City Wild Life | The Urban Forager

What’s up with Those Crazy Squirrels??!!??

This year the squirrels have been exhibiting the most radical behavior most of us has ever seen. What? Are they nuts? I mean seriously!! Every year I move my hibiscus outside for the summer. It thrives in the warm weather, blooms profusely, and grows new branches. After it was outside for a month, I noticed the blooms had been eaten off, and the new branches were nipped through – as well as some of the old branches. I moved it back inside. Squirrels!

To screen the southern end of the front porch from sun and the neighbors, a friend helped me hang netting for the hops to climb. They were lush and full of those little shrimp-like pods with the yellow oil under the green ‘scales’. My head was full of notions of homemade ale when I came home one night to see that the netting and most of the hop vines were nipped through leaving raggedy bits of string and a scattering of hops all across the porch. The squirrels had struck again! The weedy sumac growing next to the porch had branches missing, tattered leaves, and gnawed stems! Really?

Checking with my daughters I found that at one house the squirrels were seen in a committed community action, four of them working a ripe tomato over to the net and finally eating it through the plastic bird netting when they couldn’t get it out! Her squash vines were nubs with a leaf or two, and so were the cucumber vines. My other daughter’s veggies fared better only because there is a huge oak tree in the back yard. Of course it is hard to sit out there because of a constant rain of shell bits and nut casings. All over town I hear of peculiar squirrel activities: all the flowers gone from a row of sunflowers; biting through screens and coming into homes to eat the pet food; stripping grapes off the vine and many such vandalistic activities!

Well, actually I do know why this is happening and what the solution used to be! Thinking back to the farm days, it was to be expected. You see, last year we had the most prolific crop of stone fruits to be seen in the Denver area for a long time. Everything that produces fruit was so full to overflowing, branches were breaking with the weight of peaches, apricots, apples, and plums. June berries were ripe by the thousands, grapes hung in great clusters, and cherries were picked by walking by on the sidewalks of the city! Foraging fruits was a full time job, and even then, many fruits rotted on the ground, on trees, on vines, and in alleys. The squirrels were in ‘hog heaven’ so to speak. Their solution? Let’s have more babies!

Last year, a thought rose unbidden in me: harvest and save all the fruit you can this year because with a year this good, next year will be very poor. Now my modern, rational mind said “Oh, that’s just an old wives tale!” Not so! For this spring had two late killing frosts that pretty much took out all the blossoms for stone fruits. But what about the squirrels? They still had those big litters of babies and no super abundance to feed them! What to do now?

If this were back on the farm, this year would be a time to harvest squirrels – or ‘limb chickens’ as they were also known. There would be squirrel stew, squirrel lining to mittens, hats and warm furry neck scarves. Squirrels would be dried, frozen and smoked. You harvested what was abundant in it’s own time, put it by, and knew it might be awhile before it was abundant again. Not harvesting the squirrels pretty much guarantees the up-surge of city foxes and coyotes next year since they consider squirrels their food!

The circle of life. Remember when this had distinct meaning and rhythm to all of us? It still does, you know. We can become distanced from the cycle of life, but it comes to us anyway. Basically this is another example of Nature being outside of our control. I suggest we go with the flow, and stop bucking what is true. Also next year I would definitely keep all little pets inside since that abundance of squirrels will not survive the winter, and the abundance of city foxes will be hungry come spring!

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