If you hear noises in your attic, and believe you have an animal or animals living up there, you will want to know how to identify which species you have living with you, so you can take the correct approach to resolving the problem. We discuss several different species and their corresponding noises. Below are the four most common types of critters that live in the attics of homes in the United States. This guide should give you a clue about what type of animal you have. However, before beginning any removal process, you will want to confirm the identity of the animals by performing an attic inspection, and looking for definitive evidence such as feces, tracks, and types of entry holes.
Squirrels: If you hear the noises in the daytime, especially shortly after sunrise and shortly before sunset, you have squirrels in your attic. It is the Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis), which inhabits most of the United States, including the west coast. This is the most common animal that lives and nests in the attics of houses. It is also the only common attic critter that is very active during daylight hours, so it is easy to identify. Most of the time the noises sound like fast scampering, scurrying, scratching, or even rolling of acorns. No vocal sounds should be heard. Usually you will hear either a single female, or after birth, a litter of 3-5 babies plus the female. Read more about Squirrels in the attic.
Raccoons: These animals are primarily nocturnal, so most of the noises will occur during the night time. These animals are large, sometimes in excess of 20lbs, so it's common for the animal to sound large - that means lower frequency thumps, walking sounds, and sometimes creaking or knocking or scratching. As with all animals in attics, the female raccoon enters your home to raise a litter of babies, and the young have a very distinctive high-pitch vocal chatter. In fact, if you hear any sort of vocal noises in your attic, it is almost surely raccoons. An investigation in your attic, searching for footprints or large dog-sized feces will confirm the identity. Read more about Raccoons in the attic.
Rats and Mice: Rats and House Mice are nocturnal, so you will hear the noises at night. Often the peak activity is shortly after sunset, when these rodents first exit the house to find water and food outside. Mostly unique to rats and mice is activity inside wall cavities, as they run up and down from their entrance holes and into the attic. Noise is best described as a fast scurrying, the pitter-patter of little feet. Sometimes there are scratching sounds. Never any squeaks. Rats are much larger than mice, so rat sounds should be louder and lower frequency. However, the acoustics of your house, the thickness of the drywall or insulation can play a big part in the volume. Read more about Rats in the attic.
Bats: You will probably never hear any sounds from bats living in your attic. They are small and gentle and very quiet. However, when a colony reaches large size, they do start to chirp and chatter, primarily at dusk, as they prepare to exit the building. They will chirp (in the human frequency range) as they exit, until most are out of the attic. You will probably not hear scampering sounds, unless they are crawling along a wall as they make their exit. Bats are much more easily identified by the unique odor of their droppings, and by performing a visual observation of the exterior of your house at dusk or dawn, to see these animals emerging or re-entering the house. Read more about Bats in the attic.
Several other species of wildlife can inhabit attics, as well as walls, crawlspaces, vaulted ceilings, and other areas inside a house or building. These include opossums, which are large and nocturnal like raccoons, but which do not make vocal noises. Snakes, usually rat snakes in seek of rodents to eat, do sometimes live in attics, and I've heard people actually describe the noise as "slithering" noises, both day and night. Birds sometimes live in attics, and make flapping sounds or chirping sounds, usually during daylight hours. Pigeons are a common attic dweller, and they have a sort of distinct "coo" sound. When you have flying squirrels in your house, the noises happen at night, since they are nocturnal. They are small, and the sound is similar to rats or mice. Stray cats can even choose to live in houses, and they are often quiet, but do meow, especially if there are kittens. Ultimately, the best way to positively identify what kind of animal is in the attic is to enter the attic space and investigate, looking at tracks, nesting material, and most of all, droppings and waste left behind. Read this guide to Identify What Kind of Droppings are in the attic.
If you wish to remove the animals living in your attic, you must follow the correct procedure. Sometimes a good option may be to let them live there for the time being, and move out on their own, at which time you can perform the
building repairs necessary to shut their points of entry. However, many people want to get rid of animals in the attic immediately, because of concerns over the sound, the damage they may cause, or the possible spread of diseases.
The removal of critters in your attic requires special care. It is almost always a complex job, and you must keep in mind these variables:
There are probably baby animals: 90% of the time, an animal in the attic is a female in search of a safe den in which to give birth and raise a litter of young. That is why they enter the attic in the first place. Male animals prefer to live outside in their natural habitats, but females instinctively seek out a safe, enclosed space in which to have their young. It is quite rare to find a single animal or a male animal in an attic. The nest of babies must be dealt with. You cannot simply remove the female and leave the helpless nest of babies behind to starve and die in the attic. Read more about Removal of Baby Animals In Attic.
How Do You Get the Adult Out? Removing an adult female from the attic, or several rats, or a colony of bats, is no easy matter. Each different animal requires a very different approach, and different equipment. In no case is it as easy as simply setting a trap in the attic (that will never work), or as easy as applying some sort of animal repellent or scare device. It is a difficult task! Read about your specific animal (select from the top toolbar) for the correct strategy to remove each animal.
Traps are Bad, Eviction is Best: In most cases, you can either remove the young by hand or wait for them to grow to mobile size, and then you can remove all the animals via eviction, rather than through the use of cage traps. Eviction means that you use one-way doors (different types for different animals) to allow the animals to naturally exit the building - they go out every day for water and food of course - but then not get back in. This is the gentlest, most humane way to get animals out of your attic, and it allows the animals to live in their native habitat range, without being subject to the stress of a cage trap or relocation to an unfamiliar area with resource competition.
You Must Address the Entry Holes: The only way to permanently solve a problem with critters getting inside an attic is to identify all entry holes leading inside the house and into the attic. If your home had no entry holes to begin with, the animals would have never entered. Usually animals enter through a vulnerable or already-open area, such as a gap under an eave, an unscreened roof vent, etc. In most cases, the entry holes used but the animals is readily visible with a detailed home inspection. After the animals are all out, or often in conjunction with the eviction process, you must identify 100% of open and vulnerable areas, and seal them shut with professional repairs that animals are unable to breach. In the case of bat, rodent, squirrel, and most animal evictions, entry repairs are a crucial part of the process. And it's also essential for future prevention, and prevention is the best approach to solving any potential wildlife conflict.
Several other species of animal enter attics. They include Snakes in attic, Opossums in the Attic, Mouse in the Attic, Birds in the Attic, Dead Animals in the Attic, Flying Squirrels in the Attic, Pigeons in the Attic, Rodents in the Attic, and even Stray Cats in the Attic. None of these animals is easy to remove. Some people wonder about Light or Sound Devices - Do They Work to Get Animals Out of the Attic? but they have proven innefective in all cases. If you want to do it yourself for free, read about any specific animal, or read my guide: Do It Yourself - Get Animals Out of the Attic. Whatever you do, do not use poison. Read about it: Will Poison Get Animals Out of the Attic? and also, repellents are a waste of money at best, and poisonous at worst. Read about Repellents - Do They Work? Finally, after you've removed any wild critters in your attic, you might want to clean up after them. Read about the process of Attic Restoration - How to Clean and Replace Insulation after you've had animals in your attic and the noises they cause.