Stacey Cole's Nature Talks: Reader extends welcome mat to all wild creatures
In nearly 51 years of receiving letters from readers, they have discussed all manner of wild creatures. I cannot recall one who expressed such a passion for squirrels and all other animals that enjoy this gentleman's hospitality. The six-page, fully illustrated letter, with an additional seven full-page photographs without text, I'll let speak for itself. I quote: "I have been feeding squirrels, chipmunks, birds and everything else that eats from feeders in my back yard for the past 35 years. During this time I have drastically changed my opinion on squirrels. Everyone seems to dislike them because they disturb the bird feeders and prevent birds from feeding. I still have my bird feeders and woodpecker feeders in place hanging from branches of a tree situated in the middle of my deck.
"Since I have a large deck on the back of my home) I decided to try an experiment about 20 years ago. In addition to regular feeders, every morning I take one scoop of bird seed mixed with sunflower seeds and place about 30 small piles of food about a foot apart on railings and on top of the picnic table seats. During the winter I also have a heated bowl of water so they can all drink.
"From that day on, I had a new view of all the birds and animals. All species have a dominant one and everyone else takes a place behind. When the dominant squirrel approaches my deck, it goes to the pile of feed that he wants. If another squirrel has it, he may take it or go to another. Once that squirrel starts to eat the pile (mainly sunflower seeds), he does not leave that pile unless he is finished. It then moves on to another pile. In the meantime, it's mate or another squirrel may be eating the pile right next to him. All the squirrels come in pairs.
"They usually eat the piles close to each other and stay close when searching for another pile to eat. I believe they nest for life. If there are a number of squirrels feeding, then I believe either the male was killed, or as your article (February 2, re: how gray squirrels build leaf nests) mentioned, the mother was taking care of the young. I have never witnessed a single squirrel bothering one of the other pairs. The most gray squirrels I remember seeing at one time on my deck was 23. During the winter I average 6 to 10 squirrels. Usually at daylight. The only time I have ever seen squirrels chasing each other was when they are twitterpated and looking for a mate. I do not believe they infringe on another's mate.
"I did try a few experiments with feeding. On occasion I will place a shelled walnut piece on top of each pile. The squirrel will always eat the walnut first and then finish the pile. It will then go to the next pile and do the same. When the Blue Jays arrive, they eat the walnut and so on. In amongst the squirrels are the chipmunks, red squirrels, blue jays, doves and all the other birds.
"The pigeons become a problem at times because they come en masse and devour all of the food in a short time and leave nothing behind for the others. If I notice this, I will wait for a period of time and set out more feed. I realize they are big birds and they have to eat so I leave them alone. In the past five years the pigeon problem has been less of a problem due to the arrival of the Peregrine Falcon.
"This bird is not afraid of anything or anyone. If I walk outside he keeps looking at me and continues picking off the feathers. When finished he leaves only a pile of feathers. As you can see in the following pictures, the squirrels seem a little apprehensive, but they keep on eating. Evidently pigeons are the Falcon's favorite. He doesn't seem to bother the doves.
"Many years ago I was given a baby squirrel that was attacked by a cat and had no hair on him. We raised the squirrel (Max) and when he was old enough we set him free on the back porch. He would always come back and would hang on the door screen until we let him in. We fed him nuts by hand on the couch. One day on my birthday he was on the couch when he noticed my birthday cake on the kitchen table. He looked at us and made a dash for the kitchen. He then jumped up and did a belly flop on the cake. So much for the cake. I don't think he ate any. We were too busy scrambling to notice. If we left the back door open, he would come in for a visit. After he had a mate, Max would try to coax her into the kitchen. She'd come to the door opening, but would stop. Max tried hard. She never did."
Our Manchester reader included several more interesting experiences that I could not squeeze into this column. He concluded his letter with the following quote: "Squirrels are special and have personalities all their own. Just like us. I have many other stories, but I will end here."
Stacey Cole's address is 529 W. Swanzey Road, Swanzey.