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.
Let’s get started.
What is a Ground Squirrel?
California ground squirrels (Spermophilus beecheyi) have 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, which they build in hillsides or low berms.
If they can’t find a hillside, ground squirrels will dig down vertically several feet to create a safe space. Burrows are about 4-5” in diameter and vary in length from 5-35 feet.
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.
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.
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.
- Garden damage. Ground squirrels eat whole seedlings, nibble the tops of vegetables, and eat fruits and berries, thus destroying your vegetable garden.
- Structural damage. When ground squirrels excavate under buildings, it can cause foundation cracks that are 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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
Pros: Effective, long-term solution
Cons: Expensive, time-consuming, 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.
Pros: Effective, humane, easy to install
Cons: May be unsightly, hands-on, bothersome to pets, which may be able to hear the noise
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.
Pros: Effective, safe for kids and pets, adds to the beauty of the yard
Cons: 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.
Pros: Affordable, easy, non-toxic
Cons: May be irritating for kids and pets, requires manual re-application
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.
Pros: Effective, humane, easy to make, affordable
Cons: 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.
Pros: Effective, affordable, easy to use, non-toxic, safe for kids, pets, and other animals
Cons: Time-consuming, 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.
Pros: Effective, humane, removes squirrels from your property
Cons: Requires you to handle squirrels manually, must check traps frequently, can be time-consuming
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.
Pros: Effective, humane
Cons: This is a long-term solution but won’t remove ground squirrels immediately
2 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.
3 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 three 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.
Pros: Conducted below-ground, which makes it a safe yet effective method, kills animals quickly and is humane
Cons: 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.
Pros: Effective, humane, can get rid of rodents fast
Cons: Live traps require relocation of animals, while kill traps require disposal of dead animals, may harm kids or pets, can trap non-target animals, unsightly
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.
Pros: Effective, rapid solution, will not affect tree roots
Cons: 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.
Pros: Effective, easy to deploy, safe for hawks, owls, and other wildlife
Cons: First-generation anticoagulants contain chemicals like chlorophacinone and diphacinone
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.
What is the Difference Between a Ground Squirrel and a Tree Squirrel?
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:
1. 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.
2. 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.
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.
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.
Are Ground Squirrels Taking Over Your SF Bay Area Yard? We’re 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.