Sunday, December 20, 2009

Heroes of the Storm

We had over a foot of snow last night, and in the morning the world was covered in white. I rushed over to see how the squirrels had survived the storm. The night before I had heard reports of gale force winds of 40-50mph on Long Island.

When I first got to PCV not a creature was stirring. Eventually squirrels started coming down from their trees to eat, most of them babies. It looked like the storm took a greater toll on the bigger squirrels. I called for Lucky but he did not appear. I threw a bunch of peanuts under his tree and came back a while later to see if they'd been taken. I saw a black squirrel in Lucky's usual spot, and at first was relieved, but as I got closer I saw that it was not Lucky. I had never seen another squirrel in Lucky's tree before -- he makes sure of that! This other squirrel was in the process of picking up the peanuts I had left and burying them... in the snow! As I got closer I realized it was none other than... Mr. Operator, doing his usual thing. That squirrel is irrepressibly true to form. He looked to be in fine shape.

I could only wonder if Lucky was high up there in his nest, frozen. He has always come (like a dog) when I called him, so his absence - and the presence of another squirrel in his tree - were ominous.

The other one I'm worried about is Tubby. No sign of her now for 3 days. If we lose Tubby we lose the Matriarch, the mother of these endless series of red squirrels that show up each season. The red squirrels are not the same as the blacks, being not only a different color but of a different disposition. They are not true reds, like the Russian and British squirrels, but a variation of the black squirrel. The blacks are shyier than the grays, which are the most aggressive. In turn, the reds are the shyest of all, to the point of being neurotic.

There was one red squirrel who could never face me, and always had to hide behind a tree when I threw the peanuts. We got to the point where it would take a peanut from my hand, but always from behind the tree so I couldn't see it! Which is a shame, because the reds are the most beautiful squirrels of all. Eventually they turn black-- not the pitch black of the others, but more of a deep auburn color. The squirrel at the top of this page, who is named Brownie, started life as a red squirrel and eventually turned black. There are currently 2 junior reds running around, probably Tubby's latest issue, and I only hope they make it through the winter. I did not see either one today.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Old Man Winter

arrived today in the form of a Nor'easter.

The savaging begins.

I've written before on this blog about the idea of building squirrel shelters.  Since then I found out about squirrel houses in Thompkins Square Park  and Washington Square Park: squirrel-houses-at-washington-square-park

Bernie Goetz,  who knows how tough winter is on squirrels, has been involved in both these projects. If they're not lucky, squirrels can freeze to death.

Speaking of being lucky, I saw Lucky sitting up in his tree watching the snow fall. He would not even come down for a nut. I believe Lucky lives alone in a nest high up in that tree (see picture below) because I've never seen another squirrel go near it. Lucky is very territorial. But alas it is a roofless nest and there's nobody else to snuggle with. I worry about Mr. Lucky.

Call me Lucky

The Story of Lucky

Here's a little background on this squirrel called Lucky:

He was looking pretty bad when we first found him:

We decided to try to catch him so we set out a trap:

As you can see, he was too smart for us! But there was a happy ending

And that's how he got the name Lucky:

Housing for Squirrels

I'd like to send out an appeal to everyone, but especially to the pet owners of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village, who love watching the squirrels with their dogs. After their walk the dogs go back inside their warm cozy homes, while the squirrels they were watching remain outside to brave the weather with nothing but their warm winter coats. Couldn't these good-hearted residents who lovingly care for their dogs, think about starting a project to take care of their beautiful squirrels? The squirrels belong to all of us.

There's a blizzard moving in now, and the youngest ones have no idea what they're in for. Some manage to squeeze into holes in the trees, but I hear a lot of squealing coming from the holes, so I guess there's not enough room in the inn for everyone.

There's one black baby squirrel on the other side of Lucky's park, whom I've recently befriended. He's as soft and fuzzy as a stuffed animal. Previously shy, he has learned to trust me and comes right up to me now with his large, beautiful eyes looking right at me. I wish I could bring him home and set him on my bed where he looks like he belongs! And there are two other black babies over in the western end of the park that are not even old enough to understand what's happening  when a nut is thrown at them! This is typical baby squirrel behavior. It scares them away-- maybe they're genetically programmed to dodge gun shots?

I hope they'll be able to weather this storm that is now moving quickly up the East Coast.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Cry Babies

It was sunny today but very cold outside, and had been in the 20's last night. Squirrels were crying all over the place as I walked around PVC East. Even Lucky was making the strangest noises! At first I thought they were crying because they were cold and hungry, and tried calming them with peanuts. I should have known better. Eventually I saw the demon hawk feasting on a small gray squirrel, over by Lucky's tree.

Well then I did a very stupid thing. I started lecturing the bird in an angry voice, telling it to scram (I know I know... I sometimes lecture squirrels, and they seem to know exactly what I'm saying, although a man came over to me once and said, "You know they don't understand a word you're saying"). Anyway, the bird understood something and took off without finishing its meal. That was my mistake, because unfortunately it then parked itself on a branch of a tree where it had a bird's eye view of all the babies that were out sunning themselves. This was on the big tree over by Tubby's area that gets the afternoon sunlight.

Although the more mature squirrels were sounding alarms all over the place, some even getting close to challenge the bird to leave, the babies were oblivious to their imminent peril.

Then I did something even more stupid. Thinking that I could protect the squirrels by standing near their tree, I ended up bringing more of them out and about, seeing the nut lady standing there with her bag of nuts. And of course I did start throwing out a few nuts to those that ventured down. Really bright move, as it kept them out and about. And the bird did not budge from its ringside seat.

Finally I made my third mistake of the day -- I left. I grew too cold and thought my presence was of no help and maybe a hindrance. Unfortunately the hawk was still sitting there patiently watching the tree when I left. I now know what "watched like a hawk" means. The only good news is that there was no sign of Tubby today. At least I think that's good news.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Who's been eating in MY nest?

I was walking in Peter Cooper Village with Bernie the squirrel rescuer, and he was taking me over to meet a new family of black squirrels he'd discovered recently. As we approached the nest, we joked about there being a Mama Squirrel, a Papa Squirrel and a Baby Squirrel. When we arrived at the tree where the squirrels nested I looked up and saw a large bird in the nest. It was, of course, a red-tailed hawk. The birds of winter are back. We saw him eating something. It could only have been Baby Squirrel, who had probably been asleep in the nest, as Bernie had not seen the baby that day. The bird was just finishing its meal when we arrived, then it sat there comfortably in the nest like a god, while it rested and digested amid the devastation. We felt like crying and had to walk away. It's so hard to tend to squirrels in winter and yet they need you more than ever now, so you just do it.

When you walk around the park looking up you see all these lovely nests in the tops of the naked trees, so totally exposed -- like a gift to the gods -- with squirrels in there ripe for the picking.

If you can see the nest, the hawk can too.

You can see Lucky's nest at the top of the tree, and Lucky himself near the bottom of the picture.