The Secret Life of Squirrels

Squirrels are the quintessential woodland tree dwellers.

| May/June 2014

  • Squirrels are well known for dipping into bird feeders and occasionally destroying them.
    Photo by iStockphoto/mrolands
  • Gray squirrels aid forest growth.
    Photo by iStockphoto/plinney
  • A red squirrel finds dinner.
    Photo by iStockphoto/OmniBouncer
  • Flying squirrels have webbed limbs.
    Photo by Fotolia/Earl Robbins
  • This squirrel enjoys a few pine nuts for its breakfast.
    Photo by iStockphoto/photoGartner
  • Many squirrels are even brave enough to approach humans.
    Photo by iStockphoto/Thinglass
  • Target practice.
    Illustration by Brad Anderson

Ask a variety of people for their opinion on squirrels, you will likely receive a variety of responses. Some folks go out of their way to attract and feed squirrels, while others — those who have had bad experiences with them in the past — couldn't care less if they ever see another bushy-tailed rodent in their life. Love them or hate them, squirrels are so well-adapted to city life that they are often the only wild mammal that people in urban areas ever encounter.

Destructive guests

Although squirrels typically nest in trees, many homeowners have found that given the opportunity, squirrels love to make their homes in attics and outbuildings. Squirrels will establish nests in attics, garages and storage spaces. They've even been known to crawl down chimneys where they either get stuck and die, or enter the house and wreak havoc.

As messy as a nesting squirrel can be, the biggest threat from a home invasion is the possibility of a fire. Squirrels love to chew on the insulation around electrical wires, leaving them frayed, which is a major fire hazard. Their urine will leave odors and cause damage to ceilings and insulation, while they chew holes in roofs, siding and fascia.

Bird lovers everywhere know that squirrels can destroy feeders and make a mess of your birdwatching and feeding area. In most cases, mounting a squirrel baffle — a plastic or metal cone available from hardware and pet stores — on your feeder pole will keep squirrels out of your feeders. You can also hang your feeders away from tree limbs to further deter their efforts in raiding your feed.

Good grub

Squirrels are also valued as table fare by many folks who actively pursue the animal, treating them as wild game. In my home state of Minnesota, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) estimates that hunters harvest more than 300,000 gray and fox squirrels annually. In some parts of Louisiana, squirrel hunting is so popular that schools close for a day or two, marking the beginning of squirrel season.

In Bentonville, Arkansas, the World Championship Squirrel Cook-Off is an annual tradition. Competitors showcase their unique culinary skills in preparing squirrel dishes for the judges in hopes of winning the title of “Master Chef.” This competition is so popular that it has been covered by national media, including “Good Morning America” and The Wall Street Journal.

3/22/2015 12:48:36 PM

Mr. Nephew: I enjoyed your article on squirrels (May/June, 2014) and am referencing your article in my blog - with your permission of course. Please let me know if you are okay with this reference. Karen Kirkpatrick

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