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Just Gettin’ a Little Squirrely

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I love squirrels, but surely, I’m not alone. I know they are basically just little rodents with the tail upgrade package, but who can say they haven’t stopped to watch the antics of a squirrel at least once? Just think about how often squirrels can be found peppered throughout literature, poetry, and even common language (Does the saying, ‘Even a blind squirrel can find a nut once in awhile’ sound familiar?) Popular culture certainly isn't exempt, you'll find squirrels in movies, cartoons and commercials. They are clever little creatures with such amazing acrobatic abilities. A few years ago (after enduring a thousand conversations beginning with the phrase “I wonder if squirrels…”) my husband gave me the book, Squirrels, The Animal Answer Guide by Richard Thorington and Katie Ferrell. On page 3 of chapter 1, I read: “One of the most striking features of tree and flying squirrels is their ability to turn their hind feet around when they are coming down a tree head first.” Interesting, but still sounds fairly innocuous, right? I continued. “For you, the equivalent move would be to stand on your tiptoes, rotate your ankles so that the soles of your feet face each other, then keep rotating them until the soles of your feet point forward – without moving the rest of your leg!” How could I ever look at a squirrel the same again? There is definitely more here than meets the eye!

I know, as with all things, squirrels do have their shortcomings. Even around our house where they are a constant source of amusement they have also proven to be worthy adversaries and can be quite the destructive force if left to their own devices. When we first moved into our home we had a squirrel who tried nesting in the eaves of our house, even it meant chewing through wood siding and tearing through metal to get there. Then of course, there was Stubby. Stubby must have come out on the raw end of a fight or two because he’d lost a good portion of his tail along with a couple of his toes. One day I stepped onto the deck to find him taking a shortcut, but instead of running away he stood his ground, chattered, and demanded that I go away!

We also enjoy feeding and getting to know the birds in the area, but as every “birder” knows, it can become challenging when the local squirrel population decide they like what’s on the menu as well. I walked into Big R the other day and watched the advertising video talk about “squirrel proof” bird feeders and I couldn’t help but chuckle. There are many products designed to keep squirrels at bay and yes, we’ve probably bought at least one of each, but in the end we’ve cried uncle and ended the battle. We’ve learned that as long as the squirrels have feeders they can get to, there’s still plenty left for the birds, plus if they’re happy at the feeders, they stay away from our house. (Okay, full disclosure – having dogs tend to help with that as well.)

In our neck of the woods, where we’re easily outnumbered by the fuzzy tailed wonders, it seems they are always in motion. Foraging, eating, running, fighting, and chattering until nightfall when suddenly you realize you no longer see or hear a single one. Then, unexpectedly, a short time later the feeder begins to sway wildly in the darkness and that’s when you know that the flying squirrels have taken over for the evening. A much more subdued faction, they jump from the tree to the feeder, back and forth, feeding in short frenetic bursts, no doubt making themselves a difficult target for any cunning nocturnal predators who might be close at hand.

When I take a walk in the woods, I often talk to squirrels as they chatter away at me. It doesn’t stop their chattering for long, but it does puzzle them for one brief amusing moment! Perhaps I’m turning into “that crazy lady that talks to squirrels”, but I guess there are worse things. At night though, the flying squirrels are much more timid. Since any attempts to talk to a flying squirrel would send him running to hide, we have an agreement. I leave him alone to do whatever he wants, but I still get to watch him from afar. Not much of a deal I know, but again, he’s not much of a conversationalist so I’ll leave him in peace and enjoy his company from a distance.

It’s been hectic around our house for several weeks now. Even before I felt any touch of fall in the air “our” squirrels began their frenzy of foraging for winter, a process which always includes collecting sunflower seeds from our feeders. They bury so many seeds in so many spots they’ll never return to find them all, but that’s fine with me. In the summer when a beautiful patch of volunteer sunflowers appear I’ll know who to thank.