Squirrel Tech Support

Last year in October, I did a release of Fox squirrels for Greenwood Wildlife Rehabilitation after they had been rehabilitated. These squirrels couldn’t go back exactly where they came from because the owner of the property wasn’t available to give permission, which is required by Colorado Parks and Wildlife regulations. A wonderful lady that was on the release candidate list offered to take them so I drove them to their new home. Since it was an October release and winter was close, each of the two batches got their own nest box to start out. Before I put them up, I noticed that there were a lot of other nest boxes already up. Come to find out she had been offering to take squirrels for many years.

I warned her about the danger of overcrowding, when the squirrel density is too high it can cause serious issues and lead to death for some squirrels. As they compete for food sources and are forced to spread out, they can move to yards or areas that are not as suitable for them. Forcing a squirrel out of their home has a high probability of leading them to their death, as they find themselves in a new area without food, shelter, or knowing escape routes. I ended up putting the boxes up because that late in the season we had no other viable release sites. Since she was supplementing their food with sunflower seeds, bird seed, and corn, it was a lot better option than anything else.

Jump to today when I get a call from her asking if I could help. Apparently one of her old nest boxes, that she thinks may be 20 years old, fell out of the tree this morning. She said no one from Greenwood or anywhere else she called could come help her put the box up. So I found myself driving out to Arvada to see if I could get it done quickly before hauling ass down south for an early afternoon appointment. I spent an hour, most of it trying to figure out a way to get it back up in the tree and stable. This was tricky because the support board for the nest box had rotted out, leading to it falling, and it wasn’t usable. I had to run to the local hardware store for a hammer and some eye hooks but ultimately it just wasn’t happening.

 Rotted original nest box.
Rotted original nest box.

I left but told her to call me later that afternoon while I tried to think of a solution. Shortly after I left, I got a call from her saying that Greenwood could spare one of the big nest boxes, identical to the one that fell. She left immediately to get it which meant over an hour on the road. I had planned on returning tomorrow to work on it but the idea of squirrels not having their nest overnight didn’t sit well with me. Unprotected and sleeping in a tree is very risky; predators and even the wind are threats. After my appointment down south I drove back to Arvada with my own ladder and drill which I knew would be needed for the new box.

New box built by a Boy Scout troop and donated to Greenwood.
New box built by a Boy Scout troop and donated to Greenwood. (Box is upside down)

I don’t know much about relocating squirrels from one nest to another. Since they enjoyed a protective nest box, I wasn’t sure if that factored in if it was being replaced by a similar one. They obviously look different and no doubt smell different to the squirrels as well. So I removed some of the bedding from the old nest box and put it in the new.

Bedding in the old box included leaves, twigs, dirt, and almost unrecognizable piece of fleece that was put in originally.
Bedding in the old box included leaves, twigs, dirt, and almost unrecognizable piece of fleece that was put in originally.

My hope was that the bedding being moved over would help the squirrels understand this was the new home. The next challenge came in the form of where to put the box. Whoever had put the old one up had a much taller ladder than hers or mine, so there was no way to get it back up that high. The angle of the tree made it so most of the trunk space was not suitable due to it being uneven, the box being angled, or branches.

The new box with old bedding moved over along with two new pieces of fleece since we didn't know how many squirrels lived in it
The new box with old bedding moved over along with two new pieces of fleece since we didn’t know how many squirrels lived in it.

Ultimately, we ended up removing an old bird house that had never been used since installation and putting the new box in its place. It wasn’t quite as high as I would have liked, but higher than some other nest boxes that have been put up. One side offered easy access to the box off the tree trunk but the other might not have been perfect, but a squirrel could definitely go from trunk to that entrance too. I left her place at 7pm with a strong hope that the squirrels who watched us do all that understood what had happened. She told me she’d watch tonight to try to see if any went in and would watch in the morning like she always did to see if squirrels emerged. I left a huge handful of sunflower seeds on top of the box and even more below at the foot of the trunk to help them while they adjust.

Today was the first day in my new career as Squirrel Tech Support apparently.

The new nest box hanging in the tree.

[Update: This morning she texted to let me know that squirrels were eating the seeds and one went into the new nest box. She says “Looking good for them!!!”]

10 Greatest Squirrel Attacks of All Time

In the wake of the ‘Squirrel Power‘ article by Jon Mooallem who boldly proclaimedOH MY GOD, LOOK, I WROTE ABOUT POWER OUTAGES CAUSED BY SQUIRRELS IN THE NEW YORK TIMES“. I had to remind him that while awesome, he is not the first to warn people of this dastardly threat. In a presentation titled “Cyberwar: Not what we were expecting”, I outlined just how prevalent squirrel-based power outages are. I put forth the theory that squirrels are more of a threat than “cyberwar”.

In addition to routine power outages, squirrels are responsible for a variety of other mayhem. Here are the top 10 attacks of all time, which means the best I can find from ten minutes of Googling. Know of a good squirrel attack story? Post a comment with a link!

  1. Caused hundreds of gallons of raw sewage to be dumped into Mobile Bay, Alabama [USA Today] (thanks @isawitwritten)
  2. Squirrel responsible for Amtrak delays along Northeast corridor [NJ.com]
  3. “Kamikaze squirrel fell from the sky and detonated” a woman’s car in Bayonne, NJ [NJ.com]
  4. Caused up to 30,000 households to lose water, leading water department to issue a ‘boil water notice’ “to ensure that harmful bacteria and other microbes are destroyed.” [Star-Telegram]
  5. Took out half of Yahoo’s Santa Clara data center [Wired] [Youtube]
  6. Caused up to 560k Florida residents to live under “unprecedented 48 hour boil water notice” to “ensure the safety of their water.” [Tampa Bay Times]
  7. Burns a Romford, Essex man’s garage down, causing £20,000 worth of damage [METRO]
  8. Starts a fire that burns pastor’s home and 3 others in Florida [Huffington Post]
  9. Shut down a nuclear reactor from 100 percent power in Wolf Creek, Kansas [All Things Nuclear] (thanks @ChrisSistrunk)
  10. Broke into a truck causing $700 in damages [Anti-squirrel]

Remember, you can always follow @MylarSquirrel and @CyberSquirrel1 for more squirrel-related power outages and mayhem!

mylarsquirrel   cybersquirrel

The Popcorn Thesis

During a recent email thread, a friend and I were comparing our local squirrels. She put forth that her Chicago squirrels did not eat popcorn, to which I expressed my disbelief. I couldn’t imagine a squirrel turning their nose up at it. I said I would have to test that theory.

I’ll be curious whether yours will eat it. Maybe the consistency of popcorn is too close to foam packaging peanuts, and my squirrels know not to eat foam peanuts based on prior unfortunate digestive disturbances? Dunno…

Maybe that hippie organic crap stuff you try to pass off as popcorn is the problem I say! Give them good old-fashioned regular popcorn and see what happens. I did! First, start with some plain old microwave popcorn:

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Ensure it is nuked properly, and not burned:

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Leave some out with the usual offering of almonds and townhouse mini-club crackers before bed:

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The verdict? My squirrels are not food snobs. All three foods demolished by 9AM. Victory!

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(I called this a Thesis because said friend is an academic, and figured it would resonate better.)

Why Squirrels…

LazloI get that question frequently, for obvious reasons. Not only is the attrition.org mascot a demented angry squirrel named Lazlo, but I seemingly have a serious fixation on squirrels if you read my Twitter stream. For over two years, I have been feeding squirrels that made their way up to my balcony, some that come from a block away across a large parking lot. As a break from work, I will go to Denver’s City Park and feed the squirrels there. While part of my obsession of squirrels is sincere, part of it is for show because it is fun.

The core of the squirrel fandom comes from reading about and observing them. While some people see them as pests, in reality they are a great animal that exhibits traits our society could use more of. Sure, some of their traits are amusing and suggest they aren’t bright animals. For example, it is sometimes reported as ‘fact’ that squirrels forget where they bury half of their nuts. For every ‘fact’ such as this, you can find research that will contradict this in both directions. Quite simply, there are too many factors at play to really gauge this (e.g. other squirrels finding a stash, re-caching, wet conditions letting smell find a cache and dry conditions forcing them to use memory, etc). There is still debate if squirrels use their memory, smell, or a combination of both to remember where their caches are. Regardless of the answer to that question, in reality, squirrels demonstrate great intelligence in many ways; enough to keep people glued to Youtube watching their cleverness.

Turning to relative experts on squirrels, we see examples that set them apart. As summarized in this NYTimes article:

In their book “Squirrels: The Animal Answer Guide,” Richard W. Thorington Jr. and Katie Ferrell of the Smithsonian Institution described the safe-pedestrian approach of a gray squirrel eager to traverse a busy avenue near the White House. The squirrel waited on the grass near a crosswalk until people began to cross the street, said the authors, “and then it crossed the street behind them.”
[..]
Reporting in the journal Animal Behaviour, the Steele team showed that when squirrels are certain that they are being watched, they will actively seek to deceive the would-be thieves. They’ll dig a hole, pretend to push an acorn in, and then cover it over, all the while keeping the prized seed hidden in their mouth. “Deceptive caching involves some pretty serious decision making,” Dr. Steele said. “It meets the criteria of tactical deception, which previously was thought to only occur in primates.”

Squirrels don’t only learn from us humans, they have demonstrated that they even learn from each other. You call it crime, they call it survival! Still think squirrels are stupid? Consider that squirrels masturbate to avoid sexually transmitted diseases. This is the tip of the iceberg! Even casual behavior can have unexpected consequences. Some 30,000 years ago, squirrels buried fruit seeds in the Siberian permafrost, that were only recently found and regenerated into flowering plants, described as “the most ancient plant material to have been brought back to life“.

Finally, in the theme of cleverness, consider what a squirrel can figure out to get to a safe and renewable food supply:

For some reason, humans will frequently consider squirrels a pest while feeding and watching boring birds. Sure, they are colorful, but yawn! In fact, some people will go to great lengths to try to keep squirrels out of the bird food. Despite that, squirrels are dedicated and tenacious, which can also be provide amusement for us because we know they will move on to another food source if needed:

Like many animals, including humans, squirrels can be extremely fierce and protective if their young are threatened, or even when predators try to descend on their fallen comrade.

In summary, squirrels are cute, fun to watch, have great tails, and are intelligent little creatures. They exhibit many great traits like cleverness and have been around as long as, if not longer than, us humans. Honestly, what’s not to like?

Would you like to know more?

Finally, if you don’t accept my reasons or like squirrels, here is some advice for you!

lazlopissed - wordpress

Until then, I guess squirrels are my spirit animal.

Squirrel Power?

[07-16 23:55] jericho: zoo was too busy, so did the aquarium and the children’s museum
[07-16 23:59] K: how was that?
[07-16 23:59] jericho: aquarium was pretty neat. never been to the one here
[07-16 23:59] jericho: children’s museum is not a museum, rather a place for kids activities
[07-16 23:59] K: right
[07-16 23:59] jericho: was jealous of the kids because they could put on coats w/ hoods that made them look like squirrels
[07-16 23:59] K: 😀
[07-17 00:00] jericho: then i realized i’d be branded a ‘furry’ when my desire to dress as a squirrel has nothing to do with that
[07-17 00:00] K: so what is the squirrel thing, anyway? 🙂
[07-17 00:01] jericho: great little creatures, survivalists, adaptable, very clever and fantastic tails
[07-17 00:02] K: so ‘animal admiration’ but not, say, to the point of being a totem animal, spirit guide, etc?
[07-17 00:02] jericho: or sexually interested, right
[07-17 00:02] K: well yeah
[07-17 00:02] jericho: if a squirrel was my spirit guide, pretty sure i’d spend half my life on a grocery store isle w/ cans of planter’s nuts, wondering how i got there