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Of squirrels and trees and baffles

by Tara Allison

(Brian Peterson)

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Isn't it enough we must battle squirrels year-round over control of our bird feeders? What about the holes they dig in our lawns? And the veggies and fruits they leave only half-eaten and rotting in our garden? And, don't even get me started on all the wounds my trees bear from stripped-off bark. As if that isn't enough, when they aren't busy scarring trees, they're tearing off twigs and leaves for nest building, or worse.

In the fall, those rascally rascals get busy at tearing up the Lacebark Elms in my yard. They nip off the tips of branches, where the seeds are hanging, eat only a few and then drop what remains. Eventually, the ground below becomes littered with thousands of small twigs still bearing leaves and seeds. Some years, virtually all the new growth on the trees is removed this way. If I was looking for them to be beautiful, I'd be mightily disappointed. This probably happens in your yard, too. Totally aggravating!

Of course, trees play a large role in the lives of squirrels. First of all, unless they can find a nice, cozy attic, squirrels live in them year-round. And then there's the food: In summer, delectable fruits. In fall, acorns, nuts and seeds. In late winter, when food is most scarce, squirrels will strip bark and eat the underlying tender and sweet cambium layer. They can kill a limb if they strip off more than 50 percent of its circumference or 30 percent of its leaves.

When we create a wildlife-friendly yard, including trees favored by wildlife, we should expect them to be used and enjoyed, whatever the outcome. Sometimes, though, we plant one we'd like for birds, bees and butterflies to enjoy and squirrels not to destroy.

Scour the internet for solutions to the problem and here's what you find: Spray trees with cayenne pepper (but you'll have to re-spray every time it rains, and it usually doesn't deter them, anyway.) Spray deer repellent (again, you'll have to re-spray after rainfall). Hang a fake bird of prey in the tree to scare squirrels away (really, they're simply too smart for this trick). Live-trap and relocate squirrels (others will quickly fill the void.)

There seems to be no solution unless you keep your trees well-spaced from jumping-off places, such as other trees, roofs, electric and cable lines -- squirrels can leap 8 to 10 feet between objects. You may be able to protect your tree if limbs can be trimmed back far enough and you use a baffle around the trunk.

A baffle is a slick sheet of metal or plastic that fits around the trunk, acting as a barrier to keep squirrels from climbing up. The slippery surface prevents them from clinging to it; they just slide back down. You can find baffles online, but they're all designed to fit above or below a bird feeder. (If the circumference of your tree is small enough, you can use one of those. However, the bottom of the baffle must hang 5 to 6 feet above ground. Is your tree tall enough?)

Want to try your hand at a homemade baffle? They aren't hard to make. Here are two ways:

Make a metal squirrel baffle

A metal baffle is the most durable. Sheet metal is expensive and you may have to purchase it in a roll that's more than you need. Select a 2-foot-wide roll. Cut the metal larger than the circumference of the trunk. (Careful, the metal edge will be sharp.) Don't make it too snug, allow for tree growth and enlarge it later when it begins to fit too tight.

Form the baffle into a cone shape, tighter at the top than the bottom. Or leave it straight, like a sleeve, if you prefer, but not so loose-fitting that squirrels can skinny through it from underneath.

Remove any interferring limbs and mount the baffle so that the bottom is 5 to 6 feet above the ground, as squirrels can jump that high.

Easy-to-make plastic baffle

An inexpensive alternative to sheet metal might work for you. Just get a 5-gallon paint bucket -- available at any hardware or paint store for only a few dollars -- some wire to hang it, and two eye bolts. Power tools aren't necessary, but a hacksaw and keyhole saw will make the job easier.


Measure the circumference of the tree trunk and draw a corresponding size on the bottom of the bucket. The size shown here is 8 inches, which will fit a trunk up to about 6 inches around. Drill a pilot hole so you can insert your saw to get started.


Photo of plastic bucket with a large hole cut of of bottom We used a jigsaw to cut out the bottom, but it can be done with a keyhole saw, tin snips, wire cutters, or even a heavy-duty utility or carpet knife.


Photo of a plastic bucket with the top being sawed off with a hacksaw Remove the handle part of the bucket.


Photo of plastic bucket being sawed lengthwise with a hacksaw Cut through the bucket from top to bottom on one side only.


Photo of a plastic bucket with a v-shaped notch being cut Cut a V-shaped notch on the bottom, on the opposite side.


Photo of  a plastic bucket with the two sides spread apart The V notch will allow you to 1) expand the two sides of the bucket so you can fit it around the tree and 2) to overlap it into a cone-shape. Cut the size of the notch according to how much you need to overlap to form the cone-shape for your tree.


Photo of plastic bucket with two eye bolts Attach 2 small eye bolts through the bucket's bottom on opposite sides.


Photo of rough edges of plastic bucket being filed off  A file will smooth the cut edges, make them look nicer.


PHoto of plastic bucket showing sides overlapping By overlapping the top sides of the bucket more than the bottom, it will form into a cone. (Or leave it even, like a sleeve; it's up to you).


Photo showing plastic bucket suspended by wire and encircling tree trunk Attach wires to the eye bolts and loop them over branches above to hold the bucket in place.


Photo showing plastic bucket with sides held together with duct tape Secure the sides together with a flat-head screw at top and bottom -- or try duct tape!


Final photo of finished plastic bucket squirrel baffle No, it ain't pretty, but with a coat of brown paint it will blend into the background. Squirrels can climb under the bottom, but can't get through at the top. If they jump on the outside of it, they slide off.

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Fox squirrel at a glance:

Appearance: Reddish or orangish above, lighter on belly.
Size: Fox: 2 1/2 - 3 lbs., (17 - 28 in. long)
Lifespan: 6 - 12 years
Range/habitat: Where there are trees: Eastern half U.S., some in western U.S.
Behavior: Solitary, diurnal
Foods: Nuts, fruits, veggies, insects, nestlings
Cover/nesting: Nest in trees, other safe places
Reproduction: Mating Dec., Jan., Feb., June. Gestation 45 days. Usually 3 young
Predators: Hawks, owls, fox, coyote, auto

Gray squirrel at a glance


Appearance: Gray above, white below
Size: 1 1/2 lbs., (17 - 20 in. long)
Lifespan: 6 - 12 years
Range/habitat: Eastern half U.S., some in western U.S.; where there are trees
Behavior: Solitary, diurnal
Foods: Nuts, fruits, veggies, insects, nestlings
Cover/nesting: Nest in trees, other safe places
Reproduction: Mating Dec., Jan., Feb. Gestation 45 days. Usually 3 young
Predators: Hawks, owls, fox, coyote, autos

Scientific classification

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Rodentia
Family: Sciuridae
Genus: Sciurus
Subgenus: Sciurus

Species, Fox squirrel: niger
Species, Gray squirrel: carolinensis

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