Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Squirrel Houses at Washington Square Park

Mission: Search and Replace
Washington Square Park East Entrance
We arrive at Washington Square Park on a fairly warm afternoon for January.  On the scene are squirrel rescuer Bernie Goetz and tree climber Sorge, with a pile of squirrel houses.
Their goal is to take down some old squirrel houses that are falling apart and replace them with new ones. Some of the old ones are in pretty bad shape:

The Squirrel Whisperer
Who should stop by but the legendary Squirrel Whisperer of WSP! We watch as Susan Goren whispers to one of her "pets".

Speaking of which, a female squirrel allows Susan pet her. Alas, the camera shutter was not fast enough to capture that ephemeral moment.

I'm reminded of my own Alphie, who once let me pat him on the head without jumping two feet in the air. He likes to come up real close and nuzzle my shoes, but we're not to the petting stage yet.

Squirrel Tag
We watch some squirrels play "tag you're it" in this wonderful tree trunk that remains as a testament to the giant tree that once stood here.

Operation Preparation
Bernie and Joe discuss logistics:

Joe cuts some peeky holes in the houses:  
Squirrels need to feel secure in their nest boxes, and part of that is being able to look out and see what's going on around them. Another consideration would be to provide an exit in addition to the entrance, although this would mean that wind and rain and snow could easily blow right through, so it was decided to have just an entrance and no exit. How many squirrels can fit into one house? Packed in tight, as they tend to do in cold weather, maybe 10 squirrels per house. With enough houses, hopefully every squirrel in the park could find shelter on the worst days.

Operation Restoration
East Side

Gearing up
Several park visitors have been around taking pictures of squirrels earlier, and at least one squirrel came over to inspect the new houses, but as we commence the operation, there's hardly a squirrel in sight. Knowing their curiosity, I'm sure they're observing every move from afar.

Joe throws the rope up into the tree

then tightens it securely
With his harness secured, Joe climbs high into the tree. 

Sorry Charlie, but this house has to go!
uh oh.

Out with the old and in with the new
The new houses are filled with nests of soft rags -- an improvement over the piles of damp leaves, dirt and plastic wrap that we find inside the old houses.  Dirt? Yes, the squirrels actually use dirt to keep themselves warm!
House of leaves
This Old House
This one is ready for the dump. The floor was falling apart and squirrels had actually eaten through the roof!

We found missing roofs on several houses.  I was bemused by the idea that squirrels would actually eat the roof over their heads. Seems to be rather self-defeating, doesn't it? Hopefully these new plastic houses will be sturdy enough to doscourage such attempts. They will also be warmer, more weather-proof and more protective than the wooden ones.

Plastic Bedding
This nest that was found inside one of the houses is composed of shredded plastic bags.

The squirrels could also use some protection from the hawks that currently reside in Washington Square Park: Bobby the red-tailed hawk and his new friend Rosie, who arrived around the time that Violet died. 

Interested passers-by stop to inquire about what's going on.

This man turns out to be an old friend of Joe's.
Hey buddy, fancy meeting you here! How's the weather up there?
West Side
With one house left to go, we move to the west side of the park.

Rosie the Hawk
A park visitor points out a hawk sitting in one of the trees observing us.

The hawk just sits there motionless on a branch We think it is Rosie, the red-tailed hawk.

On a branch below, some squirrels are making a great deal of noise -- what I call "hawk chatter". But they make no attempt to run away, nor does the hawk attempt to go after them. They all just sit there in a winter tableau.
squirrels on branch (click to enlarge)
Our park friend tells us that the squirrels are safe if they stay where they are in the branches, but if they tried to run across the ground the hawk could swoop down and grab them.

We spy a second hawk in another tree a short distance away. This one is  probably Bobby.
Bobby (click to enlarge)
I make my way over to get a closer shot, and just as I shoot, the big bird takes off!

To make up for the loss, here is a wonderful picture of Bobby that appears in today's NY Post:

A Fait Accomplis
It was a very productive day. Gone are six old houses that were falling apart and in their stead are four new houses. Hats off to the New York City Parks Dept. for providing the squirrels with houses that give them the shelter and protection they need in cold weather and storms. The Park people obviously value the squirrels as park assets, as indeed they are, providing local color and amusement to many park visitors.

A few days later, Rosie the hawk (below third window from left on second floor of white building) is seen swooping by the new house (above second window from left on second floor). Checking it out perhaps? Hopefully the squirrels stay safe and snug inside.

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