Are This Years’ Squirrels Nuts?


Year after year our birdfeeders make the ultimate sacrifice to these little critters, and we never can seem to get rid of them. That’s right, squirrels. For a long time, squirrels have been running around in our neighborhoods, wreaking havoc upon the friendly birds that come to visit, stealing their food. However, this year especially, I have noticed a couple of differences and anomalies in the annual patterns of squirrels, and I wonder why. 

First of all, as I am sure you all know, squirrels are a menace to anyone with a driver’s license. They never seem to be able to make up their minds! As you drive down your street, a squirrel darts out into the middle of the road, then decides to go back from where it came- no cross the road- no go back- no cross- go back- cross- go back. 

At this point you are just about a foot from the squirrel, slightly amused by its stupidity, waiting for it to go somewhere, anywhere, so you dont run it over. However this year, it has been happening a lot more than usual, and we ask ourselves again, why? 

One theory is that because of the pandemic, more squirrels were able to survive the early spring without turning into fuzzy grey roadblocks. Due to the lack of automobiles out on the road, there was a higher rate of squirrel survival. If they survived the spring, not only would there be more of them, but there would be more squirrels able to breed, resulting in an even greater squirrel population. If there are more squirrels, then inevitably, there would be more squirrels trying to cross the street. 

Continuing along with this theory, because of COVID-19 and the lack of cars out on the road, this year’s squirrel population would have been less likely to have had the opportunity to learn, or see, the effects of cars on squirrels. So maybe, they do not know how the cars work, and are confused, causing the previously described reaction. 

Now you might be thinking, squirrels just do not have the brain capacity to think that through, they would not be able to remember the effect of cars. Thus came my experiment. 

This all started when my mother purchased another bird feeder for our front yard. She liked to watch all of the different birds come and go when the pandemic was just started. She said that the birdfeeder was getting too crowded from all of our new little friends, and that we needed to expand on their real estate. However, soon after that, it was not just the birds that came to visit. In comes Chad. 

Sir Chadwick von Nutbottom, as we like to call him, is a cute fuzzy squirrel with a little chip out of his ear and a scar on his nose, making him pretty easily recognizable. I started noticing that he came to our house nearly every day to try and mooch off of the birdfeeder (and fail miserably, but it’s the thought that counts, right?). 

In an attempt to relieve the birds from their battles with Chad over the food intended for them, I started putting some seed out for Chad on my windowsill. Through this process, I guess that I have bonded with him. He seems to know when I am going to give him food, and when I forget to put seed out for him at 8:00 in the morning, he gets up on my window and kind of stares at me until I go to provide it for him. Chad specifically, comes closer to me then any of the other squirrels, presumably because he recognizes me as the one who feeds him. These actions make me think that squirrels do indeed have a memory capacity. 

This theory is backed up by the fact that squirrels can and have remembered where they buried their nuts from the year before, when they go to find them in the spring. Professor Stephen Lea, of the University of Exeter said, “Previous research at Exeter has shown that their memory for the locations of hidden nuts is excellent,”. This is something that we know to be true. Each winter, the squirrels gather as many nuts as they can and bury them in the ground, so that they have something to eat come springtime. It must take a rather large memory capacity in order to keep record of the specific locations that their nuts are buried, and additionally, it needs to be able to be stored relatively long term. I know that I certainly would not be able to do that – especially without a map – so these squirrels definitely have something unique and special going on up in their rodent noggins. Perhaps this memory skill is applicable to more aspects of a squirrel’s life. Although, I still wonder whether Chad only remembers me as “the bringer of food”.

As I continue along with my experiment, I hope to be able to create more of a connection with Chad, perhaps even being able to feed him out of my hand. This is far from over, and I look forward to the continuation with my relationship with Sir Chadwick Von Nutbottom.