General Information & Description
Squirrels belong to the large rodent order called Sciuridae. They are generally small furry mammals that are smaller than rabbits. The largest variety, the Alpine marmot, measures 22-29 inches from nose to tail. Squirrels have large eyes, indicative of a good visual sense. This is an evolutionary necessity among tree-dwelling animals.
They hunt in the daytime, except for the flying squirrel, which is more nocturnal. Most ground squirrels are social and known to hunt in packs, while tree dwellers are more solitary. They easily adapt to human settlements and are an attraction in parks where visitors feed them while sitting on benches. Even though they can be tamed, they don’t really make good pets as they can be quite aggressive and require legal permits in many areas.
Squirrels can thrive in almost any habitat from semi-arid deserts to tropical rainforests. If you live in close proximity to a forested area, expect tree and ground squirrels to visit your pen during the spring months when their buried nuts start to sprout and they search for new food. This is often the time of the year when some squirrels assume the role of a predator and eat small birds and eggs from their nests, as well as worms, snakes, and insects.
Methods of Kill
Because they are a member of the rodent family, squirrels are known to prey on small snakes, birds, young chickens, fellow rodents, and lizards. Their teeth follow the same structure of typical rodents with large incisors for gnawing and molars that can grind both nuts and flesh. Squirrels have been reported to visit chicken farms and leave with eggs the way they do with wood nuts and conifers. Squirrels are generally shy rodents that will readily scamper away. When faced with hunger, they can go after your chicken feed and steal eggs. Some farms with squirrels nearby often just feed them with nuts and seeds scattered around the periphery of their farms so they will not bother with their chicken coops.
Prevention & Treatment
Because squirrels are shy, you can just shoo them away. However, they can do considerable damage to your farm. Squirrels love eating chicken eggs and poultry feed, so collect eggs frequently and store feed in secure, preferably metal, storage cans for feed. The best way to prevent losses is to predator-proof your coop as best you can to keep these animals out. Electric fences are almost always a sure solution for small animal predators. If you can train large guard dogs like Rottweilers or Dobermans (which are also potential chicken predators if left untrained) to leave chickens alone protect your fowls instead, they can frighten away squirrels, raccoons, foxes, and bobcats if you happen to live near densely forested areas. The rest is often a matter of ensuring that there are no weak spots in your chicken coops that will invite squirrels in to steal your eggs. Keep in mind, however, that squirrels often steal eggs as a last resort. A very effective method of dealing with problem squirrels is by setting a trap.
For more discussions on squirrels and how to deal with them visit the Predators and Pests section of the forum.