August 30. 2018 10:30AM

'Never seen this many' dead gray squirrels says NH Fish and Game biologist

By KEVIN LANDRIGAN
New Hampshire Union Leader


There are more dead squirrels than usual along New Hampshire roads.

Fish and Game Wildlife Biologist Rob Calvert found this out firsthand when he decided to be extra observant as he started up Interstate 89 Wednesday morning in Concord and took Exit 6. He was on his way to put up his agency’s tables at the Hopkinton Fair.

“We had 76 splats of dead squirrels in the road that we could count going both ways.” Calvert said. “It was pretty amazing.”

The Department of Transportation officials said more than 100 squirrels have been struck recently on the Spaulding Turnpike in Rochester alone. Squirrels have also been killed in large numbers on the Everett Turnpike, I-93 and I-293 around Manchester, officials said.

“I have never seen this many gray squirrels that are dead.” Calvert said.

The reasons and theories for this are numerous. They started more than a year ago when the state had bumper crops of acorns and pine cones in 2017, Calvert said.

Biologists say the booming acorn harvests led to more young squirrels surviving New Hampshire’s last winter. And now, these furry creatures have become obsessed in their hunt for food they can store away for the next cold snap, Calvert said.

Jim Frohn, Grafton County forester with the UNH Extension, said he has been noticing more roadkill.

“Acorn crops tend to be highly variable, with a huge amount of acorns some years, and very few in other years. Studies show that during bumper-crop years which occur on average two out of 10 years, there can be more than 250,000 acorns per acre,” Frohn wrote in a recent post on the UNH extension website.

“That translates into more than five acorns per square foot. During poor years, there may be only 20,000 to 65,000 acorns per acre or an average of one acorn per square foot.”

Fish and Game experts have also noticed squirrels are so numerous that they are snacking on food they were never interested in before.

“I have had my fruit trees taken to task by squirrels more than ever,” said Calvert, who lives in Newbury.

“They will take bites out of peaches that are as hard as baseballs. I have never seen until this summer squirrels go after my high bush blueberry bushes, but they are all over them. It’s like a feeding frenzy,” Calvert said.

State biologists agree that this over-population has gotten to the point that squirrels are behaving more erratically and are more likely to cross roads to try to get fed.

“Their movement patterns would certainly indicate as with our grays that they are searching for food and whether it’s smart or not, they will cross roads to do that,” Calvert said.

There is some belief that more squirrels may mean more disease. Calvert is one of those biologists who note it may be significant that squirrels are susceptible to West Nile virus.

For the first time in six years, Manchester began spraying for West Nile virus this week; health officials have confirmed nine batches of mosquitoes with it.

“Whether or not there is some malady that is affecting this phenomenon we do not know, but it’s worth considering,” Calvert said.

This Saturday begins hunting season for gray squirrels. It runs through the end of next January. Calvert says the hunt may thin the squirrel herd, but not enough to notice for at least a few weeks.

“I think you will see less of these sights due more to the roadkill and its impact,” Calvert said.

klandrigan@unionleader.com