Squirrels in basement?
December 26, 2006 6:23 PM   Subscribe

Help identify 4 legged house intruder eating birdseed in package in our basement.

We found a plastic jar of birdseed on the floor with a small 2 inch by 1/2 inch hole "gnawed" in it. It was originally on the top shelf of a 6 foot high metal shelf unit. Empty shells were found on each of the shelves. We're guessing its a squirrel but want to rule out mice and (god forbid) rats. We live in a wooded neighborhood in downtown Atlanta so it could potentially be any of the above.

Question #2 - How do we get rid of our visitors? We're going to call an exterminator but are considering sending down the dog and/or cat for a day or two. Could this be dangerous for them? Both are good size but not sure if squirrels are mean or could carry rabies. Anyone ever hunted household intruders with their pets?
posted by cleve9 to Home & Garden (21 answers total)
What sort of scat did you find? mouse, rat, or squirrel?
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 6:31 PM on December 26, 2006

#2 - I'd call an exterminator or get some sort of professional/good-amateur advice before sending down a pet. It's not likely to be a problem, but animals like squirrels and rodents are known to carry rabies and it's possible for it to be transmitted to a dog and/or cat.
posted by dhammond at 6:32 PM on December 26, 2006

Mice don't seem strong enough to be your culprit. However, if it was a squirrel, where is he now? There's either a large hole to the outside somewhere, or....

Are there little black turds, pointed at both ends, about the size of tic-tacs? If so, mice. But the "seeds on each shelf" bit sounds like squirrels. Mice would eat your seeds, but they wouldn't drag the seeds up to a different shelf to do so.

Certainly I'd send the dog and cat down there. Let them earn their keep. While they are unlikely to actually catch a rodent (rodents move fast and hide well), they might discourage the rodents from inhabiting your place. Also, the reaction of the pets might give you a hint about where the rodents are living, or entering the basement.
posted by jellicle at 6:33 PM on December 26, 2006

Oops, those pictures aren't to scale. Is a scale for mouse scat
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 6:34 PM on December 26, 2006

Why would you think it's a squirrel? My first thought, mouse. If so, send the cat -- you know, many terriers were bred as varmint (rat) hunters so it really depends on what kind of dog you have there. Cats will devotedly hunt down mice, of course, but can they get them fast enough to prevent breeding? No, in my experience. In your case, the mice (or whatever) have a head start. They did not just walk in the door to be immediately stalked by your feline companion.
posted by Listener at 6:35 PM on December 26, 2006

Best thing to do is to seal up the food source in a gnaw-proof container (metal, glass).

Your pets might do something about but are just as likely not--a surprising number of household pets lack any desire/ability to effectively hunt.

An exterminator would be overkill (oops, pun. just go with it) at this point and he/she will tell you to lock up the food source.
posted by jamaro at 6:41 PM on December 26, 2006

We didn't really see distinct piles of scat - guessing they might have been mixed in with the shells. The birdseed was made up mostly of sunflower seeds so there there we lots of large black shells.

Not sure where/how anything would be getting in. Part of the house is over 60 years old but seems pretty tight. There is one small vent in the basement but the holes look smaller than 1 inch square. Its hard to tell how big the screen is because its way back in the crawlspace area under the house but assume it would be sufficient if they installed it in the first place.
posted by cleve9 at 6:44 PM on December 26, 2006

#jellicle: Mice don't seem strong enough to be your culprit. ...Mice would eat your seeds, but they wouldn't drag the seeds up to a different shelf to do so.

I've seen something very similar in a basement caused by mice. They are strong enough to chew through a plastic container, and if it is near empty they can push it to the floor. Also they often do carry seeds away to eat. I saw a whole bunch of shelves distant from the seed container which were covered in mouse shit and seed hulls.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 6:47 PM on December 26, 2006

it's self-evident, but i'll say it anyway: mind you don't mix your methods. if you're gonna sic the pets on the pests, don't poison the rodents first.

i think sending the animals down would be fun for the animals. squirrels can indeed be mean, but i imagine they'd far rather scram than fight a dog or cat. dogs and cats chase squirrels all the time- usually with no harm done. i think it's pretty likely the pets will be fine.

a few years back, i had mice. i borrowed the neighbours' cat; soon i had the happiest cat i've ever seen, and two dead mice. it was a fun weekend.
posted by twistofrhyme at 6:50 PM on December 26, 2006

#cleve9: We didn't really see distinct piles of scat ...holes look smaller than 1 inch square.

Mice and rats (I know) don't shit in piles but drop each scat individually. Basically you can use scat density to determine how much time they spend at various locations. You will often find scat where walls meet the floor because mice and rats consider those safer locations.

Mice and rats can fit through incredibly small openings. A rat might be able to fit through your 1" squares.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 6:56 PM on December 26, 2006

Ok, so I'm reading everyone's responses with my wife looking over my shoulder - and that last one about the rat fitting through made her freak out. I'm still hoping its squirrels and am getting closer to sending down the cat and dog.
posted by cleve9 at 6:59 PM on December 26, 2006

The mess sounds like mice to me...they scatter things around sometimes.

If you're squeamish about sending your pets down, perhaps you can put it in a gnaw-proof container and then scatter some of your pets' loose hair around. A friend of mine took some cat hair and scattered it around his apartment to deter mice, and it worked pretty well. Although it might be fun for the pet to be able to run around and hunt a bit.
posted by christinetheslp at 7:06 PM on December 26, 2006

I would reconsider sending the pets, especially the dog, on such a mission in a small enclosed space. You may have a hell of a mess to clean up once they are done. Depending on what you keep in your basement, you may have toppled shelves, broken glass, and who knows what else when the excitement is over. And if the rodent is injured, and doesn't go to die in a conveniently located and easy-to-access space, you will end up with a more difficult and smellier problem.

Call in a professional, and take Fido to a dog park.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:06 PM on December 26, 2006

Our backyard is full of squirrels and they have NEVER been inclined to venture into our basement... I'm guessing you most likely have mice... Try sending the cats down, they might enjoy the hunt/chase... If, however, your cats are afraid of mice (like mine are lol) there are lots of other options (some humane, some not) without having to resort to the expense of an exterminator.
posted by amyms at 7:09 PM on December 26, 2006

#amyms: squirrels ... have NEVER been inclined to venture into our basement

Right. Squirrels don't like the down-low. I've only heard of them causing problems with houses when they build nests. They prefer attics, space behind walls in upper story rooms and unused chimneys (as children we once asked my father "what is that noise coming from the fire place"? He opened the damper an out fell 5 terrified baby squirrels.)

My strong guess is that it is mice. To confirm it you need to search through the detritus and find some scat. Some describe it as the size of a grain of rice but most is half that size.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 8:24 PM on December 26, 2006

set a couple of rat traps (good for both rats and mice) and keep your pets away from this area so they don't nose at the traps and get hurt. by morning, you'll probably have your answer.
posted by bruce at 10:02 PM on December 26, 2006

My money's on a mouse. We get a lot of field mice in the garage this time of year (Tennessee) and those suckers love the birdseed. To get rid of them - well, we country folks say that's what the cat is for. My big dogs can't hunt for squat but if you've got a terrier I would definitely send him down there to see what he can do. My neighbor has a schnauzer who is an amazing mouser.

(Incidentally, rabies in a squirrel is very rare and in a mouse is pretty much unheard of.)
posted by peppermint22 at 10:55 PM on December 26, 2006

Are there any furniture or appliances down there with any space behind or under them. If there's a one-centimetre space below, or even smaller (how the heck do they get under my fridge???), and you have mice, you will find the mouse droppings there. Sadly, the mouse dropping linked pics were absolutely accurate -- shudder. They do like wall edges, as someone said, above. Corners are a very good bet.
posted by Listener at 12:37 AM on December 27, 2006

PS (sorry about this) they only have to come in an open door once, and then they are living there, shedding babies if they start out pregnant...and mice are good at being pregnant.
posted by Listener at 12:38 AM on December 27, 2006

My father had a chipmunk push a pretty heavy top off a birdseed container and empty it. They can stuff an amazing amount of seeds in their cheeks. Like mice, they can squeeze themselves through a 1/4" crack.

Finding the narrow cracks and stuffing them with steel wool (or, better, non-rusting metal) should help.
posted by KRS at 10:26 AM on December 27, 2006

seal the food thoroughly, and your problem will go away

no food, no reason to live down there

whatever it is will vacate the space, just make sure you take the same precautions upstairs....

and....rat traps anyone?

might not kill a squirrel or a 'coon, but it'll sure as hell incapacitate them so that when you get home you can go down and finish them off.....

and for mice and rats, put some cheap traps out, you can catch them all day....

for the more humane...a live squirrel trap could be the ticket
posted by Salvatorparadise at 11:05 AM on December 27, 2006

« Older I need help with meth   |   How can someone learn to be thrifty and not be a... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.