Here at the Edge of the Wood we are not sure if the residents organize into pee-wee soccer leagues when our backs are turned, but we do know they are extreme parkour practitioners. Squirrels have padded feet that cushion jumps from up to 20 feet and can run 20 mph. So next time you are choosing up sides for soccer, you might want to look up in a tree and ask a squirrel. Just make sure the ball isn’t made of peanuts.
Squirrels are famous for acrobatic feats of daring in their quest to find food and evade predators. Their claws grip the bark as they race through trees at speeds reaching 10 to 15 mph. These claws are also very useful when someone hasn’t said ‘please’ or ‘thank you’ in front of a fresh batch of peanuts. Remember, good manners will get you far.
How do squirrels climb anything anytime anywhere? Darrin Lunde, a member of the mammalogy department at the American Museum of Natural History was asked by a NYT reader how a squirrel he saw at Yankee Stadium could possibly climb the hard smooth foul ball pole. He replied, “Squirrels find a way; they hug the pole tightly with their foot pads. Squirrels can easily climb down trees headfirst because they can reverse their hind feet to point backward, so they can use their hind claws. Domestic cats cannot do that and thus have trouble climbing down trees.” Well, take that Hello Kitty. This wild turkey seems entranced too.
A few years back, a BBC television series called Daylight Robbery featured squirrels performing hair-raising stunts worthy of the eight actors who played James Bond. The producers claimed their star was just an average squirrel off the street. Could this program have been the beginning of the reality show craze? We here at the edge of the wood know that no squirrels would sink that low. We often wonder why humans do. Here is our little star sharing a quiet moment with a red-bellied woodpecker amongst the green swan plant blooms and the pebbly osage orange and leafy eucalyptus.
Here at the edge of the wood we notice that all the animals have a super human/super hero sense of what is around them. The squirrels are in tune with the woods. They know the comings and goings of their neighbors, especially the predators. Are they completely defenseless? The California ground squirrel can heat up its tail, wave it in face of a predator that hunts with infrared, and confuse it (think snakes). This allows time for a Ninja-like get away. Scientists Aaron Rundus and Donald Owings said after making this discovery, “It taught us to focus on the perceptual world of the animal… rather than thinking only of human perceptions.” Thus, thinking like a squirrel may one day save you from a snake. Here they are among the new rhododendron flowers having a frisky morning.
Here at the feeder we notice many lovely tails. What do the squirrels use such long tails for? Research has indicated the longer the tail the more airborne feats of daring, thus flying squirrels have the longest and ground squirrels the shortest. We see the tail as an emotional barometer. Fear means a tail compact to the body, flight means a tail extended and ready for action. The displeasure tail is one that whips quickly from side to side, often accomplanied by a stare that could kill. But a happy tail is upright and fluffy like a flag waving gently in the breeze. Here we have a squirrel using superior tail balance to swoop down and sniff the impatiens.
Yes the squirrels, birds, and chipmunks seem to enjoy the spring. The chill of winter is behind them and it is time for a little fun. Food becomes more abundant, and everyone’s mind turns to love. Here at the edge of the wood we notice the playfulness around the feeder. The squirrels are storing some of the food instead of immediately consuming it. We see them digging small holes and inserting a peanut or sunflower seed. Squirrels can remember hundreds of these caches and this survival technique helps the earth by dispersing seeds widely. So remember, the next time you see a giant tree, maybe it was a squirrel that actually planted it. Here they are among the tulips, forsythia, and daffodils jumping for joy.
In the words of anthropologist Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, for animals “…there are just two seasons- winter and nonwinter.” The winter of 2010-2011 was particularly harsh in the northeast. Here at the edge of the wood we stocked up our bird feeders and placed extra on the ground for the larger birds. But who showed up instead? A band of acrobatic squirrels capable of ground and air assaults on any bird feeder any time. We admire them for their stunning maneuvers, tenacious spirit, and social networking skills….old school style. So we set up our camera and tried to see what would could find out.