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Posted at 02:22 PM ET, 01/20/2012

Squirrel Appreciation Day: Let’s hear it for Sciuridae

Saturday is Squirrel Appreciation Day. You may find the middle of winter an odd time of year for such a day, but think about it: Unlike some other mammals I could name (I’m thinking of you, lazy bears),
squirrels don’t hibernate. They’re out there 24/7, living la vida squirrela: climbing trees, foraging for nuts, chittering, trying to get into your attic, getting flattened by steel-belted radials.

In fact, come Jan. 21 — Squirrel Appreciation Day — they are probably running low on food. They could use a paw up. That’s exactly what Richard “Thor” Thorington — the Smithsonian’s squirrel expert — is going to give them.

“We’re going to celebrate tomorrow,” he told me.

How? “By putting out extra sunflower seeds.”

Thor is also scattering cobs of dried corn, a squirrel favorite, outside his Bethesda home. Peanuts would be another treat. (Squirrels have also been known to eat baby sparrows, but those are hard to find at the
This sequined squirrel is ready for the Squirrel Appreciation Day party, if there were such a thing. (Katherine Frey - The Washington Post)
store this time of year. Or any time of year.)

The scientist said squirrel behavior can change during the chilly months of winter. Many squirrels will move out of their leaf nests — those balls you see high in the branches — and try to find a hollowed-out tree.

“You can stuff a lot of leaves in a hollow tree and have a nice warm place,” Thor said. “I’ve always wondered how waterproof leaf nests were. I guess fairly waterproof, but I’ve never been in one so I don’t
The Bolivian squirrel monkey is not a squirrel. But we could not pass up this opportunity to use a photo of Bolivian squirrel monkeys with sunglasses. (Ben Stansall - AFP/Getty Images)

There are more than 280 species of squirrels — from tiny pygmy squirrels to giant flying squirrels — so there are a lot of squirrels to appreciate. Then there are squirrels like this one, rescued by a Louisiana artist and forced to earn its keep by churning out hotel room art:

Last year for Squirrel Appreciation Day the students of Wichita State University put out extra food for their campus squirrels. No word yet on whether Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, Va. — whose mascot is Gladys the Fighting Squirrel — is doing anything special on Saturday. The National Wildlife Federation suggests various ways you can celebrate, from feeding them to shooting them — with a camera!

Of course, animals as wonderful as Sciuridae — the scientific name for the squirrel family — deserve more than just a single day of appreciation, so mark your calendars for this year’s Squirrel Week, April 8 through 14 in my column.

Happy Squirrel Appreciation Day. May you find yourself surrounded by nuts.

How will you celebrate Squirrel Appreciation Day? Let us know in the comments, and we’ll join you.

By  |  02:22 PM ET, 01/20/2012

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