Monday, June 9, 2008

Colorado Fox Squirrel: Friend or Foe?


Who can resist a pretty face? Certainly the Fox Squirrel (Sciurus niger) is irresistible. Its eyes are large and appealing, its fur is a ruddy Rufus brown, and its acrobatics are amusing to behold. Does the Fox Squirrel have a dark side though? The state of my Honey Locust tree might seem to suggest so.

Fox Squirrels are one of three species of squirrel in Colorado and the largest in North America. They are arboreal (live in trees) and diurnal (come out several times a day). Their diet consists primarily of seeds, which makes them the bane of backyard bird feeders. In a pinch they will eat insects, bird eggs, flowers, and buds, and when things get really bad, they will eat the bark off of trees. Enter my Honey Locust. Over the last two winters, a squirrel has been systematically eating the bark off of my Honey Locust tree. It is hard to say the level of damage it has done, but it certainly looks atrocious. I was advised to put hot pepper spray on the bark but that only resulted in the little cretin running around with a sombrero on.

I confess when I see my Honey Locust tree I get grumpy. It is certainly the potential financial loss that irks me so. Trees are expensive, and replacing twelve years worth of growth, shade, and privacy is very expensive indeed! At a visceral level, my resident squirrel seems to have taken on the persona of a gangbanger rampaging through the neighborhood, wantonly destroying property. I am ready to cart him off to squirrel juvie.

But then I see how the squirrel taunts both my cat and my dog. Its piercing screech and flapping tail fill me with glee, particularly knowing the cat is getting its comeuppance. My cat has a tendency to hunt for socks and when he finds one, he drags it around the house howling like a banshee. This behavior is particularly annoying at 3am. Anything that annoys the cat is fine with me.

I like squirrels because they have ‘tude! Before moving to this house, I lived in an apartment and lived on the top floor of a 3-story building. Somehow the squirrels managed to climb up the stucco, sit by the kitchen window, and annoy my cat. That was better than Survivor reruns.

I woke up recently one morning, however, thinking about the plague and realized that squirrels are RODENTS and VECTORS of disease. Just this month, 15 rodents were found dead in Denver, Arapahoe, and Jefferson Counties. We are talking the Black Death here, a disease that wiped out half of Europe. My favorite kitty tormentor could be carrying the means of ending civilization, as we know it. Can any pretty face survive that?

So what am I to do? I feel like a super delegate. Too bad the squirrel can’t buy my vote. I guess for now I’ll have to remain conflicted. Isn’t it amazing how much we are willing to overlook for a pretty face and fancy theatrics. It is the tonic of a jaded age.

One of these days I need to take my photographs and turn them into wildlife greeting cards.

13 comments:

  1. Well for one, squirrels carry very little disease and are quite clean. Early when I knew very little about them I would get bit. The bite healed faster than normal (by days) if I did nothing to it.
    For instance if you research you find there are few if any cases of squirrels passing on rabies in a bite....do your own research...thats what I came up with

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  2. What are you even talking about? The Plague isn't rabies. Der.

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    1. Black plague is from fleas look it up and yes their are about 7 to 10 or so cases each year Colorado is one of the like 4 states that it each year its Manley dry dusty states that it occurres in and the fleas are carred by rats and other animals that carry fleas

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  3. EZ in Denver. They call squirrels 'tree rats', but they aren't, nor are they flea infested prairie dogs. If there is enough food, a fox squirrel might have 2 or 3 pups twice a year, where rats will have more, year round. They are very territorial, and I read the younger ones are normally driven off at some point. But I've fed them for three winters at my house, to keep them from rattling my squirrel proof feeders. My impression is five babies appeared the first spring and I'm still only feeding about eight squirrels at this house. More up the block, but they don't come around the fat, shiny, powerful squirrels at my house. ;] The young un's have been mating lately however, so I'm expecting some cuties in June. All I put out is 3 cups of sunflower seeds in two above ground feeders per day, with some peanuts when there is snow or bitter temps. They appreciate water, too. In the fall, 50 lbs of black oil sf is as low as 20 bucks, and the squirrels have great entertainment value for my bored cats.

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  4. LOVE the pictures! Squirrels can cause conflict, but count me as one who really appreciates their entertainment value :). My tune has been forever changed with the raising of two young foxers this summer; what an experience (and what stress/grey hairs they brought with them!)!!!! Absolutely fantastic, gentle creatures. Rehabbers who have experience with other squirrels species will tell you these "gentle giants" have the best temperament. Mine never bit hard enough to break the skin; more damage is caused by those claws! But they do play bite like puppies and can get a bit crazy; they learned quick if I said ow/ouch or stop and would stop immediately. They are also very destructive chewers!! But like, your pictures, those little faces win them reprieves any day :). They also learned to reach out with their front paws and try and play when I was mad at them, lol.

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  5. Loved story about taunting the cat. Reminds me of two squirrels in this comic strip Mutts named Bip and Bop who are always taunting the main character cat and dog.

    http://www.muttscomics.com/cast.aspx

    I have a sweet female fox squirrel here in Colorado Springs that's nested in a tree next door. She's named Sera after my Tibetan Buddhist monastery in India. She's quite friendly. She'll take bread out of my hand, and always comes down from the tree or to the fence from the roof when I go outside.

    I love your blog.

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  6. i live in denver and feed as many as 8 squirrels. the main 3 fat momma, and her kids little skinny and little chubbs (both very fat) come up to me and take a 6 " toss for peanuts.there are many birds here--crows, colo bluejays, owls, i dont see how babies can survive this spring. but have wonderful pics of these guys.

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  7. I have a momma squirrel who took over my
    flicker box, there is at least one baby
    in there, I can hear it, The mother looks like she
    has more than one pup.
    I raised a baby that was blown out of a tree during a T storm, about one inch long, It grew to full size and then
    released it in the back yard, ws there for many years. Great fun
    Pigeons are the rats, (fleas, lice, ticks, mites) squirrels are clean

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  8. My kitty and I have been enjoying the squirrels in our yard. They come right up to the patio door - if the screen wasn't there, my kitty, Brittany, and the squirrel's noses might have touched! The young ones are so cute! They don't bother the birdfeeder, but scrap around below for missed seeds.

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  9. Do fox squirrels do damage to car wiring in Colorado or is it red squirrels or rodents? My cousin from the Longmont area swears fox squirrels do. I live in southern Wisconsin and have thousands of fox squirrels , but no red squirrels and I have never heard anyone complain about squirrel damage to motor vehicles. David L.

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    1. I wrote a reply to your post last night, and I don't know where it went. I don't think it saved properly perhaps.

      I think they're fox squirrels. I don't think it's a wide spread problem, but in the car port of my former residence, they would get in engines and eat cabling and wiring. Mostly, squirrels are accepted as part of the Colorado scenery here. Though some such as my landlords discourage feeding them (which I disregard) because they claim they're killing trees. I don't think so. The Pine Beetle epidemic is more of a concern as far as the killing of trees.

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    2. Believe it or not! The wiring crazed critters are cottontails. DIA has had significant damage done to cars that are parked in the long-term parking. Cottontails are notorious when it comes to chewing wiring.

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    3. They have entered into most of the bird houses on our propety and evicted the birds (eggs, new hatches and nesting material).
      They are invasive and are taking pushing out the native (Aberts) squirrels. They upset the bird feeders and crap on our deck rails and drive our dogs crazy. I am inclined to get the pellet gun out and decrease their numbers very soon. I am in the Bailey/Pine area of Colorado

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