Friday, October 7, 2011

I’m No Jane Goodall

I just broke up a squirrel fight.

I’ve seen squirrels fuss at each other before and give serious chase to an offender. But this was the first time I’ve witnessed two squirrels standing on their hind legs, face-to-face, while punching, clawing and biting each other. I yelled at them. Rather, I yelled at one to “Leave Stubby alone!”

Stubby, or The Stubster, is the gray squirrel I’ve been watching since Spring, so named because of his unusually short tail. He lives on the street’s edge in the canopy of an old oak tree next door to us. I’ve seen him IN the street once, but I don’t think he ever crosses it.

He started coming to our yard when we installed the bird feeders. Stubby’s never attempted to take seed from the feeders, a typical squirrel behavior that infuriates birders. He’s content to eat what the birds toss to the ground. Two or three Mourning Doves often join him for his repast.

I enjoy watching stubby “run” across the yard. He doesn’t move the way normal squirrels do. He’s more bunnyish—his stride is a little hoppy, his walk a little wobbly. He traverses almost as much vertical space as he does horizontal. The overall effect is Adorable x 10.

Except things have changed with the onset of Autumn. The neighborhood is FILLED with squirrels. Granted, the neighborhood is also filled with oak trees, but we seem to have a critical population explosion of the bushy-tailed. And a number of them have taken up residence in The Stubster’s tree.

I may not see him for days at a time now.

Last week a squirrel was hit by a car not far from Stubby’s home base. I panicked when I first noticed the body on the pavement. I moved closer for a better look: The tail attached to the unfortunate creature was long and full and not Stubby’s unique diminutive tail. Relief! (Then guilt for feeling relief.)

I’ve seen The Stubster behind our building twice now—well beyond his usual territory. What’s more, I spotted him on a telephone wire the other day. Typical for squirrels, right? But not for The Stubster. He had a terrible time keeping his balance up there. With each move forward, his rump would sway left or right and off the cable. I could hardly watch.

I know nothing about squirrel society, yet I suspect Stubby catches some flak for being different. In turn, he behaves oddly. This afternoon while other squirrels were industriously secreting away one acorn after another, Stubby would start to bury his single acorn, then think better of it. He repeated this digging-abandoning all over the yard, then along the driveway, next under three different bushes, and finally in the backyard where I lost track of him. I presume he was taking extra safety precautions to protect his treasures, but if he gives this treatment to each acorn, Stubby’s going to starve before Winter takes hold.

My concern for Stubby’s woes proves once again to me that I would fail miserably at field research. I have the observation skills, but not the objectivity. I can’t not intervene whenever trouble rises. I will always champion the voiceless and the underdog.

Or, as in the case of The Stubster, the undersquirrel.

[Pics are from Etsy, where you may find a gray squirrel of your own.]

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