Where do squirrels live? Wherever they can.

We have always had a big population of squirrels in our neighborhood, probably because we have many big trees, including our coast live oak.  Oaks in California had a big mast year in 2021, which means they produced many more acorns than usual.  The population of squirrels increased significantly, which is typical of mast years.

Some of the big trees in our neighborhood before they were pruned or removed. Google Earth

In the fall of 2021, several of our neighbors radically pruned their trees, presumably because they wanted more light in their yards and their homes. They also cut down several trees including a big, old tree behind us and several fruit-bearing trees down the street from us.   

Same trees after pruning.

We didn’t give it a lot of thought when that happened.  We respect the rights of our neighbors to do what they think is best on their property. I remember thinking it wasn’t nesting season for the birds, but I also should have given some thought to the squirrels. (California Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists have defined the nesting season as February 1st through August 15th.) Even if I had, I doubt that I would have objected because it wouldn’t have been neighborly.  I have always confined my activism on behalf of trees and wildlife to public land that belongs to everyone (although I have also tried to help property owners to save their trees at their request).  

Fox Squirrel, the species in our neighborhood. Source: University of Utah, Natural History Museum

 We didn’t realize that our neighbors’ trees were the homes of many of the squirrels who are now searching for new homes.  Squirrels have gnawed holes into the eaves of our roof and the wood shingled siding of our home.  They are living in the walls of our home.  If we can’t move them on to new homes, they will soon have their babies inside our home. 

We have found a service that uses humane methods to coax the squirrels out of one-way doors and seal their holes behind them. If you have a similar problem, I recommend the Wildlife Detectives in San Rafael. 

I had not predicted the impact of tree pruning and removal in my neighborhood.  As we try to deny squirrels access inside our home, it only recently occurred to me why the squirrels are seeking refuge inside our home and our neighbor’s home after 15 years of living in peace with them. 

This has been a humbling experience because I considered myself fairly knowledgeable about both trees and wildlife.  Apparently I’m not.  Humans aren’t very good at anticipating the consequences of the choices we make in nature and our choices rarely take wildlife into consideration because our understanding of their needs is limited.  That’s one reason why I often advocate for the “leave it alone” approach to land management.

The Big Picture

The squirrels looking for new homes in our neighborhood are a reminder to keep wildlife in mind when making changes in our gardens and homes.  Our gardens are food and habitat for wildlife. 

But protecting wildlife goes far beyond our own homes because the activities of humans have an impact on wildlife on a population level.  Here are a few examples of projects that have kept wildlife in mind…or NOT!

  • The federal infrastructure bill includes $350 million to construct wildlife road crossings.  Such road crossings help to prevent serious accidents caused by cars hitting animals and save animal’s lives.  California is building a wildlife bridge over the 101 freeway to connect split portions of the Santa Monica Mountain National Recreation Area.  A vegetation bridge is also being built over the Ventura freeway in California.  These wildlife corridors benefit wildlife populations by preventing genetic isolation that can weaken the species. The California Governor’s budget for 2022-2023 includes funding to build more wildlife corridors. 
  • Scientists have learned it is possible to relocate burrowing owls before their underground burrows are destroyed to build new developments.  The owls are enticed into their new homes by surrounding them with the poop of other burrowing owls.  The owls are more willing to stay in their new homes if they believe other owls are living there.  Just like people, they want to live among friends.
  • We must convince native plant advocates to quit destroying important food and habitat for wildlife.  The birds don’t care if Himalayan blackberries are not native.  It is a primary food source that is more productive than its native relative.  When Himalayan blackberries are sprayed with herbicides—as they are regularly in San Francisco—the birds are being poisoned as well.   

There are many more opportunities to take wildlife into consideration in everything we do.  Please write a comment to add more examples. 

2 thoughts on “Where do squirrels live? Wherever they can.”

  1. Such a heartbreaking commentary about a situation that occurs all across the land. When an intersection in Waynesboro, VA, was being developed for businesses of every sort, I went by one day and a Groundhog was on its hind legs, looking around in bewilderment as its habitat had been cleared, leveled for building, and paved over. I could have cried. As Charlottesville, VA, has removed most of its wooded areas for more and more development, people have reported seeing all kinds of animals they never saw before on their properties as these creatures searched for a place to live. Many years ago, I went birding on a property that had begun to be developed. Dozens of Eastern Meadowlarks, birds of open fields, were bunched together in the only small bit of grassland that was left. Again, heartbreaking. Strangely, people then wonder why our wildlife is disappearing. We are hardly leaving anyplace left for them to live! But is there talk of limiting family size? Not at all. People don’t realize what the future holds–starvation as a result of ridding the Earth of the wildlife that keeps the environment functioning properly and instead filling it with people.

    1. Thank you for this wonderful post. Those poor squirrels must be absolutely desperate but also must trust you. We’ve had squirrel friends here in Oakland for decades and for the last few years there is always one who comes through the window to eat from the two food dishes (primarily organic pecans) we leave out for her. They have been so sweet and will pat my foot or look pointedly at me if they need more food. If they get scared because we’re noisy and there are three of us, I can talk to her and calm her down, and sometimes she seems to feel safer with at least two of us home.

      We can’t figure out what happens in terms of where does the previous one go, but think that like with raccoons, the mother will leave her territory to a daughter, but in this case, she must tell them a lot, like that the ladder outside will get her through our kitchen window and where the food is and that it’s safe to let me pet their lush orange bellies, etc. It’s amazing all this is shared since they can’t really watch to see all of the details. I’m not even sure how many there has been in these last few years but I am so thrilled to always have a daily Fox Squirrel.

      It’s a pretty bare neighborhood in terms of trees, and people have become maniacal about cutting down trees since they’ve been told that will protect them from fire, though of course it’s the opposite. But still the squirrels don’t want to move inside with us. They make dreys in our trees and even where some leaves have piled up in our bamboo and smaller trees, so that might be enough for them. But in your case, I’m sure you’re right that the neighbors made the squirrels homeless. As you said, more proof that it’s so much better to leave nature alone. It might sound strange, but you could talk to them. They can respond amazingly to being talked to. If only there was some other tree or even tall shrub that they could live in…

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