The current two-year tally at Nancy Donovan’s home is, Donovans: 95, Squirrels: 0.

Nancy Donovan and her husband, Daniel, have been actively trapping and releasing the gray squirrels around their Presque Isle home since 2016 in an effort to keep the fluffy-tailed rodents from cleaning out their bird feeders.

“I got tired of feeding them more than the birds so we bought a trap to catch the little fellows,” Nancy Donovan said. “Then we started keeping count to see how many of the little buggers we were going to get.”

Turned out, an impressive amount. They caught 55 in 2016 and another 40 last year, all subsequently released a mile or two from their house.

The Donovans bear no ill will toward the rodents, but don’t want them getting into the bird feeders or chewing anything around the house. So they decided the trap and release was the best option for the squirrels.

“If the animal is causing damage to property or is a nuisance you are allowed legally to live trap it,” said Amanda Demuz, assistant regional biologist with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. “The effectiveness of that can depend on the animal [because] if the animal is being a nuisance around your home, there is something that is making it want to be there and moving it can be more of a temporary fix.”

A better plan, according to Demuz, could include sealing up any holes or hideaway places under porches, in old sheds or other spots animals find attractive and habitable.

A nuisance animal may well make its way back once released, she said.

Does that mean the Donovans have been trapping and releasing the same squirrels multiple times?

Nancy Donovan does not believe so.

“My husband has been taking them and letting them go in different places like a field that is about two miles from our house,” she said. “I don’t think we are trapping the same ones over and over, I just think there are a lot of them in our area.”

It is important to remember, Demuz said, that no matter how cute they may be, squirrels and other small mammals are wildlife and must be treated with respect and caution.

“Anytime you are live trapping your personal safety is crucial,” she said. “Use gloves and some sort of barrier between you and the animal because animals like skunks and raccoons can be vectors for rabies and even squirrels can be feisty.”

Demuz recommends using a solid-sided live trap or, in the case of cage traps, cover them with a tarp or blanket once it has sprung and the animal is trapped.

“Skunks are fun,” she said with a laugh. “You can move slowly and sometimes you will get away with it, but just assume they are going to spray.”

Having that barrier between trapper and trapped skunk can block most of the animal’s spray, Demuz said. Moving slowly and covering the trap with a tarp or blanket will also help keep whatever is inside calm and reduce the chance of the animal injuring itself.

“When you go to release, it’s the same thing,” she said. “Move slowly and carefully, wear thick gloves and don’t stick your hands right in there to grab it.”

Rather, Demuz suggests using a rod or stick that allows a person to stand away from the trap and open it from a distance. The stick can also be left in place to prop the trap’s door open, allowing the critter inside to wander out on its own.

Being prepared is important, Demuz said.

“I’ve caught skunks before by accident when trying to catch a stray cat,” she said.

The Donovans, too, have added a skunk and raccoon to their count when the larger animals got caught in the squirrel traps.

“We’ve let those go, too,” Nancy Donovan said. “Hopefully 2018 will be less squirrels and no skunks.”

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Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.