D.C. Squirrel Week: Are they craftier than we realize?

John Kelly
Columnist April 4, 2011

Consider the squirrel’s tiny face: fur, nose, whiskers, beady eyes. Frankly, it is not a visage capable of conveying emotion. Squirrels do not pout, sneer, leer. Yet we are often convinced that we know exactly how a squirrel feels — or at least how a squirrel feels about us.

Gary and Paula Milchak live in an Alexandria apartment complex. Every day when he got home, Gary would feed the neighborhood squirrels peanuts from his car trunk. “There was one squirrel that must have known what time he got home, because he was always waiting: up on his haunches with his paws in front of him looking for my husband,” Paula wrote.

John Kelly writes "John Kelly's Washington," a daily look at Washington's less-famous side. Born in Washington, John started at The Post in 1989 as deputy editor in the Weekend section. View Archive

Awwww. Idn’t dat cute? It was, until the day Gary ran out of peanuts and a squirrel looking for nuts left tiny footprints all over his trunk. “Pretty smart critter to know which car had the treats,” Paula wrote. But as Gary did not want his car scratched by tiny toenails, he didn’t buy any more peanuts.

“About a week later, he noticed little pools of pee on the trunk,” Paula wrote.

Take that, ungrateful human!


Olney’s Carol Wilson is engaged in a never-ending battle to keep squirrels from eating her bird seed. Recently she was able to position a bird feeder in such a way that squirrels are not able to hang off any branches to reach it. “If they landed on the top [of the feeder], they usually slid off,” Carol wrote. “They tried to chew through it, to no avail.”

One particular squirrel, after many unsuccessful assaults on the feeder, climbed on to the trellis from which it was hung. Wrote Carol: “It turned its backside towards the feeder and started to urinate — a stream at first, but then it very forcibly sprayed its urine towards the feeder, letting me know how it felt about the new feeder.”

Arlington’s Susan Osburn was heartbroken when a handsome succulent sempervivum plant she had nicknamed “Frosty” was eaten down to a nub by neighborhood squirrels, just one casualty caused by the rodents digging in her planters. Though the man at the garden center told her that “nothing stops squirrels,” Susan bought some foul-smelling repellent to apply to her remaining plants. It slowed the critters down — but ticked them off.

“One day a squirrel sat on the railing of the back porch, outdoors but only about eight feet from my computer chair,” Susan wrote. “He glared at me for a while and then launched himself straight at the window and landed spread-eagled on the screen! He stayed there long enough to make his message clear: ‘I know that you are the person putting bad smells on our digging spots! I’ll get you, my pretty!’

“His hostility and energy were, frankly, delightful.”

Thomas Murphy was walking in New York’s Central Park one day when a squirrel blocked his path. “Each time I walked around, it ran back in front of me, planted its feet, and stared,” he wrote. “It was not going to let me get by.”

The squirrel eventually scampered off to the side, but as Thomas started walking, it again scurried in front of him. It repeated this several times.

The squirrel seemed to want Thomas to follow it. “So I did. It led me off the walk to a nearby tree and stopped under it next to a second squirrel which lay unmoving, except for blinking its eyes and twitching its nose.

“When it saw me looking at the second squirrel, the first ran off; I never saw it again.”

Against his better judgment, Thomas picked up the injured squirrel and took it to a park employee.

Sara Walker of Laurel has a friend from Silver Spring who swears this is true: Her friend Dick had a crab apple tree in his yard. So did his next-door neighbor. A mother squirrel built a nest in the neighbor’s tree and gave birth to three babies. “One day as Dick was looking out the window, he saw the mama squirrel moving her babies to his tree,” Sara wrote. “He wondered why. The next day, men came and cut down the neighbor’s crab apple tree! We decided that mama squirrel was sitting on the phone line and ‘heard’ the call to the tree cutters. Got any better theories?”

Greek to me

I got my Greek backward Monday: Skia means shadow and oura means tail, not vice versa. For more on Sciuridae — the scientific family of squirrels — visit www.washingtonpost.com/washingtology or follow #DCSquirrelWeek on Twitter.

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