Column: Appreciating our nutty neighborsThe seed level in David’s bird feeder kept dropping more quickly than normal, and he wasn’t sure why.
By: Joseph Labernik , Duluth News Tribune
The seed level in David’s bird feeder kept dropping more quickly than normal, and he wasn’t sure why.
After scoping out his feeder one day, he saw a grey squirrel, a lactating female, grabbing a quick meal. David liked watching birds, but he thought squirrels were a nuisance.
After shooing the squirrel away, he began searching for humane solutions to his squirrel “problem.” How could he enjoy the wildlife in his yard, especially the birds, without creating seed-addicted squirrels, and without displacing a mother squirrel and orphaning a litter of defenseless babies in the process?
Prevention is the always the best solution to any problem. Usually the source of a human-wildlife “problem” is human behavior — in this case, feeding the birds in summer.
If we put out bird feeders, we will attract many animals — birds, squirrels, raccoon, deer, and even bears!
Nuisance animals are created, not born. Having bird feeders out in summer is a sure way to teach animals such as squirrels, raccoons, and bears bad habits, causing them to rely on human food sources and possibly to slowly lose their fear of humans.
Outdoor feeders may also cause problems for birds. Poor nutrition, dependence on human food sources, and disease transmission from bird to bird at crowded feeders are all problems that we may cause if we put out bird feeders in summer.
It’s far better to create good habitat by planting gardens that offer natural food and shelter than to give animals handouts. For resources on creating bird- and wildlife-friendly gardens, visit this National Wildlife Federation site on how to garden for wildlife: http://www.nwf.org/How-to-Help/Garden-for-Wildlife.aspx.
As with raccoons and other wildlife, it’s important to set boundaries in order to peacefully coexist with neighboring squirrels.
To keep squirrels from nesting in the attic or garage, block openings to these inviting areas. Also, make sure to cap any chimneys or vents on the house, and seal up any holes in the foundation.
Squirrels are common, but they are anything but ordinary. How many animals have ankles that can rotate around backwards so that they run down a tree head-first? And how many animals have built-in sunglasses, a tail that functions as an umbrella, a warm cloak, and a heat dispersal unit, and have enzymes in their guts that allow them to eat mushrooms that would kill us?
Plus, did you know that squirrels have learned to diversify their assets to increase their odds of surviving the winter, as well as how to deceive competing squirrels? Squirrels are agile, adaptable, adorable, and ingenious.
In addition, they are amazing, if unintentional gardeners — squirrels planted most of the oak forests in North America!
Be kind to wildlife such as squirrels while driving. Squirrels and other wildlife did not evolve with cars, and are not road-savvy. As squirrels search for food, they frequently cross roads, and are often killed by cars. So be on the lookout for squirrels, and slow down to give them a chance to get out of the way.
Squirrels have two litters of young a year — in spring and in late summer, so avoid trimming trees or cutting down trees until late fall.
If you find a baby squirrel, call a rehabber for advice. If it is an eyes-open baby who is warm, has no flies on it, and appears alert, wait for a few hours to give the mother a chance to retrieve it. If it is an eyes-closed baby, is cold, has flies on it, or appears in distress, put it in a cardboard box with air holes, and call a rehabber for advice.
Never try to raise a baby squirrel yourself; they can easily sicken and die if raised by someone without proper training.
And never try to keep a squirrel as a pet; squirrels are meant to be wild. Teenaged squirrels become aggressive, and will bite people and destroy furniture. Also, such squirrels are unlikely to survive if set free once their family tires of them.
So appreciate and love your squirrel neighbors from a distance, while making sure that they stay healthy and wild. Squirrels might seem like nutty creatures, but they deserve humane precautions from their human neighbors.
For more information on wildlife and how you can help, please visit our website: www.wildwoodsrehab.org, or call us at 218-491-3604.
Joseph Labernik is studying English and Professional Writing at the University of Minnesota Duluth. Currently, he is an intern for Wildwoods, a 501(c)(3) non-profit wildlife rehabilitation organization based in Duluth, Minn.