Squirrel! | A Nearly Ubiquitous Rodent

by Melanie and Jim

Squirrels. We got ’em. They are found nearly everywhere in the world. Australia, you might have them, too. For those of us who enjoy being outside, squirrels are a source of amusement and sometimes annoyance. One evening in the fall, we had dinner on our deck. It’s a screened porch that backs up to just a few feet from the trees behind the house. An unusual evening in a way, we were able to enjoy our meal without the drone of mowers anywhere in the neighborhood. We had that in the middle of summer, too, deep in the drought when the grass wasn’t growing. But then it was too warm to enjoy being out for long.

From our deck we can see the birds flying in to the feeders. There are three, plus a suet feeder in the winter. One feeder is for the hummingbirds in summer, one is a small tube feeder that the chickadees and finches use, and one is a larger tube. The large tube feeder is well stocked with sunflower seed. Almost all of the birds enjoy that feeder, with the nuthatches swooping in so fast, taking one seed and darting away. Flickers, downy and hairy woodpeckers, and red-bellied woodpeckers all stay longer, taking their time before flying off again. Chickadees, titmouses, house finches, blue jays, all take their turns. We get quite the show from our deck.

The squirrels would love to feed from it, too. But, they have a problem with it. That feeder is a Yankee Flipper, made by the Droll Yankees company. (We are not associated with the company in any way, but we have found their “squirrel-proof” feeder effective and their customer service helpful.) Watch what happens to this squirrel as it tries to access seed from the Yankee Flipper in our backyard.

We’ve had our feeder for several years, and for the most part, the squirrels don’t bother it anymore. The first few days of it were great. Old Uncle Fred must have taught the young ‘uns what happened when he tried it once. Instead they glean the seeds from the ground below, the bits and pieces missed or dropped by the birds.

Around us we mostly have Eastern Grey Squirrels, as shown above. Some neighborhoods in our community and in the Quad Cities have black squirrels the same size. They are a subgroup of the grey squirrels. According to wikipedia:

As a melanistic variety of the Eastern Grey Squirrel, individual black squirrels can exist wherever grey squirrels live. Grey mating pairs can not produce black offspring. … In areas with high concentrations of black squirrels, mixed litters are common. The black subgroup seems to have been dominant throughout North America prior to the arrival of Europeans in the 16th century, since their dark colour helped them hide in virgin forests which tended to be very dense and shaded. As time passed, hunting and deforestation led to biological advantages for grey coloured individuals. Today, the black subgroup is particularly abundant in the northern part of the Eastern Grey Squirrel’s range. This is likely due to the significantly increased cold tolerance of black squirrels which lose less heat than greys. Black squirrels also enjoy concealment advantages in denser northern forests.

Fox Squirrel – Wikipedia user: Markus Krötzsch

In central Illinois where we grew up, these reddish squirrels, known as fox squirrels, were more typical. There are some here, but the grey squirrels dominate our numbers. According to wikipedia, it “is the largest species of tree squirrel native to North America.” They are long, with a body length of up to 27 inches and tail another 13 inches. Even so, they are light, weighing in at barely more than two pounds.

The largest in the rest of the world is the Indian Giant Squirrel. From head to tail, it can be 3 ft. and weigh 4.5 lb.

In residential neighborhoods in the U.S., there are few predators for any of these squirrels. We watched a Cooper’s Hawk in our back yard one day, swoop in noiselessly, land on top of a grey squirrel, secure it in its talons, and lift off with a twitching tail below. Great horned owls, barred owls, and dogs pose a threat. Raccoons, opossums, and the occasional coyote will tangle with them, too. We’re mostly likely to hear calls of alarm when a neighborhood cat is nearby.

Squirrels are known for being clever. Many of you have seen this video from several years ago. The squirrels were given progressively more difficult obstacle courses to navigate to gain their reward. As a bonus you can see what happens when squirrel meets vending machine.

Everyone has a story or more about squirrels in their lives. For more information about squirrels, see this amazing site by squirrels.org.

Enjoy the Mississippi Squirrel Revival by Ray Stevens.

What’s your funny, weird, or terrifying story about squirrels in your life? Or tell us about other interesting stuff going on in your backyard or neighborhood.

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5 thoughts on “Squirrel! | A Nearly Ubiquitous Rodent

  1. shoreacres

    Crazy squirrel stories? I’ve got ’em. I had a fox squirrel for a pet for eight years. Something tore up its nest, the mama disappeared and all the babies fell to the driveway. We thought they all were dead, but one little guy’s foot twitched. We took him in, waiting for an hour or so, and eventually got him to take water from a dropper.

    At that point, there was nothing to do but get milk and get started. They have to eat every four hours, so there was that for a while. But in the end he was fine. While he still was very young I’d take him to work with me. If I had to travel, he rode in a cage on the front seat. I was on the Matagorda ferry one day when the ferry guy looked in and said, “Uh – that’s a squirrel in your front seat.” “Yes, yes it is,” I said. I wish I could describe the look he gave me.

    He loved Lettman, orange popsicles, and was useful for driving off door-to-door salesmen and evangelists. I wrote about him getting drunk on fermented mesquite beans once. I should drag that out of the files this spring and repost it.

    I do miss the little guy. He died of congestive heart failure. How we know that involves a vet associated with the Houston zoo and a vet bill bigger than I’ll ever pay again. Didn’t know they could (or would) do an electrocardiogram on a squirrel, did you?

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    1. Melanie in IA Post author

      Huh. I didn’t know that. I do remember telling our cat Stuart that if he ever needed to go to the vet again, it would be the *last* time he would go.

      Yes, please, repost the story. Sounds like an interesting adventure!

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