temperate climate zone in Northern Canada.
If you live in the Northeast United States, you may be subject to both species!
There are two things to consider when it comes to trapping flying squirrels:
- Their small size
- Their light weight
- Their bite strength
Depending on the species, a flying squirrel can fit through a hole a little less than 1 inch in width and height! Your trap walls need to have tight spacing.
Flying squirrels only weight up to 4 ounces. For many larger traps, that is not enough force to activate the pressure plate that shuts the trap door.
Bite force is correlated with body size.1 While grey squirrels have a powerful bite strength that could bend the thin fencing on smaller traps, flying squirrels are smaller and do not possess that bite strength. Hence thinner fencing on the trap walls will suffice for flying squirrels.
These 3 factors led us to the medium-sized version of this animal trap, shown above. The price has gone up about 10% (to about $18) since we purchased them in 2021, but they do the job extremely well. This trap is very easy to setup and small enough to put just about anywhere.
How Do Know When I’ve Captured One?
Unless you plan to sleep in your attic and listen for the sound of the trap door closing, you’ll be hard-pressed to figure out when your captured a squirrel. That is, unless you invest in a little technology…
You could simply check your trap on a daily basis. Unless it’s very cold in your attic, it’s likely that the squirrel can survive in the trap for 24 hours. However, it’s very likely that you’ll forget a day or two. Or, perhaps it’s not very convenient to visit your attic each day.
That’s where motion-detection cameras come in…
Before you become overwhelmed at the thought of setting up cameras, you should know that security camera tech has come a long way since the days of hard-wired cameras that feed to your 13″ black & white television!
We’re in an age where a small, wireless 3″ camera can last for a full year on a single charge, will being recording at the slightest motion (configurable), has built-in night vision and can be right from your smartphone.
Our personal favorite brand is Eufy, who offers a wide-range of wireless security camera kits at a price that homeowning, squirrel-catching, tech-loving folks like us can afford.
We’ve purchased a few different Eufy Security camera kits over the past 3 years. The first kit came with a hub plus 2 cameras, each boasting a 1-year battery life.
Our most recent purchase only had a 6-month battery life, but the cost-benefit analysis on that seemed to lean more towards saving money. It isn’t really much of a hassle to charge the camera once every six months. And to be honest, the 6-month battery has already gone almost 9 months without a charge.
The kit we are referring to is the eufyCam 2C Home Security Camera System.
You could get away with the 1-camera kit if you wanted to save a few bucks. But strongly consider the two-camera kit for reasons I’ll outline below.
How Many Can I Expect to Catch?
Well, that depends. If you have a single family of Northern flying squirrels, you might get lucky and only have 5 or 6 squirrels. The Northern variety, while they can produce a slightly larger litter than Southern flying squirrels, typically only mate once per year.
The Southern flying squirrel is lucky enough to mate twice per year. While they’re litter sizes are usually smaller than the Northern species, on average, you can expect more squirrels if you don’t capture them after their first breeding.
In our first year, we caught 14 squirrels within 3 weeks! We believe there may have been two families in our attic, as that would be a large litter for a single mother and we had only heard them rustling around for a month or so before we started to pursue capturing them.
Should I Consider Poison?
This can be an uncomfortable subject. Many people consider animal poisoning as a very last resort, or dismiss the idea alltogether. For some, it’s the first and perhaps only strategy for dealing with unwanted rodents. Although I have a preference to avoid poison, I’d like to explore both sides of the argument.
Afterall, I was brought to the brink of insanity with sleepless nights caused by squirrel movements from above. I purchased poison with the intent of using it. I even went as far as to place the poison in our attic. The following day, I discarded the poison and decided to go a different direction.
There are many reasons why one might justify poisoning an animal. If you begin with the psychology of it, many small animals were labelled with words that don’t exactly convey good emotions. Rodentia, the name given by the scientific community to the order of animals that many species of small mammals fall into, has been abbreviated to the word rodent. The commercial industry has further reduced this already harsh-sounding word into the term “pest”.
Squirrels typically do not bother domesticated animals, and the limited jaw strength of flying squirrels (as mentioned above) is such that they don’t often damage tree bark at the level that larger squirrels do. If you grow fruits, they will tempt flying squirrels. You may find damage to your fruit crops. Beyond that flying squirrels are fairly harmless and do not affect our livelihood in the way that many insects and other small mammals do. I believe “pest” is an overly strong word for flying squirrels.
Other reasons for poisoning an animal include it’s relative simplicity and finality. Nothing is easier than planting a block of poison in an animals favorite hiding spot. And there is no solution more effective in ensuring an animal does not return.
The Risks of Poison
If the trapping strategy that I’ve outlined above sounds time-consuming or costly, let me run you through a few of the risks to using poison.
Pets are perhaps the most compelling reason to avoid using poison. Animal poison manufacturers may argue that cats and dogs aren’t interested in small animal poison if you feed them well. The argument is furthered by the fact that you would never place animal poison in an area accessible by your pet.
While both may be true, there’s a another factor that many pet owners don’t consider. Cats and dogs are interested in the rodent itself! If a rodent ingests poison, then is captured by one of your pets, that pet has a good chance of being exposed to the poison in a second-hand fashion.
If you don’t have pets, consider another compelling reason not to your poison… the smell of a rotting animal corpse. Many poison products boast that the active ingredient in poison is not designed to kill quickly. Instead it causes the animal to become thirsty and seek water outside of your home. After which, the animal dies of internal bleeding from the poison.
That sequence of events may happen successfully in some cases. But when it doesn’t and an animal dies inside your home, get ready to wake up to the putrid smell of decaying animal flesh for weeks, or even months (depending on airflow and moisture levels are around the carcass, which determine how long it takes for the animal carcass to dry out).
Do yourself a favor, make poison a final resort or take it off the list entirely!
Do I Need to Call a Professional?
Maybe. That depends on how much the squirrels are affecting your life, how you feel about catching and releasing squirrels, and your budget.
A good professional animal trapper is familiar with the entry points that a squirrel might use to gain access to your attic. In many cases, the animal trapping service can seal those entry points and install a one-way exclusion door to allow the animal to exit the attic, but not return.
For simple removal of a single animal, a service call can start in the $150 to $200 range. But multiple calls are often required.
If you have a couple hundred dollars in your budget, it may be worthwhile to make a single service call to an animal trapper so they can scope out the issue and provide their assessment on it. From there, you can continue making service calls, or consider the DIY option we’re discussing in this post.
There are often free “wildlife control” services offered by local governments, but you may need to report your critter issue as a public health concern in order to receive their services. To see what’s available in your area, a decent Google search is “wildlife control city government”.
We’ve had government animal control come to remove a racoon from our yard, free of charge. But I would not expect them to enter your home and provide services unless there was a real public health issue at hand.
Releasing the Squirrels
Are They Dangerous?
For the most part, no. Flying squirrels are not known to transmit rabies, as often holds true for other small, wild mammals. They are not aggressive. Having captured well over 20 flying squirrels, we have yet to see a single one bear their teeth. But before we dismiss the flying squirrel as a safe, tame, disease-free animal, a little research is in order.
A question that comes to mind more often than it used to, in the context of wild or domesticated animals, is whether or not it can transmit disease to a human. Farm animals have been an overwhelming source of viruses that eventually mutate in order to be transmissible to humans.
The flying squirrel however, has flown (or glided) under the disease radar for the most part. The Northern variety hasn’t seen any cases of disease transmission to human that are easily discoverable. The Southern variety, however, has been found to harbor some transmissible bacteria.
In 2006, a few cases of Sylvatic Typhus in Pennsylvania were attributed to the presence of Southern flying squirrels living in close proximity to human sleeping quarters at a wilderness camp. Although physical contact was never made with the squirrels, fleas and lice are all that is needed to make the bacterial exchange.
If the sounds of the squirrels scattering about in your attic aren’t enough motivation to evict them, then perhaps the thought of contracting Typhus will give you the right nudge.
Don’t Try to Be Clever
Anyone that seen a squirrel scurry up a tree to escape perceived danger would classify them as a “quick” animal. From that perspective, ants would be described as quick animals as well. In fact, any creature with high relative strength in relation to their body size can move their body parts very rapidly, leading us to believe that they are “fast” animals.
The fastest ant in the world doesn’t run at a speed above 2 miles per hour. The average mouse can hit 8 miles per hour. If you search for information about flying squirrel land speeds, you’ll find the results a bit sparse. Any search for involving “flying squirrel” and “speed” will lead you to a impressive amount of data around their gliding speed.
If you lean back into a more general search, that is the suborder of squirrels as a whole, you’ll find reports of ground speeds between 12 and 22 miles per hour depending on the squirrel species. Using this limited data set consisting of ant, mouse and non-flying squirrel speeds, one might assume that smaller animals run slower simply because they are smaller.
If we can take the argument this far, it could be said that flying squirrels, given their smaller size within the suborder that all squirrels belong to are at the lower end of the 12 to 22 mile per hour range, perhaps even slower.
In my own experience, I’ve watched a squirrel escape from a cage and travel a distance of 24 feet (the length of my garage) in what felt to be about 2 seconds. Simple math puts that at about 8 miles per hour.
Given all of this data, none of which puts flying squirrels into the category of fastest animal alive (far from it), you might get the notion that you can “collect” your captured squirrels in a single container and release them in a group.
You may ask, “why would I consider this bulk release method?” Well, to be honest, driving squirrels a few miles away (more on this later) and releasing becomes tedious if you start doing it on a daily basis. And that’s when your mind starts to conceive ways of optimizing the process, “collect and release” being one of those irresistible ideas.
Don’t try this.
Squirrels are Quick
Although you may be able to run faster than a squirrel, trying to herd or funnel one of them is a completely different story. We’ve established that squirrels are not very fast in a land race against higher mammals, but rest assured that they are extremely quick.
I’ve tried opening a cage door and “instantly” forcing it next to an opening to a larger cage. Before I even had a chance to react, the squirrel had realized I opened the cage door, grappled it’s way to the outside of the cage (instead of running straight out the opening as one might expect), and onto the ground. An entire bait & trap process gone to waste.
The moral of this section is…if you’re growing tiresome of driving to release a single squirrel far away from your home each day, don’t try to bulk collect them into a single cage. Instead, obtain two or three cages and attempt to capture more than one squirrel each day.
Where and How Far Away Should I Release Them?
Not so fast. You’ve captured the squirrel, but many states expressly forbid the release of any captured animal anywhere other than the place where it was captured! For example, New York State refers to this as relocating an animal and cites numerous reasons why you should not relocate without contacting a professional. According to DEC website, in the case of flying squirrels, the DEC will take the animal off of your hands.
If you live in one of these states, you have one of two options:
- Release the animal outside of your home, but on your property.
- Contact your local Nuisance Wildlife Control Center for assistance from the DEC.
If you do not live in a state where animal relocation is illegal, the task of removing the animal from your property is still a bit of a chore. The problem relates to the animal’s memory and distance that it typically covers on a daily basis.
In the case of flying squirrels, they may cover up to 2 miles of ground from their “home base”. Effectively, if you capture and release a squirrel within two miles of your home, the squirrel may have visited your release spot before and know exactly how to return home!
It is suggested by some that take a lofty drive, at least 5 to 10 miles to release the squirrel. With this comes the reminder to verify state laws surrounding capture and release to prevent things like the spread of disease.
It is now becoming painfully clear why, in the previous suggestion, we suggest bulk capturing and releasing.
How Soon do I Need to Release Them?
Well, this get’s a bit tricky. Most of us know how to take care of a caged animal, especially a pet (ex: hamster, guinea pig, etc).
Caring for a flying squirrel while in captivity under your roof isn’t much different, except for one major obstacle. That obstacle is the cage door.
Traditionally, you would feed your small pet via an easy access door on the side or top of a pet cage. In our case, we’re using a trap cage, where the door is designed to be large and accessible and permit one-way entry.
That one-way entry presents a challenge when it comes to feeding and providing water to your captive animal. While you can slip berries, nuts and other squirrel favorites between the cage wire, that food it pretty much there to stay. Given longer than 12 to 24 hours and that food starts to spoil, smell or collect bacteria, depending what it is. This isn’t healthy for the squirrel and can lead to an early death.
The inconvenient fact here is that you really need to release the squirrel (according to state laws, see section above) within 24 hours of capture. This furthers my point above about using multiple cages to capture squirrels in bulk, to cut down on time driving squirrels around!
They Are So Cute, How do I Stop Myself From Keeping One as a Pet?
Whatever you do, don’t give your trapped squirrel a name! Good luck letting go of your capture after you’ve starting calling it little George.
If you can’t break free of the emotional attachment, the DEC might make that decision for you. In a few states within the U.S., keeping flying squirrels as pets is illegal.
Beyond that, trying to tame a wild flying squirrel is difficult. A squirrel that was bred under human supervision and handled as a kit (“kit” being the name for baby squirrels), will feel more comfortable in confinement.
It may be easy to capture flying squirrels in your area, but if you’re looking for a pet, a breeder will be a better option (especially if your kit will be handled or cared for by younger children).
Can I Sell Them on Ebay?
It’s a federal crime to break wildlife laws in any state in the U.S. Having said that, you need to consult your state laws to figure out where the line is drawn.
It is fairly safe to say, however, that any sale of a wild animal is going to get you in trouble. Wildlife trafficking, while it may be a strong word for the sale of a small number of animals, is a pretty serious crime.
Don’t remove wild animals from their habitat and sell them.
Can I Eat Them?
We’re getting a little outside the scope of the article here! Although squirrel is edible, a flying squirrel is probably too small to be considered worth the trouble of skinning and removing the undesirable body parts before cooking.
Beyond that, there’s a good chance it’s illegal to trap squirrels for consumption. The laws around hunting squirrel vary by state, but most require a permit, restrict hunting to a certain time of year (winter months, for instance), or put limits on the type of weapon (shotgun and archery being the generally accepted options).
Tips to Make the Squirrel Hunt Less Tedious
We mentioned the use of multiple cages, so you can either capture more than one squirrel per day, or a at least not be required to return to the attic immediately after releasing each squirrel (to reset the cage).
But if you have a couple families of squirrels in your attic, you will quickly grow tired of this daily routine. Especially, if you don’t have easy access to your attic!
It’s a curse that squirrels love old home because of their many easy entry points, because old homes often are missing features loved by modern home owners. One of these features being the foldable entry ladder that sits on top of the attic entry door.
If you don’t have one of these, consider getting yourself a portable, telescoping ladder. Yes, regular ladders work great, but carrying them up and down stairs and moving them in and out of the way with each capture will cause family strife!
Leave your ladder in place between catches and you’ll have stubbed toes and bruised foreheads. Move it out of the way each time and you’ll have banged up walls.
A small, telescoping ladder is perfect for this situation as it collapses to the size of a small window screen and can be stored in any room close to your attic entry.
The ladder we purchased from Amazon last year has nearly doubled in price. However, this one (above) is almost identical, yet still affordable.
As with all portable, folding things, there’s a trade-off. Fully extended, these ladders will flex a little bit if you are a medium to heavy adult. Keep them as close vertical as possible when climbing them.
Can I Prevent Them From Entering My Home Next Year?
This is where the cameras mentioned above come in. By setting up a motion -detection camera, you’ll be able to grab footage of squirrels entering your attic space.
Granted, it may take a bit of trial and error, changing the position of the camera(s) each day to try to identify the entry point. If you can’t find it from the inside, bring the cameras outside and point them at different areas of your home.
You may find that the squirrels take “flight” from a nearby tree branch to land on your roof. Their method of entry might completely surprise you.
Squirrels are actually quite intelligent and have excellent memories, so don’t underestimate them. On the flip side, don’t give up, if you continue to identify and “plug” their points of entry, you’ll eventually find yourself in a squirrel-free home.
- Swiderski DL, Zelditch ML (2010) Morphological diversity despite isometric scaling of lever arms. Evol Biol 37: 1–18.Swiderski, D, Zeldich, M.