By Tatyana Nyborg
The mornings at my 12 acre oak forested property in north Mannford start with a glance thru the kitchen window. First, I check the weather and temperature on the outside termometer. Then, thru the window, I see wild birds or animals, which come to our backyard foraging for food. In the beginning of January, a gorgeous, rust color squirrrel with a bushy tail was wandering around. First, it jumped and sat on a blue and white basketball lying on the ground. Then, the squirrel ran a few yards, jumped and sat on a bicycle seat for a while. Both objects belong to my 14 year old son.
What made a squirrel want to interact with human belongings? Was it playing with the basketball or bike? Another day, I was walking around the property taking pictures for my photography class. I was looking for interesting scenes, composition, colors, shapes or details. I spotted a large nest made from dried oak leaves on the very top of a tall tree. The nest could be of a large size bird; maybe, a crow or a hawk. Someone suggested that it was a squirrel’s nest. I found that, indeed, squirrels build leaf nests as wells as nests in tree cavities.
Squirrels may breed twice a year, usually closer to January and June, and have a 30-45 day gestation. They usually have two or three offspring, which are born hairless, and weaned at 10–12 weeks. An average adult squirrel must eat about a pound of food a week to survive. They consume birdseed, corn, spring bulbs, tree buds, frogs, small birds, eggs, insects, fruits, conifer cones, and nuts. Squirrels store or hide food in many caches, which they always able to find later.
This fact is indicative of their good memory. The extraordinary memory is a part of this animal’s incredible intelligence. I would say their intelligence is close to a cat’s. When the squirrrel was jumping on the basketball and the bike, it acted similar to a cat, learning and exploring while searching for food. A cat’s mind sometimes is compared to the brain of a three year old child. Are squirrels as intelligent as three year old kids? It is possible. However, the Internet is loaded with ads of pest control companies warning how bad squirrels can be. They “carry diseases like encephalitis and typhus.” One pest control company blames squirrels and other rodents “in 25-50 per cent of all fires of unknown origin,” because the rodents “gnaw electric wires.” No argument that squirrels access homes, attics and crawlspaces.
When I worked as an outside advertising sales representative, my customer, a Mannford business owner, complained once that a squirrel entered her home through an open window and that she had difficulty chasing it and removing the animal from her house. But I also know that squirrels can be wonderful pets if they are treated properly. When I was a child, my neighbor and friend had a small pet squirrel. I remember the squirrel was fun and happy. After it ate nuts, it jumped in a wheel and ran joyfully in the wheel.
Squirrels, though wild, respond to kindness and can become tamed. My middle sister, when she was 12 years old, visited a famous pine tree resort in Kazakhstan (Russian speaking country). The greatest impression she brought back from her trip was observing wild squirrels, so tame that they ate from people’s hands. At Woodward Park in Tulsa, Oklahoma, wild squirrels seem friendly and glad to take potato chips from humans. It takes a lot of effort for squirrels to survive in busy car traffic and the hot summers of Oklahoma. Some volunteers help squirrels pull through challenges. A Coyle, Oklahoma, resident, Annette Conley, provided food and ice water to squirrels every day during 100 degree summers. Once, a squirrel approached an ice water cup and laid on it out of exhaustion, before it drank the water. Conley took a picture of the squirrel and shared it with TV station KFOR. The photo can be viewed on www.grist.org under headline It Is So Hot in Oklahoma That This Squirrel Melted.