For the Birds Radio Program: Chuckie

Original Air Date: Feb. 21, 1996

Today Laura Erickson pays tribute to a squirrel named Chuckie. 4:09

Audio missing


I live in a house on Peabody Street with a husband, three children, two dogs, my son Joey’s pet starling, my daughter Katie’s lovebird, a Blue Jay named Sneakers, two nighthawks, and a gray squirrel. Actually, Chuckie the Squirrel doesn’t technically live in the house, but she visits almost every day. She grew up in the house after her mother was killed by a car almost three years ago, and she’s been a part of our family ever since.

Most people outside of old Frank Capra movies don’t have squirrels in their houses. I know of people who make pets of baby squirrels, but Chuckie would have been sad to serve as a pet. While she was tiny, she was perfectly happy to go wherever I went, eat whatever I fed her, and sleep wherever I put her, whether it was in my pocket or our dirty clothes hamper. As she got bigger, she needed to explore the way any toddler does. Now she could get into trouble when we weren’t around to protect her, chewing on electrical cords, knocking things over, and such, so when we went away we had to put her in a cage. We always played hard with her to tire her out before sticking her in the cage with a nest box, and she’d go willingly, somehow trusting that we knew best. But squirrels don’t belong in cages, and whenever we came home to her, she scurried around in a frenzy even if she’d only been incarcerated for an hour.

We started taking her outside with us, and at first she’d play with us more than she’d climb trees and do wild things. She liked coming in to her hamper nest for weeks, but little by little, she was preparing a home in our box elder, and one night she didn’t want to come back into the house at bedtime. I could easily have grabbed her and made her come in, but I figured she was old enough to know best. My kids and I were heartbroken, thinking we might never see her again, but next morning she was at the window wanting to come in to breakfast on baby squirrel replacement milk and her favorite cereal. She didn’t eat as much as usual. I figured she must have had a few box elder seeds on her way down.

She still hid peanuts in our Lego drawer and ran up and down the curtains and played her usual games, but now when she wanted to nap, she went outside. Gradually she came in less and less, but still appears like magic many times when we’re in the yard, and most days she eats lunch at our dining room window feeder. On cold winter days, she refuses to come inside. Our house must feel too hot for comfort. But when I go outside, she still runs up my snow pants and licks my face. We set out peanuts for all our squirrels, but get special treats for Chuckie. My neighbor Mary Tonkin enlisted the aid of some of her friends and relatives who now even save acorns for her. And for CHristmas, we gave her her very own can of mixed nuts. So far, she’s picked out all the peanuts, walnuts, cashews, and Brazil nuts.

All this took place before the record-setting deep freeze, when Chuckie disappeared. Day after day, I’d look for her, but she was gone. Little by little I realized it was time to accept nature’s plan, but when it’s your own baby that nature is snatching away, acceptance isn’t easy. I was starting to develop a friendship with another little squirrel, and found myself not searching for Chuckie each morning and noon, when suddenly, last week, there she was, peeking into the window with her happy, expectant look. I opened the window and she jumped right in, liking my face all over and burrowing into my arm. She’s healthy and strong, and apparently just took a long nap until the cold weather was over. So there’s been great rejoicing on Peabody Street.

Some people use all their ingenuity to keep squirrels away from their feeders. Not me.