For the Birds Radio Program: Squirrels

Original Air Date: June 4, 2003

If you can’t banish squirrels from your bird feeders, you might as well enjoy them.

Audio missing


When people put out bird feeders, one species guaranteed to show up isn’t even a bird—it’s the Gray Squirrel. I have a host of them in my yard. Most are just generic squirrels, but a few I recognize personally.

We discovered one particular squirrel in the fall of 1996, after she met with a horrible mishap. The skin and fur of her tail had been ripped off, exposing bloody muscle and vertebrae, badly kinked in a couple of places. Whenever we noticed her, we’d head out with walnuts, acorns, or peanuts. After a few weeks, the tail got infected, and she appeared weak and woozy but wouldn’t allow us to capture her. As winter set in, the tail got frostbite and then broke off. That’s when we started calling her Stumpytail. She was clearly sick for a few weeks more, but finally started perking up. For the six and a half years since, she watches for us and runs up to us for peanuts. Once, after she’d been gone a couple of months, I spotted her a couple of blocks from my house while I was driving home. I opened my car window and suggested that she come over for peanuts again one of these days. By the time I got in the door, there she was on the front porch, looking up earnestly, waiting for those peanuts.

Every spring and fall, Stumpytail has babies, but she keeps her professional life separate, never bringing the babies to our house. This past week I found a squirrel chasing her all over the box elder tree and the roof. Stumpytail was making scolding sounds but it was persistent. When it managed to catch up to her, even as she kept running, this slightly smaller squirrel latched onto her underside and started nursing. Apparently it’s an almost-full-grown baby from this spring who should be off on its own by now. I’d never known squirrels could still successfully raise babies when at least seven years old.

Stumpy isn’t the only squirrel I recognize. I have a window feeder in my upstairs home office where I offer mealworms for my chickadees and fruit for any robin or oriole who happens by. One squirrel jumps down from the roof once a day. I usually notice it by the thud when it drops in, and find it peering through the window at me. I yell at it to get out of the feeder and then I instantly head downstairs to set some peanuts on the back porch, a little bribe to coax it out of the window feeder. And by the time I get down there, it’s already on the porch, staring up at the door thinking how well it has me trained. The sound of the back door opening quickly draws in several other squirrels, and often a couple of Blue Jays, who all share in the feast.

Of course, most of the time when the back door opens, it’s to let out the dogs. Our Springer spaniel Betsy badly wants to catch a squirrel, so before we let her out, we always knock a loud warning. Most of the squirrels scatter, but Stumpytail and one other ignore the sound until Betsy comes tearing out. Then they scamper away without breaking a sweat, like miniature Errol Flynns, confident and good natured as they escape yet another close call with the Sheriff of Nottingham. And like Robin and his merry men, my squirrels know who they can trust. They disappear completely while Betsy is in the yard, but I’ve seen at least two on the back porch inches from my little foo foo dog Photon, who sits there, jolly, plump and slightly oblivious, my own little Friar Tuck who’s apparently joined the opposition.

Most days, I get a lot more squirrels than birds at my feeders, which may be expensive but is worth every penny for sheer entertainment value.