The Squirrel Whisperer

My wife calls me the Squirrel Whisperer.

To be truthful, squirrels are relatively uncomplicated, and quite satisfied with simple needs.  Paramount among those needs is the quest for food.

We put food out for the squirrels and birds – birdseed, sunflower seeds, wildlife mixes that include corn…and peanuts.  Squirrels especially love peanuts, and would eat them to the exclusion of all else, given the chance.  But anything in exclusion of all else isn’t a good thing.

A note on peanuts:  They are not nuts but are members of the bean family.  Only Roasted Unsalted peanuts should be given.  Salted and/or Raw peanuts can be harmful, according to various sources.

We normally see the most squirrels in late spring through the summer, after the babies are born and have come out of their nests.  A typical number to visit the backyard can be a dozen to twenty.  Normally, when pecans appear around September, the squirrels scatter to forage among all the trees and we only see half a dozen or so for many months.

Squirrels can easily become acclimated to people – as seen on many university campuses.  Fox squirrels, which are reddish colored especially on their bellies, are pretty common on some campuses and are fairly sedate by squirrel standards.  We have almost entirely Eastern Gray squirrels.  Eastern Grays tend to be very energetic, and in many areas have put population pressure on Fox squirrels as they’ve grown into new territory.  They were introduced to Great Britain and have become an issue because they compete against native species of squirrels.

Squirrels do exhibit unique personalities, although absent physical markings that can separate one from another, they’re difficult to tell apart until one exhibits a distinguishing behavior.  One of the ones currently visiting our backyard will “wave” (always with her left forepaw) when I ask if she’d like a peanut.  She’s responding to my voice, of course, and not the words, although she’s learned that a tossed peanut will soon follow.  Another one has managed to learn to quickly shove two peanuts sideways into her mouth.  She’s the only one I’ve seen do this.  The others haven’t even tried, or seem to even notice.

We don’t bother with birdfeeders, since squirrels can overcome pretty much any obstruction between them and food.  Their brains are wired heavily toward spacial awareness, and they are problem-solvers who use their acrobatic skills, balance, and determination.  There are a number of videos on YouTube where someone has created a squirrel obstacle course, showing squirrels mastering all number of ways to reach a feeder.

They’re entertaining to watch, and although they’re more solitary than social, litter-mates will sometimes play with one another into young adulthood.  And as long as food is plentiful and available, they’ll more or less share – interrupted by occasional, brief squabbles.