Dennis Ferraro, UNL Extension, is also the resident herpetologist at the School of Natural Resources. Dennis writes timely articles on animals that you might see on your acreage in Nebraska, ranging from mammals to insects.
Fox squirrels (Sciurus niger) are about 18 to 24 inches long including the tail. An adult weighs less than 2 pounds and has a large, bushy tail with yellow-tipped hairs. Fur is usually a grizzled rusty brown on top and buff to bright rust below but can vary from silver-gray to black. The black squirrels in Nebraska are just a genetic aberration of the common Fox squirrel.
Adult fox squirrels breed during December to January and sometimes again in early summer. About 3 to 6 young are born after a 45-day gestation period. Fox squirrels do not hibernate but will increase time spent in the nest during the winter. They generally live from 4 to 7 years but can live as long as 12 years.
Landowners may notice some unusual tree damage in April due to Fox squirrels stripping and ripping bark. While bark stripping typically occurs during the late winter, this damage also may occur in early spring if a spring freeze results in these squirrels losing access to smooth bark deciduous tree seeds, especially from maples and oaks.
Preventing and limiting the scope of this damage is not easy. Landowners have only two effective options -- exclusion and/or population reduction. Exclusion is accomplished by installing plastic tree guards around tree trunks. If trees are relatively isolated, upper branches can be protected by wrapping trunks with 12-inch aluminum flashing at least three times, beginning 4 feet off the ground. Upper wraps should overlap the lower wrap by one inch. If other trees are close by, squirrels will travel using the branches, and wrap will probably not be effective.
Reduce squirrel populations by trapping or shooting. Be sure to follow all state and local laws as well as conservative safety practices. Contact the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission at (402) 471-0641, to learn of applicable laws. Be aware that the translocation of squirrels is illegal in Nebraska. If lethal control is permitted in your situation, then trapped squirrels should be euthanized. Visit the Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management at http://www.icwdm.org/wildlife/euthanasia/default.asp for more information on the topic.
Don’t bother with repellents, ultrasound, or scare tactics. Feeding the squirrels is not advised as it will simply increase the population density in your area.