Squirrels deservedly earn their own day
Tuesday, January 28, 2014 2:27 AM
My head is hanging low with shame, I admit. How could this have happened? It would appear I've been shirking my duties to find good, interesting and - dare I say it? - enlightening tidbits for this column. But I'm pleading the fifth.
This photo highlights Squirrel Appreciation Day for me. This clever squirrel stole a roll of paper towels from my cooking gear container when camped at Custer State Park in November of 2008. The container was sitting on the ground as I reorganized the gear stuffed in my Jeep. The squirrel could scamper off more easily once the roll tore. LISA BRAINARD/BLUFF COUNTRY READER
Had I known Jan. 21 was Squirrel Appreciation Day, you can bet I would have let you know ahead of time so we all could have made some high-flying, bushy-tailed plans. But no, I discovered the day of honor (which I'm sure will become Hallmark's next big money-making card day) during Jan. 21 itself. I now can only hope to try to make up for my lateness by sharing some ideas I found online for noting Squirrel Appreciation Day. Since these sources have a good grasp on all things squirrel, I'll quote from them profusely, but will include favorite photos I've taken of squirrels. (You've read this column enough to know I'm certainly a fan.)
The National Wildlife Foundation, shares a lot of squirrelly, err, squirrel information. I've compiled some of the best of it here:
"If you count flying squirrels, we have 10 tree species in North America. We are constantly uncovering complexities around their survival tactics and social behavior. Squirrels are fascinating animals to watch and have been documented adopting orphaned young and stealing food. And let's face it-squirrels are pretty difficult to outwit.
"Humans actually introduced them to most of our major city parks in the 1850s and '60s and feeding squirrels was common as a means to encourage kindness to all animals. People thought that by adding them to our parks in cities, we could bring pleasure to the people who couldn't leave the city and enjoy nature.
"This holiday was founded in 2001 by wildlife rehabilitator Christy Hargrove of Asheville, North Carolina, who figured squirrels were running out of food sources about this time of year. So...
"Loop a piece of chain on a nearby tree branch with an eye-screw at the end. Screw on an ear of dried field corn into the eye-screw. Get ready to replace the chewed-up cob after your family has watched the squirrels swing and sway while gobbling their dinner.
"Have your child smear peanut butter on a pinecone and hang that up instead!
"Don't throw stale bread away; put chunks of it on your deck or porch railings. Your kids can keep watch and enjoy the show.
"You can appreciate squirrels and still put them through their paces. Enroll your local squirrels in the Animal Olympics by creating an obstacle course. You know that they are going to get to your birdfeeder somehow; it might as well be entertaining.
"The most common squirrel in the United States is the eastern gray squirrel, which averages a little over 16 inches and weighs about a pound. You're lucky; it could be worse. The ratufa (ratufa indica), also known as the Indian giant squirrel of Southeast Asia, can grow up to 3 feet in length."
Huffington Post lifestyle columnist and blogger Bonni Brodnick has even more tales and advice for Squirrel Appreciation Day, which the Huff Post has enthusiastically embraced.
Brodnick wrote in 2013: "For background, these creatures are at it 24/7. As pure opportunists, they'll break into your attic any time. They'll jump out in front of your tires just to jolt you. They'll leave cracked acorns on your lawn when they think it looks too neat. Have overflowing birdfeeder problems? Need an attic pilfered? Count on these ubiquitous rodents to show you a thing or two. Watch them skitter, hop, run, jump and fly as they test not only their might and moxie, but also your patience.
"Here are a few facts to help you embrace these critters that range in size from the five-inch African pygmy squirrel to the three-foot Indian giant squirrel:
1. "They have four front teeth that grow continuously, at a rate of about six inches per year. (Charming.)
2. "Their strength can rule the world. In 1987 and 1994, trading on the NASDAQ market was briefly shut down due to squirrels chewing through power lines. And just last September, more than 3,000 northern Virginians lost power because one "curious" squirrel got into substation equipment and caused a transformer to blow.
3. "A group of squirrels is called a "scurry" or "dray." (This can be an excellent conversation breaker. As in, 'Hello. And Happy Squirrel Appreciation Day. Do you know what they call a group of squirrels?')
4. "Most ground squirrels kiss when they see each other. Mouth-to-nose and mouth-to-mouth. (Eww.)
5. "The brainy Rocket J. Squirrel (aka Rocky the Flying Squirrel), created in 1959 by cartoonist Jay Ward, is one of the world's most famous of the Sciurus genus. He buds around with Bullwinkle the Moose.
6. "Adjectives used to describe squirrels include "annoying," "cute," "scurrilous," "messy," "entertaining," "invasive," "jittery," "adorable"
7. "They communicate by making shrill sounds. (Who doesn't?)
8. "Squirrels have big tails for several reasons. Its primary function is for balance by enabling them to dart around quickly without falling. Should they step amiss, the tail is also used as a parachute when they fall and a cushion when they land. In addition, tail gestures are a form of communication. (We do not know if the term "tattle tail" was invented by a squirrel.) When the tail is flicked, it means, "Get away." And lastly, those fluffy tails serve as excellent blankets in the winter.
9. "Though their brawn with hauling nuts might flirt with your affection, squirrels do not make good pets. In fact, in many states it's illegal to keep wild animals. (Please don't remind me of the pet chimpanzee-who-tore-off-someone's-face story. While a squirrel wouldn't quite do that, they are not a species you can fully trust. Plus, they can't be trained to use a litter box. )
10. "It is a little known fact that mother squirrels are occasionally cannibals. But only if the mother is really stressed out... like she is stuck in the attic with some of her pups and there's no food or water.
"There's not a lot to forage for in January. Help celebrate Squirrel Appreciation Day by putting out some extra food. Toss them a handful of sunflower seeds. They also like dried corn. If you're feeling especially magnanimous, offer a few tulip bulbs. (Just watch out for your fingers.)"