The beauty and innocence of the red squirrel

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Community Editorial Panel with John G. McKay

Anyone who has been bothered by the common red squirrel, either at the cottage or at home, may be missing out on some entertaining activity if the animal is given a fair shake and a few rules are followed.

Squirrels are nut freaks and will take on anything from a peanut to a coconut. Drain a coconut and crack it into two halves, leaving the meat in the shell, and nail it to the deck or railing and the squirrel will do the rest. Since they gnaw using their lower teeth, they cannot cut into the meat of the nut from the outside and must get inside the coconut in order to gnaw the meat, thus the need to nail it down.

When you get near enough to a squirrel to have it take peanuts, it will quickly learn where they are coming from, and in a very short time with a little patience will take them from your fingers. At this stage, you have them-or they have you, whatever your perspective. Make them climb on you to get the peanut and they will soon be foraging for them-out of your hand, your pockets, from under you hat and anywhere they see that you have placed the bait. They will always go away with the peanut to hide it, but will soon be back and will go to the place where they got the last one. If you move that place, by walking or by sitting somewhere else, they will follow you and search for the place, and will climb all over you until they find it, and in fairness you should always ensure there is another peanut there for him.

Now for a few rules: never feed squirrels in a place where you don't want them to be, like inside the cottage or your home. They will never seek out food where they have never gotten any before. Breaking that rule is usually when the trouble starts and the hatred begins, and it's your fault because you started it.

Ensure that the peanuts are left in a container the squirrel cannot open. As an example, a garbage can is duck soup for a squirrel. He stands on the handle, hooks his lower incisors under the edge of the lid and literally throws it off the can.

If you hand a squirrel a peanut kernel, he will take it with his mouth and transfer it to his

forepaws (squirrels don't pick anything up with their paws) and will then carefully remove the paper before eating it; they won't hide a peanut kernel. Once they become familiarized they will tolerate being stroked on the head and back with a finger while they are eating, but don't try to pick them up; a squirrel bite is quick, sharp and painful, and never attempt to stroke his tail, which is his prize possession. He will usually turn away if you try, but may bite if you persist.

Squirrels are born in April, with litters ranging from three to five kits. They do not emerge from the nest for about 28 days when the mother stops nursing them and they are hungry. They can be quickly taught to eat after a bit of fumbling with a half peanut kernel and are a joy to watch. By then they are about four inches long, fully furred with a slightly narrow tail and are a mirror image of their mother. They are totally without fear, quite clumsy at first, so shouldn't be carried high where they might fall, and are the most innocent, beautiful creature one will ever see.

A litter will usually stay together and play together. Like all young animals, they will gambol and wrestle, chase one another and worry the mother sick when they separate and she has to fetch them back to the group. If she is a familiar squirrel, she will not mind if you fetch the strays.

Gradually they will begin to separate and go their own way, although some will usually stay near if they are people-wise and know where the groceries are. Love them or hate them, we must never hurt them, for whatever they do is done because they are squirrels.

 

John G. McKay is a member of the Amherst News Community Editorial Panel.

Organizations: Amherst News Community Editorial Panel

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