Have you seen a chickaree today?

We can thank Christy Hargrove of the North Carolina Nature Center for helping designate January 21st as Squirrel Appreciation Day. Suggestions for celebration include putting out extra food—every squirrel’s idea of a party—to learning more about this lively and ubiquitous creature. Did you know there are over 200 species of squirrels, which come in three types: ground squirrels, tree squirrels, and perhaps the most exciting, flying squirrels? This last kind would be accurately called floating squirrels as they rely on flaps of skin stretching from top to bottom of their legs that they spread out when leaping from tree to tree. But still, great fun to watch as they glide through the branches!

A squirrel enjoying seeds put out for the birds.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife discuss native tree squirrels and introduced squirrels (See here: https://wdfw.wa.gov/species-habitats/living/species-facts/tree-squirrels# ) and relate that squirrels of both varieties are rated as “first as problem makers” among of urban wildlife as well as “first among preferred urban species.” It sounds like we can’t make up our minds how we feel about them. Maybe it’s their crazy antics as they high-wire across telephone lines or zip up and down trees and busy themselves planting peanuts in our flower pots—an activity I could do without, but otherwise find them entertaining. There is something about having wild creatures living so closely with us that touches the imagination.

You can just see a squirrel hunched on top of this bird house, keeping out of the rain. Originally the house was meant for an owl in the hopes of keeping squirrels out of my neighbor’s hazel tree. In the way of squirrels, it hasn’t quite worked out that way.

Margaret wrote chiefly about our native Douglas squirrels. In one of her Nature Notes, she tells a story about “when early explorers traveled through the great forests of our northwest country, they were puzzled at the sound of a strange trill. They thought for a long time that it was the call of a shy woodland bird. But after a while they found it was the trilling call of a little red squirrel. Because of this trilling call the western red squirrel was called chickaree.” Now they are named for David Douglas, an early explorer and naturalist for whom is also named the Douglas fir.

Margaret published a series of Nature Notes in the 1940s as part of her radio talks about Washington State flora and fauna. The small brochures were used in schools to supplement her broadcasts. Later they were collected into a book Wildlife of the Pacific Northwest.

It is clear from her comments about “these lively little fellows” that she is very familiar with their ways. “If you disturb one of them in his chosen territory as you walk through the woods, he will scold furiously and seem to swear at you in squirrel language. But often when you are camping he becomes very friendly. He is always on hand at meal times and will even walk across your bed if you are late in getting up in the morning.” (This description tells us as much about Margaret as the creatures she found so amusing.)

However you encounter squirrels, take a moment and appreciate one of our most accessible “nearby” wildlife, whether it’s their Day or any day.

2 thoughts on “Have you seen a chickaree today?

  1. We have lived in our current location for over 20 years. It was only a couple of years ago that “Doug” showed up. Like Margaret mentions in her nature notes, my husband and I were wondering what new bird had come into our area. It took most of the summer to realize the sound was coming from the Douglas squirrel.
    They are cheeky and kind of aggressive with other critters in the yard. They will bully the much larger neighborhood squirrels out of the way, and completely take over the bird feeder. Because they are smaller than the other squirrels, the squirrel proofing methods around the bird feeder don’t slow Doug down a bit.
    But what’s to be done! Not a thing. Just smile and watch the drama unfold in the yard.


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