Ground squirrel is the common name given to members of the rodent family who excavate burrows. They are characterized as having short legs, small round ears and strong claws for digging complex tunnel systems in the earth. There are 38 species in North America, including the more widely known woodchuck, marmot, Harris’s antelope squirrel, rock squirrel, thirteen-lined ground squirrel, California ground squirrel and white and black-tailed prairie dog. Like humans, ground squirrels have a fondness for grassy habitats and garden plantings. Unfortunately, this isn’t exactly a benefit to relations between our species. Active during the day, ground squirrels like to supplement their diet of grasses and forbs with things that we have carefully planted and occasionally dig burrows in problematic places. If either of these concerns is what has driven you to seek advice on how to get rid of ground squirrels, you’re in the right place for helpful tips.
Get rid of ground squirrels
It’s useful to know a bit about ground squirrels when trying to get rid of them. They’re mainly active from mid-morning through late afternoon and have a relatively small range, typically foraging within 75-yards of a burrow entrance. In winter, some species hibernate or are dormant in the coldest spells. Some species also retreat to their burrows in periods of extreme heat and draught. Dependent young may be in burrows from mid- to late-spring through mid-summer. It’s important to keep these timeframes in mind so you can avoid causing unnecessary suffering to animals who may be hibernating, dormant, or too young to leave the burrow.
Change the habitat
Different species of ground squirrels seek differing amounts of cover. Knowing which species you have will help guide the changes you make around burrow entrances to encourage them to leave. For example, temporarily blocking a burrow’s line of sight with snow fencing or hay bales may unsettle black-tailed prairie dogs, whereas removing a brush pile or rock pile to make a burrow entrance more open would be better for getting California ground squirrels to relocate. In either case, adding perching sites for hawks and owls may attract these natural predators, whose efforts will help keep ground squirrel numbers in check.
After altering the habitat around the burrow entrances, you may begin some gentle hazing to encourage the ground squirrels to move on. It’s recommended this wait until after baby season since it is stressful for a mother to relocate immobile young. Once the young ground squirrels are active, you can begin. The goal is never to hurt the animals, but to create just enough disturbance that they question and ultimately leave the burrow site. Here are a few techniques to try:
- Lightly fill burrow entrances with dirt mixed with a capsaicin-based deterrent like Critter-Ridder.
- Lightly fill burrow entrances with used (urine-soaked) clumps of cat litter.
- Place Mylar balloons or spinning garden pinwheels at the burrow entrances to create a visual disturbance.
It may take a few weeks or longer, but the key to success is to combine different approaches that you rotate often.
After you think the current occupants have moved on, the next step is to ensure that the burrows are actually vacant before closing off the entry points. To do this, you must lightly fill every hole you see with crumpled up paper towels or newspaper sheets and wait. If the material is undisturbed for at least 72 hours, it’s fairly safe to assume that the individual burrow opening is inactive and can be closed.
It’s important to note that if it rains during this period though, you will want to begin again with fresh towels or paper so you can accurately determine usage. It’s also imperative that you never attempt to gage activity during a heat wave, draught or winter. Many ground squirrels retreat into their burrows during these times and the risk of accidently entombing them is much higher.
Discourage new burrow dwellers
Once you have confirmed that every hole is inactive during a relatively mild weather period, it’s time to seal off the burrow so it’s inaccessible to other ground squirrels. Dig out the opening and cover with a three-foot square of hardware cloth. Then secure with garden staples and cover with soil, rocks, or mulch.
Protect selected plantings
To protect small gardens from the munching and burrowing of ground squirrels, use hardware cloth with one-half inch openings. Bury it vertically, eighteen inches deep, around the perimeter. If the garden already has a fence, add a three-foot-wide run of hardware cloth to the bottom of the fence. Create an “L”-shaped footer and secure it to the ground with garden staples, then cover it with soil, rocks, or mulch.
You may encounter all manner of lethal suggestions for dealing with ground squirrels, but—in addition to the unnecessary cruelty of lethal approaches—they will ultimately fail. You must address the conditions causing the conflict if you want lasting results.