Originally created 05/02/04

Noisy house guests relocated



At first, my wife thought the noises in the ceiling were my imagination.

"You're just a light sleeper," she said. "There's nothing up there."

But as the weeks went by, the racket became progressively worse - and started earlier in the morning. It was like sleeping under a bowling alley.

Eventually, even my wife - who could snooze through a volcanic eruption - acknowledged what I already knew: we were not alone.

"What do you think it is?" she asked one morning at daybreak.

"I dunno," I replied. "Elephants mating?"

We had no idea how bad the problem was until we peered into the attic with a flashlight. Along with acorn and hickory nut fragments the floor was littered with dark little droppings.

"Squirrel poop," I proclaimed.

"They look like capers," my wife said. "Eeeeewwwwww!"

Later, I mentioned to my friend Johnny that a couple dozen squirrels had established a noisy commune inside my roof.

"They'll chew through your wiring and burn your house down," he warned. "They gotta

go."

I tried conventional means first. An owl decoy did nothing to frighten them. Loud music and mothballs failed. I considered rat poison but didn't want rodent carcasses rotting inside my walls.

After consulting several websites devoted to squirrel warfare (and there are LOTS of them), I decided the best advice was to live-trap them while they were outside.

The chosen trap: a HavaHart Model 1030. It costs under $50 is far cheaper, and more fun, than hiring an exterminator. Squirrels seem to like this model because it has open doors on each end.

There is a smaller squirrel trap but large squirrels (the smartest and most troublesome) sometimes get their tails caught when the door falls shut, allowing them to escape.

Experts suggest baiting traps with peanut butter encrusted with bird seed, which is fine if you want to catch birds. After releasing two sparrows and a cardinal, I switched to corn.

I caught the first squirrel within hours - and a second a few hours after that. A few kernels at each end of the trap lures them toward that glimmering mound of gold inside.

A good night's sleep, I thought, is just around the corner.

Once trapped, the angry critters present new challenges. "What should I do with them?" I asked, in an online post on one of the squirrel warfare websites.

"Never turn a rogue squirrel loose," was the stern reply. "Put them down. Submerge the trap in a kiddie pool if you have to, but don't let your neighbors see. They might be members of PETA."

Suggestions from my local friends were a bit more creative.

"Rig up a harness and use him for bait," one of my colleagues joked. "Betcha a big striper would love him!"

I even called the Phinizy Swamp Nature Park to see if they needed any more squirrels.

"No thanks," was the polite reply. "We need a lot of things, but we don't want your squirrels."

Turning once again to the Internet, I found a website for "The Squirrel Lovers Club" and clicked in, hoping - if nothing else - to find some good recipes.

Instead, I found photos of rodents with names like Nutkin and Petunia - and commentary from people who actually want squirrels around their house.

Reluctant to simply drown them, I decided relocation was the best option, even though the squirrel advice line warned against it.

"Once they're used to chewing into someone's house, they'll do the same thing if you release them," was the reply to my query.

Squirrel dumping is illegal in many states, so I called my wildlife biologist friend Vic, who assured me it is no crime to relocate them in Georgia.

How far should I take them?

"Animals do have a homing instinct," Vic said. "As soon as you turn them loose they go back in the direction they came from."

And while squirrels can't travel hundreds of miles (unless they're in the trunk of your car), anecdotal evidence suggests they have returned from as far away as 25 miles.

Living in a semi-rural area, I figured five or six miles ought to do it, although I harbored fears they might return.

My wife even suggested painting their tails fluorescent orange, so we would recognize them if they found their way back to our yard.

As of this writing, there are 21 fewer squirrels in my yard, and the attic no longer resonates with the pre-dawn sounds of hickory nuts rolling around the boards and sheetrock.

There are a few trap-shy survivors lurking nearby, but with their access holes into our house being patched - and squirrel season opening Aug. 15 - I think the problem is well under control.

Reach Robert Pavey at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 119 or rob.pavey@augustachronicle.com.