Squirrels, those furry, long-tailed rascals that chip to each other, flick their tails in the presence of danger and often jump into trees, are cute and trainable — but only within reason.
I’ve had a recent experience with one particular squirrel I call “Miss Jean Bunny” (Bunny for short) because she has only a nub of a tail and hops like a rabbit. When I call, she leaves her nest in a nearby tree and runs to get the peanuts I feed her. She is not without pests of her own; squirrels are covetous of food and they always chase her. Feeding her is a delight and, when she occasionally disappears for days, we worry about her.
I remembered two distinct other instances where squirrels had been in my life, in some manner. The first was when a very young nephew of mine became the caregiver of a young squirrel that found in his family’s garage. The mother and the other squirrel pups met an untimely end. Someone in the home tried to get the squirrel family out of the garage. It was a fatal mistake; they left the car running in the closed garage. The person’s thought was that the squirrels would scramble out of there — but they didn’t.
The lone survivor was Rocky, a cute little three-week-old squirrel that taken into the home and given a little cage, soft bedding and loving care by the mother and the little boy who ran down the stairs each day to look at the young creature. He had his very own squirrel!
Caging the squirrel doesn’t seem right, I know. You or I wouldn’t do that and we certainly would want the squirrel to live in the wild, but this squirrel was still too young for that. The plan was to help him gain his weeks of life, feed him the foods he needed, take him outside occasionally and let him see what it was like.
After several weeks, the time had come for Rocky to have his first interaction with a tree. Trees are the natural habitat of squirrels, as we know, and squirrels make their nests in them regularly. There are several myths about squirrels and one I heard was from a naturalist.
No, squirrels do not urinate or defecate in their nests and they are not dirty animals. Squirrels care for their nests, adding new leaves and grass or whatever else they can find to keep it clean and neat. Once they’ve been in a nest for a few days, they will build a new nest. Occasionally, they may return to an old nest, add new materials and stay there for a few more days.
I suppose all of this is not only good housekeeping, but it also prevents predators from knowing where they can be found. Bunny would stay in her nest with another squirrel for three months, returning to it each evening, sleeping half the day and then hunting for food. I knew this because the nest was on my fire escape just outside my kitchen window.
Rocky’s turn in the great outdoors, unfortunately, did not go well. They took him outside, put him on a tree trunk where he sunk his claws in and waited. He froze. The poor thing was upset, and I am sure it did not help that his mother wasn’t around. He was a lone little squirrel.
Bringing Rocky back into the house, they put him in his cage for the night, covered it with the kitchen towel which they usually did and everyone went to sleep. The next morning, the mother immediately went to look at Rocky and to give him his morning meal. She discovered him lying on the bottom of the cage. Rocky probably died of fright from being on that tree trunk.
Her son, who was still a little boy of three, wasn’t told about Rocky’s demise because they didn’t want him to upset him. The mother and father prepared a suitable shoe box container for Rocky and placed him in a grave they dug in the back of their large yard.
When the little boy asked where Rocky was that morning, they responded that he had gone off with the other squirrels to live in the woods. This story met with agreement by the delight little boy. Rocky had met some friends and would now live happily ever after in the woods.
The story has a happy ending after all because the little boy not only had Rocky the squirrel but later he was given a gift of a small white mouse in a fish tank. The little mouse loved to hide in a toilet tissue roll in the fish tank and it thrilled the little boy.
In fact, he was so delighted he would take the mouse, named George, out of his tank, put it on his shoulder and George would crawl up the back of his neck and into his long blonde hair, poking its head out so that only its little face was seen. It was quite a comedy act and everybody loved it, including the little boy.
George lived a full life, as mice do, and went to wherever white mice go when they are two years old. This time, however, the boy was about six and understood that George would have to go to Animal Heaven. He worked with his mother to prepare yet another shoebox and, together, they dug a grave in the backyard, said a prayer and returned him to the earth. It was a solemn, if tearful, parting, but the boy learned a lesson about love and life and death. It was good.
By the way, the little boy is now a man. He’s a veterinarian who cares for exotic animals. In his home, he maintains exotics including a tarantula, a piranha fish and, until recently, a large boa constrictor. There are several cats and a dog in addition.
Bunny and Potential Motherhood
Bunny won’t be joining my family but we will continue to enjoy her romping with the other squirrels and hopping over to us when she knows peanuts are in the offing.
Thinking of her, I’m reminded of a college classmate who also found a young squirrel in her father’s gas station. Someone wanted to dispatch it with a shovel, but she beat him to it and cradled the small creature in her flannel shirt, taking it home where her parents would now have to face the trials of a highly-possessive squirrel.
Yes, he had his tender months where she brought him to class in her shirt pocket. But once he was home in her bedroom, it permitted no one in but his owner. And the bedroom soon became a maze of shredded furniture as he burrowed into it, seeking to make his many nests.
If you opened the door, you faced a squirrel who attacked in silence after an initial warning. Finally, the mandate came; out with the squirrel or you. The woman gave the squirrel to a local zoo and remained in her parents’ home.
For Bunny, we hope the future is bright and we think she might be pregnant. Squirrels have litters twice a year and one of the popular months is August. She gaining weight and has a small paunch when she sits up eating squirrels, so we’re wondering if she is hoggish with the peanuts or motherhood is in her future.