Animals in the Attic

Noises in the Attic - Scratching Sounds at Night

If you hear animal sounds in your attic, you can often identify the type of animal based on the type of sounds it makes.

Noises in the Attic - Scratching Sounds at Night

Scratching! Thumping! Squeaking! Walking! In the walls, in the ceiling, down the halls, you hear some squealing! Can you find out what kind of critters are living in your attic based on the type of sound they make? Yes, or at least you can narrow it down. The time you hear it is a big clue. If the noise is during the day, especially in the early morning or evening before sunset, then it's almost surely squirrels. If the noise of the animal in the attic is at night, it's probably raccoons, rats, or another nocturnal animal. How about the location of the sound? If it's in a wall or a very tight space, it's probably a rodent like rats or mice. What about the volume? The heavier the thumping and walking, the larger the animal, such as a raccoon or opossum. If it's fast and light scampering, it's probably a rat or mouse (or squirrel, during the daytime). Below is a description of the sounds of several of the major types of animals that live in attics:

Squirrels: Daytime noise, especially in the morning or evening. Fast scampering, medium volume, usually in the attic, but sometimes the walls, and often the eaves. One animal when it's just the first female, but when the young grow large enough, you hear the pitter-patter of 20 little feet (from 5 squirrels). You also might hear the rolling of various nuts on the ceiling. Read about squirrel removal.
Raccoons: Nightime noises, primarily. Heavy walking or thumping. Mating adults will squeal. A nest of baby raccoons has a very distinctive chatter. Read about raccoon removal.
Rats: Nightime only, especially shortly after sunset. Light scurrying and scampering, maybe some scratching. A good clue is if you hear fast running up or down the walls. Almost never any squealing noises. Read about rat removal.
Mice: Like rats, but a lighter noise. Though in actuality, the acoustics of your home, thickness of walls, presence or lack of insulation has more bearing on volume than animal size.
Bats: They are very quiet, but if there are enough of them, you'll hear them chirping at dusk. Read about bat removal.
Flying Squirrels: They are nocturnal, and the sound is a lot like rats, although you're not likely to hear them in the walls the same as with rats or mice.
Possums: A large, slow, nocturnal animal, you might just hear walking in the attic. No vocal sounds.
Birds: Flapping sounds, and chirping. Most of the sound will be during the daytime, since most birds are diurnal.
Snakes: Slithering sounds, is how my customers have described it to me. They can just somehow tell they have a snake up there.

Noises in the Attic - Scratching Sounds at Night


Heavy noises at night. Babies make vocal sounds.


Fast running during daylight, primarily morning and evening.


Fast, light scurrying or scratching at night, maybe in the walls, too.


Slow, heavy walking at night. The babies barely make noise.

Information About Noises in the Attic - Scratching Sounds at Night

Scratching Sounds In The Attic Or Walls
If you hear scratching or knocking sounds in your walls or attic, then this is a pretty good indication that it will be a wild animal in your home. Even if you don’t catch a glimpse of the animal, you can frequently figure out what it is just based on when it makes noise and what it sounds like. A professional will almost always be able to tell based on the noise and where it comes from by using the following information. That is because most animals have specific times of day they will scratch or walk around and it will sound slightly different because of their biology.

Other Types Of Noises
Before getting into the various sounds that different animals tend to make in your walls or attic, you need to have a general idea of how recognizing the sound will narrow down your options. If there are vocal noises in the attic, then raccoons are going to be the most likely culprits since they are one of the few that actually talk. If the noise is similar to a ball or something rolling around, then this is most likely rats or squirrels rolling nuts around your attic.

Thumps are typically an indication of larger animals, like opossums or raccoons. This sound is associated with them moving around the attic, dragging a heavy object, destroying something, or just shoving among themselves.

Scratching Sounds
Scratching sounds are the most common noises you will hear in your attic and unfortunately the hardest to link to a particular animal. Animals may be scratching to make room for nesting, burying food, or even just walking and creating similar sounds. The most common animals to make these sounds are squirrels, rats, mice, and raccoons, although others will do so as well. The bad news is that the volume of the scratching doesn’t necessarily indicate the size of the animal. If, for example, a tiny mouse is scratching right along the sheetrock found immediately above your head and your home is quiet, this will sound much louder than a large raccoon scratching the wood beam on the other side of your home, particularly if you have the TV on or are talking at the time.

Time Of Day
The time of day that the noises occur can be a great method of narrowing down the possibilities. If you hear sounds during the day, it is most likely a squirrel or snake, although it can also be a raccoon. If the noises are at night, it is probably a raccoon, rodent, opossum, or snake. Noises at sunset will typically indicate bats.

Knocking in my attic
If you hear knocking noises in the attic, it could be several different species. It's interesting how sounds manifest - sometimes the activity of squirrels or raccoons sounds more like thumping or knocking than scratching or walking. This could be due to squirrels dropping nuts, or wood creaking, or a raccoon stamping on the ceiling. As usual, an inspection in the attic to look at feces is the best bet. Read my animal feces identification in the attic guide.

Bat Sounds
As mentioned, if the scratching sounds are typically at sunset, then you probably have bats, although that is not always the case. The bats will make scratching noises if they come into contact with walls in your attic or as they try to get out of a wall that they have gotten stuck in. There are typically many bats so you may hear more of the scratching and scurrying with these animals. You are also likely to hear their characteristic squeaks.

Bird Sounds
It is also possible that you will have a bird stuck in your wall or making a nest in your attic. If they get stuck inside, you will hear them scratching or clawing as a way to get out. Most of the time the bird sounds will occur in the early morning when they get up and look for food. You can also identify birds by their chirping sounds which nearly everyone is familiar with.

Raccoon Sounds
Because raccoons are among the heaviest animals that you will find in your attic or walls, they sound the heaviest. Instead of hearing a light scurrying like you would with rats or mice, you will hear more of a thumping sound. As mentioned earlier, they are mostly nocturnal so expect to hear the sounds at night, although they may also be active during the day. You are also more likely to hear vocal calls and growling if it is a raccoon. If you hear a unique whining and crying, then this will probably be baby raccoons.

Rodent Sounds
Mice and rats tend to make similar sounds in the attic or walls and do so at the same time of the day. These are the most common animals behind the mysterious scratching and they tend to make most of their noise at night since this is when they are looking for food. They may be especially loud on colder nights as they search for shelter.

Squirrel Sounds
Squirrels are likely to turn your attic or even walls into a home, which can lead to scurrying and jumping sounds in addition to scratching. Squirrels are one of the few animals that are active during the day, making them easier to identify. They will also make a lot of noise when they go in and out of your home.

If you hear scratching sounds in your attic or walls, a professional will be able to easily identify the animal responsible for the noise and help you get them out permanently.

The Bottom Line

The best way to tell what animal(s) are in your attic is to get up there and perform a full attic inspection, and look at feces and other clues. Once you know the type of animal making noise in your attic or ceiling or anywhere else in your house, you can follow the correct strategy for removing that animal type.