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Squirrels: Neighbors in Need

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It was a neighborhood disaster! Neighbors trimmed their forty-foot coastal redwoods by removing every other branch from top to bottom. Nests were destroyed. Chainsaw noise scattered creatures.

I knew a squirrel lived nearby. I watched it running along the top rail of the fence. Now displaced, I thought it would be hanging out at my place. Knowing that winter was coming I grabbed my trusty keyboard to learn more about my new guest, a common gray squirrel with a white belly and fluffed tail. I felt it needed a secure home out of the weather.  Searching through Pinterest, a plan was discovered and help was bartered.

My craftsman brother agreed to help with the construction. The house needed to be tall, with a doorway facing south and protection from marauding raccoons. The house was built and bragged upon. Hung up in a redwood by coercing a kind neighbor, it sat empty. (I felt like one of those TV designers that everyone sticks their nose up at their homes.)  Daily observation led to disappointment as the squirrel raced along the fences and hid in my neighbor’s Italian cypress. Re-orient the direction of the door? More coercion, another 12-foot ladder, more waiting.

While waiting for my tenant to move in, the great menu search began. What does this squirrel want to eat?  Back to the internet; food failure was as certain as a tired, tight-lipped, two-year-old. On the internet (again), there is a food pyramid just for squirrels. Seriously, who has this kind of time? Just as a happy meal is not good every day, some squirrels just do not eat “healthy.” There were conversations, very one-sided, with me doing all the talking. Sunflower seeds, raw peanuts, sprouting new growth on Japanese maples (what!), and an occasional shelled walnut meat topped the favorites. I might have saved my money on all the ignored fruits and vegetables.

One day, with alerts from my dog, I found the squirrel on my front sidewalk on a date. The date had gotten to the point where someone should be calling for a hotel. Our squirrel was clearly a girl and her new friend was enjoying the free food and more. The squirrel house showed new toothful designs around the door. Jump ahead in time and there were new sets of ears visible through the doorway. The babies looked like Mickey Mouse was their daddy with those monster ears.

Today, three-plus months later, mom is on vacation and the babies have grown like crazy, zooming across my roof several times a day. They have planted peanuts in pots and throughout the neighborhood. I believe one of my gutters is a cache for next winter, filled with peanuts. Peanut shells and sunflower seed shells mulch my yard. My dining room window has become the screen for squirrel television.

While I know squirrels have a reputation as bad actors, at my house they are welcome tenants. They have been fun and exciting. The little peanut farmers will soon need their own homes and I will be off to the lumberyard.

Julie Silva is a University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardener of Tuolumne County.

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