Monday, January 24, 2011

Feed the Squirrels Project

We can literally save the lives of these beautiful creatures when we feed them during the cold winter months, when snow on the ground prevents them from finding food. No, I'm not suggesting ice cream cones, although that "maple walnut" does look good :)

In the last few years, with almost daily feedings during the winter months, the squirrel survival rates at PCV have been on the increase. You don't see as much of the "walking wounded" as there were in past years. Those wounds can be pretty nasty. When they get infected they can last a long time, maybe the entire winter, adding to the squirrel's discomfort in the cold, and when it packs down for warmth with other squirrels in the nests and holes.

Why do squirrels get these wounds? Not sure, but I believe it has something to do with cabin fever coupled with food insecurity that makes squirrels turn on each other. When squirrels know where their next meal is coming from, one sees less of these kinds of wounds.

What one does  see these days is  bald, pink spots where the fur has fallen off,  due to mange. Mange is caused by mites and is transmitted from squirrel to squirrel by physical contact or sharing a nest. Mange can result in loss of enough fur to leave the squirrel very vulnerable in cold weather. Although fur loss is limited and temporary in most healthy squirrels, squirrels can die of exposure from extreme fur loss.

Mange in its early stages, as seen in the black squirrel below, is quite easily corrected with good nutrition. Feed a "pinky" for several days and the fur starts coming back in an amazingly fast turnaround!

Think of all the well-fed pets -- cats and dogs -- that you know of. And realize that  a squirrel is no lesser an animal for being wild. It needs and deserves our help! But feeding squirrels in the winter gets expensive, so I'm asking for your help. You buy the peanuts, I'll do the legwork. Please click on the button to the right and make a donation. However small, it will be doing some good and will be greatly appreciated.

Thank You!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Teddy Bear's Picnic

Meet Teddy Bear of PCV.
Little Teddy is having a lovely time today!

Every teddy bear, that's been good
Is sure of a treat today
There's lots of wonderful things to eat
And wonderful games to play

Beneath the trees, where nobody sees
They'll hide and seek as long as they please
Today's the day the teddy bears have their picnic!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The King of Costa Rica: Trouble in Paradise

Once upon a time in the faraway land of Costa Rica, there lived a little bit of a squirrel  who had fallen from his nest as a baby.

He had been rescued by a good-hearted American couple who found him on the ground unhurt, named him Rama Rota (which means broken branch in Spanish), and took him into their home, where they cared for him and grew to love him dearly. He was not hard to fall in love with, as he was a most beautiful variegated squirrel, of the type that can be found in the forests of Costa Rica.

Rosie (who goes by the name RamaMama) and Stosh (who goes by the name Dad) were devoted to Rama Rota. He was treated like a King, lived in a roomy castle, could sleep as much as he wanted, had all kinds of toys and stuffies to play with, and was fed a constantly changing diet of the finest and most various fruits and vegetables to be found in Costa Rican markets.

Many of us began following his charming tale from day to day on  The Squirrel Board, having become addicted to his pictures as well as the words of his doting Dad, who had an uncanny gift of being able to interpret for us exactly what was going on in the little squirrel's head.

All was well for about a year. Then one day, shortly after his First Birthday, trouble arrived. Rama was closely bonded with RamaMama, who could do anything she pleased with him.

While Rama remained slightly more reserved with Dad, he would still play with him most of the time, in return for treats.

So what went so terribly wrong? Let Dad tell us in his own words:

It all began on December 31:

I really hope that this PHASE is temporary...but I am almost resigned to the fact that the KING is turning into a one-person squirrel . RamaMama still can charm him, and I on the other hand, have lost his affection. Earlier this week, after playing as usual for about 10 minutes, I took a good bite to the face. A few, harmless, warning little nips in the last few days and then today, for absolutely no apparent reason, I got attacked and bitten multiple times. I saw it in his eyes and his movements, but it was too late. He leaped on my head and started biting my hands, hard, as I tried to cover up.

I found myself in the kitchen , watching him hiding under the furniture, and afraid to even try to return him to his cage. RamaMama came down a few minutes later and eased him, gently into his castle, so that I could enter the room safely. I am devastated. I can't begin to believe that everything is different- FOREVER.

I actually had just written the short essay below, as I sat on the couch, watching Rama's peculiar behavior. I put down my pen -just in time to be leaped on... ??????????

Suddenly…I am the enemy.  I have been eliciting warning barks and bites to my fingers for no apparent reason. Playful one minute and aggressive the next. Nature running it’s inevitable, but in my case, regrettable, course. Nature at its worst. I can’t redirect the instinct to wild-up and self protect, but I darn sure will regret it.

I love a little critter that no longer lists me as a friend. Having raised him from the size of a flashlight battery with care and joy, today is the saddest day I can remember. The power of positive thinking doesn’t include being able to reverse the normal, maturing process of a wild animal.

I am sure I will always love him, but for now I don’t like him, one bit, and keeping my distance from a speed demon squirrel is a scary job. The dread of being bitten, again, affects my every move when he is in the same room as I am. His “friendly” stare now portrays a warning, and his “cute” chatter isn’t conversation…it’s a threat.

The atmosphere is confrontational and I am extremely sad. He was my Softie Boy.

Even treats… I hand them to him with fear, arm extended, watching his every gesture, fearing that he will leap and bite-in a split second. It is a terrible, terrible way to feel about a friend.

There must be a way to return to yesterday, or last week, or sometime other than today. Yesterday it was fun and now it is dread. He perceives things and people in a different manner. I watch him from a (safe?) distance and wonder –WHY ? My eyes mist up in the fear that my last playtime with him, yesterday, will actually be my LAST for all time. That is truly a depressing thought.
I sing his morning song again…

He’s a Golden Little, Furry Headed, Rat Faced Boy,
He’s a GOOD BOY, He’s a Rama Rota,….He can be a SOFTIE BOY…
--------------and start to cry.

Next thing we saw was a badly bitten Stosh:

Was this the way of all flesh? We have sometimes heard stories of squirrels who had been house pets that were glad to get back into the wild. Was this the problem with Rama? Of course Rama had never been in the wild. His eyes weren't even open when he fell from the tree.

January 3: What To Do?

Well, I fed Rama his Fox Valley today,( by syringe--he's a spoiled KING) 4 1/2 syringes and he was "civil" but refused to sit on my hand , as is usually the routine. Two minutes later he got on my shoulder and started the LOUD, & rapid chatter...A clear warning...and refused to get off. I was using the metal kitchen strainer as a face guard--as he went from one side of my face to the other--back and forth-looking for an "OPENING"-- RamaMama got a small nip on her hand trying to remove him...but then he was gentle and sweet with her the rest of the afternoon. Soooo it is no doubt that it's a GUY THING. I'm BUMMED. Seriously BUMMED.

I WILL continue to play with Rama-with protection-- and I think I'm going to fabricate a Hard hat and wire mesh --"Head Dress" --to free up both hands.

I'm praying his HORMONE time is short-lived.

I miss my SOFTIE BOY. I can't tell you--HOW MUCH.

What to do, what do do? But Stosh was not about to give up on the little squirrel  that he had raised from a baby.


A Quick Fix for the time being--Duct Tape, Hardware Cloth -and Cardboard--

--Sir Cringe-A-Lot >>>>...fer sher.

TSBers were cheering him on, extending their best wishes, sending prayers and hopes for a happy ending , sharing old wives' tales about errant squirrels suddenly going nuts. Sone even suggested that maybe it was time for them to let the little guy go. As if that would ever happen -- HA!

The big moment inevitably arrived when the King would confront the trembling Knight, for treat time was already long overdue. We waited with bated breath for pictures, wondering: what would Rama do?

Rama confronts Dad:

I wish I could tell you that this story had a happy ending. But you will have to check in at The Squirrel Board from time to time because there really is no ending. But we can assure you that with the help of his Dad, Rama Rota is almost 100% back to being a Softie Boy!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

A House Is Not a Hole

As I'm feeding squirrels the other day, a passerby calls out: "the holes are their houses!"  This brought to mind one of the dead trees over by the east flagpole in PCV. This winter a bunch of squirrels have been lodging in that hole. A sentry or two constantly stand watch. Whenever I walk by I see at least one little head sticking out of the hole that was made when a branch was lopped off that tree.  One wonders just how deep it is and how many can pile in there, but when I stand underneath and throw some peanuts down, or just even rattle the bag, all  of a sudden so many squirrels come piling out and streaming down the tree!

 One also wonders how bad it smells in there. I guess it's not the worst place in the world for a squirrel to be wintering in, but I think it's more of a hole than a house.

I remember one winter when somebody put wooden boxes in the trees at Madison Square Park and they made excellent houses that the squirrels took to immediately. The boxes were part of some experiment, and had the perhaps unintended side effect of helping the squirrels!  They were also doing (are still doing?)  something similar for squirrels in Thompkins Square Park. I think PCV should consider doing something for their squirrels.

So far this year we have not had many casualties from the bad weather. I put that down to improved nutrition and improved "food security".  I remember the first year I started feeding squirrels, there were all sorts of unhappy creatures wandering around with wounds. I particularly remember one pretty black squirrel who was really not more than a baby with soft first fur, that had a terrible wound that covered the entire length of one leg, with raw flesh being exposed to the elements. It looked like it hurt like hell.  And it never healed! All winter long I fed it as best I could, but for some reason the leg didn't get better, and I think it must have been a bacterial infection that needed antibiotics. Guess I didn't  know Bernie yet. The squirrel continued on through the winter in spite of its sorry leg, which may have finally healed sometime in the spring, as I could no longer find it.

And the bites! So many of them had these horrid looking bites on their backs that must have come from fellow squirrels that apparently went a bit cabin crazy when packed tightly into holes for any length of time. Often these wounds would fester and would not heal easily.

There were lots of little babies around that year-- babies with no coats at all. Their little bare bodies were pink from lack of fur, probably due to mange. We helped some of them to grow coats by giving them good nutrition, but not all of the little ones survived that winter. One of them that did survive and managed to flourish was the squirrel named Brownie, whose picture is at the top of this blog. He was completely red as a baby, but by springtime when this picture was taken, he was growing black fur on his back.

So that was how I got hooked on this squirrel feeding business- or  actually not a business, but rather a charitable enterprise.  This year our squirrels were all
fairly fat before the bad weather arrived. So except for the littlest skinny ones, whom we have not seen since the blizzard of Dec. 26, they seem to be doing okay. I haven't seen  any of those horrid bites on their backsides yet. I think their feeling of food security makes all the difference in the world. Now if we could only do something about their accomodations!