It’s squirrel week

. . . at least, according to reader Melissa, it is at the Washington Post, which is running a number of articles on squirrels that are really interesting and funny.  I think Squirrel Week ends today, but it may already be over. Happily, the articles remain. It appears to be the creation of reporter John Kelly, who is clearly obsessed with these adorable rodents.

You particularly want to click on the “Ask a Squirrel Expert” link, where, for a next week, you could ask squirreley questions of Kelly and Dr. Etienne Benson of the University of Pennsylvania. (Benson, curiously, is not a biologist, but an assistant professor of the history and sociology of science. He has a really nice article in the Journal of American History [free online] on “The urbanization of the eastern gray squirrel in the United States“, and you’ll want to read it if, like me, you love these wily little rodents.)

Here’s a sample of the Q&A:

Screen shot 2014-04-08 at 9.19.14 AM

The link to the Canadian origin of black squirrels is here.

Another:

Screen shot 2014-04-08 at 9.20.24 AM

The link to the piece of squirrel/birdseed wars is here.

Finally:

Screen shot 2014-04-08 at 9.25.09 AM

There’s also a Squirrel Photo Contest. Here’s the winner and a description:

The winner was Ian Richardson, a retired aeronautical engineer and church administrator who lives with his wife at Leisure World in Lansdowne, Va. Ian is an avid amateur photographer. He was out taking a walk on the grounds of Leisure World when he spied a squirrel going in and out of a hole in the trunk of a dead tree. He set his Nikon D600 — fitted with a Sigma 300-800mm telephoto lens — on a tripod and, he said, “happened to be lucky enough to catch two of them trying to do it at the same time.”

Ian professed no special affection for squirrels. “They’re kind of cute, but a nuisance,” he said.

ianresized

A few other entries:

‘Rocky Rocking the Red Leaf’ This little squirrel is wearing its Easter bonnet in this photo by Melissa Leone.  /Melissa Leone

‘Rocky Rocking the Red Leaf’ This little squirrel is wearing its Easter bonnet in this photo by Melissa Leone.

‘Flying Squirrel’ Photographer Yvonne Landis wrote, “This squirrel was taking a flying leap from a nearby fence post to get to the woodpecker feeder. He had made two previous attempts, giving me time to grab my camera. He did stick the landing on this jump.”

‘Flying Squirrel’ Photographer Yvonne Landis wrote, “This squirrel was taking a flying leap from a nearby fence post to get to the woodpecker feeder. He had made two previous attempts, giving me time to grab my camera. He did stick the landing on this jump.”

‘Squirrel Television’ Wrote Kim O’Keefe: “Our three-legged cat, Patrick Swayze, catches the latest episode of ‘Squirrel Television’ from our deck.”

‘Squirrel Television’ Wrote Kim O’Keefe: “Our three-legged cat, Patrick Swayze, catches the latest episode of ‘Squirrel Television’ from our deck.”

 

‘Stealing the Bird Food’ “Of course, the squirrels love to eat any food put out for the birds,” wrote Diana Root. This one is intent on snacking.

‘Stealing the Bird Food’ “Of course, the squirrels love to eat any food put out for the birds,” wrote Diana Root. This one is intent on snacking.

 

 

28 Comments

  1. Matt G
    Posted April 13, 2014 at 6:50 am | Permalink

    Sciuridabbadoo! I once saw a squirrel jump from the underside of a branch to a hanging bird feeder several feet away. If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I would never have thought it possible.

  2. Linda Grilli Calhoun
    Posted April 13, 2014 at 6:51 am | Permalink

    I have the seed-stealing problem licked.

    I have five feeders at my bird station, three on one post and two on the other. The posts are eight feet above the ground, and the feeders hang close to the top. I put squirrel baffles on each post, right below where the bottoms of the feeders end, so that they don’t have room to jump over the baffles.

    The crosspiece for the posts is well below the baffles, so they can’t jump on the feeders from there. I put my water on the crosspiece so that the birds and squirrels both can reach it.

    The squirrels get plenty to eat from what the birds drop, but they can’t raid the feeders and empty them. L

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted April 13, 2014 at 8:48 am | Permalink

      I actually consider my baffle a platform for them and the chipmunks. There aren’t too many here so as long as they don’t break the feeders they can eat the seeds. I had one feeder where the squirrel had gnawed the opening to it was larger. It was kind of funny but I’ve had the cheeky little things smash the feeders completely. The feeders I get now can handle squirrels and chipmunks.

      • Linda Grilli Calhoun
        Posted April 13, 2014 at 9:07 am | Permalink

        My baffles are slick, and also cone-shaped, so they can’t get any traction on them.

        I’ve never had a squirrel trash a feeder when they could reach it, but what they were doing was hanging on them and bouncing up and down until all the seeds fell out, at which point they’d get on the ground, stuff their cheeks, and run off.

        The birds weren’t getting enough to eat, and the squirrels were stashing pounds of seed. L

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted April 13, 2014 at 9:26 am | Permalink

          Ha! Bouncing on the feeders to get the seeds out – now that’s clever! My squirrels just eat the seeds with their mouths but there are a lot on the ground too so they sometimes just eat the seeds there.

        • Diane G.
          Posted April 13, 2014 at 10:30 pm | Permalink

          My cone shaped baffles were working until ~ 3-4′ of snow let the squirrels jump from a high enough starting point that they could easily clear the baffles. So I let them win for a few months. 🙂

  3. Posted April 13, 2014 at 7:03 am | Permalink

    Too cute.

    How’s your brood doing, Dr. C?

  4. Latverian Diplomat
    Posted April 13, 2014 at 7:48 am | Permalink

    “It’s something to do with the genes. If you remember your high school Mendel and fruit flies and peas, you would know how that works. I don’t remember it, actually.”

    I find these sorts of remarks, that scientific illiteracy is amusing or cool, rather than mildly embarrassing, to be annoying.

    I suspect he’s pandering to the readers, here, in expectation that they are as scientifically illiterate as he pretends(?) to be.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted April 13, 2014 at 8:08 am | Permalink

      It’s a tad arrogant and ill wrought, yes.

      “It’s something to do with the energy. If you remember your high school Newton and dropped weights, you would know how falling works. I don’t remember it, actually.”

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted April 13, 2014 at 8:36 am | Permalink

      So I agree. Also, Kelly seems to be simplifying too much. Re taste buds of birds:

      “Birds are not concerned with the odors of their immediate environment. … I’m not saying that birds don’t have the apparatus for olfaction, nor am I saying that no bird can smell. … Surgical ablation of the olfactory lobes in the domestic fowl does not alter its food preference behavior. The point is that in most birds, odor is of little to no behavioral significance.

      [Goes on to describe taste behavior of birds.] Birds have an interesting sense of taste. They have taste receptors like other animals, and their general structure is essential the same as that in other vertebrates. The starling and chicken have a few dozen taste buds as compared to 25 000 for the cow. …”

      [ http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1183&context=icwdmbirdcontrol ; a seminar proceedings from 1970]

      Expanding on smell, if not taste:

      “Today there is overwhelming evidence that certain birds have an incredible sense of
      smell. But for some reason we still find that difficult to accept. My advice is this: Accept
      it! Certain birds smell better than you or me. …

      The kiwi’s ability to smell has been known for well over a century. In contrast, the Woodcock’s olfactory prowess, has been known for almost two millennia! A poem written in 280 AD refers to the birds’ incredible ability to smell worms.”

      [ http://www.bto.org/sites/default/files/u23/downloads/publications/bird-table/BT69_LR_12-13.pdf ; 2012]

  5. Draken
    Posted April 13, 2014 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    I can’t help but quote this:

    Ian professed no special affection for squirrels. “They’re kind of cute, but a nuisance,” he said.

    I think that sums up the continuum on which humans place squirrels: cute on one end, a nuisance on the other. I heard from several readers who were adamant that Squirrel Week was little better than al-Qaeda Week.

    (Personally, I have no beef with them, what few red squirrels try to throw themselves under my bicycle wheels here in Denmark.)

  6. Posted April 13, 2014 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    Ian Richardson,must be a really really avid amateur photographer, if he was just “out taking a walk” when he took that lovely photo of the two squirrels. That Sigma lens weighs about thirteen pounds all by itself! Add another 3 lbs for the camera and, say, another 4 lbs for the tripod. He may be retired, but he is physically fit!

  7. Diana MacPherson
    Posted April 13, 2014 at 8:41 am | Permalink

    I especially like the link about the black squirrels as my dad is continually trying to tell his friend that they are actually grey squirrels but he won’t believe him.

  8. Diana MacPherson
    Posted April 13, 2014 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    While I was googling about black squirrels, I stumbled upon this site, Project Squirrel, run by the University of Illinois that is basically a citizen scientist site, asking people to share their observations of squirrels.

  9. boggy
    Posted April 13, 2014 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    The UK government appears to have given up on its attempts to eliminate Sciurus carolinensis, so it will probably eliminate the native red squirrel in time.
    According to Wikipedia it was extirpated from Australia in about 1973. A pity they could not train it to eat cane toads.

    • js
      Posted April 13, 2014 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

      Arrrrgh. I hate cane toads. In the morning they burrow under my vege beds mulch or hide in large self watering pots so I have to put fine mesh around the watering inlet.
      I have however perfected my killing method.
      Even though I dislike them intensely I don’t want them to suffer so I have a long flat blade screwdriver that I position where I estimate the brain is and push down. Evidence of death is their legs fully extending with no movement after that.
      I have become most proficient at it if I do say so myself.

      • BilBy
        Posted April 13, 2014 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

        Having done a bunch of cane toad dissections this week I can tell you, their brain ain’t big!

        • js
          Posted April 13, 2014 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

          That’s me even more impressed with my ability then. 🙂

          • BilBy
            Posted April 14, 2014 at 2:12 am | Permalink

            As you should be! 🙂

  10. Harrison
    Posted April 13, 2014 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    Correction: Birds can taste. Taste is a pretty good survival strategy, so that should set off alarm bells.

    “Spicy” actually isn’t a taste. It’s a pain sensation triggered by capsaicin, which conveniently doesn’t seem to bind to bird receptor cells as it does for us and most mammals.

  11. Frank Wagner
    Posted April 13, 2014 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    My hometown, Olney, Illinois (230 miles south of Chicago) calls itself the Home of the White Squirrels due to a colony of albino squirrels dating from 1902. The town conducts a squirrel count every October. Pictures and history are available on Olney’s website:

    http://www.ci.olney.il.us/visitors/white_squirrels/

    There is also a youtube video with the town song showing the squirrels. See:

    I’m surprised that this hasn’t been mentioned before.

  12. BilBy
    Posted April 13, 2014 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

    Black squirrels are common in Manhattan, especially around Stuyvesant Town complex. Isolated population and genetic drift? The photo of the leaping grey illustrates their athleticism: European red squirrels are no where near as spry; I have seen reds fall quite badly when being over ambitious in their jumping.

    • Matt G
      Posted April 13, 2014 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

      There are some in Central Park as well.

  13. Posted April 14, 2014 at 4:36 am | Permalink

    My hometown of Van Wert Ohio has the black squirrel in abundance. It’s out in the middle of nowhere so perhaps the population became isolated somehow.

  14. Blondin
    Posted April 14, 2014 at 6:36 am | Permalink

    I accidentally discovered a trick to keep squirrels away from your bird feeder – adopt one of them. Years ago we used to get as many as 15 squirrels at a time swarming our feeders. Big black and gray ones as well as little red ones.

    One day I saw something on TV about red squirrels being particularly territorial so I started feeding peanuts to one of the red ones. She got quite tame and would come running as soon as I came outside. I would find her sitting by my garage waiting for me when I walked home for lunch every day. As soon as I got out the peanuts she would put her front paws on my toe. I’d give her a peanut and she would run and ‘hide’ it (usually in plain sight on the edge of the lawn or beside a fence post) and come back for another. Sometimes she’d shell it and eat it right away.

    Anyway, for about 3 years there were no other squirrels near our bird feeders. She chased all the competition away (no matter how big). I could live with one squirrel on my bird feeders and she was fun to hand feed. Maybe she adopted me…

  15. ethologist
    Posted April 14, 2014 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    When I lived in Princeton in the early 1980s, about 40% of the Eastern Gray Squirrel population displayed the black phenotype. Princetonians tended to brag about how that was the only place where you could find black gray squirrels (something about the school colors may have influenced this view). I accepted this until I moved to East Lansing, Michigan, where essentially ALL of the gray squirrels are black. I actually saw a gray one yesterday, but that was the first one I have seen in many years. As an aside, there are two other species of tree squirrels: fox squirrels (which are large, very abundant, and tawny brown) and (at very low abundance) red squirrels. Interestingly, the gray squirrels out in the countryside are actually gray. I’m thinking there is some kind of selection pressure disfavoring the gray phenotype in town.

    • Diane G.
      Posted April 15, 2014 at 11:05 pm | Permalink

      I get a mixture of both here in the countryside in Kalamazoo County. For the past couple of years we’ve been getting even more interesting ones–black ones with red tails.


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