Squirrelly suburbia

Elise T Chisolm

October 23, 1990|By Elise T Chisolm

YOU'D THINK a small gathering of people would be talking Persian Gulf, taxes or World Series. Nope, we're talking squirrels.

The squirrel population seems to be exploding. Squirrelly? You bet. So home owners are talking about ways to get rid of their back yard squirrels.

In my own modest back yard, the squirrels are everywhere, much to the cat's delight.

The squirrels are eating the tulip bulbs I just planted. But hey, these guys have to eat, don't they? And sure, I know they can get into your attic, but I don't have an attic. I think they are awfully cute, that is, until I remember they are rodents, as in rats.

A city dweller asked me recently how to get rid of squirrels. He'd like to shoot them. But since I'm for handgun control, I am dead set against that unless they start to take over the world like the killer bees.

Yesterday I saw a guy in his Jeep zoom up to the edge of the nearby woods, near a stream. He jumped out and looked both ways -- Oh, geez he's going to drown some unwanted kittens or squirrels, I thought. I tried to look the other way, but I was riveted.

He had a squirrel cage, which he swiftly unlocked, and out popped several squirrels, thrilled to be back to their native habitat.

Or were they? Who's to know? Maybe they will miss their family from the suburban back yard. Maybe they just had a bunch of babies and they were heartbroken leaving them.

A retiree I know, whose hobby has been catching squirrels in his homemade trap replete with nuts and roots, takes his squirrels to a state park and lets them loose.

"They eat all my plants, and I feel I am giving them a better lif this way," he told me.

"But do you try to catch a husband and wife team?" I asked in all innocence.

He looked at me kind of blank. "Nope, I can't tell the sex of a squirrel, but I don't worry about that too much. They seem to, you know . . . have a lot of sex, or rather they don't lack partners from what I've seen of my backyard population."

"How long do you keep them in the trap?" Now he was gettinleery, thinking I was from the County Squirrel Police.

"I just keep 'em about 10 minutes. My trap is custom made and contains lots of food and an old Christmas wreath that they kind of nest in."

So I decided I'd better get the real poop on squirrels.

An animal science professor from Cornell University confirmed that the squirrels are proliferating this season. He also started explaining the mating habits of the common gray squirrel: They mate in mid-winter, the gestation period is 44 days, they have two to six to a litter.

He also said that the squirrel's many predators include the snake, the red-tailed hawk and the great horned owl, "so that the squirrel may be safer in your own suburban or urban back yard. I explained to him I would rather have 101 squirrels in my back yard than one snake. He did not agree.

Seriously, for you folks who are inundated with squirrels, forest wildlife program manager Joshua L. Sandt, of Maryland's Forest, Park and Wildlife Service, says: "Squirrels respond to present food supplies, and they have an excellent supply due to the right variances in our climate. We had a mild winter . . . so they are foraging and taking advantage of the great acorns, berries and natural opportunities."

Is it legal to trap them and transport them to parks?

"Not in Maryland and most states. Transporting any warm-blooded wild mammal is prohibited. For one thing, squirrels carry rabies, and by shifting them from Point A to Point B you are creating more of an ecological nuisance."

Sandt suggests putting moth balls in your garden.

He agreed with me that squirrel-chasers are just barking up the wrong tree.

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