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April 6, 2003

Posted by Teresa at 08:07 AM *

You know those fire-escape chain/rung ladders? We’ve had one sitting out on our fire escape proper, in its original corrugated cardboard box.

Yesterday a squirrel took a liking to the box. I think he must be building a nest somewhere. He began by rather timidly stripping the top layer off the corrugation on one end of the carton. At intervals all afternoon he was out there working, right outside our bedroom window, getting bolder and more emphatic in his depredations as the day wore on. It was better than a zoo.

I expected he’d wind up taking the whole corner off the box on the end furthest from the window. I was wrong. As of this morning, what we have sitting out on the fire escape is a naked, unboxed chain/rung ladder. He took the whole damned thing. The only bits of cardboard that remain are some areas that were pinned between the ladder and the fire escape proper.

That squirrel is an industrious little monster. Now I’m wondering where he’s building that nest.

Comments on Enterprise:
#1 ::: Elric ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2003, 08:27 AM:

I'd wonder what else it could be going for. ("Nice clothesline you got there. Shame if anything happened to it....")

#2 ::: John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2003, 09:39 AM:

Not only industrious—very territorial. In our back yard is a tall elm that needed to be trimmed last fall because of brittle limbs coming down unexpectedly.

The day after we had the guy trim the tree I was ambling around, and one of the three squirrels living inside the hollow half-way up the trunk came out to bark at me. And I mean bark! A sharp, rasping cough. He hung over the lips of the hollow, like a guy in a tank top yelling from his apartment window at street kids.

I had always heard that sound and assumed it came from crows or some other local bird. I barked back for several minutes and felt like we had established a rapport.

(For all I know, he was calling me a right-wing eco-terrorist.)

#3 ::: Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2003, 03:24 PM:

The squirrels in Chicago and St. Louis were pretty much your usual urban packrats. But, on the insanity level, they just didn't compare to the squirrels of Winston-Salem, NC. These squirrels has another name.

Fuseable Links.

They *loved* chewing on transformers. And, frequently, they'd take one bite too many. Then, bzapp, out go the lights. It got to the point were we started putting our alarm clocks on a UPS, and we'd always bring coffee out to the lineman who had to clean up flash-fried squirrel bits, and redo the wiring.

Every so often, the squirrel would bit it in just the right way, and the tranformer would short. Usually, this resulted in a very interesting whistle as the coolant became vapor and leaked out. Once, the whole thing went BANG, and rained down little transformer bits.

We brought biscuits and coffee for that lineman. He was amazed. "Folks, it'll be a while before you have power. Heck, it'll be a bit before you can get your car out (wires had fallen across the driveway.) I know I have to replace the transformer, but I might need to replace the pole."

(Thankfully, no PCBs were involved.)

They tried everything to stop the madness. Anything they put to keep the squirrles from running along the wire to the transformer, they got around.

I wasn't there when the family moved out, but my father, to his dying day, swears that, as they pulled out for the very last time, "bzapp." He didn't get out to check to see if the power was off. He just drove away, away from the land of the Mad Squirrels.

#4 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2003, 02:24 AM:

My mother dealt for some years with Suicidal Squirrels addicted to the taste of ozone. I think she eventually convinced the power company to bury the line from her house to the pole, and while one or two determined enthusiasts actually dug for it, the rest of them went back to robbing her peach trees.

In the innocent amusement category, under 'Recent Electrolite posts:' we now find...

Of course,
I've long been
Josh Marshall's

#5 ::: Jane Yolen ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2003, 06:17 AM:

We have pink snow. That is we have starlings who have enlarged holes originally made by squirrels
in the roof skirting, then tossed out bits of the pink insulation as they make their nests. This has gone on for years. We patch, they tear, we patch, they tear. It's almost amusing.


#6 ::: Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2003, 09:31 AM:

I saw the announcement of PNH being 0wnZ0Red by Josh Marshall -- and I see a challenge...

John M. Ford writes:
Airport World.

Well, Mike?

#7 ::: Ian Osmond ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2003, 10:27 AM:

You must remember this story; I hope that this brave tree-rodent has his story told over and over; he must never be forgotten.

It was a spring day at Brandeis university several years ago. But none of the humans knew that there was a great danger festering underground. One squirrel knew. And knew that he must take drastic action.

A leak had sprung in an underground natural gas tank, and it was slowly seeping into the area around the main power substation at Brandeis University. This little fellow knew he had to find some way of alerting the humans to the danger. What could he do?

He nobly sacrificed himself -- he used his furry little body to short out two wires on the high-tension transmission wires, catching himself on
fire. Then he plummeted twenty feet to the gas leak where is flaming carcas lit the escaping gas on fire, leaving a five-foot tall, four-foot
diameter ring of blue flame, looking like "God's own gas range." After firefighters put out the blaze, they entered into the substation, and
found gas fumes so heavy they couldn't breathe. One spark would have caused a fireball that would blown up most of the campus.

That squirrel saved Brandeis University.

#8 ::: Masinger ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2003, 11:16 AM:

My 7 year old and I are great watchers of urban wildlife, and squirrels are among the most rewarding as well as among the most visible in our part of Queens (though the little bush that had about a dozen sparrows in it on Saturday was every interesting--there were two females and a whole lot of males hopping around in there, and there aren't enough leaves yet to hide their activities, lol). The squirrels have very little fear of humans; many of them are being fed by people, either directly or indirectly (from what we've seen or been told).

Anyway, one day last week we watched a squirrel take apart a Macy's shopping bag and ferry it and chunks of styrofoam across out from under a hedge, across a sidewalk, up a tree, and down a hole at the top of the main trunk, where a branch had been lost a couple of years back. That we were standing about no more than two feet away from all this bothered the squirrel not a whit; we could have been invisible for all the impact we had on it.

I also watched a squirrel build a nest last fall on the top of a fire escape. This squirrel was quite a gymnast. It started on the ground, ran up a thin, straight, vertical iron fencepost, then along the curved bars at the top of the fence, as if they were railroad ties, then a leap to a brick ledge, from the ledge to the bottom of the fire escape. It sort-of climbed the fire escape, going about halfway up each flight of steps before leaping to the next platform. the building was about 6 or 7 stories tall, and the nest was on the topmost platform. Going back to the ground for more nesting material, the squirrel took the fire escape steps the whole way to the bottom (watching it race around the platforms from stairway to stairway was really funny), where it reversed the rest of the trip. In the 6 or 7 repetitions of this journey that I watched, it always went up the fence on the same vertical.

We are still wondering if the local black squirrel made it through the winter; we haven't seen it yet. We only have one, which is either a local mutation or a refugee from Stuyvesant Town, which is where most of the black squirrels in NYC live.

#9 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2003, 03:23 PM:

Davey and I visited War for the Oaks sites some years ago; we were more-or-less mugged by local wildlife (a mixture of squirrels and geese). We complained to the author that the book should have warned us; she said "Yeah, the squirrels in Loring Park all wear black leather jackets."

I can just see a new intercity rivalry: "My city's squirrels can beat your city's squirrels!"

#10 ::: Simon ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2003, 04:53 PM:

"My city's squirrels can beat your city's squirrels" may be a candidate as Minnesota's successor to "My state's governor can beat up your state's governor."

#11 ::: tavella ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2003, 08:33 PM:

You know, I now have a vision of some of the chain and bars disappearing, and a few days later there's a small squirrel mecha stomping down the avenue...

#12 ::: Stephanie Zvan ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2003, 08:34 PM:

Well, I hate to start it, but I was in Minneapolis when I saw the squirrel pushing something almost as large as it was ahead of it up the sapling. It held the mystery item in its mouth and balanced it against the trunk of the tree. It had to stop every foot or so to readjust the weight, and there were two or three false starts when it dropped the thing before it made it up to the first tree limb.

But it finally got where it was going and started munching away. That was when I stepped in closer and fully understood what I had just witnessed. That little bugger had gone to all that trouble to protect from the other neighborhood squirrels nothing less than a full leg of fried chicken. I didn't ask where it had gotten the thing; I just moved slowly away from the tree.

We also have a bunch of educated squirrels at the local university. They're quite clear on the fact that they get a lot more Corn Nuts by charging and/or biting the hand that holds the bag than they do by being patiently cute.

#13 ::: Lis ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2003, 09:24 PM:

Educated squirrels?

I once saw a squirrel on the bike racks at MIT; he was running back and forth from bike to bike and definitely scrutinizing the locks. I think he tried his paws on a few before he noticed us watching him, at which point he scampered off...

If I had seen it anyplace else, I might've thought it was just cute random behavior, but the fact it happened on the MIT campus made me REAL nervous...

#14 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2003, 10:16 PM:

If a bunch of squirrels do something really awful to Harvard, then we'll know.

#15 ::: Rachel Heslin ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2003, 10:31 PM:

My parents' problem was raccoons. Mom couldn't sleep one night because she heard something from the attic. She went outside to find a raccoon on the roof, very neatly removing shingles and stacking them to create an entrance to the attic.

Mom threw some pebbles at it, and it went to the other side of the house. Mom went threw the house to the back yard and found it working on that side, so she threw more pebbles. Of course, it just headed back to the front, so Mom went to the front and threw still more pebbles. This went on for at least 10 minutes until the raccoon decided it had had enough and went away.

And someday, I may tell the story about The Clicking Noise Under The Bed.... (not about a raccoon.)

#16 ::: Kurt Montandon ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2003, 12:42 AM:

Squirrels of any breed are indisputably evil.

Or, at the very least, too aggressively clever for their own good. I recall that the big bushy-tailed grey squirrels at Burney Falls would, if you sat down at a bench, run right up your leg, onto your stomach, and glare at you ... whether you had anything to feed them or not. If you did, the passage of peanuts from human to squirrel was a given, not a negotiable option.

Chipmunks are far preferable in the Cute Fuzzy Critter category:

I'm pretty sure that chipmunks aren't conspiring to enslave or destroy humanity, but I have no such confidence as to squirrels.

#17 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2003, 10:29 AM:

I miss chipmunks. It's been years, literally, since I've seen any in New York. I assume that they were driven out or eradicated by a combination of forces--the burgeoning squirrel population, the large flocks of marauding crows, feral animals, etc. I hadn't quite realized how chipmunk-free life had become, though, until my daughter and I went on vacation somwhere, a chipmunk crossed our path, and the kid said, "what's that?" She'd recognized the deer we'd seen minutes earlier . . . .

I was hoping that the drop in crow population in recent years, thanks to West Nile virus, might enable chipmunks to return, but so far there's been no sign of the little critters, and a couple of days ago I heard and saw a small murder of crows on the opposite roof. I hate to say that I was pleased about a disease, but West Nile almost eliminating the crow population in New York was a truly wonderful thing. The next spring after the big die-off, there were songbirds _everywhere_.

#18 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2003, 01:32 PM:

A friend of mine once saw a squirrel who'd been trapped in a Manhattan courtyard (if you can call it such when there was no means of entry or egress to or from it)for several days stalk, kill, and devour a pigeon.

#19 ::: Emmet ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2003, 02:30 PM:

Chipmunks are inordinately cute, I saw my first last year, in the Botanical Gardens in Montreal. I do not find the way they bounce along plausible, though. I just don't. Every time I see the things, I keep looking for those odd differences in light levels that give away all but the very best blue-screen projection. It's a very odd feeling to be staring down at a small furry animal thinking "You just broke my suspension of disbelief. Who edited you anyway ?"

Other really cool first-time-seen this side of the pond thing on that visit to the Botanical Gardens were red-winged blackbirds. That's a butterfly colour, not a temperate-climate bird colour. I'm surprised they're not called cardinal's guards.

And as weird animal stories go, my sister has a not very bright cat called Arafat, which I have seen get completely confused by a sizable hedgehog; said creature ambled across the garden, ate everything in the cat's dish, and ambled off again, snugly ignoring the cat that was following it, running around and around it, and every now and again tapping it with a paw and recoiling with the visual equivalent of a yelp.

#20 ::: Emmet ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2003, 02:31 PM:

That should be "smugly ignoring the cat". Drat.

#21 ::: Lis ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2003, 02:57 PM:

Every time I see the things, I keep looking for those odd differences in light levels that give away all but the very best blue- screen projection. It's a very odd feeling to be staring down at a small furry animal thinking "You just broke my suspension of disbelief. Who edited you anyway ?"

Have you ever seen a hummingbird up close? They sound and move like something CGI-animated. A very quiet thrumming noise, and they move at right angles - up, left, hover, down... Really amazing...

#22 ::: Ian Osmond ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2003, 03:04 PM:

A friend of mine once saw a squirrel who'd been trapped in a Manhattan courtyard [. . . ] for several days stalk, kill, and devour a pigeon.

Thus demonstrating once again that the supposed line between "herbivore" and "carnivore" is far fuzzier than most people suspect. Deer will eat meat, if they can get it. I've heard that the Mongols would feed their ponies meat.

#23 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2003, 06:19 PM:

If you like chipmunks, check out this piece of art:

I'm especially fond of the black-and-white vignette along the bottom margin.

Emmet, red-winged blackbirds were the first bird I ever learned to draw -- epaulets! -- and one of the first ones I learned to spot. They live along riverbottoms all over this continent.

#24 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2003, 08:44 PM:

Not that I expect many of you are following this thread now; but the squirrel has gone on to dissect various other backyard items, including part of a crocheted rug that was hung out to air. I'm starting to wonder at the sheer mass of material he's carried off. How big is a normal squirrel's nest? Have I got a surreptitiously polygamous squirrel, desperately trying to find enough materials to support multiple nests so his asst'd mates won't get wise to him? Or is he, in the grip of some mad inspiration, busy building the squirrel equivalent of the Tower of Babel or the Great Pyramids?

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