Storyville: Exclusive interview with a traveling squirrel

Squirrel, Birdfeeder, ©Colleen M. Dougher, The Invisible Fly

I spotted this squirrel chowing down on seeds at the backyard bird feeder and could have sworn it was the same prankster I'd seen there earlier this week  ... but as I approached, she explained (rather rapidly) that she was an out-of-town squirrel who was in the area to mentor downtrodden squirrels. I told her that I didn't recall having seen any downtrodden squirrels and she said that this is a credit to the work she's been doing  -- sharing her expert insights with squirrels who are feeling depressed or hopeless.

Park squirrels, she explained while continuing to snack, are generally pretty happy, but neighborhood squirrels sometimes have trouble accessing the healthy snacks they need to put that extra little bounce in their step. "Studies have shown," she says, "that squirrels who regularly find nuts, fruits and seeds feel happier than squirrels who do not. I'm simply trying to help squirrels maximize their resources and feel better about their lives."

She did seem particularly happy -- even more so than other happy squirrels I've met -- so I decided to help promote her mission by interviewing her. I asked if she could offer three tips for squirrels who may not be quite as happy as she was. Her suggestions:

1. "Relish the thrill of surprise discoveries" (as she demonstrates in the photo above).

2. "If you're having trouble finding snacks, remember that opportunity is everywhere ... on the ground where fruits and seeds fall, and in the trees where even more fruit and seeds can be found. Remember to protect your snacks. Guard them with your life. If you're spotted eating fruit that has fallen to the ground, climb the nearest tree and find a place to secretly eat your snack. You can even bury snacks for later."


3. "If you're still not finding the snacks you need, get creative. For example, try seeking out large groups of happy boisterous neighborhood birds. Somewhere in the middle of all that, there might be a bird feeder ... filled with seeds. If so, shimmy on up that pole and get yourself a snack. If it's slippery, try climbing a nearby tree and leaping onto the feeder, which has he added advantage of immediately clearing the feeder of birds. Once there, indulge. If you see a human approaching and suspect that they're going to cut off your access, freeze in your tracks and don't move an inch.  Maybe they won't see you ... and even if they do, your statue-like presence will likely throw them off.

Squirrel, Shyster, Birdfeeder, ©Colleen M. Dougher, The Invisible Fly

If they have the audacity to question your presence at the bird feeder, imply that you're a rare, endangered Squirrely Bird. By the time they get around to googling this and taking multiple pictures of you on the off chance that you're telling the truth, you will have had sufficient time to complete your snack and -- as any reputable squirrel knows -- snacking is what it's all about."

My chatty bushy-tailed interviewee then offered a fourth suggestion which she described as a bonus tip that she typically only shares with close friends. "I know you only asked for three tips," she explained, "but I like to go out on a limb to help out my fellow squirrels, so in closing, while I finish off my snack here, I offer this very important recommendation: Always return to a yard where you found good snacks because, even though you've stolen seeds meant for birds, and then shystered someone into believing that you're a rare endangered Squirrely Bird, people have come to expect this sort of behavior from squirrels, and many humans have a soft spot for their shystering bushy-tailed friends. It's a fact."

Squirrel shystering
"But fellow squirrels," she concluded, "should be forewarned that not everyone loves us, and some will go out of their way to make us work consistently harder to get snacks. Some will even fork over big bucks for 'squirrel-proof' feeders."

But after years of studying the behavior of humans and their affinity for finding new ways to trick squirrels, this is what she describes as her take-away: "No bird feeder -- I repeat ... NO bird feeder -- is squirrel-proof. Where there is a will, there is a way. Anything is possible. So never ever give up. It's just not what squirrels do."

With that, Ms. Squirrel said she was off to her next mentoring session. "I appreciate the snacks and hope I've been helpful in this story you're writing for the local squirrel community," she added. "Speaking of takeaway, might you have a little sack so I could take some of these seeds along with me? I promise to share them with some of my downtrodden squirrel friends. It's surely certain to cheer them up a wee bit."