Nuts About Squirrels: A Guide to Coexisting with--and Even Appreciating--Your Bushy-Tailed Friends

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Any reader with a birdfeeder knows that the #1 enemy is the squirrel. No matter how expensive or elaborate the feeder, the pesky critters always find a way to fill their cheeks with seeds. Now, Nuts About Squirrels gives readers a better understanding of "squirrel psychology," including informative advice on how they can still feed their birds and get along with squirrels at the same time.
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Any reader with a birdfeeder knows that the #1 enemy is the squirrel. No matter how expensive or elaborate the feeder, the pesky critters always find a way to fill their cheeks with seeds. Now, Nuts About Squirrels gives readers a better understanding of "squirrel psychology," including informative advice on how they can still feed their birds and get along with squirrels at the same time.
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780446675765
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • Publication date: 9/1/2000
  • Pages: 192
  • Product dimensions: 5.37 (w) x 8.12 (h) x 0.62 (d)

First Chapter

Chapter One

Squirrel Biographies

Squirrels get a lot of attention because, like songbirds, they have become our closest wildlife connection. They are gifted with senses we cannot understand and live by a natural calling we will never hear. They are a perfectly finished extension of the natural world turned tame by civilization. They patronize us for our handouts and scold us with contempt for our greed.

The main characters at North American bird feeders representing the Sciuridae crime family include various brands of chipmunks, ground squirrels, and tree squirrels. Three on the most-wanted list would include the gray, fox, and red squirrels. The whole Sciuridae family shares the same addiction-birdseed!

That a squirrel's diet relies heavily on the eating, gathering, and storing of acorns is not groundbreaking news. To a squirrel, the acorn is the Wonder Bread that builds strong bodies twelve ways. The acorn can be opened and eaten in less than half the time needed for other, harder nuts. But how the squirrel's diet influences its habitat is quite interesting. Some studies show that gray squirrels fail to recover up to 80 percent of the seeds they bury. A squirrel's poor memory, or planned landscaping, aids in the regeneration of forests in North America.

Squirrels, along with blue jays and a few other small animals, are important in maintaining and regenerating second-growth forests and may even have been responsible for spreading the vast stands of timber once found throughout North America. Like politicians, squirrels and jays will steal from each other in a vicious circle. The squirrel will bury aseed while the jay spies. The jay will fly down, uncover the seed, and fly off to cache it himself. The squirrel will run up the tree and steal it back. Eventually, some of these well-traveled seeds will turn into a tree or a shrub that the squirrels and blue jays will both use for food and shelter.

During the winter months, a squirrel's main diet consists of nuts and seeds-much of that being birdseed. Active throughout the year, the squirrel stores large quantities of food to see him through the winter. This might seem a huge waste of time, with all the food programs being run by bird lovers in North America. But the squirrel cannot rely solely on charity at the bird feeder to get him through a hard winter. Even though the squirrel eats 100 percent of your income, he is only getting about 20 percent of his food source from you.

Some researchers feel that squirrel habits are changing in urban populations where handouts (or, more appropriately, takeouts) are available year-round. The squirrel is one of the few wild animals that has adapted to humans and learned to coexist with sometimes irate homeowners. Squirrels can live comfortably on natural foods and the variety of free fare they find around nicely landscaped yards. Not only do they enjoy the many food items left out for songbirds, they also love the exotic plants used for landscaping and gardening. A squirrel is an opportunist when it comes to diet. Whatever you sow, a squirrel will reap.

Some squirrels are scatter hoarders, burying and hiding gathered food in hundreds of locations, while others build one large cache. It depends whether they favor the old saying, "Don't put all your eggs in one basket," or Mark Twain's version, "Put all your eggs in one basket and watch that basket."

Are squirrels afraid of the dark? During the summer squirrels are most active a few hours after sunrise and a few hours before sunset. During the day a squirrel will often find an inconspicuous branch to stretch out on. He lies on his belly, letting his feet hang down and head rest pointing straight out. Being opportunistic, he will come out of this afternoon slumber if food presents itself. Squirrels retire to their nests before nightfall and very seldom venture out after dark. Are they afraid of the dark? You're darned right they are. Except for the flying squirrel, which has eyes adapted to night foraging, most squirrels know that they are no match for owls, coyotes, and many other predawn predators out looking for a midnight snack.

A hollowed-out tree cavity or a man-made nesting box would be a squirrel's first choice in filling his housing needs. These locations are called dens. More often, because of lack of habitat, squirrels end up building dreys-bundled leaf structures that protect them from mild weather conditions.

Ground squirrels live subterraneously in a burrow, while tree squirrels live in tree cavities or dreys. So to decide what type of squirrel you have, first find out if it has a burrow or a balcony. Nest building usually takes less than a day; squirrels much prefer to forage and eat.

In the winter squirrels are out even less. In an attempt to conserve energy, they forage the first half of the day and then lie low until the next day. In severe cold and heavy winter storms, squirrels will curl up in their nests for days. Like Garbo, squirrels "vant to be alone." But on a freezing cold day in the middle of winter, they don't mind snuggling with a neighbor on occasion.

Squirrels do not experience a utopian lifestyle all winter, living off the fat of the land in blissful slumber. When many people do not see their squirrels for a few days, they think they must be hibernating. Actually, squirrels experience long bouts of insomnia. Same is true for the little chipmunks that take good-sized chunks of your birdseed output and burrow under your house with them. Chipmunks fill an underground vault with the birdseed void in your life and slumber near it all winter. This is not true hibernation; chipmunks will wake up several times in the middle of winter. Scientists do not know if they have to get up and go to the bathroom, need midwinter snacks, or just have bad dreams. One researcher thinks that this behavior might be to warm their brains. Cold brains do not sleep well, and stoking the metabolic woodstove might help the chippies snooze better. Chipmunks need a good winter's sleep because during the spring and summer they use enormous amounts of energy, running up and down bird-feeder poles with cheeks ballooned to capacity with birdseed.

Members of the squirrel family differ from other small rodents in a number of ways. Their sense of sight is much more developed because of their daylight activities. A squirrel's eyes are much larger than those of other rodents because he is always so surprised to see how much seed you have put out for him. It also has to do with his need to stay on constant guard for predators. With his eyes wide apart on the sides of his head, a squirrel does not have binocular vision. This lack of depth perception means that a squirrel must swivel his head from side to side before making a move. So when people yell at a squirrel to get off the bird feeder and the squirrel shakes his head no, he is actually just compensating for his limited frontal vision.

"I called the Psychic Friends 900 number, Bea. They said I was going to meet a lot of new friends!"

What I have always found amazing is that a squirrel never bites his tongue. Unlike other fast eaters, a squirrel has a very coordinated mouth. He rips his food apart, chews at lightning speed, stuffs his cheeks to beyond capacity, and scans a 360-degree view, all at the same time, never making that painful mistake we all have experienced. While all this activity is going on, the squirrel is using his tongue to position food under his molars for grinding. Just once, you would think you would hear a painful little whimper come from him just to prove he isn't perfect.

If you have ever watched a squirrel eating a sap-sticky fresh pinecone, you have witnessed the most efficient eater in the natural world. Holding the pinecone in his front paws, the squirrel peels the individual cone scales back like a banana peel and eats each seed before peeling the next scale back. This is all done in record time, as if each fresh pinecone were part of a relay race.

You have to appreciate where squirrels are coming from. I don't mean from trees; I mean how they have become expert tree traversers. Getting to your seed is not a problem for critters that have spent the last few million years running through the tops of trees and feeding on flimsy figments of fir.

Studies show that squirrels have great memories. No, they don't always remember where they buried their nuts, but they do carry little black books with your name in them. They grade you from 1 to 10. If you offered good seed with easy access, you are a 10 and listed under Easy. These are reference guides that squirrels do not share with other squirrels.

Research shows that a gray squirrel can jump up, down, and sideways. It can hang on to whatever it can land on, and if it misses by a couple inches, no problem. It will just readjust its windage and elevation, reset its sights, and fire again. So most squirrels that look as if they are baffled by spring-loaded feeder devices are actually only joyriding.

Whatever type of squirrel you are observing, you will find it has the same work ethic-Work hard, never stop. It doesn't matter what season of the year it is, squirrels are thrifty. Tree squirrels as well as ground squirrels will hoard food and cache it away. Tree squirrels do not hibernate during the winter like many ground squirrels. They stay active and hole up only when the weather turns brutal.

If there were child support laws in the animal kingdom, male squirrels would be in court instead of the courtyard on a regular basis. The male will breed with several females, but that is where his parental duties stop. The female will raise the young, taking up to ten weeks to wean them. Squirrel milk is a very rich source of nutrients, and the little furballs grow very quickly.

In captivity squirrels have been known to live eighteen to twenty years, but in the wild a majority never celebrate their first birthday parties. Squirrels get lit-tle protection even from wildlife managers sworn to pro-tect them. I have always found it odd that authorities will permit a homeowner to shoot a supposedly nuisance squirrel at the drop of a hat, but then bust a homeowner who has taken in an orphaned baby squirrel to raise.

A gray squirrel is not as large as the fox squirrel, but it's not because he isn't trying. If you watch the two species, you will see that they are constantly trying to outeat one another, usually at your expense. The gray does not have as fluffy a tail, but his ears are more pointed, and he has a much sharper tongue.

The most common type of squirrel in North America, the gray squirrel can range in color from light gray, tan, or brownish to darker browns and black. There are also white phases (without albino characteristics) and albino colonies in several states.

It is almost impossible to describe a range for the eastern gray squirrel because it has been introduced to so many western regions, and its natural eastern range has extended through bird-feeder head-start lunch programs offered by thousands of backyard bird-feeding enthusiasts all across North America.

Depending on food availability, gray squirrels will often have two litters per year. The gestation period is just under fifty days, usually spring and late summer. Litter sizes average three to four, and it takes the naked young nine to ten weeks to turn into a certified, seed-stealing furball.

The average gray squirrel is fifteen inches long and weighs about one pound. His diet consists mainly of nuts, seeds, and fruit, but he will eat scraps from the trash, including bread, meat, and even snack foods. Gray squirrels will eat young birds and birds' eggs, but not as often as the feisty red squirrel. Like all squirrels, the gray is an opportunist and will eat whatever the season offers: nuts, seeds, insects, fungi, buds and berries, even carrion. High mortality rate in urban squirrels is due not so much to predators but rather to automobiles. By contrast, their rural counterparts often perish from starvation.

The most common squirrel in the Northwest is the nonnative eastern gray squirrel, which was introduced to the Seattle area in the early 1900s and has become well established in urban and suburban areas. Recent studies show that there are muggers in this group of wild westerners: gray squirrels have been observed stalking and pouncing on unsuspecting quail. The bird seemed to be minding his own business when a squirrel, waiting on a nearby stump, pounced on him.

"Hey, we have a time share on this unit."

Biologists are convinced that this is not an isolated incident. Other victims of the gray squirrel include other birds, lots of rabbits, reptiles, mice, and possibly even other squirrels. Studies have shown that tree squirrels in British Columbia knock off a good number of snowshoe hare youngsters, that ground squirrels prey on other burrowers like moles and gophers, and that chipmunks indulge on lizards.

Here is the real kicker. Biologists are thinking that the squirrels are not after the meat; they want the bones of these other critters. It may be just a supplement to their diet, but it is pretty evident that some squirrels have skeletons in their closets. Gray squirrels build large nests of leaves and twigs on tree branches, or they den within tree cavities and in buildings where they can gain access through open spaces in the roof, attic, or walls.

Fox squirrels, the largest tree squirrels in North America, are considered by some the most handsome. The coat of the fox squirrel is usually lush reddish tan with a light belly. Like the gray, fox squirrels can vary in color from white/gray to brown/black. They average in size over two pounds in weight and two feet in length.

Like the gray squirrel, the fox has been introduced to the western states and had its eastern range extended through human activities. I have seen fox squirrels in northern hardwoods and southern cypress swamps.

The omnivorous fox squirrel enjoys a good flower bulb whenever he thinks you have put some out for him. He also enjoys natural cuisine, like seeds, nuts, berries, fruits, tree bark and buds, insects, eggs, and fungi.

Litter size, gestation, and weaning mirror that of the gray squirrel. Also, like the gray squirrel, the fox will typically build a tree nest in the summer and look for a cavity nest in the winter, even if it means sharing a compartment with another semihibernating nonbather. Like other rodents, fox squirrels are accomplished gnawers, using their sharp, ever-growing front teeth to strip bark and chew through wood and plastic.

Breeding season begins in late winter and, depending on conditions and food availability, squirrels may produce two litters a year. The average litter size is three babies, born naked and blind. Young fox squirrels remain in the nest for about six weeks.

Many orchard farmers target the fox squirrel as a crop destroyer. But the fox squirrel is just innocently trying to share the bounty. He has no clue that all that fruit is future pie filling meant for already overweight humans.

Red squirrels are about half the size of gray squirrels. They are little, but they are mighty. Their ears are smaller, but they sport hair tufts. The red squirrel's tail is smaller, less fluffy, and flatter than that of both the gray and the fox. His name pretty much describes his coloring-reddish brown to rust but with a light-colored belly. In the summer, the red squirrel looks a little gray on the back. This light summer coat becomes much heavier in the fall and winter, and much redder. Fighting weight for a red squirrel is only about a half pound, but he makes up for what he lacks in bulk with a ferocious appetite for life. When I exaggerate about squirrels' eating anything that doesn't eat them first, I am usually referring to red squirrels. Besides eating everything on the regular squirrel menu, they are also known to attack and eat other mammals, such as young rabbits and squirrels.

One consistent squirrel tale is that the brutal little red squirrel will chase down the mild-mannered gray and castrate him at every opportunity. There is no truth to this vicious rumor, which has perpetuated itself because the red squirrel has such a demonic attitude. In reality, the sober-minded gray squirrel will usually yield right-of-way to the pushy little red squirrel. Gray squirrels would rather switch than fight.

The red squirrel usually has just one litter per year, but bears twice as many young as her larger cousins. The red squirrel prefers a leaf nest but will use a bird's nest, tree, or ground cavity. When breaking and entering, red squirrels will often work as a gang. I have livetrapped as many as eight out of one building. I once gave my father a large bag of thistle seed for Christmas. When he left for Florida for the winter, he left his thistle seed behind, and the red squirrels zeroed in on it immediately. When I discovered the break-in, I set a live trap and captured three suspects. I then vacuumed the room and cleaned up the mess. The next day I found that the vacuum bag had a large gaping hole in it, and seed was scattered all over the house again. I captured five more red squirrels in two days, and finally the party was over.

American Indians have many legends about the squirrel. One of them tells why the small red squirrel bursts into sputtering, scolding, snapping, and foot stomping while furiously twitching his tail whenever he sees man: once upon a time, it seems, an old Indian brave, with divine permission, reduced the red squirrel from an enormous animal to his present diminutive size. The red squirrel is a chatterbox of scold when irritated. He can be a ruthless bully. His approach at the bird feeder is one of authority. It doesn't matter how big you are; it's what ya do with what ya got! Twenty years ago, our highest-ranking military man was Admiral McCain. He was just a little guy. When his car went by, all you could see was his cigar sticking up out of the backseat of his chauffeured Lincoln. But he was smarter than everyone else, a little feisty, and ended up with five stars when everyone else had only four. The same goes for the red squirrel. He thinks he has five stars; and when he barks out orders, everyone stands tall.

"Chickaree" is a common name for the red squirrel in many parts of the country. This name comes from the cry the red squirrel utters. There are other cries in his territory too, usually from some poor soul that crossed paths with him, or just plain crossed him. Red squirrels are connoisseurs of fine nuts but will also partake of any bird eggs, new plant shoots, young birds, or a well-managed bird feeder. Almost everything available is food to a red squirrel. Many people think a red squirrel eats solely at the bird feeder, but actually he spends a lot of time eating seeds of pine, spruce, and balsam trees, nuts and acorns, mushrooms, buds, sap, berries, bark, and bird's eggs.

Red squirrels are a very important part of backyard bird feeding. This redhead can gnaw through wood and plastic feeders faster than a hot knife through warm butter. If we did not have these little furballs, our feeders would last forever and we would never get any new and more exciting models. Many experts say that gray squirrels do most feeder damage, but I believe this is just a vicious rumor started by a bunch of red squirrels. Most red squirrels are hyperactive and major grain grabbers. They can put big dents in your seed supply if you do not yell at them on a regular basis. These small squirrels are very versatile in their housing needs too. You can find them in abandoned woodpecker holes, outside in nests of leaves and twigs, in the ground, or in fancy nesting boxes you have mounted for songbirds.

What you have heard about redheads having a short fuse can be easily proven when dealing with your red squirrel. A red squirrel has a very nasty mouth on him. It is probably best that you do not understand what he is saying. Often you will see him chasing away much larger squirrels that dare trespass in a feeder on his turf. Even though red squirrels can be a bit obnoxious, they can be easily tamed. During the early part of the twentieth century, many squirrels were sold as pets. In some cases, the unscrupulous seller would not want to take the time to tame the animals before he sold them. The squirrels would be drugged and sold under the influence as tame and easily handled. When the squirrels finally came around, the salesman and the squirrels would be long gone.

Red squirrels are among the most common of all North American squirrels. They range as far north as trees grow. Where you find trees, you usually find red squirrels. Just ask the family in Ontario who brought one into the house on their Christmas tree. For days, they could not figure out who was opening the presents. At first, they thought it was a mouse. They never thought to look into the tree branches. Red squirrels love to eat Christmas foods, like nuts, grains, and fruit-now we can add candy canes to the list!

Flying squirrel. The skin flap that allows this mammal, which is similar in size and color to the red squirrel, to glide is connected to its front and back legs. When the squirrel does a spread-eagle, the gliding membrane tightens and acts as a parasail.

"Are you sure this thing is going to work?"

Flying squirrels are very thin-skinned, and I don't mean personality-wise. Their abundance of thinly furred skin between the front and back legs is what enables them to glide. This membrane almost triples the area of the squirrel's underbody, allowing him to glide up to fifty yards. The squirrel can make directional changes during his glide by working the muscles of his membrane. He often does this to outmaneuver an owl, his chief predator. Just before landing, the flying squirrel drops his tail and lifts his front feet, which creates slack in the flight skin. This serves as an air brake, which prevents a neck break. He actually lands very gently on all fours and immediately scurries around to make sure no one is following him.

A flying squirrel will set sap-tap traps. Like the red squirrel, he enjoys tree sap. The flying squirrel will also eat many moths that are attracted to the sap. These squirrels are mostly nocturnal fliers. They have very large eyes for night vision. They will glide up to 150 feet. If you have ever had one land near you after dark, the first thought is usually-bat. Flying squirrels are actually gliders, not fliers, but they are very quick. I had one in my travel trailer one night, and I couldn't get near him. It was like chasing a billiard ball around a table. I finally opened the door, and when his bounce angle was finally right, he fell out. I don't know if his little nocturnal eyes were always that big, or just when he ran into half-naked people headed for the bathroom in the dark.

Flying squirrels are larder hoarders. Like other squirrels, the flying squirrel has an attraction to anything that has to do with eating, and finds a multitude of natural food appealing. I have had them fill my bluebird nesting boxes right to the gills with dried mushrooms in the fall and move into the nesting box next door. They are tree-cavity nesters, and like to be close to their groceries. I have one that lives in a nesting box attached to a utility pole. When disturbed, the squirrel darts out of the box and instantly disappears. It takes a quick eye to follow the squirrel up to the top of the pole, where he sails off to a group of thick conifers. Flying squirrels are common throughout much of the United States and Canada, though they are not found in some of the prairie states and the Southwest. They are very gentle animals. If you have nesting boxes for birds, you will often find they have set up residence in one.

Never feed the hand that bites you. Squirrels can be alarmed and dangerous. The most common confrontational problem with wildlife is a squirrel bite. This usually happens when a person is trying to feed a squirrel by hand. If you are going to feed a furball, lay the food in the palm of your hand, not between the fingers. A squirrel dedicates his eyesight to scanning for predators and lunch menu items. This leaves very little focus on fingers. Often, the squirrel cannot tell where the peanut butter sandwich stops and the fingers start.

A squirrel gives new definition to the term finger food. In the case of a squirrel bite, do not lance the wound and suck the poison out; squirrels are not vipers. The most important step is to rinse the wound immediately and wash it thoroughly with soap and water. If you haven't had a tetanus shot in a few years, now would be the time to get one. The risk of rabies from a furball is almost nil.

There are cases where squirrels have gone on rampages and terrorized whole communities. In Westerville, Ohio, more than one gray squirrel attacked at least eight people. The furry suspects with beady eyes had taken over a tree-lined neighborhood, and no one felt safe. Police once had to set up traps, send out patrols, and even corner suspects in the county park, but no arrests were ever made; police were unable to nab any of the suspected squirrels. One officer, while on patrol, witnessed an attack. The squirrel appeared friendly but suddenly leaped at the victim and bit her leg. Unprovoked attacks like this lasted two weeks during the spring, then suddenly ended as quickly as they began. This case remains a mystery to this day, but like many unsolved cases, it may have a lot to do with spring and hormones.

The London Mirror once slandered New York City squirrels, alleging that Central Park squirrels had become drug crazed from eating half-empty vials of crack tossed by addicts. Supposedly, lunchtime strollers were being attacked by nutty furballs. Park officials denied that any such thing had taken place. There is little if any drug use among Central Park squirrels, they said; there was one stakeout, but the park rangers had been given a bad tip. All they found was one raccoon with an overactive thyroid and a half-eaten Twinkie. The New York Parks Department made it very clear that its squirrels have no bloodshot eyes, no dilated pupils, and scamper in straight lines.

The New York Times fired back, "Yes, they scamper and frolic, but they're not high." I personally have known squirrels with five-pound-a-day cracked corn habits, but I have never heard of a squirrel stupid enough to take a mind-altering drug.

Squirrels are rarely the aggressors. Many a dog will instinctively kill a squirrel if he can snag one. President Bush's dog, Millie, gave the press corps the impression she was the White House killer dog. She loved to chase squirrels. The president even encouraged it. Without the president's prodding, Millie was actually very mellow, maybe even yellow. One day, a squirrel turned on Millie, and she turned tail and ran for the nearest Secret Service agent.

The flip side to this behavior would be Queenie, a laid-back terrier from southern California. Queenie wanted a family real bad, but when she finally had a pup, it didn't survive. At the same time an orphaned squirrel was brought into the house. Queenie adopted the little furball and was soon nursing the squirrel and glowing like a new mom.

Dogs have always been thought to be natural enemies of the squirrel. Poor Millie was forced to perpetuate that fallacy. But Queenie, the terrier, broke down the barrier and let the truth of the matter prevail. Squirrels and dogs can live in peace.

I am not saying that all dogs love squirrels. I am just saying that it can be an alternative lifestyle. Granted, Queenie is from California and most likely raised on free love, good vibrations, and a mindset of sunglow, while Millie was a Washington-fed, Texas-bred media darling that had to perform on cue. She was not afraid of squirrels when she was surrounded by marines and half the Secret Service. She knew that these people were instructed to jump on her and use their bodies to shield her from any danger. But this is not the normal relationship of dog and squirrel. Let your dog make up his own mind!

Food and fun are never absent from a squirrel's thoughts. Squirrels love festivities. They have joined in on more than one Easter egg hunt. The tradition of hiding colorful eggs for kids to find has caught on in the squirrel realm. Squirrels don't seem to mind if the eggs are real or plastic, they just take pleasure in the hunt. Christmas is the same way. Many homeowners find their Christmas decorations missing and can't imagine who would do such a thing.

One year at the zoo in Tulsa, Oklahoma, officials decided on a "ZooLIGHTful" theme during the Christmas holidays. They put up 130,000 Christmas lights, which really turned the squirrels on. Within hours, the squirrels began to drag the six-and eight-foot sections of lights back to their nests. They were really getting into the Christmas spirit and were streaming by with decorations and fighting over the most colorful bulbs. It was almost as chaotic as Macy's the day after Christmas.

The following year, zoo officials treated the lights with vapoRub, pepper spray, and deodorant. It slowed the squirrel light-theft down, and there were fewer chest colds, but all the squirrels around the Tulsa Zoo that year were half lit.

How far have squirrels come in adjusting to urban development? I'm not asking about their ability to navigate baffled bird feeders and forage for food in a sterile environment. I am talking about developing techniques to survive the crush of humanity on their habitat and how they have come to cope.

We are constantly making jokes about squirrels crossing the road. I don't know how the chicken ever got top billing. The squirrel has always found it more challenging. Our opinion of squirrel intelligence is lopsided because we only see the results of failure, the agony of defeat, and never the triumph of victory and success. There is no sign of the squirrels that successfully negotiate the busy highway, day after day.

One success story deals with a Minnesota gray squirrel that lives in a Twin Cities park near a very busy intersection. This squirrel waits for the "Walk" light to come on and then crosses the street, maintaining a polite distance from the other pedestrians. Once the squirrel collects what he is after, he crosses back to the park, but not always by the same route. Sometimes he circles the whole intersection, waiting each time to cross only when the "Walk" light illuminates.

Many squirrels do not make the right career moves and end up flat and broke. Given the circumstances, however, squirrel populations have done very well, even in congested and increasingly rapidly developing urban areas.

Another story involves a Douglas squirrel. A bit smaller than gray or fox squirrels, Douglas squirrels range through the Sierras from Mexico to British Columbia-but one, dubbed Walla Walla, tried to extend his range to Alaska. Walla Walla apparently "squirreled away" in a U.S. Postal Service shipping container that left Seattle. The little guy went first-class to Fairbanks, where he came down the sort line with insufficient postage. Mail sorters in Fairbanks thought the squirrel had just wandered into the building.

A postal facility is not a squirrel-friendly place. Besides all the conveyor belts and sorting machinery, a lot of postal workers carry guns. At first, the postal employees tried to shoo the squirrel out a door. But Walla Walla was no dummy. It was 15 degrees below zero, with about nine inches of snow on the ground. He refused to go outside.

Walla Walla was able to find plenty of food by shopping through packages in the various shipping containers stored around the facility. When Alaska Fish and Game personnel were finally called in to capture the squirrel, he was trapped in a container headed for Prudhoe Bay. That would have been a big mistake. He was a little snappy, but I guess that's what happens when you hang around a postal facility for a couple days.

Once captured, Walla Walla did not resemble the reddish brown squirrels of Fairbanks. Fish and Game checked his pelt with specimens at the University of Alaska Museum and confirmed that Walla Walla was a Douglas squirrel. Since this species is protected in Washington State, Fish and Game felt obligated by law to return the squirrel. First they named him after Walla Walla, Washington, a city in his home range. He dined on yams, fruit, and peanuts while officials booked him onto an Alaskan Airlines flight back to Seattle. He was given ambassador treatment. When his plane touched down in Seattle, he was met by Fish and Game employees there, who then escorted him to Governor Mike Lowry's mansion at the state capital in Olympia, Washington.</P>

Walla Walla became something of a star. He was never invited to dinner, but then when did a squirrel ever need an invitation? The governor's mansion is an officially designated Backyard Wildlife Sanctuary, and Walla Walla was used to draw attention to the BWS program, which allows homeowners to obtain the sanctuary designation if they agree to certain conditions to help maintain birds, animals, and plants native to the state. No matter how nice you are to your squirrels, however, you still cannot claim them as dependents on your state income tax.

"With the new surcharge, do you suppose stealing seed will be considered tax fraud?"

Population implosion. Contrary to popular belief, the number of squirrels is declining. This is mostly due to loss of habitat. Squirrels only seem more abundant because we keep compressing them into smaller and smaller living areas, as we have with all of nature. Squirrels have become very adaptable to living in close quarters with humans. They realize by now that they are not always welcome. They used to run in herds, and now they run when you are heard. We have taken away much of the squirrel's heritage and, without realizing it, turned him into a common beggar.

Most squirrels know by now that the goodies you put out to attract songbirds are not meant for them. When they climb around all of your engineering and eat everything you put forth, they are only trying to make you understand that they do not care what you think!

I can't believe they ate the whole thing! Squirrels never know when to stop. After years of research, it is well documented that squirrels have eyes much bigger than their stomachs. The nerve endings between the squirrel's stomach and brain are very primitive and poorly developed. This causes him to eat far beyond his capacity before the brain receives any message to shut down the jaw muscles. There is an upside to having hordes of hoarding rodents visit your bird feeder on a regular basis. The main advantage is that you never have to clean the feeder; any squirrel worth his salt will destroy a bird feeder long before it ever has a chance to become dirty. Sharks feed in a frenzy, but squirrels feed in a frantic. They know that if the birds find out that you have just filled the feeder, it will draw a crowd. So they always try to make it look like it's about empty by eating two-thirds of it right away.

Squirrels are usually on an unbalanced diet—they eat too much, too often. It's the American way. Cardiac problems are responsible for about 50 percent of all squirrel deaths. Just plain car problems are responsible for the rest. One thing squirrels have going for them is the fact that they get plenty of exercise. They lead very busy lives and can actually burn off calories while they are eating. If you study squirrels, you will notice that their jaws move faster than the wing of a hummingbird. This constant, rapid motion takes an enormous amount of energy. It takes one sunflower seed out of every two just to fuel the jaw muscles that process the tons of intake a squirrel annually digests. Because of the volume their jaw muscles are capable of handling, these rodents have developed expandable cheeks, which have evolved naturally from being stressed to their maximum capacity. Most squirrels can hold twice their own weight in each cheek, which does distort the face considerably, causing them to look congested. An overextended squirrel is unable to close his eyelids because the facial tissue is stretched too far, restricting lid actuation and causing the eyes to look bigger than the stomach.

Review and Relate

"If it's so easy, you go find nuts!"

• Squirrel ears face to the sides like ours do. Mouse and rat ears face forward.

• Squirrels chatter and generally make a great deal more noise than other members of the rodent family. And the variety of sounds is much greater too.

• The gray squirrel is more of a lover than a fighter and will often let red squirrels and woodpeckers run him off the premises.

• When a squirrel senses danger, his first instinct is to stand motionless. His second instinct is to swallow hard and chew faster.

• The vain male squirrel takes twice as much time to groom himself as does the female.

• The animal warden in Fredericksburg, Virginia, was once called in to break up a squirrel brawl. It seems that four little baby squirrels had their tails entangled, and they all wanted to branch out in different directions. A local vet was able to figure out the squirrelly knot and separate them.

• Squirrels communicate through a series of chirps and tail-flagging. The frequency and the duration of their tail-flagging communicate everything from panic to picnics. Sounds are used in conjunction with tail and other gestures.

• The sweat glands of a tree squirrel are located on its feet and paws. When hot or excited, a squirrel will sweat all over your bird feeder. Sweating is also a squirrelly method of marking territorial trees.

• If a squirrel's nest becomes infested with fleas or other insects, he will move to or build a new nest.

• Squirrels will build nests in unusual places—attics, automobiles, woodstoves, barbecue grills, even power boxes.

• Contrary to popular belief, squirrels do not hibernate. They are less active in the winter, which is a survival tactic. It is believed that squirrels eat a lot just prior to a storm, which makes sense—every day is prior to a storm, and squirrels eat a lot every day. Then they spend stormy days in their nests, watching soap operas and eating black oil sunflower seeds.

• City squirrels have smaller territories than country squirrels. Like humans, urban squirrels have to share resources and try to get along with their neighbors. Squirrels in the country are more independent and defend their territories with much more vigor.

• If a squirrel thinks he is being watched, he will hide food temporarily or pretend to be hiding food, then move it to a more secure or convenient location. This is called the bait-and-switch.

• Too many salted peanuts could cause your squirrel to have high blood pressure. This, in turn, can cause an early death. Yelling at your squirrel can also cause high blood pressure.

"When he gets really mad he can yell 140 words a minute, with gusts up to 180!"

• The North American Council on Biological Formulation has signed an agreement among all country members that squirrel cloning will not be allowed.

• No squirrel is an island.

• A squirrel by any other name is still a seed-stealing thief.

• There are about 300 different kinds of squirrels, including the red squirrel, gray squirrel, fox squirrel, and flying squirrel. In addition, chipmunks, prairie dogs, woodchucks, and groundhogs are also considered squirrelly neighbors to most people.

• I don't mean to scare you, but squirrels are rodents. The order Rodentia is one of the fastest growing families in the world, since rodents are among the fastest breeding of all animals. The squirrel population in your yard is growing as you sit here reading this excellent book. When your squirrels are not sitting on your bird feeder, filling their cheeks to beyond capacity, they are at family-planning meetings.

• The order Rodentia includes squirrels, prairie dogs, woodchucks, porcupines, muskrats, beaver, rats, and mice. When they smile at you with their chisel-shaped incisor teeth, you know they love you.

• A squirrel's tail, designed for balance, is so effective that it can make some humans unbalanced.

• Squirrels are great snow tunnelers when deep snow makes it necessary.

• Your phone bill is inflated because of squirrels for two reasons. You call friends to tell them the unbelievable things they do, and they cause millions of dollars worth of cable damage annually, which ends up on your bill in the long distance.

• Squirrels have acute vision, acute hearing, and acute little face.

• Squirrels are very protective parents. One was observed boxing a hawk. Between the noise and the left hook, the hawk finally fled.

Tree Rat Trivia

Things You Should Know About Squirrels

  1. Is it legal to keep a squirrel as a pet?
  2. Why do squirrels hide food in so many locations?
  3. Does a squirrel live the life of Riley?
  4. What pixielike name does the red squirrel also go by?
  5. What is the average life span of a squirrel?

Things You Thought You Knew About Squirrels

  1. What is the gliding membrane on a flying squirrel called?
  2. Can flying squirrels see in complete darkness?
  3. Do squirrels smell bad?
  4. When does a young squirrel develop claws?
  5. How much food does a squirrel really eat?

Things You Wish You Never Knew about Squirrels

  1. What is the best way to keep a squirrel from eating your birdseed?
  2. What did Native Americans think of squirrels?
  3. What gift did early American colonists receive from tree squirrels?
  4. Can a squirrel wiggle his ears?
  5. Does a squirrel have to worry about underarm odor?

Trivia Answers

Things you should know about squirrels: 1. Most cities, counties, and states have rules about keeping wild animals as pets, and permits are often required. It is not a good idea. Squirrels make lousy pets and were designed to live outdoors on bird feeders. 2. Because they learned a long time ago not to put all their eggs in one basket. If another animal finds their cache, they don't lose a whole season's rations. 3. Squirrels get into bird feeders on a regular basis, which gives the impression they are laid-back freeloaders. But a squirrel's life is no picnic. Squirrels have many enemies besides the broom-wielding madmen who hide around the corners of houses waiting to ambush them. Bobcats, cats, dogs, coyotes, foxes, hawks, owls, snakes, and weasels are just some of the neighbors that a squirrel calls his predators. 4. Fairydiddle. 5. If a squirrel makes it through his first year, he is likely to survive for three to five more. In captivity squirrels have lived fifteen to twenty years.
Things you thought you knew about squirrels: 1. The patagium. 2. No. Flying squirrels have eyes developed for maximum efficiency in low light, but they are unable to see in total darkness. 3. No. Squirrels smell good. In fact, squirrels have a highly developed sense of smell. They use this gift like a French chef, to select only the best cuisine. 4. Squirrels are born naked and blind, but they come into this world with whiskers, claws, and birdseed on the brain. 5. A squirrel needs to eat his own weight in food every week. We know that to be about one pound. The reason some squirrels eat a pound a day is because they can't tell time.
Things you wish you never knew about squirrels: 1. Duct-tape his mouth shut. 2. Mmm-mmm good. 3. Protein. 4. Yes. A squirrel will adjust his ears frequently to focus on sound. Often he gives the impression that his ears and his eyes are hooked together. 5. No; the sweat glands of a squirrel are in his feet. But get back when he takes his socks off!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 7, 2008

    Great humor and information!

    Watching squirrels on our porch every day has been such fun. This book is filled with humor which lightens up a possibly less interesting read...unless you are a squirrel fan. Anyone can get laughter, as well as unknown facts, from this book. Enjoy!!

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