Nut-crazy squirrels living best lives now

Nut-crazy squirrels living best lives now

The world seemed abnormally still on Sunday morning as my wife and I glided back and forth on the patio swing. Frank the dog lay between us, taking up more than his fair share of real estate. That’s when the bomb dropped.

The loud “bang” sparked a collective flinch strong enough to slosh cupped coffee onto pant legs and cause a certain hound dog to momentarily awaken from his post-breakfast nap. Almost as soon as the echo from the first explosion had dissipated, a second “bang” rocked the neighborhood.

It was clear at that moment that we had clicked to the next phase of our annual back yard calendar. Black walnut season was upon us, and the burgeoning population of neighborhood squirrels had chosen to celebrate by obnoxiously repurposing the corrugated tin roof of my tool shed into a giant, steel gong.

The family Sciuridae — which includes not only the several species of squirrel found in our area, but also the chipmunk, woodchuck and prairie dog — is a highly adaptable and undeniably prolific lot of rodents who have done surprisingly well in adjusting to a landscape filled with humans. Squirrel populations tend to thrive nearly beyond control in the “urban forest” landscape of most Midwestern towns.

Squirrels go largely unchallenged as they occupy every available nook and cranny, with predation in most places limited to feral cats and the occasional passing bird of prey. Hollowed-out limbs and woodpecker excavations make for fine homes, but squirrels are fully capable of constructing their own tree-top shelters as well. You’ll find these “dreys” as large clumps of dried leaves, twigs and loosely woven grasses high in the branches of winter bare trees.

Prime squirrel habitat also includes many spots where humans could do perfectly well without them. The flue of my fireplace chimney comes immediately to mind as does the “hot” end of pole-mounted electrical equipment. If squirrels ever wish to take over the world, a series of well-placed kamikaze strikes could bring the electric grid to its knees. Based on a long history of casualties, it’s possible the varmints have been “prepping” on the transformer in front of my house.

The black walnut harvest is nothing short of a full-scale assault as whole family units of squirrels ascend trees on the unguarded periphery of my lot and make their way, branch to branch, to finally hang upside down from what often seems to be the wispiest of twigs. There, they clip the billiard ball-sized nuts down in singles and pairs to crash dramatically upon my roof. Cleanup crews grab up the fallen treasure and retreat again to the tree tops where the varmints strategically position themselves directly above every place I’m apt to sit or stand. From these hidden vantage points they rain nut husks down upon me with impassioned glee.

This payback is fair enough. I’ve stewed plenty of their ancestors into a tasty gravy that pours wonderfully over white rice.

Did I mention squirrel season is upon us as well? Bag limits are generous, and the great outdoors are wonderful at this time of year. You’ll need to leave the city limits to participate, of course, and the squirrels seem to know exactly where that line falls. They’re likely to be on full alert, so patience and a good aim are key. Good luck!

If you have comments on this column or questions about the natural world, write The Rail Trail Naturalist, P.O. Box 170, Fredericksburg, OH 44627, or email You also can follow along on Instagram @railtrailnaturalist.

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