30 December 2007

The "paws" that refreshes

When I read that the University of North Texas' library cafe had devised an exciting new squirrel recipe that became a campus sensation, I thought "here we go again, another fricasee or stew to make my blood boil."

Being a vegetarian doesn't necessarily make me short-tempered, but being a squirrel-lover does, especially when I hear stories about squirrels on a commissary's buffet.

Then I learned that the recipe is actually a cafe drink: a unique blend of coffee with white chocolate mocha flavoring, and it's called The Albino Squirrel, in memory of Baby, the campus' beloved resident white squirrel who, only last spring, was killed by a hawk. The drink honors Baby and, at the same time, calls attention to albino squirrels and indeed, all campus squirrels deserving of attention and protection.

The tribute is not only a creative one but in the best of taste.

Heck, it was all I could do to keep myself from phoning the local Starbucks to ask that they call Texas to get the proper mix, then start serving this immediately.

29 December 2007

He didn't have to die

One of my favorite web sites, over the years, has been Grey Squirrel's Page of Silliness. It's a place where we squirrel-lovers can indulge our sometimes bizarre senses of humor, and openly share the admiration and affection we have for these engaging creatures.

I didn't expect my last visit there to bring me to tears. But it did: The welcoming page showed an eye-catching photograph of a bright-eyed male fox squirrel, and the narrative below was written in his own voice. He introduced himself as B.B. McCool - but referred to himself in the past tense.

B.B. McCool was a beloved backyard squirrel - and don't we all have a few of them ourselves? - and his painful, slow death was caused because someone in the neighborhood didn't care enough to keep their pet cat indoors.

I'm going to restrain myself from saying how I feel about this kind of killing that comes from irresponsible pet stewardship. There are stronger words I want to use, and harsher things I want to say, but they would be inappropriate for this forum.

However, if you read McCool's story yourself you will realize there was absolutely no reason he had to die like this. He suffered terribly, and the loving efforts to save him were not enough. His story does not share the graphic details of his anguish but it is painful to read - all the more reason to read it.

Please do. Visit the Web site, read his story, and remember him. And then please try to encourage people to love and respect their own pets, as well as their beautiful wild neighbors, and do the right thing by keeping their cats indoors - or not keeping any at all.

26 December 2007

In U.S., red squirrel's the comeback kid

The news from Arizona is encouraging, at least where the local red squirrel is concerned.

Like the native red squirrels in Britain, this tiny American southwestern creature has also been besieged, and threatened with disappearance. This variety of squirrel (a subspecies of the American red squirrels) is found only in the southeastern part of Arizona, on Mount Graham, and its shrinking numbers were considered a result, in part, of habitat destruction from fires, other natural occurrences and - perhaps - construction of a large research facility there.

And now there is word of a turnaround, or at least the start of one. According to a recent Associated Press report, the fall count showed that the numbers had grown to 299 from a slightly smaller 276 the previous year. Seven years ago however, there were 550 red squirrels in that region.

Bravo for little Tamiasciurus hudsonicus grahamensis.

To many residents of Arizona, or at least that part of the state, seeing red may indeed be a very good thing.

I can't say I disagree, not one bit.

25 December 2007

The squirrel as Christmas hero!

Move over, Santa.

In the 1950 movie, "A Christmas Wish," a squirrel named Rupert steals the show - if not the entire holiday for one struggling family. In fact, the original title of this old black and white film was "The Great Rupert," and features a trained, performing squirrel (magic achieved through Hollywood puppetry, in this case).

Jimmy Durante (remember him?) is the head of a family down on its luck until the discovery of this little squirrel changes that luck - and their lives.

Rupert the squirrel isn't likely to unseat Santa from his throne (or his sleigh) as a holiday icon, and no carols have been written about him in the more than 40 years since the film was released, but since receiving a copy of this movie two years ago as a gift, Rupert the squirrel is now part of my Christmas treasure chest.

21 December 2007

Some Revolutionary ideas

Not since the American Colonies cast off the reins of the British king has there been such a troubling struggle between those who dwell on both sides of the Pond.

This time, however, it is being fought on the British side of the Atlantic. And like the revolutionary entanglement written into the history of humans, the battle between America's eastern gray (grey) squirrel and the beloved red squirrels of the United Kingdom has led to much sadness and death.

Simply put, the greys are driving the reds out of their natural dwellings - and the greys, an introduced species hostile to the native reds, are taking over. Sadder still, these American grey colonists in the UK did not ask to be an introduced species but, like so many other flora and fauna that show up on foreign shores with problematic results, they were transported here, have taken root and spread. At the same time, the reds' food is being eaten by the greys, and the now-weakened population of reds in some areas are being destroyed by an outbreak of a particularly strong squirrel pox.

In Scotland, a census is taken to keep count of the beloved reds. Elsewhere in the UK preservationist efforts have sprung up to keep the red viable. Being sympathetic to the plights on both our shores, I have made contributions toward red squirrel preservation through the symbolic adoption of a red squirrel in the UK (I received a photograph of "Hazel," my adoptee, and I encourage others to contribute to this worthy cause, the Wildlife Trust, which looks after the squirrels on Brownsea Island).

The greys, meanwhile, are poisoned, shot and declared a menace. Here in the States there is only a government-proclaimed short season of "squirrel hunting" (although in my mind anything longer than a millisecond is too long a season). But in the UK, it is open season on greys all the time for reasons of preserving the native reds. Indeed, wildlife rehabilitators who choose to care for orphaned and injured greys do so in defiance of the law and at their own peril. (And they do, bless their hearts, seeing the greys as twice victimized).

Recently there was even a culinary solution proposed - put grey squirrels on Britain's menus. I cannot imagine an Eastern Grey Takeaway restaurant, squirrels 'n chips or even bangers, mash and bushytail - but the food gurus of the United Kingdom were obviously trying a creative solution.

Like the American Revolution, this is a struggle for independence too - one nation's attempt to become independent of the eastern grey. But please remember, this American colonist never asked to be there and is truly a victim in this scenario too. These are beings as charming, sentient and full of life and personality as their British cousins.

There has to be a better way to solve this though. America, Britain - please keep trying, and let the means this time be nonviolent.

20 December 2007

Watching, from a distance

Many of us fall in love with squirrels, watching them from a moderate distance. We toss nuts, or other treats, stand back - sometimes with camera in hand - and observe their antics.

Here is a link to a little squirrel I've been watching from a bit of a longer distance.

Tiny Scoiattolo

This is a little squirrel in Pennsylvania who first captured the lens, then the heart, of a photographer friend there. He has dedicated this page to her - and the small community of squirrels she hangs around with. "Scoiattolo" is the Italian word for squirrel, and her name is something of a tribute to the original Scoiattolo, a female squirrel who quite unexpectedly befriended me in 1995, long before I knew anything more about squirrels, other than the fact that they were rodents.

I watch Tiny Scoiattolo now from a distance too far to toss nuts.

But I send her my prayers and best wishes - for safety, and for a good long life.

17 December 2007

For squirrels, an election year!

One of the latest polls in Great Britain, conducted by a popular wildlife artist, shows that the red squirrel unquestionably weighs in as a national favorite. This report in the British press is one of many that bears the happy findings.

Imagine that! All of this done without a caustic national televised debate between prominent squirrels drawn from the Red and Grey factions, without anyone breaking the bank to hire an expensive Rodent Spin Doctor, without a smear campaign alleging that one squirrel stole nuts and betrayed the public trust, and without the bother and trouble of grassroots squirrel groups attempting to buy broadcast commercials advocating for their particular species.

American (and perhaps British) politics could learn something from this. There is honor (and honour) in just dealing in basic truths.

Hmmm, perhaps a Red Squirrel should be running for Prime Minister - or drop a hat (or a set of fluffy ear tufts) into the ring for the U.S. Presidency?

15 December 2007

Just say "NO" to Squirrel Sex!

Libidinous eastern grays are ruining my holiday season.

We all know what these kinds of dalliances can lead to and in the case of these tarted-up local bushytails, that could mean a whole new generation, following conception, in no fewer than 48 days. Just as the winter solstice wraps us in its icy arms on Dec. 21, and the Christmas lights are twinkling their brightest, the squirrels are thinking spring - and spring babies.

Few things are cuter than a baby squirrel, of course, but the last thing I want to think about in December is unwrapping any presents that need to be hydrated, nursed, kept warm and monitored over time to see if they're developing correctly. And it's certain that there will be orphans this year, needing rehab care, as there have been in previous years. While my schedule doesn't permit me to take in newborns (and they're so fragile I'm not sure my temperament could handle the pressure either), squirrels are orphaned at all stages of their development, with the early February births in this part of the country being only the tip of the icicle.

I think I'll tempt the squirrels on our property with something else to satisfy their lusty appetites. FOOD. It goes along with sex, I suppose, but it's the activity that adds calories, rather than burns them. Still, if I can keep these guys eating from sun-up to sundown, distracting them with a stray pecan or a juicy looking walnut when they're eyeing a ripe potential hot momma squirrel sitting on a tree branch, I might just be ahead of the game this spring.

10 December 2007

Thriving: Miss Daisy

Things are not perfect with Miss Daisy (f/k/a "the Driveway Squirrel" of October) but she is ambulatory, feisty, eating well and acting like a squirrel.

She also has ringworm - or so thinks the vet, who she went to see on Friday for a closer evaluation of the small (but ever-growing) lesion visible here on her left front leg. There's also a smaller one above the left eye. Daisy also has some ectoparasites that are complicating her life, so we're dusting her with a powder twice a week and giving Sporanox once daily.

Yes, she is cooperating. She protests vocally of course but definitely submits to the care which is hopefully also the cure.

I'm impressed with her spirit.

09 December 2007

Bah, Humbug Squirrels?

From Milwaukee, Wisconsin, comes this report of squirrels taking the glimmer and sparkle off that city's municipal Christmas tree by gnawing on the wires for the LED bulbs. The city's holiday lamps were strung throughout the very tree that these squirrels just happen to call home. The Milwaukee officials even call the tree a "squirrel condo."

This is no case of the Gnawing Grinches, however. This is not even an instance of rodentian holiday humbug. This is simply what squirrels do. They don't hate Santa. They'd just rather that the city fathers hang their decor in someone else's house. I have to confess, if I came home to my house one day and found that someone had decorated it with lights and tinsel and wire and bulbs, I might start chomping away too.

Bravo, by the way, to the city for realizing they should only use humane methods to handle this non-crisis. They want to get the squirrels moved out of the tree. Personally, I think it would be a whole lot easier (and smarter, and even more humane) to just move the bulbs instead.

Squirrels have their way with Milwaukee Christmas tree

05 December 2007

Seasonal tree, seasonless squirrels

Our Christmas tree at home is a modest 4 and a half foot tabletop variety, and last year we went with a pre-lit model, having decided it's not worth wrestling with twisted green linguini strings of mini-light bulbs before getting to the fun part.

Ah yes, the fun part - that would be the countless squirrel ornaments on this tree. How natural it is to pair squirrels and trees - and at this time of year, it's an excuse to trot out an obsessively overblown collection that, with each year, increasingly tests the vacant space on a tree of such modest height.

I love each and every one of these ornaments. And so it takes me at least 3 days to fully trim this tree, despite its manageable dimensions. I pause and consider each ornament - some were gifts from friends, some were gifts from people who'd brought me a squirrel rescue earlier in the year. Some I bought on eBay in a buying frenzy. And some I just happened upon and suddenly I had to have them.

There is a small hinged acorn that, when opened, reveals a tiny squirrel curled up in winter night's sleep, a stash of even smaller acorns on the other side of his bed. There is the perfect white squirrel, sitting atop a crystal (and very delicate) cone. There are squirrels hanging haphazardly through the words "JOY" and "NOEL" like seasonal acrobats. I have a husband and wife team of squirrels, dressed in 18th century garb, hurrying home with presents bundled behind them. There is also a small wooden head of Santa Claus, with a squirrel perched on one side of his hat (talk about having Santa's ear at this time of year!) I have a squirrel decked out with reindeer antlers, and another squirrel whose belly expands into a wide bell, with his dangling legs serving as the clangers!!

Putting squirrels back into trees is what I do all year long during the spring and fall baby seasons. I worry and fuss over them, and not all of them make it - but I rejoice in the ones that do.

Putting these holiday squirrels into this Christmas tree is purely pleasure. With every ornament, I like to think there's a life saved, still out there.

04 December 2007

Disappointed in my alma mater

This story, accessed through the link pasted below, comes from my alma mater, the University of Maryland, and its online version of the campus newspaper, The Diamondback. It offers gruesome details, and a rather unpleasant photo, of a campus hawk devouring a squirrel.

Swooping in for the squirrels - News

What's the point of such blow-by-blow detail? And there's a photo, made even more reprehensible by this ignorant quote from an onlooker:

"We were watching the hawk and all the stress kind of flows away," Volack said. "Everyone's attention was taken off of their problems to watch an act of nature."

Sure, watching "squirrel guts" (as one observer put it) splattered all over the place is a big stress reliever. We should all do it more often when we get strung out. In fact, let's offer up a few squirrels on a regular basis to the campus hawks because, God knows, campus life is so damn stressful.

I'm not often ashamed to be a graduate of the University of Maryland at College Park. But right now I feel like turning my diploma so it faces the wall.

26 November 2007

She has a name, and a future

This is the last kind of report I expected to be able to write about the little creature who, until two days ago, was simply known as "the driveway squirrel." Almost exactly a month ago I found her flat-out and unconscious, at the base of my driveway, not sure where she came from, though I suspect it may have been a fall from a branch or power line above. She was unresponsive and she didn't seem to have much of a chance.

But Miss Daisy (a name this delicate but hardy creature seems to have inspired) is doing fine. Recovering her consciousness within the first week was the least of her battles, however. She proved to be spastic, and had little coordinated use of her limbs. And she developed a huge abscess on the side of her face which required a vet's lancing, with followup of repeat doses of antibiotics.

She was, believe it or not, a trouper. She permitted enough handling so that her wound could be cleaned daily by me, and her medicine given, as the vet prescribed. She was vocal but she was also cooperative. I think she knew we meant no harm.

The infection is gone. Better still, she is starting to climb on the sides of her low hutch, making me think she is coordinated enough to climb - and may well warrant a regular sized cage at some point. Miss Daisy has a good appetite, and a great prognosis, I think.

In the spring, when the leaves are back on the trees and she can count on leaf cover to protect her from predators, I think she can look forward to climbing back into her life.

19 November 2007

Born to be mild

There is something gentle and forgiving about baby animals.

As adults, dogs and squirrels are natural adversaries. As infants, puppies and baby squirrels keep the peace with one another, they are accepting and warm and life-sustaining, and give one another comfort.

These photos, posted here, first circulated more than a year ago when little Finnegan the baby squirrel was "adopted" into her litter by a nursing Papillon. The mother dog took in the little rescue who, presumably, eventually grew up and was released, hopefully with the knowledge that not all canines are as selfless and nurturing as his adoptive mom.

Looking at these photos again, however, I think to myself, "this is what unequivocal acceptance looks like."

It isn't forever but while it lasts, it's a priceless commodity - for all of us.

13 November 2007

On campus, another tragedy

Much earlier in this blog, I'd reported the news of a white squirrel who met with a senseless death outside a Wisconsin elementary school. The animal was much-loved and the killing - a malicious act by someone in the area - was preventable.
This story referenced below, which marks the death of another beloved white squirrel, took place on a college campus and was not as avoidable, sorry to say, and might even be called a fact of nature: Whitey the squirrel was killed by a hawk. His white fur probably made him an easier mark than most squirrels.
I'm not a fan of hawks by any stretch of the imagination - they kill squirrels and other small animals below them in the food chain - and I find the article's accompanying photo upsetting and gruesome.
It's hard to love nature sometimes.

South Oval-kill - Campus

When squirrels watch us!

It's something of a comfort to see the good folks at Northwestern University watching squirrels watching us. It's even more of a comfort when a respected educator and researcher conducts a class on animal behavior and determines what a lot of us rehabbers have known all along - squirrels, as a prey species, are not an attack species. Still and all, when that finding comes from the academic world, we can all appreciate it that much more.

Squirrels at NU: Are they nuts? - Campus

So squirrels think we humans are animated vending machines? What's so bad about that?
Besides, I could use the extra coins.

11 November 2007

In Memoriam

I don't ordinarily hang onto squirrels when they come into my care. A rehabber's job is to prepare an animal for return to the wild. But 9 years ago, after at least 3 failed attempts to get one male squirrel acclimated to living in the wild, we had to concede he wasn't going to make it out there on his own. He was somehow not communicating well with the others - just didn't play well with other squirrels, was always getting beaten up and, frankly, preferred the comforts of a hammock and a modest-sized cage.

He stayed with us, in our care, after we healed up his wounds from being attacked by other squirrels in the wild - and Mr. Friendly became a fixture, and a true friend, until the morning of Nov. 6, 2007, when I found him at the bottom of his cage, dead. He seemed healthy, active and vibrant right up until that morning and so it's not clear whether it was just his time.

Regardless, we miss him terribly. I have created a video montage for him at OneTrueMedia, to help me remember him and to share a squirrel who was, in every way, larger than life.

Click here to view Mr. Friendly's video.

03 November 2007

A post from London


I found this lovely photo the other day on digg.com

Winter is getting closer with each day and everyone is putting on their winter coats - including the squirrels in the park near my home. It's also sunny, which is nice - but no sign of nutty sunglasses yet.

31 October 2007

'Tis the season to NOT be jolly

It's open season on squirrels (or so it seems). I don't mean just for hunters.

Today's New York Post featured, in one of its upfront pages, a huge photo of a cute, fat squirrel with the headline "EAT ME." It included a recipe for preparing and cooking 8 unfortunate rodents.

It echoes a movement right now in Britain, which is seeking to solve its crisis of red squirrel displacement - yes, caused by non-native greys - by urging loyal Britons to capture, cook and eat the greys.

Here in the States, newspapers and Web sites abound right now with stories about hunting season in various parts of the country and about squirrels causing municipal blackouts in some of those same states by biting into power lines. One such story gives details about how one such squirrel fell after biting a power line in New Jersey and blew up a car parked below because the squirrel had ignited somehow. This was presented as being funny and the squirrel was called a "suicide bomber."

It's a pretty sad commentary on our society when incidents like these are considered comic. They're actually quite tragic because not only is suffering involved but the reaction mirrors indifference to that suffering.

I'd hardly call that gallows humor. It's bad humor. And, recipes notwithstanding, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

29 October 2007

Growls with gratitude

She doesn't have a name yet, and perhaps she won't be needing one.

But as of today, the squirrel who turned up at the base of my driveway a week ago Saturday has something she needed even more than that: hope that she may make it. She is no longer lying on her side, no longer surrendering to lengthy sessions of being hand fed formula, electrolytes and water through a syringe. She is tucking all four legs beneath her, using her front legs to dig, sitting upright, walking on all fours and, best of all, starting to tear at some of the nuts and fruits and nutritional biscuits I'm leaving in the pet carrier. (I put them in there quickly, by the way. She is fast, she is furious and she snarls louder than a freight train.)

She throws herself at the front of the carrier when I walk into the room. She detests me. How normal and how comforting. She knows she is a squirrel again!

Her balance is not yet 100 percent, she still falls over sometimes when she walks - and yes, she'll be spending the winter with us, at least. But with a little time and lots of good nutrition her prospects for release in the spring are excellent.

23 October 2007

Fate intervenes

She didn't fall from the sky. Perhaps she fell from the overhead power lines, from a tree, from the mouth of some predator - or perhaps she didn't fall from anywhere at all.

But there she was, suddenly.

I don't know how the little squirrel ended up at the end of my driveway late Saturday afternoon, curled up (and looking quite dead 'til we realized she wasn't) but fate intervened. I would have been at the NYS Wildlife Rehabilitation Council's annual conference this weekend if my weekend plans hadn't changed, and I never would have found her.

Will she live? I don't have a clue. Once I got her into the house and got her settled in I could see she was quite neurologic. She is a first-year squirrel, very spastic, often vocalizing and clearly terrified. She can't eat or drink on her own and though she has use of her limbs she cannot coordinate her use of them. She appears to be having some kind of petit mal seizure (perhaps) or is simply reacting to me out of fear (I am after all a predator) so I intervene with her carefully, trying to cloak myself from her sight when possible.

I don't know how much luck - and it will be mostly luck - I will have in bringing her around. I may have to face a difficult decision in a few days.

At least she is warm and comfortable. Fate may intervene in a way that means her life will not go forward but at least she is, for now, out of harm's way.

18 October 2007

Senseless killing

I don't want to understand the human race anymore. Especially after reading a story like this, which appeared in the Green Bay, Wisc. Press-Gazette today:

Albino squirrel, mascot for Green Bay's Tank school, found dead

A white squirrel that became the mascot for Tank Elementary School on Green Bay's near west side is dead.
George Bolssen, who lives near the school, said the squirrel was found in Tank Park Tuesday and appeared to have been shot.
"I think it's terrible," Bolssen said. "You shouldn't be shooting in the city."
Bolssen said the squirrel was taken to the Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary by the Department of Natural Resources, but he hopes it can eventually be returned to the school.
"I want to try to get it back and have it stuffed and given to the school," Bolssen said.
Teachers at Tank school formed a White Squirrel Club and named the squirrel Al Bino.
The squirrel was seen frequently in the park, which is located next to the school.
— Press-Gazette

What was someone's point in taking the life of this small creature? He was harming no one, and his only crime was that he was deeply treasured for his uniqueness. He was loved (and even named) by children at a nearby school. He served as their inspiration. Imagine that, if you will.

And so, a lot died with this little fellow when that fatal bullet struck him. A lot died for the children who loved him, and a lot died for those of us who read the news report about the death of a single white squirrel who lived in a park in Wisconsin.

My only hope is that the squirrel is eventually buried and can return to nature, rather than endure further indignity at the hands of humans.

15 October 2007

Where the rodent meets the road

Normally the intersection of motor vehicle and squirrel doesn't spell anything pleasant for either.

Well, here's an exception. http://www.jeep.com/en/sessions/

That's the link to the new web site for the Jeep Liberty, and it features some clever and affectionate animated footage of a squirrel in the woods giving the SUV a bit of a test drive.

The squirrel also deems the model quite acornworthy, and proven in its ability to toting a true cargo load of this precious woodland commodity.

Now, there aren't many testimonials for cars offered up by squirrels (for obvious reasons) and the last such vehicle-vermin interaction for strictly commercial purposes was a televised spot on behalf of the insurance company, GEICO, featuring two squirrels joyfully high-fiving one another in the middle of a curvy road after having caused a rather conscientious motorist to crash his car in order to avoid one of the critters. (Not surprisingly, this wasn't one of my all-time favorites to hear about since its broadcast caused a lot of resentment, even a touch of vengenfulness, among other conscientious drivers. Squirrels do not experience glee in causing accidents, driver perceptions to the contrary)

Please give this web site a test drive, however, and download the MP4s and MP3s featuring the squirrel. It's all in good fun.

And by the way, the Jeep Liberty is not a bad looking car, either. Betcha this one model looks particularly good in squirrel gray.

12 October 2007

Go west, young squirrel

Finally, some good news. Sciurus griseus, the rare and threatened western gray squirrel, is on the comeback trail in the woods of Washington State.
Thanks to a program of reintroduction that released less than a dozen youngsters back into their natural habitat, where their numbers have been thinning, there's a chance these guys will proliferate in the oak woodlands they've called home for so long. The map here shows, in the highlighted areas, parts of Washington State where their numbers were once so much stronger. But their shrinking numbers lately have earned them the label of "threatened" in their home state, and on the federal list they are a "species of concern."
No, not everyone shares this concern. When the local Pacific Coast newspapers ran photos of the long-awaited release of these animals, and shared the news that nature might be heading back to its natural balance, some readers posted angry, resentful remarks about the thousands of dollars used for this reintroduction program as being better spent on the local schools, and other public works programs that directly benefit human beings.
C'mon, folks. Let's not be short-sighted about this, particularly when we claim our species has supremacy over others. Unless we don't consider ourselves part of the world at large (and the world IS pretty large) we all directly benefit from a natural world system balanced as it had been before humans' machinery, greed and ambition cut down trees and displaced animal families to begin with.
When we help save the smallest of the small, we're helping ourselves too.

07 October 2007

Squirrel Appreciation Week - Day 1

So the weeklong holy festival kicks off today and what did I do to mark the sacred occasion?

I went to CostCo and bought $80 worth of nuts. Pecans. Walnuts. Almonds.

When it comes to Squirrel Appreciation Week, never let it be said that I wasn't devout.

Praise the squirrels and pass the nuts, please!

04 October 2007

Squirrel Appreciation Week (Eve)

And now, let us appreciate squirrels.

What a concept. And just in case we needed a little nudge in that direction, Squirrel Appreciation Week gets going Oct. 7 and continues through Oct. 13. Have you sent your holiday squirrel cards to friends? Completed your Squirrel Appreciation Week last-minute shopping? Are you saving your singing voice for all that Squirrel Appreciation Week caroling? ("Deck the trees with corn and walnuts, fa-la-la-la-la.....") Will you go trick or treating in your squirrel suit? (The squirrels do that, of course, every day of the year at our back door - and probably yours too).

For those of us who don't need a holiday to remind us - but appreciate that such an occasion exists - let's look at a few folks who appreciate squirrels in their own way, for better or worse.

There's the Idaho businesswoman who launched a dog cookie product, "Nutty Squirrels," tasting like nuts but shaped like you-know-whats. She's apparently doing well and, who knows, maybe the baked version will keep dogged pursuits away from the furred version.

We appreciate her well-intentioned effort, anyway.

There's the state of Pennsylvania, which just this week added the northern flying squirrel to its list of endangered species. The little northern flyer is outnumbered by the southern flyer in that huge state, and the state has grown concerned about this rare creature growing even rarer as forests continue to come down in the name of "progress."

We appreciate the thoughtfulness of the action.

There are the Texas A&M students who are making use of fox squirrels in the school's Wildlife Department Aggie Squirrel project, using GPS collars to track and study them - in a deliberately humane fashion.

We appreciate their "do no harm" approach.

There's Robin Page, a columnist for the Daily Mail in the UK, who recently blasted the government's suggestion that the invasive, non-native eastern grey population be controlled via contraceptive distribution, suggesting instead a massive nationwide squirrel shootout - turning the fruits of that campaign into "squirrel burgers." He adds that he could appreciate a supper that included a casserole with some nice squirrel burger.

And we would appreciate Mr. Page's silence on this matter. Besides, it's not polite to talk with a mouth full of ground rodent.

And finally, there's a new DVD out, "The Best of Rocky & Bullwinkle, Vol. 2" replaying the adventures of almost every boomer's favorite squirrel and moose from childhood.

We'll appreciate some time, eventually, to kick back and watch some of those vintage, classic shows. Perhaps when the busy social whirl of "Squirrel Appreciation Week" is done with.

01 October 2007

Rocky the Flying Squirrel - or Rocky Balboa?

OK, title to the contrary, I'm not really writing here about flying squirrels. But I'm not writing about fighting squirrels, either. Indeed, do squirrels go into attack mode at all?

Well, yes: They've been known to scrap with one another pretty ferociously in fact, over food, territory and, during breeding season, most definitely over a fertile female. And ask any wildlife rehabilitator who has foolishly put an ungloved hand in the cage of a recovering adult or perhaps a juvenile who's just discovered his or her "inner wild rodent," and you know there's no arguing successfully with those well-aimed, potent incisors. And yes, a frightened, trapped squirrel will also vigorously defend itself - wouldn't you?

But recent reports in the news seem to insist that squirrels, which as a prey species are at the bottom of the food chain, are actually out to get us, and have the potential to do us unexplainable harm as they lurk, conspiratorially, in every tree branch, every shrub and, God help us, even watching us from our attics, after having used their criminal minds to break and enter.

Case in point: A story about a month ago relating the tale of squirrel's presumed assault, unprovoked, on a toddler who was innocently enjoying the play equipment in an Orlando, Florida park.

Sorry folks, I don't buy it.

I especially don't buy it when local authorities then, as they did in this case, insist the "killer squirrel" be found and tested for rabies. This shows ignorance on the part of the authorities - ignorance on the part of the members of the media who report such stories, and stupidity on the part of everyday who swallow stories like this whole.

To believe such stories is to assume that, in almost every city around the country, senior citizens are placing their very lives at risk just for the joy of tossing peanuts to this murderous vicious species.

Squirrels are not just potential weapons of mass destruction but, worse than that, beneath the fur of every eastern gray squirrel beats the heart of a potential Granny Killer.

Better to have Grandma and Grandpa toss their leftover goodies to some furry, cuddly and innocuous forest friend instead: I hear there are plenty of starving black bears in them thar woods who'd be ever so grateful for a snackie.

29 September 2007


It won't be October for another day or so but, to squirrels, it might as well be Christmas - and every oak tree (every nut-bearing tree, for that matter) might as well be Santa Claus. Many of the deciduous trees are fat and happy with acorns and are shrugging them off onto the ground in much the same way that, in the eyes of believing children, the seasonal jolly elf of winter sheds presents.

Of course, we don't trip over Santa's presents (real or fictional). At least not usually. But suburban trees, or even trees on hiking trails, are another matter. We can go rocking and rolling with these squirrel appetizers underfoot, breaking our backs or at least our spirits as the little gray beings are chittering, in superiority, overhead.

Our own property doesn't have nut-bearing trees, sorry to say. We are blessed only with maples and the polynoses of summertime. Sometime soon I hope to add at least one or two nut-bearing trees but whether they bear nuts in my lifetime is an issue open to debate.

Knowing how I feel about squirrels, friends often invite me to their yard to gather acorns there or, better still, they go out and gather up the acorns themselves to bring to me. Do I appreciate this? Well, who wouldn't? But do I recommend it?

Actually, no. That would be like going to your neighbor's house and stealing their supper right out from under their noses so you could put food on the table in your own home. (Assuming you even liked your neighbor's cooking.)

Folks who bring me a dozen or even two dozen acorns won't be tried and found guilty in the Court of Rodentian Justice, of course. No narcotics cop in his or her right mind would even charge someone for dealing in a controlled substance like acorns (of course they're a controlled substance! They're available only during a limited time each year!)

But I always ask people to keep the acorns on their own property, for the sake of their own squirrels - and if the acorns end up on their walkways, driveways, or somehow pose a hazard, well, gather them up and toss them on the grass in back of the house, where the same squirrels will likely find them anyway.

Thus the squirrel and acorn overload motto: Safety first, satiety second.

22 September 2007

Old friends

We're not supposed to miss them. Our backyard squirrels are, after all, wild animals - creatures with free will to come and go as they please, and to move about as their biological clocks and the seasons of nature dictate.

Still, we get attached. We begin to look for the nursing mother who starts to show up just after her babies are born, and we watch for her every day, hoping to see signs that the babies are doing well - and we slip her a few extra nuts, figuring she's eating not just for two but probably for four or five or six.

Or there's the full-bodied feisty male (everyone knows one of these). He comes by with a tough-guy attitude, he may even have a few battle scars or, on some days a slight limp from his war adventures, but he is a sucker for hazelnuts (or whatever the most expensive nuts happen to be that you've got on hand) and if you're not quick enough to get to the door to hand them out to him, he'll rap on the glass nice and loud - or climb up onto the sill and glare into the house from the window.

(I'm almost ashamed to say that when one object of my devotion showed up early one Sunday morning and rapped on the glass door, I got up so quickly from the kitchen table that I stumbled and fell, hitting my face squarely on the ceramic tile floor, requiring a trip to the emergency room to repair a shattered lip. But not before I had crawled through the Jackson Pollock-style spattering of blood on the floor to toss some hazelnuts his way.)

Sometimes there are the young siblings, raised in a nearby tree and now sufficiently agile to make their way up and down from the birth nest, seek out whatever food suburbia may offer, and even offer some entertainment in the form of wrestling matches, forward rolls and other exuberant gymnastics. These may even be the weaned offspring of the nursing mother who, not so mysteriously now, is no longer nursing.

It's hard not to miss them when they stop showing up: the guy with the limp or the misshapen paw. The female with the small hole perfectly centered in her ear. The squirrel with the flaming red bushy tail that stands in stark contrast to a silver gray body. You wonder: Did they die? Or did they simply move on? You hope for the latter and fear for the former, always scanning the landscape for evidence and finding relief when nothing turns up to confirm those suspicions.

OK, so we're doomed to sadness and longing because we've broken the rules. We do get attached, and new faces replace the old ones and we swear we won't care but of course we do. We name them. We set our clocks by their arrivals. We even wake extra early on some mornings (setting the alarm) if the weather's been harsh and we know they'll be by to make up for the previous night's early, storm-induced bedtime.

It seems almost illegal to have crossed the line here, as if breaking some law of nature.

Guilty, guilty as charged on all counts. I confess. Lock me away and throw away the key if you must but please, if you do, don't forget to leave me a bag of nuts so I can toss them through the bars and feed all my friends who are still on the outside.

14 September 2007

The Cycle Begins Again

The pre-release pen outside has been empty for a while now, and we'll be dismantling it soon. The last among the spring squirrel babies have been released.

Now we turn our attention to arrivals. And to much smaller enclosures - plastic pet carriers - which are taken out of storage to house the smallest of the small, the autumn orphans, as they begin to come.

We have two. These little girls are not siblings by birth but were brought together by circumstance and need by two wildlife rehabilitators before me. The larger girl fell from a tree and mom never came to retrieve her, for whatever reason. The smaller girl fell too, with her brother, who had a fractured paw and numerous other injuries. His paw had begun to heal and he seemed to be well on his way when suddenly, while he was being fed, he had a seizure and died, right in the rehabilitator's hands. It was devastating.

So the two girls were paired under the care of one rehabilitator, so neither would be lonely. They are maybe one week apart in age, and the smaller girl has a head tilt and seems slightly neurologic. But she has a sibling again. They have each other.

And now, as of last Wednesday, they have come into my care. They snuggle, they sleep and most importantly, they grow.

The cycle begins again.

09 September 2007

Foaming at the mouth

The big news locally this week is the "r" word. Rabies. Coupled with yet another "r" word. Raccoon.

New York State has been plagued with rabid raccoons since 1990 but it continues to spread without any significant gains in curtailment, prompting local health gurus to drop vaccine-laced bait from the sky in the raccoons' favorite haunts. This is the hoped-for dam that may turn the flood around - or so they think.

But fear (specifically fear of rabies, a completely valid terror of this fatal virus) has a way of causing a secondary symptom in people: the inability to hear or comprehend. They hear "raccoon" and immediately think "squirrel."

Both are two syllable words that identify forms of wildlife. But where rabies is concerned, the similarity ends there. Raccoon rabies is not squirrel rabies. In fact, there is no squirrel rabies.

Theoretically, as a warm-blooded animal, squirrels could contract and pass it on, if attacked by a rabid animal (such as a raccoon). But New York State health officials do not consider squirrels a vector for rabies. Rather, squirrels are called "dead end hosts" because the virus, if they get it, dies with them - largely because the rabid animal kills the squirrel first before the virus even has a chance to get its hooks into these small rodents.

Groundhogs? Well, it's a different story altogether for these heftier members of the sciurid family. They could well survive an attack.

But let's not give rabies to squirrels when nature, for the most part, doesn't. Squirrels have enough real enemies to worry about.

05 September 2007

Stadium squirrel, part 2

The eastern gray squirrel who attended the Yankees ball game on Aug. 28 has come back.

The squirrel was sighted (and photographed) once again at another game the team hosted - this one, against Seattle, on Sept. 4 - and was perched at the very same spot, the right field foul pole. I'm beginning to wonder if this isn't a mother squirrel who has a nest of babies nearby, and she's taking a breather from nursing by taking in the game (and getting away from the kids).

On the other hand, these are night games and squirrels are typically daytime creatures. So maybe this is a male squirrel who is a Yankees fan living close to the objects of his adoration - but displaced from his home in the stands by the crazed crowd?

It's hard to say. But it's clear this squirrel is definitely gathering his own cheering section, a breed quite apart from the fans who come, bearing tickets and beer, to root for the two-legged athletes playing down there on the ground beneath him.

So far as I'm concerned, the final score remains: Squirrel, 1; Baseball, 0.

02 September 2007

More squirrel chatter

I attended a lively, friendly brunch today, and squirrels were on the menu.

No, not part of the buffet of offerings in the conventional sense. Just in the conversational sense. No sooner had I finished my bagel and cream cheese and started on the first of too many cups of nice strong coffee than the inquisition started anew: "Why are squirrels so active this time of year?" (answer: mating, nut-burying, playing) "Do squirrels remember where they bury their nuts?" (answer: only for 20 minutes or so, then they find them largely based on scent) "How soon before squirrels can start having babies of their own?" (answer: depends what time of year they were both but usually it's by the end of the first year)

Autumn is very much the season of the squirrel. No wonder these questions are dropping from people's lips like acorns from the trees.

Nowhere else at any other time of the year is The Squirrel more apparent. Just as the winter season brings the visage of Santa Claus, Father Christmas, Saint Nicholas, or what-have-you-with-a-white-beard and 100 extra pounds or so, the fall brings the squirrel as the Seasonal Icon and with it, a barrage of questions that is just as seasonal and, happily, just as welcome for me.

Yesterday while shopping in Hallmark, to get cards and a free acorn candle that came as a promotional gift, I saw three small squirrel statuettes for sale, all with autumn themes. Now do I really need more squirrel statuettes? As things stand (and even as things sit) I have more statuettes than I have shelves to put them on. Still, could I resist this purchase, for a mere $7 or so per statuette?

You of course know the ending to this story. I will have to scout for storage - or rather, suitable display. Maybe buy some new shelving to accommodate them.

Perhaps there is shelving out there that has a nice stencil design in the shape of a squirrel.

01 September 2007

Squirrels from afar

Hello, finally, from the UK where I have grey squirrels in my garden and in the park behind my house.

What do they look like, and how do they compare to their US cousins? Well, I suppose I'd say they seem to be a bit smaller based on those I've seen in the US. But maybe the US ones just happened to be well fed couch potatoes, whereas the ones who visit my garden are desperate for food.

When I get a moment, I'll find and add some photos of them here.

29 August 2007

Stadium squirrel

Sorry, but I hate baseball. The Great American Pastime is anything but that, in my eyes. Don't like it, don't understand it, don't even want to try. I'd rather watch cloud formations in the winter sky on a starless night.

So when photos began to show up recently depicting a squirrel at a New York Yankee game, sitting atop something known as the "right field foul pole" (whatever that is), I realized that there was, at last, some action at Yankee Stadium I could finally understand and even appreciate.

The fact that the squirrel stayed for the entire game (the Yankees were playing the Boston Red Sox), indicates that he either was so terrified he could not move or, perhaps he (or she) was a fan.

Knowing how spectators at sporting events can become unruly, rude and sometimes downright out of control, my worry, of course, was immediately for the squirrel. Would folks in the stands amuse themselves at the squirrel's expense, harassing him or throwing projectiles? Or would harm befall him in the form of a fierce pitch (or a hit) gone astray?

Fortunately, none of that happened. No matter which team the fans were rooting for on the field, almost all the fans seemed to be on the squirrel's side. Likewise, the media: the squirrel ultimately achieved as much exposure and and fame (or notoriety) as some of the rival teams' top players. In fact, the headlines in the local newspapers displayed the word "squirrel" in the same size type as that used for the names of the stars.

There were no reports about what the squirrel did after leaving the stadium, but I presume - well, I hope - he did so without incident.

I think in the game of baseball that's called being "safe," isn't it?

27 August 2007

Squirrel chatter

Everyone, it seems, wants to talk about squirrels.

At a party last night, after we were done immersing ourselves in office politics and national politics, surfacing only to trash banks and the economy, the subject got around to the local squirrel population. And there were plenty of questions: "Are squirrels territorial?" "If you feed them separately will they stay out of your birdfeeders?" "Do they migrate?" "Are there really flying squirrels in this part of New York?"

The answer, of course, was yes - to all of them. There were stories people told of squirrels in their attics, stories of well-meaning rescues when nests fell and the babies in them got cold and could not be revived. There was a curiosity, and a true benevolence, as if people at this party were asking because they planned some travel to a foreign land sometime soon, and wanted to know more about the population they would meet there.

It's like that with squirrels, I suppose. You see them from afar. Then you have your first encounter, or read something about them, and begin to notice theirs is not a one-dimensional existence.

Suddenly you're entering that new territory and you don't want to be a tourist on the bus anymore, you want to be an active participant in the scene unfolding around you.

Squirrels, by virtue of their exuberance and their cleverness, can effect those kinds of changes. For those of us who get caught up in it, well, we're the lucky ones.

25 August 2007

A sweet news bite

At last, a squirrel adventure that doesn't involve mention of rabies, children and adults being attacked or power lines being bitten, casting metropolitan areas into darkness.

At last, squirrels can look cute again, for a little while.

The lastest news from Finland is that the squirrel who'd been entering a Helsinki supermarket on a regular basis for the sole purpose of stealing an egg-shaped European-made confection has been banned from the shop. Well duh. One would think this has less to do with the thief being a squirrel than with the thief simply being a thief. If the news had been that a truck driver was stopping in at the store and stealing these candies on a regular basis, the trucker would likely have been cast out from the supermarket too.

Banning the trucker would have been a sound business decision but no, it would not have made news.

But hey, this is a squirrel. A cute, furry being with a tail far bushier (and easier on the eyes) than one might find on your average trucker.

On the other hand, those of us who dispose of a large chunk of our very disposable income weekly purchasing walnuts, pecans, almonds and those pricey hazelnuts to keep the outdoor denizens content, outside our back door, find it no surprise - and hardly news at all - that a squirrel might actually have discriminating tastes. Discriminating enough to turn to a life of crime, breaking and entering at a supermarket and picking off only the highest quality brand-name confection.

Just ask the last visitor in our yard who repeatedly scoffed at English walnut halves and would not be appeased until $5-a-pound filberts were produced.

23 August 2007

Squirrel freedom day

The girls really wanted to go. It helps to know that.

This morning the last of the spring "babies" went home to their new lives in the trees, the lives that had been interrupted at some point in their babyhood, when they were brought into wildlife rehab care in the first place.

I always marvel at the way some of these soon-to-be-released squirrels perk up when they get their first whiff of the woods, as I tote them, in their little carrier, down the trail. And this pair positively perked up.

Even the most problematic part of releasing squirrels, the act of getting them out of the big outdoor pre-release pen, was too easy: They stepped willingly into the transport carrier, indifferent to the greens and corn I'd put there to tempt them. It was as if they sensed they were moving on to some next stage, something good.

So this ritual was more of a reunion for them and not a so-called "hard release." (I used to hate this form of release, which doesn't allow for a preferred day or two of adaptation to new surroundings. But I think when these releases are well-planned, done early in the day, and when the squirrels show they not only want it but need it, it's OK to give them their freedom this way.)

So I opened the hatch and these two went nicely and smoothly, didn't even look over their shoulders or look back with regret. They dug their noses and claws into the forest floor, then some tree bark, and were on their way. I suspect by now they are scouting out a nesting spot for the night.

My job is through.

22 August 2007

News bites

Angry, biting squirrels are in the news, particularly if they involve children being on the receiving end.

In Oklahoma, one newspaper reports that an 8-year-old boy was bitten by a squirrel that broke its leg after falling from a tree near a pond. The boy, of course, reached out to touch the injured animal - a definite no-no for anyone of any age.

In Denver, Arapahoe County health officials report that a squirrel that had apparently bitten a 3-year-old boy (they don't say under what circumstances) was being tested for diseases. To the newspaper's credit, it reported correctly that squirrels are not considered carriers of rabies.

Still, the media seem to savor the image of an angry, indignant rodent, typically weighing no more than 2 pounds, unleashing the fury of its finely sharpened choppers on human flesh, the younger and more tender the flesh the better. Seems to me the old "Man Bites Dog" headline may well be replaced soon by "Squirrel Bites Child" or "Squirrel Bites (Fill in Appropriate Description of Victim, the more helpless the better)." It has some of the same odd appeal that was present in the story two decades ago about then-U.S. President Jimmy Carter being set upon by a so-called "attack rabbit" - another small, furry creature acting way out of character.

Combative prey animal stories are only a few degrees better than endless reams about the antics of Paris Hilton or Lindsay Lohan but, seeing that we're almost in a presidential election year, can't we think of other issues to provoke the electorate?

21 August 2007

A different kind of calendar

If you care at all about squirrels here in the States, and follow their life cycles, you'll notice that autumn comes early. The so-called "fall baby season," the second season of eastern gray squirrel births, begins with the free-for-all of breeding that begins in earnest in mid-summer, culminating in births as early as late July.

By the squirrels' calendar, the end of July heralds autumn in New York, if not most of the northeast.

Leaves have not yet begun to drop from the trees but baby squirrels seem to make their way, precariously, to the ground in late summer, tossed out by weather, tree-cutters and, sadly, a mother squirrel who might ultimately know better than us well-meaning humans that not all of their offspring will be constitutionally strong enough to make it in this world.

It's a sad business for the finder, a wide-eyed rescuer full of excitement and hope, and sadder too for wildlife rehabilitators such as myself who receive these little bundles with an exhortation to please save them. But there are times we can do little more than bear witness to another small life form whose eyes will never open to see the world and who'll never do much more than feel the warmth and comfort of the artificial environment we give them for a few short weeks - or hours. For many, the script has already been written.

The world of squirrels is a world of contrasts for us humans. It's a time of urgency but it's also its own time warp. Autumn arrives in mid-summer and death seems to walk closely on the heels of every new birth.

Ratatosk, the messenger

Ratatosk is a minor celebrity in Norse mythology. A kind of rodent precursor to our modern e-mails and chatrooms, this tiny red squirrel is said to have carried messages (including the gossip of the day) from the top of a giant tree, back down to its sprawling roots.

The treetop recipient, according to Norse lore, was an eagle.
Down below, the story goes, was a dragon.

Today Ratatosk might employ a blog like this, skirting a modern day, electronic pathway, at speeds his Norse creators could never have envisioned.

Here you'll find no low-lying dragons or sky-scraping eagles - not even a giant, gnarled tree. There are just us sciurophiles writing, respectively, from the land of the native red squirrels on one side of the Pond and the land of the native grays (or greys, as our UK cousins like to note).

Across the Pond we scurry with word of squirrels making headlines in the news - or raising eyebrows locally - all the while advocating for a kinder demeanor toward all living creatures, and sharing in the natural whimsy and spirit these diminutive prey animals show in their daily lives.

This is a blog from us, to you.
Ratatosk, we hope, would take it as a compliment.