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.