In some states, home and business owners enjoy watching squirrels frolic and play, scampering around, leaping from branch to branch in tall trees, or defying gravity by climbing onto bird feeders.
However, in California, most home and business owners do not enjoy hosting a squirrel that can cause damage and create dangerous conditions on their properties.
Fortunately, you don’t have to share space with the California ground squirrel forever.
Here at Smith’s Pest Management, we help Bay Area and Central Coast homeowners get rid of ground squirrels quickly and humanely with professional squirrel control services, so we know a few things about how to get rid of ground squirrels permanently.
Whether your ground squirrel infestation is new or has been a problem for a while, our team can help.
We’ll share our top tips for getting rid of ground squirrels and reclaiming your yard in this post.
- Ground squirrels are some of the most destructive burrowing pests in California and can quickly destroy your lawn or garden. The pests live, breed, and mate in burrows they dig into hillsides or low berms, which can be 5-35 feet in length, and 4-5” in diameter.
- Ground squirrels eat nuts, buds, grain, small frogs, human leftovers, and seeds. They’ll establish communities in any place that offers them ample food, water, and shelter.
- You can get rid of ground squirrels naturally (without killing them) with home remedies like deterrents, decoys, and live-catch traps. Conventional methods like trapping and baiting may be required for more extensive infestations.
- You can prevent ground squirrels from coming back by keeping your yard tidy and free of food and shelter for the squirrels and addressing other pest infestations that may be drawing the ground squirrels to your property.
What is a Ground Squirrel?
California ground squirrels (Spermophilus beecheyi) are 9-11” long with a bushy tail that’s about as long as their body. Their fur is a mix of gray, light brown, and dusky fur, which gives them a mottled appearance.
Strips of darker fur extend from the head to the mid-back, while gray fur forms a cape over the sides of the head and shoulders. Their underside is a pale buff or grayish yellow.
Where do Ground Squirrels live?
California ground squirrels live, breed, and mate in burrows containing 2-20 or more animals. They build their burrows into hillsides or low berms. They avoid flood-irrigated areas, dense woods, very moist soil, or lands that are frequently cultivated and tilled.
If they can’t find a hillside, ground squirrels will dig down vertically several feet to create a safe space. Their burrows are about 4-5” in diameter, 2.5-4’ below the surface of the ground, and 5-35 feet in length.
Multiple generations of ground squirrels use each burrow, and individual squirrels all have their own entrances. A single den may have dozens of tunnels and several dozen openings. Left unattended, ground squirrel colonies can get very large very quickly.
When California ground squirrels are not gathering food to “squirrel away,” they spend their time underground in their tunnels and burrows.
Once they’ve constructed these elaborate burrow systems, California ground squirrels tend to stay close to home.
In fact, both males and females can usually be found within 150 yards of their burrows. These animals are active throughout the year in the coastal areas of the state but may hibernate in the winter in inland areas with extreme temperature variations.
When ground squirrels do hibernate, they emerge in January, when the weather begins to warm up. Females have one litter each spring, averaging about 8 young. The baby ground squirrels first leave the burrow when they are about six weeks old.
What do Ground Squirrels Eat?
Ground squirrels eat a diet of nuts and seeds, with a particular preference for California black walnuts, grass seeds, and poppies.
They also eat fruit (especially gooseberries and prickly pear) and will eat insects and fungi.
What Attracts Ground Squirrels to My Yard?
One of the best ways to deal with a ground squirrel infestation is to understand what’s drawing them to your property in the first place.
Here are a few of the biggest culprits:
1. Food and water
- Plant and flower buds
- Grains like corn and wheat
- Human food leftovers
They may also eat frogs, insects, bird eggs (including chicken eggs), and fungi.
If your yard has acorn or walnut trees, they will attract squirrels. Fish ponds, birdbaths, and streams also provide squirrels with both a food and water source.
Ground squirrels like to live in large, grassy areas that provide plenty of unimpeded space for their excavation.
What Damage Do Ground Squirrels Cause?
Don’t let their small size fool you. Ground squirrels are bad for your yard because of the following reasons:
- Burrowing. Ground squirrels uproot plants in your landscaping and can kill trees and shrubs. Ground squirrel burrows have also been known to divert irrigation water and cause flooding or damage to water retention systems. As ground squirrels dig their burrows, they excavate soil and rock to the surface and leave it in mounds near the entrances to their burrows. Each year, they enlarge their burrow systems and the mounds associated with them, which can make harvesting crops mechanically or using small equipment (like lawnmowers) difficult.
- Crop damage. Ground squirrels eat whole seedlings, nibble the tops of vegetables, and eat fruits and berries, thus destroying your vegetable garden. Since ground squirrels can climb trees and vines to eat fruit and nuts, they can destroy grapes and other crops and eliminate harvests. They also consume crops like alfalfa, lettuce, and berries and can girdle or kill trees by gnawing on bark and limbs or damaging a tree’s roots underground, which leaves the tree vulnerable to fungal infections.
- Structural damage. When ground squirrels excavate under buildings, it can cause foundation cracks and soil erosion that is hard to fix. Even worse, it may impact the stability of your structure.
- Lawn damage. Ground squirrels will gnaw the plastic heads of underground sprinklers, chew through sprinkler lines, and damage irrigation boxes. They will also create bald patches around your yard with their grazing.
- Diseases. Ground squirrels can pose a risk to human health and safety since they carry and spread the sylvatic plague – a flea-borne disease that’s common in wild rodents.
To learn more about the types of damage ground squirrels can do, check out our article on the topic.
9 Signs of a Ground Squirrel Infestation
How will you know if you have a ground squirrel infestation?
Look for the following signs:
- Holes. Ground squirrels create exposed, open tunnels with mounds of discarded dirt around the entrance. These holes tend to appear at the base of trees or around your garden plants.
- Destroyed plants or bulbs. If you notice that the tops of your vegetables are gone, or that the fruit has been harshly chewed off your plants, ground squirrels could be the culprit. They’ll also eat seedlings and certain ornamental plants and will dig up and eat flower bulbs.
- Patchy grass. Ground squirrels can cause serious damage to your yard and can easily cause bald areas with their grazing.
- Squirrel sightings. If you see ground squirrels, or your domestic pets start bringing you dead squirrels, it’s a sure sign you have ground squirrels on the property.
- Chew marks. Ground squirrels could be to blame if you’ve noticed gnaw or chew marks on your sprinkler heads, wood furniture, or anywhere else.
- Strange noises or smells. Have you noticed strange squeaking or scratching noises in your outdoor space? It could be ground squirrels moving around or digging burrows. You may also notice strange, musty smells, which could indicate the presence of ground squirrels and their feces and urine.
- Droppings. If you see ground squirrel droppings, which are solid, black or brown in color, tubular, and rounded in shape, it’s a sign that ground squirrels are frequenting your property.
- Missing chicken eggs. If you have backyard chickens and you’ve noticed missing eggs, it could mean that ground squirrels are stealing and eating them.
- Nests. Like tree squirrels, ground squirrels make nests. These nests are made of leaves, twigs, bark, moss, and other organic materials compressed into a dense bed.
Once you’ve identified a ground squirrel infestation, you need to move fast to put an end to it.
Follow our tips on how to get rid of ground squirrels naturally or contact Smith’s to help you get rid of the pests (if you’re in the San Francisco Bay Area, California).
Managing Ground Squirrel Populations
Managing ground squirrels can be difficult since the management actions needed to control them depend on the activity pattern and feeding preferences of the squirrels and the time of year.
That said, some of the most management tactics for ground squirrels include the following:
Habitat modification can be an effective control method for ground squirrels. Removing prunings, rock, and wood piles that ground squirrels use as shelter can deter them from creating burrows.
Plowing deep lines along fence perimeters will also destroy the entrances to ground squirrel burrows and help deter the pests. That said, fumigants, baiting, and traps are still the most effective control methods.
Introducing natural predators like coyotes and hawks can help control ground squirrel numbers but will not eliminate the need for other, more intensive ground squirrel control methods.
How to Get Rid of Ground Squirrels Naturally (Without Killing Them)
You want to get rid of ground squirrels, but you don’t feel comfortable killing them.
Don’t worry – there are plenty of home remedies ground squirrels hate.
Here are 8 common remedies:
1. Natural predators
Wondering how to keep squirrels away from the garden?
While it might seem strange to solve a rodent problem by introducing more animals, inviting predators to your yard can resolve your ground squirrel population.
Plant tall trees to attract hawks and other raptors or use large rocks and brush cover piles to attract snakes that will eat the ground squirrels.
✔ Long-term solution
× Labor-intensive to set up
× Many people do not feel comfortable attracting snakes and birds of prey to their yards, especially if they have young kids
Ground squirrels hate noise. Luckily, you can use this to your advantage by using ultrasonic ground spikes to drive them away.
Purchase vibrating stakes at your local hardware store and place them in the ground near burrows.
You can also hang wind chimes or add a few moving lawn ornaments that create below-ground vibrations to scare away squirrels.
Other forms of hazing are also common: these include motion-activated devices that blast artificial hawk or predator sounds or the use of dogs to scare gophers.
✔ Easy to install
× May be unsightly
× Bothersome to pets, which may be able to hear the noise
× Proven ineffective by many case studies
× Impractical for many sites
× Squirrels quickly become desensitized to scare tactics
× Hazing tactics may make an area unpleasant for humans to use or inhabit
While ground squirrels eat almost anything, there are some plants they detest. The scent of narcissus, castor bean, and crown imperial will send them packing.
Plant these varieties around your yard and garden to keep ground squirrels out.
✔ Safe for kids and pets
✔ Adds to the beauty of the yard
× Requires manual planting and maintenance
4. Pepper spray
Soak a cup of plain red pepper flakes in a cup of hot water for 12 hours. Add a splash of dish liquid and another pint of water and strain the entire mixture into a spray bottle.
Spray plants and leaves the squirrels have been nibbling on, as well as visible burrows. The scent will deter the animals and make your yard less appealing.
× May be irritating for kids and pets
× Requires manual reapplication
× Repellents like pepper spray and castor oil can work if applied daily, but the gophers usually come back once the repellent wears off
× Repellents do not reduce gopher populations
5. Castor oil
Castor oil is an affordable, accessible way to get rid of critters.
For best results, mix ¼ cup of castor oil with two tablespoons of dishwashing liquid.
Mix two tablespoons of this mix into a gallon of water and spray it anywhere in your yard you have noticed ground squirrel activity.
✔ Easy to make
× Can affect other pets and animals, manually intensive
Ground squirrels have many natural predators, but you don’t have to introduce these predators to get rid of ground squirrels.
Instead, you can use decoys to scare the squirrels off.
An owl decoy, for example, will frighten squirrels, and make them less likely to call your property home.
For best results, purchase at least 3-4 decoys and position them around your yard, anywhere you’ve noticed squirrel property. Move the decoys regularly to keep squirrels on their toes.
✔ Easy to use
✔ Safe for kids pets, and other animals
× Many people find decoys ugly, squirrels may “get used to” decoys and come back
7. Live-catch traps
Traps don’t have to be fatal for squirrels. Instead, try live capture traps, which contain squirrels and make it possible to relocate them.
Purchase these traps at your local home or hardware store. Bait your traps with pretzels, acorns, birdseed, or peanut butter and place them anywhere you’ve noticed squirrel activity.
Once you capture a squirrel, relocate it at least 10-15 minutes from your home.
Keep in mind that some states don’t allow the trapping of wild animals, so you’ll have to consult your local laws and regulations before taking this step.
✔ Removes squirrels from your property
✔ Captures only target pests
× Requires you to handle squirrels manually
× State law requires all squirrels to be euthanized on-site
× Must check traps frequently
× Can be time-consuming
× Trapping is very costly (sometimes up to $100 per trap)
× Since most populations are dozens or hundreds of animals, trapping may not be cost-efficient
8. Address other pest infestations
Ground squirrels love to eat insects, so dealing with any present insect infestations is one of the best ways to send ground squirrels packing.
Contact a professional pest management company like Smith’s to help you resolve insect infestations and reduce available food sources for ground squirrels.
× This is a long-term solution but won’t remove ground squirrels immediately
Home Remedies that Won’t Work
While the home remedies above will deter ground squirrels, there are a few myths you should be aware of:
- Gum. Leaving gum out for ground squirrels to find will not work. While some people believe the gum will expand in their intestines and kill them, it has never been proven.
- Coffee grounds. Spreading coffee grounds around the entrances to burrows will not deter ground squirrels and may be more work than it’s worth.
- Screening and barricades. Some people install gopher screens underground to prevent gopher infestations. While these options may work in very localized areas, squirrels will readily dig a new burrow nearby. Unless screening can be extended throughout the property, barricades are not viable solutions to gopher infestations.
Conventional Methods to Get Rid of Ground Squirrels
Traditional methods may be a better fit if you’re not interested in home remedies to get rid of ground squirrels.
Here are four of the most common:
Fumigation is a common method to deal with ground squirrels. It is generally most effective in the spring or when the soil moisture is high.
Since fumigation is conducted underground, it’s safer for non-target species while also effectively eradicating ground squirrels.
Conducted below-ground, which makes it a safe yet effective method
✔ Kills animals quickly
× Must be done at a specific time of the season
× Can kill non-target species if not done carefully
Trapping is a practical method for dealing with ground squirrel infestations. If numbers are low to moderate, trapping is a good solution. We recommend using live ground squirrel traps instead of kill traps.
✔ Can get rid of rodents fast
× Live traps require relocation of animals, while kill traps require disposal of dead animals
× May harm kids or pets
× Can trap non-target animals
3. Gas Bombs
Gas bombs are designed to smoke ground squirrels out of their underground burrows and tunnels and kill the pests quickly.
Keep in mind that gas bombs aren’t legal everywhere, so you’ll need to check your local laws and regulations before purchasing and administering gas bombs.
✔ Rapid solution
✔ Will not affect tree roots
× Dangerous to use around pets and kids
What is the best bait for ground squirrels? Here at Smith’s Pest Management, we recommend using a first-generation anticoagulant.
When exposed to first-generation anticoagulants, squirrels digest most of the bait by the time it kills them.
Additionally, squirrels who consume this bait die in their dens, so you don’t have to worry about hawks, owls, and other non-target species consuming the dead squirrels and experiencing secondary poisoning.
To prove the safety of first-generation anticoagulants, the county of Contra Costa scattered these baits along a mile-long stretch of country road.
Then, they monitored for squirrel carcasses, and they found none (meaning the squirrels had died underground). They also monitored for secondary toxicity in wildlife and birds and found none.
Baiting with a first-generation anticoagulant is effective during the summer and fall when ground squirrels are very active.
This method is an effective control option for large populations and will control even rampant infestations quickly.
✔ Effective and affordable,
✔ Provides population reduction and control
✔ California-approved products present low risk for secondary effects on other wildlife or the environment
✔ Easy to deploy
✔ Safe for hawks, owls, and other wildlife
× First-generation anticoagulants contain chemicals like chlorophacinone and diphacinone
× A license and insurance are required to use baits.
How Safe is Ground Squirrel Bait?
How do Pest Control Experts Get Rid of Ground Squirrels?
Ground squirrels multiply rapidly – having 5-9 babies each season. This means even a small ground squirrel infestation will quickly multiply.
Fortunately, professional pest management teams understand this and will take rapid action to resolve your infestation.
At Smith’s Pest Management, we’re conscientious and concerned lovers of nature.
While we help homeowners and businesses send ground squirrels packing, we do so in the most humane and low-impact way available.
We use EPA-approved rodent control products, apply them in accordance with all label directions, and keep a close eye on developing science to ensure we’re never using products or techniques that could harm the environment, non-target species, or the ecosystem at large.
Here’s how we professionally and humanely get rid of ground squirrels:
The first step to remove ground squirrels is to locate their burrows. During this phase, our licensed pest control techs will visit your property, inspect your problem areas, and assess the extent of the damage.
2. Management Plan
Once we’ve completed our inspection, we’ll develop a plan to deal with the infestation. Smith’s uses Integrated Pest Management (IPM) techniques to provide a comprehensive solution without excess use of poison.
Many of our customers come to us after DIY methods fail.
We want to rapidly get rid of your squirrel infestation, so we’ll deploy the best elimination tactic for your property and unique circumstances.
Ground Squirrel Exclusion
Smith’s Pest Management does not provide ground squirrel exclusion, although we will make recommendations if we believe exclusion is a good fit for your property.
Our goal is to make your property less attractive for ground squirrels but as relaxing and beautiful as possible for you.
How Can I Keep Ground Squirrels Off My Yard?
While the following won’t guarantee that you will never have ground squirrels take up residence on your property, they may help minimize their numbers and keep your property relatively safe from their destructive habits.
- Keep all trash in tied trash bags inside trash containers with locking lids to keep squirrels and other foraging animals out.
- If you have outdoor dining areas, make sure to thoroughly clean up after each gathering.
- If you have plants with nuts, berries, or vegetables, keep these areas as picked up as possible, reducing food sources for squirrels and other animals. We recommend raking the yard at least twice a week in the fall when leaves are falling. If you have garden beds, be sure to rake them regularly to pick up and remove any organic debris.
- Eliminate water sources on your property as much as possible.
- Keep your grass trimmed short and your yard uncluttered. This will reduce hiding places for California ground squirrels, which are preyed upon by red-tailed hawks, golden eagles, coyotes, fox, badgers, weasels, house cats, dogs, and snakes.
- Reduce insects (that squirrels feed upon) on your property by partnering with a professional pest control company.
- Install tall fencing or netting around gardens or bushes you don’t want these animals getting into. Make sure the fencing goes at least a foot underground. Chicken wire is a great material to use, since it prevents squirrels from squeezing through the fence.
- Use motion sensor water sprinklers to scare squirrels away with water.
- If you have bird feeders on your property, swap them out with squirrel-proof bird feeders with a cage that prevents squirrels from eating the birdseed, while allowing birds free access.
- Plant mint plants around your home to repel the ground squirrels.
- Build chicken wire frames around your garden or flower beds. For best results, bury chicken mesh at least 4-6” deep around the garden beds or flowers, so ground squirrels can’t burrow under it.
- Spray a cayenne pepper solution around the foundation of your home and throughout your yard to keep ground squirrels away.
- Get a few farm cats.
1. What is the Difference Between a Ground Squirrel, a Tree Squirrel, and a Chipmunk?
While tree squirrels tend not to cause much damage, their ground-dwelling counterparts can be a big problem.
In fact, the California ground squirrel is the most common vertebrate pest in agricultural areas and urban and suburban areas.
To understand the differences between these two squirrel species better, here’s a quick breakdown of their differences:
Ground squirrels burrow – tree squirrels do not
Tree squirrels are not typically a problem unless they find their way inside attics or other places inside a home.
Once inside, they can cause issues because of their constant chewing. A squirrel in an attic can damage a home’s structure, destroy insulation, chew through wiring, or damage stored items.
California ground squirrels, however, cause enough damage without entering the home. Ground squirrels dig. It is what they do. They will dig burrows and tunnels in yards, orchards, around building foundations, patios, decks, and gardens.
And since these animals multiply quickly (each female has five to nine babies a season), infestations snowball.
Large infestations can generate large holes in the grass that present a danger to anyone walking or running there.
Ground squirrels cause damage to lawns, fields, and gardens
Ground squirrel burrow entrances are large enough to engulf a person’s foot, posing the risk of a broken ankle or leg.
On the other hand, tree squirrels live in tree cavities or nests, high up off the ground where nobody is at risk of tripping over their home.
Ground squirrel vs. chipmunks
The ground squirrel and the chipmunk are very different animals. While both are small rodents, chipmunks have a distinct, reddish-brown fur with telltale stripes on their heads and bodies.
Like tree squirrels, chipmunks live in wooded areas and trees, while ground squirrels prefer to live, feed, and burrow in grassy areas like yards, pastures, and golf courses.
2. What Diseases do Ground Squirrels Carry?
Like most rodent pests, ground squirrels carry a host of dangerous diseases, including rabies, the bubonic plague, and leptospirosis.
Many of these diseases can spread to domestic animals or humans, so it’s wise to take steps to eliminate ground squirrels as soon as you notice an infestation.
3. Can I Kill Ground Squirrels?
The presence of ground squirrels can be so frustrating that you might find yourself just wanting to kill the pests. This is understandable, but it’s not always the best way. Shooting squirrels, for example, is a slow and expensive process.
While lethal methods like trapping, fumigation, and baiting (more on these later) may be required for severe infestations, they involve all sorts of dangerous side-effects that pose a risk to your property, landscaping, kids, and pets.
We highly recommend humane techniques, such as live trapping or exclusion tactics.
With a little patience and some professional guidance, non-lethal methods can be just as effective as conventional methods – with none of the unfortunate side-effects.
Are Ground Squirrels Taking Over Your SF Bay Area Yard? We’re Here to Help!
Tolerating ground squirrels just isn’t an option. After all, the pests can cause thousands of dollars of damage to your property. Plus, they can carry fleas and diseases and attract unwelcome visitors like coyotes.
Fortunately, you don’t have to live with them forever. Our team is here to help.
Here at Smith’s Pest Management, we don’t only take care of gopher problems. We trap and eliminate other pests, including California ground squirrels!
If you need assistance with a ground squirrel problem, our team is here to help. Let us eliminate your ground squirrel problem effectively, humanely, and in a way that’s safe for your kids and pets.
Our team helps residential and commercial customers in Northern California – from Marin to Monterey.