The Urban Wildlife Series will take a look at wildlife we share our city with. This is the second in a series. You can view the others, as they are added, by clicking here.
I should subtitle this post “Rats With a Good Public Relations Team and Bushy Tails” because really, squirrels are just that. I have to admit I actually really like squirrels and when I saw this guy in a movie a while back, I really truly did laugh out loud because they really captured that insane caffeine addicted nature of squirrels.
In any event, I have two squirrel related anecdotes to share:
When I moved to the Lower Mainland, one of the first items on my agenda was a trip to Stanley Park and I can clearly remember being told by the popcorn vendor to “Be careful of the squirrels!” . I can remember laughing to myself as I walked away from the cart, happily munching my popcorn and thinking “Pffft, whatever.” I was still chuckling a few moments later when a brazen squirrel decided my leg made a convenient ramp to the treasure I was holding and skittered up to my shoulder, stole a handful of popcorn, and skittered away in a matter of seconds. I was stunned that a) he did it, b) he hardly weighed anything, and c) he had really sharp little claws!
Another squirrel moment occured for me only a few years ago. Remember in my post about skunks I recommended AAA Wildlife Control? The reason I know they are a good company is that I had to utilize them to rid a rental suite above me (whose occupant was away in China on an extended trip and somehow I got roped into dealing with it) on not one squirrel, but an entire family of young teenage partier squirrels who were living the high life and wreaking havoc on open bowls of potpourri, boxes of cereal, and various houseplants. The AAA Wildlife guy told me that squirrels like to come down inactive chimneys and set up nests in fireplaces or empty attics. It took about a week to humanely rid the house of the party animals and the chimney was eventually capped with a permanent wire mesh cover to ensure no more critters moved in.
What we most commonly see here in our city is called the Eastern Grey Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis), and it’s actually not native to BC. Grey Squirrels were introduced in Stanley Park (explaining the brazen popcorn thief I met) in 1909 and their population eventually expanded to include all of the Lower Mainland. These squirrels are grey or black and are much larger than Red Squirrels (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) or Douglas Squirrels (Tamiasciurus douglasii) – also known as the Chickaree – that are considered native to BC. Additionally, there is a native squirrel capable of flight – the Northern Flying Squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus). Okay, it’s not really flight – they glide – but imagine a flying rat! The Northern Flying Squirrel is, by contrast to the other three species, noctural.
All squirrels are opportunistic omnivores but are unable to digest cellulose – leaving them with a diet rich in carbs, protein and fats. Most will opt for nuts, seeds, conifer cones, and fruit, but will also dip into the insect buffet if hungry enough. Squirrels are chatty and noisy and generally considered to be pests. They certainly like to dig up parts of my garden after delicious grubs or to hide their treasures. Someone in my neighbourhood has either conveniently left a bag full of peanuts out for them, or is actively and purposely feeding them because I find peanut shells all. over. the. place.
The native species are generally territorial and it is these that are the stereotypical cheeky squirrels who give you an earful as you enter an area they consider to be theirs. Eastern Greys, on the other hand, don’t appear to care much and will travel wherever the mood strikes them and don’t care who shares their space, especially if you come bearing treasure such as nuts. The Eastern Grey Squirrel is running around with a target on its body – as an “alien” species, they have a great impact on the native squirrel populations and much money and effort is expended both privately and from various levels of government in an attempt to rid our communities of the Eastern Grey Squirrel. I’m pretty sure it is a losing battle as squirrels are pretty prolific, with a female generally having two litters of one to three babies each year. In an unrelated note, squirrels are a popular food in certain areas of the United States and in Britain. Ew.
Like skunks, squirrels are occasionally kept as pets and squirrel aficionados claim that squirrels can be trained to perform tricks are an highly intelligent. While researching this post, I came across one astonishing fact I will leave you with: January 21st is Squirrel Appreciation Day. Mark your calendars now for 2010.