Monday, June 9, 2008

Colorado Fox Squirrel: Friend or Foe?



Other critters: American Red Squirrel, Chipmunk, Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel

The Colorado Fox Squirrel (Sciurus niger)
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.

Ok, so we know you are a boy.

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.

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

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

Anonymous said...

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

Anonymous said...

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.

sdreamcatcher said...

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.

Thubten Chöje Nyima - ཐུབ་བསྟན་ཆོས་ཀྱི་ཉི་མ་ said...

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.

Anonymous said...

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.

Anonymous said...

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

Marla said...

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.

Anonymous said...

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.

Getsulpa Gyälten Sangpo (རྒྱལ་བསྟན་བཟང་བོ།༑) said...

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.

Anonymous said...

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.

Anonymous said...

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

Anonymous said...

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

Maggie Leggitt said...

I recently bought a bag of cracked corn at a local feed store. I bought a 40 lb bag for less than $10. Since it is cracked, the birds can handle the small pieces, and it makes an extremely cost effective filler. Also, it won't germinate, and there are no shells! The squirrels love it, and I read that it is something nursing mothers tend to go after quit adamently. I also have scrub and stellar's jays, doves, sparrows, and a little hare and a ground squirrel that appreciate the food, also.

Unknown said...

Fox squirrels can and do damage trees (fruit trees, beech, aspen, oak, maple, pine, spruce) by chewing the outer and inner bark off of the tree or one of its branches. They will do this late spring through mid-summer when there is an especially large brood and/or they feel crowded. All it takes is more than 5 resident squirrels per hectacre. This year they took all of the fruit from the plum tree, all of thge cherries, most of the scant few apples, and about 30% of the pears from the pear tree, and decimated my wifes pumpkin patch. Next door neighbor has trouble with squirrels eating his car seats and nesting in his workshop chimney. A few of the squirrels looked sickly and moved slowly but the DOW said "no worries". One of squirrels chased and attacked (scratched) a new neighbor's child and their pet. By then I had enough...took 30 of the rat-sized tree rodents to their next level of existence just in the backyard. Next year I'll start earlier and plan on going longer.

Mytwo Centsworth said...

Fox squirrels can and do damage trees (fruit trees, beech, aspen, oak, maple, pine, spruce) by chewing the outer and inner bark off of the tree or one of its branches. They will do this late spring through mid-summer when there is an especially large brood and/or they feel crowded. All it takes is more than 5 resident squirrels per hectacre. This year they took all of the fruit from the plum tree, all of thge cherries, most of the scant few apples, and about 30% of the pears from the pear tree, and decimated my wifes pumpkin patch. Next door neighbor has trouble with squirrels eating his car seats and nesting in his workshop chimney. A few of the squirrels looked sickly and moved slowly but the DOW said "no worries". One of squirrels chased and attacked (scratched) a new neighbor's child and their pet. By then I had enough...took 30 of the rat-sized tree rodents to their next level of existence just in the backyard. Next year I'll start earlier and plan on going longer.

Christopher Moore said...

Meanwhile, those "cute" squirrels and their aggressive territoriality are outcompeting the native Abert's sqirrels and driving them out.

Chris Crawford said...

Tone it down Internet tough guy.

Chris Crawford said...

Please don't encourage violence.

Anonymous said...

If you feed the squirrels, they won't destroy your trees.

Diane Luera said...

mostly ground hogs...the plague way back in the middle ages is/Yersinia pestis which is uber easy to cure now days with antibiotics...no worries for humans now but the way we are going these will be immune to our arsonal of chemical warfare...but as of today Sept 2017 we are still good to go...

Anonymous said...

This blog is so cool, and supported by really nice folks! A few months after our much beloved rescue pet Dusty passed away, we relocated to Colorado Springs. The place we moved in to doesn't allow pets, so we lived pet-less for the first time in 25 years. About the time we couldn't bear not having a pet anymore, along came Roi and Marge, the red fox squirrels! My wife and I have become god-parents to this pair of characters! They are free to come and go as they like, sheltering briefly on the terrace as they snack and drink. I have developed a call they answer to, and come running! I tried to create a shelter for them, but they are as wild as can be. They are definitely a bright spot in our lives! Too cute and sweet!

Anonymous said...

I hope that your Karma Bus isn't an express!
Squirrels are not vicious, but merely defensive.
Your neighbour obviously left the vehicle unsecured. Squirrels are curious little mammals. Chances are that they chewed the seats where he had spilled food or beverage.
What I do question is why do you brag like 'a great hunter' about slaughtering 30 squirrels in your backyard?
To others on the blog, is it just me, or does that smack of 'animal cruelty'? Isn't abusing and killing small animals a precursor to harmful actions towards humans?

Anonymous said...

The joy that animals have in living may not translate correctly to innocence. How many of you have watched BBC's Planet Earth, or a PBS episode of Nature or Nova and seen Bird A steal the food from Bird B, or watch a swarm of insects devour much everything in their path? The point is that squirrels are survivalists much of the time that you are watching them in their activities. They are chasing each other off, or feeding at your bird feeder, or taking your unripe fruit off of your garden plants, or chewing your tree bark, etc. Cuteness is not on their minds, as they rip out the stuffing from your lawn furniture with their little paws, sitting up and being cute. Enabling honest survival of squirrels in difficult situations is commendable as an act of compassion, but turning them into ill mannered greedy disrespectful beings by spoiling their natural fear is not. Colorado Small game Fox Squirrel daily bag limit is 5. If you get a live trap and your trapping license your karma won't be damaged much. And no, killing small animals is not a precursor to killing humans. Pantry moths are animals too.