An urban squirrel triptych

I don’t think I knew the difference between squirrels and chipmunks until I moved to southeastern Ontario. I grew up in Nova Scotia where the only urban wildlife on my radar were seagulls, rats, mice, crows, and spiders bigger than God’s boots.

A city chipmunk dreaming of the countryside. Or peanuts.
A city chipmunk dreaming of the countryside. Or peanuts. Or skinny jeans and a latte.

What a joy to move here and discover all of the above as well as roving gangs of skunks, raccoons, and squirrels! It turns out squirrels aren’t as cute as chipmunks. Also, I think last week was the first time I saw chippies right in the city, and then I almost ran over one with my bicycle. Damn, they’re little.

Big, fat squirrel is smarter than you.
Big, fat squirrel is smarter than you.

Squirrels–not so very little. Also, they don’t have those cute stripes and fat cheeks. And they sometimes tear open garbage bags to find the tasty morsels inside, or invade attics and tear houses down from the inside, both of which seem very impolite to me. I don’t have an attic, and I know that putting the pungent compost beneath the cat litter in the green bin is how to keep urban beasties from having a food fight for the ages in front of my house. (You may well wonder how I came to be so smart; it’s a good question, but I’m not smart enough to have an answer for you.)

Squirrels are not adorbs, maybe, but they’re really damned cool. I mean, they kind of don’t give a shit and they seem pretty smart. One of the first squirrels I ever saw was in Kingston. It was a beautiful summer day, and like everyone with half a brain, he’d decided ice cream was a good idea. He was sitting on the steps of City Hall, eating an ice cream cone that was about half the size he was. He ate it just like a person would–licking away at the sugary frozen goodness and then munching happily when all that was left was the cone. We watched him eat the whole thing and he was so damned slick he didn’t even acknowledge us. Squirrels don’t recognize the hierarchy we’d like to impose on them–maximum respect to you, little beasties, for you are among the only true rebels left in this tough world.

I’ve had many more run-ins with these guys in the big city. Three stories for you.

The McCaul Street Romeo

About four years ago, when we were still in the bookstore, one squirrel used to come visit me outside the kitchen window while I was either cooking or doing dishes. He would sit outside my third floor window while I talked to him, and he would gesture back at everything I said. He was very patient with the fact that I didn’t seem to understand his sign language; he was attentive kindness itself, showing profound interest in everything I said. He never seems to have developed a resentment about my never opening the window to feed him, even though he so frequently found his way to the third floor window for our pleasant little confabs. If romantic partners were generally half as interested as this guy was in me, probably no one would ever break up again.

One day, my husband and a friend were sitting on the shop stairs enjoying the late afternoon sunshine when lil buddy proceeded to leave some treats for me on my bicycle, which was locked up outside. (I’d found these treats before but hadn’t realized it was my squirrel sweetie.) He proceeded to carry four of five nuts from his lair near the top of the telephone pole (the one outside the kitchen window), one at a time, down to my bicycle and place them in my basket. He placed them carefully in a line, equidistant apart, and then left. They watched, amazed; but I wasn’t surprised, really, because I already knew he was a smartiepants; I was charmed and touched by his thoughtfulness though. I hope he forgave me for never eating any of his offerings, or offering any in return.

We’ve lost touch since the bookstore closed; I hope he doesn’t worry too much about me.

A Victim of Vertigo

A few months ago, I was making a leisurely Saturday evening dinner when someone started pounding very urgently on the front door. As I am essentially a misanthrope trapped in a hermit’s body, I often don`t answer the door if I’m not expecting anyone; but you just can’t ignore knocking like that.

Turns out, it was a couple of friends from the vegan community who were trying to catch a squirrel they thought had been hit by a car. They’d been driving by and saw the poor dude just staggering down the street. So, they were trying to capture him and were having no luck–because even when afflicted with extreme dizziness, these guys laugh at our feeble attempts at athleticism.

They knocked on my door to get a blanket to try to capture him; all three of us spent the next 30 minutes or so trying to corner him, mostly unsuccessfully and entirely ungracefully. We got him, eventually, and only because one of my firmer colleagues in this endeavour got hold of his tail and wouldn’t let go. They sure can cuss a girl out, squirrels. The language! It made us all blush and feel ashamed.

They got him to the wildlife centre, and it turns out he probably wasn’t hit by a car; such dizziness is usually a sign of some kind of virus or bug. They said they’d treat him and if it worked, they’d release him back into the same neighbourhood. He hasn’t come to say hi, but I hope that’s just because he thinks I’m an asshole and not because the treatment didn’t work.

The way he was clutching to the bars once he was inside the cat carrier is one of the saddest things I’ve seen. I used to get vertigo during my extreme grad school insomnia bouts, so I have a good sense of how he was feeling; I recall sitting on the stoop at my hubby’s apartment having, all of a sudden, to grab on to the railing for dear life because I felt like I was about to fall off the edge of the world. That’s how this fella looked like he felt.

Don’t Kill the Dancing Monkey, Please

Last week, hubby and I were walking by the University of Toronto when we saw someone taking extreme close-up photos of a squirrel on the sidewalk. Fear clearly wasn’t part of this little dude’s experience. He was happy to pose for these glamour shots because he quite reasonably imagined he might be rewarded with some tasty treats. Little squirrel was not so rewarded; the only reward these dumb tourists were offering was the final one, as they kept pushing him closer and closer to the street as they pursued their charming photos. This is a very busy corner, jammed with people in cars, on bikes, and on foot. They were going to get him killed and so we hurried over.

We stood in the street and tried to shepherd the brave and crazy critter to the safety of the bushes on the sidewalk…but he was so unafraid that he just kept coming closer to us because now he thought maybe we would be the ones to distribute the candy. Seeing this, I ran off to get him some treats, but not before shrieking obscenities at the crowd of dumbshits who quickly began forming around us, thus pushing him back towards the road and his imminent death again. I thought I might actually start throwing punches at one point. Anyway.

I got Mr. Personality (who clearly missed his calling in show biz) a bag of greasy potato chips and tempted him into the relative safety of the bushes, first by just leading him along with the chip about an inch from his nose, and then tossing it into a bush. He threw himself backwards into that bush like a seasoned circus performer, lay there like a bastard for a few moments with legs in the air enjoying the first few nibbles of the chip, and then came back to get more. I scattered some about the bushes and we left him to his feast.

But we really could have just brought him home. And, I dare say, we would have done so if we didn’t have a full-to-bursting menagerie already. While I was off getting his potato chips, he actually tried to get inside my husband’s backpack! My husband attempted to push him into the bushes, and this fearless beastie just turned around at looked at him even more expectantly. No fear. And really, urban wildlife should be afraid of humans–it’s probably their best chance for survival amongst such lumbering, oblivious giants.


Postscript to my previous beastie post: Now that Tasha has informed me that pigeons recognize human faces, I’ve been trying to make friends with every pigeon I see. They’re not very discerning, so this is turning out to be surprisingly easy.

9 Comments Add yours

  1. Jean Melvin says:

    Squirrels are furry rats. They have been known to eat the wiring in my car, and attic and then move on to the main course which is the insulation in the roof, walls etc. They have gnawed a hole in the siding of the cabin right through to the dresser on the inside. There is a mountain of fir cones in the attic at the cabin that Sammy Squirrel has amassed for the winter. I had wire mesh put up under the eaves so that he/she could not access to stash anymore. Call me heartless, but Sammy and his ilk are Sciuridae non grata around here.

    1. Colleen says:

      Rats are also very smart; not as social, though, in my experience. Not the urban ones anyway.

  2. Sylvia says:

    The squirrels in Nova Scotia are a different species, much smaller than Ontario and Quebec squirrels. They look like chipmunks without the stripe. But they are just as smart at getting we humans to feed them.

    1. Colleen says:

      Maybe I have seen them then and just didn’t make the connection. The last time I was in NS, I was focused on the sheer number of hummingbirds in my dad’s backyard–I had no idea they were so gladiatorial in asserting their boundaries against one another!

  3. heidenkind says:

    We do not live in an urban area, but we do have plenty of squirrels. This is because my mom, who grew up in Chicago, wanted squirrels in her yard. So my dad set some traps in the nearest city park, where he conveniently worked, and after a few tries they found a male and female squirrel who decided to stick around due to the copious amounts of free food they’re given. Now the neighborhood is infested with squirrels, and I swear they all live in my parents’ attic. My mom’s given most of them names so I guess they’re unofficial pets now…

    1. Colleen says:

      Wowzers! Your mom is a true squirrel fan, whereas I am clearly just playing at being one. Are they tame? Or, do they just take the food and tolerate your presence as necessary evils? Do they know their names? This is fascinating.

      1. heidenkind says:

        For the most part they ignore us, except when they run out of food. They they climb they screen door en masse and stare into house until they’re fed.

  4. Stefanie says:

    Pigeon boyfriends and squirrel boyfriends, no species is safe from your feminine wiles!

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