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L.A. County Online
Tree Squirrels
Last Updated: 02/18/03
There two species of tree squirrels that are native to California. In addition, there are two species of introduced tree squirrels that now inhabit our state. The tree squirrels that are most likely to be encountered in Los Angeles County are the Western Gray Squirrel and the Eastern Fox Squirrel.

How Do I Know If I Have Tree Squirrels?
The Western gray squirrel is about 22 inches in length with a large bushy tail edged in white. The coat can run from a "salt and pepper" to a silvery gray above to white below. They weight in at between 1.5-2 pounds and lack any stripes, spotting, or flecking common to ground squirrels.

Eastern fox squirrels are the largest of the North American squirrels and can grow to 29 inches in total length. It too has a bushy tail, but with a somewhat square head and weights in at 3 pounds. They can vary greatly in color, but commonly have a light brown coat above to a reddish or orange underside.

As is the case with all true tree squirrels, both of these species lack internal cheek pouches and when frightened climb trees to take shelter. Tree squirrels as their name implies are primarily found in trees, but can spend a considerable amount of time foraging on the ground as well. All are only active during the day, and do not hibernate. Tree squirrels like to nest in the cavities of trees, often enlarging the old holes of woodpeckers or flickers. They may also construct nests of twigs, shredded bark and leaves in a crotch or on a large tree branch.

Tree squirrels damage green and ripe walnuts, almonds, oranges, avocados, apples, strawberries, tomatoes, and grains. Telephone and electrical lines are sometimes gnawed and they also chew on buildings or invade attics through knotholes or uncovered roof vents. Eastern fox squirrels can become some what aggressive and antagonize dogs and may frighten the elderly.

Homeowner options are limited when it comes to the management of tree squirrels. Before you start any control program, it is critical to identify which species of squirrel is damaging your property. In some cases, it may actually be roof rats that are causing the damage or a combination of both roof rats and tree squirrels. In either case, a little "detective" work can save you time, money, give more successful results and keep you out of possible legal problems.

Trapping for Western gray squirrels can only be done under permit issued by the California Department of Fish and Game. In order to apply for a permit, the owner or tenant of the land must prove that their property is being damaged or is in danger of being damaged by gray squirrels. Once the Department is satisfied that such damage has or will occur the Department will issue a revokable permit and it will specify the manner in which the animals can be controlled. If a trapping permit is issued it will specify the type of trap to be used and may require that the squirrels be relocated in parks or other non agricultural areas.

Trapping for Eastern fox squirrels is similar to that employed to control ground squirrels. All of the methods are described in detail in the PEST INFORMATION SERIES on Tree Squirrels available from this department.

Natural Management
Tree squirrels have a number of natural enemies that feed on and place pressures on squirrel populations. However, experience has shown that in many environments that have been altered by humans, natural predation does not control the squirrel population to levels that will prevent unacceptably high damage to property.

Tree squirrels are good climbers and can be difficult to exclude. Hardware cloth and sheet metal can be used to close entrances into buildings. Squirrels can be prevented from climbing isolated specimen trees, bird feeders and power poles by encircling them with a two foot wide collar of sheet metal at least six feet off the ground. Trees should be trimmed back to prevent squirrels from jumping on to roofs.

Legal Status
Western gray squirrels are classified as game mammals under the Fish and Game Code and can be controlled only as provided by the hunting regulations or if causing damage to crops or property under special permit.

Eastern fox squirrels are also classified as game mammals, but if they are injuring crops or property can be controlled using traps and other means by the owner or tenant of the property or their employees, except that poisons may not be used.

More Information
For detailed information on tree squirrel control, contact the office of the Los Angeles County Agricultural Commissioner/Weights and Measures Department, Pest Management Division at (626) 575-5462 and request a copy of the PEST INFORMATION SERIES on Tree Squirrels. That document can also be downloaded in PDF format by clicking here.