This section is from the book "The Balance Of Nature And Modern Conditions Of Cultivation", by George Abbey. Also available from Amazon: The Balance Of Nature And Modern Conditions Of Cultivation.
To plant forest trees, particularly coniferous, with the object of producing timber profitably where squirrels abound is useless, for they bite through the leading growths, especially of spruce, silver fir, and Scots pine, and gnaw the bark of the latter and larch, while they do not fail to cripple broad-leaved species of trees in the sapling state. In these and other ways the squirrel far outweighs in injuries to timber production the good it does by devouring cockchafer grubs, and the pupae of sawflies and other insects, so that the animal must be classed as an enemy by the forester. To the nut-grower, particularly cob-nut and filbert, no worse pilferer exists than the squirrel, and its delight in walnuts and Spanish chestnuts is evidenced by their being stored for winter and spring use. Luscious gage plums and nectarines are given special attention; not that the squirrel dislikes other fruits, but because those named are more to its taste and easily carried off. Thus the rodent is an enemy to the fruit-grower, and also to the nurseryman, as it scrapes up the cotyledons of seedlings germinating in the spring.
Squirrels are such great ornaments to pleasure grounds, parks and woodlands that they are protected as far as possible by the owners or occupiers; but no opportunity is lost by the budding Nim-rod and unqualified sportsman of pelting with stones by hand throwing or catapult, so that the animal outside coverts, parks, and pleasure grounds has little chance of existence; while those protecting squirrels sometimes have recourse to tree guards for preventing the animals climbing tall standard fruit or nut trees. Tying a newspaper (Fig. 97 U g) around the trunks, letting it project 6 inches or more, either inclining downward or upward (reverse way shown in the figure), is effective. The rattle of the paper frightens the squirrels attempting to cross it, and if smeared with gas-tar, their distaste is complete; but the tar must be kept off the stems. A piece of tin or zinc (Fig. 97 V i) placed round the stems of trees, projecting 12 in. all round, slightly inclinirg downwards and toothed at the edge baffles squirrels, also mice and rats. In many cases trapping or shooting is the only remedy for squirrel depredations. Trapping is not an easy matter, though a few traps set at the foot of a tree the animals frequent are usually successful.
If the places be noted where the squirrels lay up stores of sweet chestnuts, acorns, etc., in the ground, and a trap set there, particularly on the clearing away of snow by a thaw after it has laid some time on the ground, a capture is almost sure to be effected. Another good plan is to cut the size for setting a trap in the soil, fill it with fine soil and place where it is proposed to have the table of a trap a sweet chestnut, acorn, or filbert, and partly out of the ground. Observe when the bait disappears and then set the trap, a hole being bored in the bait and a string passed so as to secure to the table of the trap. Carefully conceal the trap, only leaving the bait partly exposed.
Fig. 97. - Tree Guards for Squirrels.
U, paper guard on stem of standard cob-nut tree: e, stem; f, base of head; g, paper guard. V, zinc guard affixed to stem of large standard fruit or other tree: h, stem; i, guard; j, joint, the collar being made in two pieces so as to be readily placed; k, turn over rim; l, wire for securing
To capture squirrel alive the Alfred Clifford Patent Trap may be used, securing to a large horizontally disposed branch, baiting on the floor and tying the doors so that they remain open. Practice this until the squirrels take to the trap and bait and then properly set the trap. If inconvenient to place on a tree, the trap may be used on the ground, some bait being used to attract the squirrels to the vicinity of the trap.
Open trapping of vermin is generally objected to, as a pheasant or a domestic fowl is just as likely to peck at the bait and be caught by the head as a squirrel, hence shooting is more commonly practised, premiums being offered on estates for their tails. At Cawdor, Altyre, as many as 1,164 squirrels have been shot in a season (1867) on Lord Cawdor's estate. The gunner needs to be an expert shot and so fire as not to damage the tree, especially in main stem or leading growth. A terrier dog is very useful, as it runs the scent to the trees the squirrels have gone up and barks very keenly, giving notice to the gunner in search of them.
Squirrels may be poisoned by making a cut in a sweet chestnut or acorn and inserting in the wound a few grains of strychnine, and then closing together again. This, however, is not a safe practice; indeed, it is extremely dargerous to pheasants and poultry, also to human beings, especially children, besides, the use of poison incautiously and outdoors is not legal.