He seemed like a wise and gentle squirrel. He hung out (of all places), with ET and her babies. Even though ET was always charging at him, he never responded other than to get out of her way. We fed him regularly and got to like him a lot. He may have been the father of her babies (somebody had to do it, and we haven't seen any other squirrels daring to get that close).
On Friday my friend Bernie reported that he had seen Silverback and he wasn't eating. This was a sign of a potentially deadly infection. It was news to me. but I probably
hadn't seen him for several days and these things can develop fast, especially when the weather gets cold. And cold weather had arrived with a vengeance. Bernie was going to try to catch him the next day, but on Saturday we had a big snowstorm that was bitingly cold, with fierce winds. Sunday dawned cold but sunny, and I went out in search of Silverback. I saw him right away. He appeared to be eating snow and he came right over to me. Then he started acting strangely. He ignored the peanut I threw down, not surprisingly. I wished I had something soft for him to eat, thinking of the avocado I had just thrown out because it was too old.
Next, he went under my cart and just sat there while I fed some of the other squirrels. Yes, I have a cart which functions like the neighborhood ice cream truck for the squirrels. Squirrels have such bad eyesight that they can't even see a peanut unless you throw it right at them and they can see the motion as it speeds through the air. But the squirrels sure come running when my cart approaches from afar. Figure that one out. Just like they seem to know instinctively when a hawk is in the neighborhood, they know when the peanut cart is coming around!
So while Silverback sat under my cart, I was thinking I should try to catch him, but I knew it was hopeless as I started pulling on my thin gloves that would never do. Then suddenly he came out from under the cart and jumped at me as if he was trying to jump into my hands! It was the strangest thing. I decided then and there that the best I could do for him was to get something he could eat. I told him to stay put while I ran to the store. I found a nice ripe avocado and was back within 10 minutes. But Silverback was gone. I searched in vain. He was nowhere to be found.
Later I found out what had happened. Bernie and I had gotten our wires crossed, and it turned out that in the short time I'd been gone Bernie had been there, caught him and brought him home! Sadly, by the time Bernie got home Silverback had died. Perhaps the stress had been too much in his weakened condition -- the stress of the cold, of his illness, of no food and of being caught all added up.
He will be missed. I wonder if his behavior with me was his way of saying goodbye? I have always felt that squirrels have a mysterious, telepathic way of communicating with us that we don't understand.
So far there have been four casualties of the cold. And winter has just begun! The squirrels are in for a long, hard season. It makes me sad to realize how little I can do for them -- all I can do is go around throwing peanuts around. It's a mono diet at a time of year when there is really nothing else for them to eat. Peanuts have always been controversial. We happen to think that they are quite nutritious and a very good source of protein. But a diet solely of peanuts for months cannot be a good thing, although it will definitely help keep them alive. Alas, it's one more problem along with all the suffering that winter brings.
I've been reading The Fascinating Story of Why U.S. Parks Are Full of Squirrels
which explains that humans are responsible for the presence of squirrels in our parks.
We put them there - not Nature - therefore it's our responsibility to see that their needs are met. Unfortunately too many people think that we should leave Nature to its own devices and not feed the squirrels. Unfortunately, when I walk around feeding the exceedingly hungry squirrels on these first cold days of winter, I do not see many others doing it.