For the Birds Radio Program: Squirrels

Original Air Date: Nov. 24, 1995

If you hate squirrels, you may take issue with today’s For the Birds. (4:06) Date confirmed.

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The current National Geographic has a great article about squirrels by Diane Ackerman. She can make any subject in the universe interesting, and since squirrels are inherently fascinating, this piece is a terrific read. She doesn’t write about exotic squirrels from the Amazon forest, just those regular backyard squirrels we see every day.

Then, not long after I read the article, I took my car for her regular oil change and was sitting in the waiting room when the guy waiting next to me started talking about the squirrels in his yard. At first I thought he was going to complain about what pests they are, or about how much sunflower seed they devour, but instead, he told me how he built an enormous feeder just for them. It has two ears of corn that swing around so the squirrels have to get in their acrobatic mode to get them, and a big table in the middle where even lazy squirrels can enjoy sunflower seeds and peanuts.

Now this is a man after my own heart. I get into plenty of discussions with people about the best ways to keep squirrels out of feeders, from my father-in-law’s floating pizza pan design to aluminum cones and trap doors and on and on. I’m hardly the person to talk to about squirrel deterrence. I’d just as soon keep them around in my yard. Their bright eyes, inquisitive energy, and jolly gluttony are endlessly pleasing for me. If it costs more to keep my feeders filled, they’re well worth it.

I have about a dozen regular squirrels this fall. They’re all in top physical condition, most under three years old. Two years ago, during that record-breaking freeze, I lost a couple of treasured old squirrels, and lost almost every young of the year when ringworm hit. This fungal disease isn’t fatal most years, but does cause fur to temporarily fall out, and what with that awful cold, these poor guys ended up dying of exposure. The one survivor was my own personal squirrel, Chuckie, who I raised from a baby that summer. She got ringworm pretty bad, but since she lets me hold and even snuggle her, I managed to get medicine on her three or four times every day and her fur was back before the snow flew.

We can usually recognize Chuckie from all the way in the back of the yard. She’s a bit darker and chunkier than most of the squirrels and has a really bushy and perfect tail. But a couple of others look enough like her that we call them the Chuckie Imposters. The real test is when I go out in the back yard and call, “Chuckie Choopie!” The squirrel that runs over and runs up my leg to lick my neck is my baby.

Chuckie is, of course, special because we hand-raised her, but whenever anyone singles out one particular squirrel. by an oddity of its appearance or some unique or amusing behavior, they get to looking forward to seeing it. It’s funny how that works even for people who don’t particularly like squirrels. When a black squirrel appears at a feeder, even a rabid squirrel hater will suddenly start buying peanuts. At first we think all gray squirrels look the same, but as we get to know them, we discover the unique quirks that distinguish them from one another, and one by one, every squirrel is elevated from a blasted pest to a treasured friend.

On those awful winter days when our other mammal friend shave abandoned us, squirrels will be there, pigging out at our feeders, and either warming our hearts with their delightful ways or heating up our anger, setting our minds awhir with new inventions to drive them away. Whether you love them or hate them, squirrels are here to stay. You can count on it.