by Mark Daul
Outdoors in Niagara
Whenever I hear the word "rodent," right away I think of mice and rats, but in the rodent "family" there are many different sizes and types of relatives. All rodents have the distinction of having a single pair of incisors in both the lower and upper jaws, especially made for gnawing.
I have several rodents that entertain me, but they are much larger than their lower class relatives of mice and rats that are not "good entertainment." A couple other mammals you are probably familiar with are those timber dwelling chipmunks, house pets like guinea pigs, and of all things, the beaver.
I have gray and black squirrels, a nuisance pest to many people especially if they infiltrate your house, usually in the attic. These visitors can be removed and shut out, and are not welcomed back. They are the smartest four-legged critters you will ever get to know, and their acrobatics are better than those Chinese acrobats we see on TV. Watch them for a while playing, making heroic jumps, climbing up and down trees, chasing one another and making all kinds of playful chattering noises.
In the mid-afternoon on those hot summer days, it's siesta time. They like to stretch out in a spread-eagle position on the flat surface of the fence or on the roof of the shed or on a tree branch and just take life easy. They get up early in the morning, eat, play, rest and then eat again in the evenings. Yes, squirrels close their eyes when they sleep.
I'm sure everyone has some backyard squirrels. Mine, I turn into friends. They get so friendly I can sit on my back porch and they'll come visit looking for a handout. Seldom do I let them take food out of my hand because it's not really a good idea. Their eyes are placed in their heads where they can't see too well up close, and you can accidentally get nipped. They'll reach up with their front feet and try to knock your offering out of your hand, and those little feet have claws like needles that will prick you, not realizing they could hurt you. So many times they hear the back door open, and right away there could be two, three or even four of them rushing up the steps looking for me. At least I like to think it's me they are looking for, but it's really the handout of old bread or crackers, and sometimes I'll offer peanuts in the shell. Squirrels in the U.S. are not known to cause rabies.
My grandkids think grandpa's squirrel colony is cool. Gramps doesn't have to get his pets shots, clean up after them, be home to feed them, no vet bills, they eat and drink for nothing, and yet when he comes outside, they are there to greet him.
They are hard to identify and put names to, but I had some identifiable friends. One was named "Chips" (pictured), because of two chips out of the tip of his left ear. He was the friendliest of all.
Then I had one named "Gimpy." He was a guy with a deformed front leg that he couldn't use, but he did quite well with just three legs. He held his food in his left paw while eating. He did have trouble climbing trees, but he did it. "Chicken" was so named because he was the scaredy-cat of the bunch. He would come near, but never up to the porch to see me. He would sit on the picnic table and stare at the others and me. Then there was "Blackie," obviously because he was a friendly black squirrel, and once in a while, he would bring another black friend, but the friend wouldn't get involved.
My backyard gang was numerous at times and I don't know what kind of lifespan they have. But when spring comes each year it seems all my old friends are gone or maybe they found a better feeding spot.
Speaking of feeding I had my own "miniature Nik Wallendas" when I hung my bird feeder on a long thin wire from the plastic coated backyard clothesline. Squirrels would climb up the tree, and tightrope the clothesline out to the feeder, slide down the wire and help themselves to the birds' sunflower seed. I quickly found that wasn't a very good idea to keep my friends from raiding the bird's precious sunflower seed. I thought I was smart using the thin wire, thinking the wire won't allow them to grip it, but they were smarter than me. They just put those little feet to work grabbing the wire tight, and slowly slide down, then jump to the ground when done.
After buying different so called "squirrel-proof" bird feeders over the years, I solved the raiding problem by driving a 2-inch galvanized pipe in the ground and mounted my common, wooden feeder on the very top. They could still climb the pipe and get up there until I cut a piece of aluminum drip edge I had laying around, and attached that in an upside-down cone shape near the top of the pipe under the feeder. That works really great, stopped them in their tracks, no more stealing from the birds. If you do this, make sure there are no trees or other objects close by, they can climb and jump to the feeder. They are very smart, and I have seen them jump as far as five feet, and as high as four feet.
Hunting squirrels is a challenging sport. In New York State, from Sept. 1 to Feb. 28 hunters get out in the woods to hunt squirrel from sunrise to sunset. Hunters are allowed a daily bag limit of six, and they make a good meal when prepared correctly. Most hunters are good wild game cooks, and they advise to never broil or grill a squirrel; they will get chewy like the tongue of your shoe. Young squirrels can be roasted, fried, boiled or in soups. The old guys probably should be simmered or crock-pot style cooked until tender.
Cleaning them for the pot can be tricky, and I watched this being done once, but I didn't learn a thing except let an experienced person do it for you. Maybe search YouTube for a video. You must have a valid small game license to hunt squirrels.
Mepps, a large U.S.A. company that makes fishing lures, and in particular spinners, has a squirrel tail program. They buy squirrel tails from hunters and other individuals and use them for dressing on the hook behind the spinner. Apparently fish like this little added attraction and squirrel tails do the best job in providing a pulsating action provoking fish to bite. The company pays as high as 26 cents each for premium tails. Of course there are rules you need to follow. Go to their website for the details at http://www.mepps.com. Even if you don't fish, the website is interesting, and you can see what the added attraction looks like. You can even request their free lure catalog there.
Pictured is Chip.