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April 13, 2008

Bury my acorns at Wounded Knee
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 05:55 PM * 87 comments

The silver and the russet-gold were fighting for the crown
The silver beat the russet-gold all around town.
Some gave them white bread, and some gave them brown;
Some gave them acorns and drummed them out of town.

The British red squirrel has been under threat from the American grey squirrel for about a century. Grey squirrels, first brought to England as exotic animals, were released into the wild around the beginning of the twentieth century. Their range has increased steadily since then.

The threat is serious. The American grey generally outcompetes the smaller red, eating a wider variety of foods and breeding better under stress. And where the newcomer appears, the native vanishes. There are no more red squirrels in the Home Counties.

Who killed Red Squirrel?
I, said the pox, did;
Of the native got rid.
I killed Red Squirrel.

With the irony that only history is capable of, the grey squirrel is also using a plague to reduce the red population and clear the ecosystem for colonization. Many greys carry squirrel parapoxvirus, familiarly known as squirrel pox. The greys have antibodies to the virus, and seem unaffected by it, but reds are entirely vulnerable. Within a fortnight of becoming infected, most are dead.

Sing a song of virus
Eyelids itch with pox.
Soon a lifeless squirrel’s
Packed in a box.
When the box was posted
The postie wouldn’t say.
Due to unforseen delay
He left it Saturday.

Squirrel pox is already endemic in England and Wales. Antibodies have recently been found in grey squirrels in the Scottish Borders, so the disease is known to be heading north. To assist in mapping the spread, the public is requested to send any dead red squirrels in for autopsy. Instructions for packing the dead squirrel are available on the internet.

It is particularly important to note that one should ensure it arrives on a weekday - a dead squirrel must not sit in the letter box over the weekend.”

Ring a ring o’rowan
Whither are ye goin’?
A scritching! A scratching!
We all fall dead!

It may not be possible to save the red squirrel on mainland Britain. The grey seems unstoppable, despite anything humans and other animals can do. Some have proposed abandoning the mainland effort and concentrating on island populations, which are easier to defend from the invasive grey.

But even this may fail. In a generation, the British red squirrel may be no more than a ghost, or a memory.

My heart’s in the Highlands, my heart is aye now free,
My heart’s in the Highlands a-climbing a tree
Climbing the pine tree, and nibbling at the yew;
My heart’s in the Highlands, though my time is through.

(All nursery rhymes are from A Kit’s Forest of Verses, attributed to the legendary Sciuric bard, S. Nutkin)

Comments on Bury my acorns at Wounded Knee:
#1 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2008, 07:16 PM:

When I were a lad, you could see both red and grey squirrels in the
parks of London, though the grey outnumbered the red. And now there are
none. This is beyond sad.

#2 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2008, 07:40 PM:

Think of it as just revenge for the burning of Washington during the
War of 1812, just like the seasonal crop rotation burning of Mexican
fields to pollute Texas with the smoke is revenge for Texan

#3 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2008, 07:42 PM:

I do realize that this is a serious matter and a real problem, but
the instructions on packing a dead squirrel for shipment reminded me
irresistibly of the US Post Office's How to Pack a Hippo (scroll about 2/3 of the way down the page).

#4 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2008, 07:51 PM:

Mary Aileen, shouldn't those packing instructions come with something about a 'Mug Old Fashioned Root Beer' at the end?

#5 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2008, 07:59 PM:

One of the myriad reasons why I dislike the demagogues in Congress
who rail against earmarks is that a very serious program to prevent
brown tree snakes from getting into Hawai'i from Guam is constantly
under attack as "pork." (Effect of that snake on Guam's ecology,
infrastructure, bird and human populations here.)

Invasive species are not a joke, no matter what stupid politicians seem to think.

#6 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2008, 08:36 PM:

The Eastern Greys have out-competed the Western Greys in my part of
the country; the little Douglas Squirrels and Northern Flying Squirrels
survive because they exploit different species for food and nesting

The Eastern Grey Squirrels take a toll on my budget and sanity, too;
I've been driven to using double baffles on all my feeders, and even
then one squirrel has learned to launch it off the roof and hit the
suet box assemblage at an angle which, eventually, knocks the wire box
on the ground. Eventually because I've got an increasingly complex
device or widget or perhaps agglutinating hardware assembledge to hold
the box on to the baffle, and each attack results in more complications
of spring clamp and hook and nut and washer fixing the box to its mount.

#7 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2008, 08:51 PM:

Well, I'm doing my part to keep them here. I feed batches of grey
squirrels along with the birds. The cats and I like watching all of

#8 ::: rm ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2008, 09:08 PM:

My first thought is that it's revenge for the starlings.

But, of course, that's anthropomorphizing and two-wrongs-making-a-righting, and trivializing a real tragedy. I don't want to do any of that. Very depressing.

#9 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2008, 10:26 PM:

Right now we're in a fair dearth of feral cats, which had held the
grey squirrel population down. We've once again got squirrels (or
something like them) in our attic and between-ceiling spaces.

Gonna have to find where we stowed my Have-a-Hart trap and try to
trap them. I suspect (because I can't just kill something in cold
blood, I'm not up to it) that if they're rats I'm still going to
translocate them to 15 miles away to a park and releasing. Besides, I'd
have to get it out of the trap to kill it, not going to happen.

#10 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2008, 11:11 PM:

Linkmeister, #5: Someone needs to sneak into the gardens of all the
politicians involved and plant mint. Preferably multiple varieties. Let
them see for themselves what "invasive species" means!

#11 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2008, 01:15 AM:

Lee @ #10: Kudzu.

#12 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2008, 01:32 AM:

Lee, Linkmeister: Geranium "Claridge Druce."

At least you can kill Kudzu with glycophosphate.

#13 ::: Anna Feruglio Dal Dan ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2008, 02:26 AM:

What I've heard convincingly argued is that the demise of the red
has nothing to do with the grey, and a lot to do with the encroachment
of the red's habitat by humans, pollution, and other anthropic factors.

#14 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2008, 02:42 AM:

Anna @13, or perhaps they're being squeezed between those two
pressures. Either wouldn't be good, the combination might be too much.

#15 ::: dbourne ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2008, 04:20 AM:

Anna @ 13

I've been following the red squirrel / grey squirrel problem in the
UK for nearly 20 years, reading papers in journals and listning at
conferences. Consensus I've heard in both conservation and veterinary
circles is that it IS the grey squirrels, aided by squirrelpox, that
are primarily responsible for the recent rapid decline in red
squirrels. There are areas where red squirrels have been fine for
decades, greys arrive, and, without any sudden change in habitat, reds
rapidly vanish from the area.

It used to be we couldn't understand how greys were out-competing
reds so hugely (larger size and better ability to utilise resources
such as acorns were not sufficient to explain the speed of the effect). Then squirrel pox was discovered - and that makes all the difference.

That's not to say that some of the change in range of red squirrels
hasn't been due to other anthropogenic factors such as changes in
forest types. However, in Continental Europe many of the same factors
apply, but where the grey squirrels have been introduced, without
carrying the squirrel pox, the red are holding their own...

#16 ::: Andy Brazil ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2008, 04:38 AM:

The anthropic argument is unlikely. I can't think of a more
polluted, human-infested place than Victorian London - and yet the Reds
survived just fine into living memory. The virus is the most likely

I've tried several times to see reds in those places where pockets
remain, and dipped out everytime. It's sobering to realise how many
species will be extinct before I manage to see them, and this in the
country that has the best wildlife protection policies on the planet.

#17 ::: martyn44 ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2008, 04:57 AM:

I was watching red squirrels only yesterday, walking distance from my house in Northumberland.

#18 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2008, 05:15 AM:

dbourne @ 15

but where the grey squirrels have been introduced, without carrying the squirrel pox, the red are holding their own...

Could it be that the way to save the red squirrel might be to
develop a vaccine that would produce immunities in the reds without
causing the pox, one that could be sprayed around their habitat and
remain active? Are enough people exercised over the fate of red
squirrels that the effort required to do that might be forthcoming?

And just because I couldn't keep a straight face in the tumbril
headed for Mme. Le Guillotine, I point out that I've always known the
Brits couldn't live with Reds.

#19 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2008, 05:26 AM:

rm @ 8:

My first thought is that it's revenge for the starlings.

Or for the House Sparrow (which was generally known as the "English Sparrow" where I was growing up).

It's been relatively rare for N. American species to be introduced
to Europe, since the traditional trend was for European colonists to
import animals and plants from home.

The role of disease in this makes for an interesting parallel with the role of phylloxera
(a N. American louse introduced when N. American grapes were brought to
Europe for experimental cultivation) in devastating European vineyards.
Most "organisms" are actually constellations of associated symbiotes,
commensalists, and parasites; sometimes it's the latter that cause the
most trouble.

#20 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2008, 05:55 AM:

Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) @ 18

There are two components to this:

1) Develop a vaccine;

2) Develop an effective method for vaccine distribution in the wild squirrel populations.

Unfortunately, so far there is no vaccine. Even if one is developed there will still be the question of vaccine delivery.

There has been a lot of work on oral delivery of vaccines to wild
animals, mainly for rabies control, and it still hasn't been perfected
for all species - you need to develop the best bait, make sure it will
be taken by your target species and not others, make sure it's safe if
handled/eaten by other species, including domestic pets and small
children, and develop an effective distribution strategy.

Or (blue sky thinking) it could be engineered into a virus which is
easily transmitted between squirrels and confers immunity but not
disease. However, that would need to be developed and then you would
need permission to let a modified live virus "loose" in the field...

The considerable difficulties are why so far the emphasis has been
on trying to prevent the grey squirrels from moving into remaining red
squirrel strongholds.

I like the greys, but they are not supposed to be over here and they
are causing serious problems for a native species (unlike some
transplanted animals such as the small colonies of Bennett's wallabies
in various parts of the UK).

Summer 2006 last I spent a fantastic half hour watching some red
squirrels chasing around in Scottish woodland - the first time I'd seen
them in the wild rather than in a zoo. Unfortunately unless there's a
vaccine breakthrough soon, it looks like reds will not survive for many
more years on the British mainland, only on islands which can be kept
free of greys.

#21 ::: Giacomo ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2008, 06:30 AM:

If I had to rely on my anecdotal evidence from the last six years in
Manchester, I'd have to conclude that red squirrels were as real as

Greys are very (VERY) common, almost rats-like in their behaviour,
very aggressive. They seem to thrive in business-park settings
(well-mowed lawns with just a few trees and lots of rubbish being
produced and stored in well-defined, constant places), which is the
dominant landscape feature around here in the new (American?) century.

I'm not sure I like them scavenging our rubbish, but they keep
coming back, so I guess they improve natural recycling... To be honest,
in Italian cities you rarely see ANY type of squirrels, so I can't
really think of them as "bad" anyway.

#22 ::: Giacomo ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2008, 06:45 AM:

dcb @20:

"I like the greys, but they are not
supposed to be over here and they are causing serious problems for
native species (unlike some transplanted animals such as the small
colonies of Bennett's wallabies in various parts of the UK)."

Man, replace "the greys" with "Asian people", and "wallabies" with
"Europeans", and this sentence looks strikingly similar to the BNP
platform (bleurgh). Seriously, why can't we let grey squirrels win and
be done with it? They are clearly stronger from an evolutionary point
of view. I agree that we have to manage/reduce our impact on the
environment, but why messing with natural changes?

#23 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2008, 07:56 AM:

Giacomo @ 22 "why messing with natural changes"

This is NOT a natural change, it's a man-made one. Grey squirrels
did not swim across the Atlantic to colonise the UK, they were imported
by humans. The diminution of the UK's red squirrel population in the
face of grey squirrels and their pox virus is man-made damage just as
much as the mess caused by introduced mammals (and other taxa) on a
wide variety of islands. Try Googling for "invasive species". In my
opinion, humans have a responsibility to mitigate the damage caused to
ecosystems and individual species by human actions.

#24 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2008, 08:13 AM:

Giacomo @ 22

They are clearly stronger from an evolutionary point of view.

I don't agree with this statement. The combination of gray squirrel
plus pox is destroying the red squirrel; it's situations like this that
make the definition of "fittest" in darwinian evolution so difficult.
What's causing the situation is not a direct attribute of either
species, not a "strength" of the grays nor a "weakness" of the reds,
except insofar as they have no immunity to the pox.

I agree that we have to manage/reduce our impact on the environment, but why messing with natural changes?

"Natural" in what sense? Certainly not in the sense that it was no
one's fault, and just part of the blind workings of chance. The reds'
lack of immunity to the pox would be completely moot if humans hadn't
brought grays back from another continent. Humans don't get to just
shrug off the consequences of our actions since we have the ability to
a) recognize them and b) do something about them. Whether we actually
do something in any given case depends on a lot of factors, but none of
them preclude the requirement (in part for the sake of our own
survival) to figure out what happened and what the consequences are
likely to be.

I'll grant that there probably aren't any serious
consequences in this situation for the health, livelihood, and safety
of humans, but what about other such situations: the zebra mussel in
the North American Great Lakes, kudzu in the American south, the
Japanese Borer Beetle in the American west, rabbits in Australia, the
spread of sea lice in the Pacific as a direct result of fish farming?
And there are literally hundreds more such cases. One of the worst is
something that most people are still convinced is as harmless as the
spread of gray squirrels: the introduction of English ivy to the US and
Canada. I have to go out in my yard every few weeks to pull it back so
it won't kill the Douglas Firs and make them come down on my house (one
of them was seriously strangled when I moved in; I cut all the runners
at the base of the tree and it still took six months for the ivy to die all the way back).

#25 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2008, 08:18 AM:

#22 is, presumably, a joke along the lines of "Well, Amtrak is
basically the SS; I mean, the SS wanted to get a lot of people on to
trains and take them somewhere too!"

#26 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2008, 09:06 AM:

ajay @ 25

I hope you'll forgive my saying that, if #22 is a joke, it's perhaps
a gnat's whisker funnier than the example you gave. But only that much.

#27 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2008, 09:13 AM:

How are Ottawa's black squirrels? They used to haunt the grounds of the Prime Minister's residence 30 years ago.

#28 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2008, 11:05 AM:

Lee #10: Chtorrrrrr!

Bruce #24: ISTM that you're making
a kind of moral argument here, about a moral obligation of humans (I
guess all humankind) to mitigate environmental damage caused
unintentionally by other humans. I'm not quite sure how to untangle
that. I certainly wouldn't accept the same kind of argument applied to
groups--say, that since some Europeans brought diseases to the New
World that all but wiped out the native population, other Europeans
centuries later are somehow responsible for undoing the damage or
compensating the survivors' children or whatever. (That is, I don't see
humankind or all Europeans as moral decisionmaking units which can be
held responsible for their actions. There are individuals, governments,
churches, corporations, etc., which make decisions and can be held
responsible, but not these huge amorphous groups of humans.)

I can see the practical argument that says, regardless of whether
it's the fault of some human or not, we might want to do something to
prevent undesireable changes in the environment. But that's quite
different from the moral argument. For example, I'd feel about as
strongly about the need to take some action about rising CO2 levels,
temperatures, ocean acidity, etc., whether it was caused by humans or
by some nonhuman cause. The interesting question is whether we can do
something about it, not whose fault it is.

#29 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2008, 11:44 AM:

Serge @27, according to my National Audubon Society Field Guide to Mammals the black squirrel of Toronto is a subspecies of Eastern Grey Squirrel.

I was going to get all wildlife-biologist-y this morning and point
out other cases of introduced viruses contributing to near-extinctions
of various animals: canine distemper, for instance, is behind severe
drops in population in the Black Footed Ferret, Cheetah, and, it is
speculated, Stellar's Sea Lion. The Western Pond Turtle was almost
wiped out by human influenza. (This is not fact checked. I myself am
currently laid low by a cold, the unique sympton cluster of which has
been reported on my friend's list from as far away as New Zealand).

#30 ::: Nick ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2008, 11:53 AM:

JESR #6:

Hot pepper suet in the suet cage and safflower seed in the bird feeder have solved the squirrel problem for me.

#31 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2008, 11:59 AM:

Nick, actually tried both last winter. The squirrels of entitlement
kept tearing down the feeders and spilling the seed all over the
ground, anyway, although the hot pepper suet did wonders for feather
color in the purple finches. The baffles have been a better solution,
in terms of wasted seed and cleaning problems.

#32 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2008, 12:08 PM:

People putting their cat's faeces (from litter trays) down the
toilet is thought to be how toxoplasmosis has got into the marine
environment, where it's been killing sea otters.

#33 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2008, 12:26 PM:

Paula Helm Murray: translocating is bad.

#34 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2008, 12:26 PM:


Try one of these.

I have one mounted on a post on my back balcony, just too high for squirrels to reach from the rail.

I get squirrels in the back yard, squirrels on the balcony (until
the starlings assault them), but I don't get squirrels on the feeder.

I see to be in the black-and-red zone of Toronto, rather than the
grey zone, admittedly, but that feeder seems to report success over a
fairly wide swathe of New England.

Tangentially, I have been astonished at just how much the local
flock of mourning doves can eat almost as much as by finding out a
squirrel-resistant feeder is.

#35 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2008, 12:31 PM:

dcb, it looks like influenza was first introduced to the vulnerable pond turtle population by a single failing septic system.

#36 ::: Nick ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2008, 12:37 PM:

JESR #31:

I haven't had problems with the squirrels ripping down the feeder.
It's mounted securely to the top of a 4" x4" wooden post. I resorted to
that after losing several hanging feeders to raccoons who simply detach
the entire feeder and cart it away.

The raccoons removed the suet cage once, but they haven't repeated
that behavior. I guess they're smarter than squirrels and hot pepper is
a powerful educational tool.

#37 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2008, 12:54 PM:

JESR, you might want to consider getting a Twirl-A-Squirrel. (Didn't we have a thread about those sometime last year?)

#38 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2008, 12:57 PM:

Paula Helm Murray @ 9

To expand on Terry Karney's comment @ 33:

As an example, translocation of raccoons from the south-east USA to
further north (mid-Atlantic states) is what allowed raccoon rabies
strain to spread - now it's all up and down the eastern seaboard and
creeping westwards across Ohio. Millions of dollars are spent annually
on control effors. Further, efforts to prevent this rabies strain from
moving south through the Cape May peninsula of New Jersey were
frustrated by people translocating raccoons to south of the vaccination
belt. (Ref: Journal of Wildlife Diseases 34 p 752-763, Roscoe et al.
(1998) Efficacy of an oral vaccinia-rabies glycoprotein recombinant
vaccine in controlling epidemic raccoon rabies in New Jersey)

#39 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2008, 01:24 PM:

First: any squirrel solution costing more than ten dollars per unit
is out due to single income family with car payment and out-of-state
tuition issues. The baffles have been cost effective (price of baffle
compared to seed consumption) within two weeks, and are the best
solution so far (although I suspect the squirrels of having planning
meetings all summer, since solutions which are effective one winter are
shot down within a week of hanging feeders the next).

Second: squirrels seem less concerned with pain than with winning;
I've coated the suet box with capsaicin creme in an attempt to create
maximum negative reinforcement, and it worked not at all.

#40 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2008, 02:09 PM:

P J Evans (4): The instructions do look shorter than I remember. Is the root beer a specific reference I'm not getting?

#41 ::: Laurence ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2008, 02:22 PM:

Maybe they could transplant North American red squirrels to the UK?
I have no idea if they can actually coexist with gray squirrels (seems
to me the red territory is further north) but they might possibly be
immune to the squirrel pox.

I know it wouldn't be the same red squirrels as the original species . . . but they'd still be red, right?

#42 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2008, 02:43 PM:

Mary Aileen, that reminded me so much of Mug's 'One Minute
Animal Training Lesson' commercials ... 'The first trick to teach your
hippopotamus is to roll over.' (ISTR that the either the
elephant-training or the gorilla-training started out with 'put me
down'. Repeat quietly but firmly ....)

#43 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2008, 02:48 PM:

I know it wouldn't be the same red squirrels as the original species . . . but they'd still be red, right?

If colour is the only criteria, I'd vote for paintballing the greys.

#44 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2008, 03:00 PM:

Laurence @41 -- Maybe they could transplant North American red
squirrels to the UK? ... I know it wouldn't be the same red squirrels
as the original species . . . but they'd still be red, right?

Um, Laurence? I do hope you're joking. (Anyway, it's not the color
so much as those cute tufted ears -- there's a black subspecies, too).
I've observed both North American red squirrels and the Eurasian reds,
and they're very different in size and habits. The American reds are
significantly larger and fairly aggressive, and they can live more
comfortably among humans than I've observed with the European

#45 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2008, 03:27 PM:

albatross @ 28

Let me reply on two levels. First, I was responding to what I saw as
a moral argument that said, "If we're not to blame (i.e., if it's an
effect of a 'natural' cause), then we don't have to deal with the
problem." From any practical standpoint I can think of this has to be a
dangerous fallacy. Many of the invasions that have occurred in the last
century could have been stopped if there had been a quick enough
reaction; once the invasion gets beyond a certain population size
and/or spatial range, it's much harder if not impossible to stop. So
there's a practical reason for not ignoring any invasion, no
matter how innocuous or limited it might seem on the surface. You can
always decide not to act if you've examined the situation; you can't
know the cost of acting versus not acting if you don't examine it.

Second, I think there is a moral component here, and I would like
point out that practical considerations are just as relative as are
moral considerations: they depend on who you are, what your personal
and subgroup concerns are, and how your moral view (as contrasted eith
your practical outlook) fits with others in your community. I think
it's perfectly valid to express moral concerns along with practical
ones; two people discussing an issue may have different takes on both
morality and practicality, but I don't see that one aspect necessarily
has primacy over the other.

So I'm saying that, yes, there is a moral aspect to these questions
of what we do about invasive species: it revolves around
responsibility. As a species we have certain powers, and our
responsibility is to use them with care and forethought (because we're
capable of that), and to attempt to deal with situations where care and
forethought weren't enough to prevent problems. And that intertwines
with the practical aspect that those abilities make it possible for us
to ameliorate problems when they do happen; to refuse to do that
categorically is both impractical and immoral.

#46 ::: Laurence ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2008, 03:45 PM:

Debbie @44: I do hope you're joking. . . . The American reds are significantly larger

I was mostly joking. I don't really think my suggestion would work.

If Eurasian reds are smaller than American reds, they must be pretty
darn small. The American reds that I remember are much smaller than the

#47 ::: Nick ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2008, 04:11 PM:

According to that font of all knowledge, Wikipedia, N. American Reds
are slightly smaller than Eurasian reds. It's Fox Squirrels that are
the big ones.

#48 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2008, 04:50 PM:

Laurence -- Given the history of [human-]introduced species, I tend
to think "let's introduce something new" should be about last on the
list of "let's see how we can solve Problem X."

(Nick -- I can only compare what I've seen in Iowa vs. Germany. My
first reaction with the German squirrels (after, Awww, cute ears!) was
Yikes! Those are scrawny.)

#49 ::: Eve ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2008, 08:11 PM:

About 10 years ago, my best friend and I were mountain biking in
Cumbria when we saw a red squirrel in a tree. It was the first time
either of us had ever seen a wild red squirrel. We told our families
and friends (in York, Devon and Brighton respectively) and nobody ever
believed us, because 'there are no red squirrels in England any more'.

Here in Central Europe, the reds still seem to be fairly common, as
there are decent-sized chunks of state-owned forest where they like to

#50 ::: Feòrag ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2008, 08:46 PM:

Unfortunately, the whole hypothesis falls over when you realise that
the two species occupy completely different ecological niches. Red
Squirrels live in native coniferous woodlands and eat pine kernels and
fungi (no, they don't eat acorns; in fact they make them ill). The Greys prefer deciduous woods (they do eat acorns). They don't thrive at all in native coniferous woodlands.

Strangely, there is hardly any native coniferous woods left in the
UK, because humans chopped it all down. We have plenty of urban
parkland, though, where Grey Squirrels thrive, and Reds can't survive
at all. Funny that.

There again, this is a country that's going ahead with a badger
cull, ostensibly to prevent the spread of bovine TB, even though the
Irish did so and reported that it made no difference whatsoever.

#51 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2008, 11:18 PM:

Nick, #30, I had to put cayenne in with the seed when I saw a
cute rat eating from my feeder because I knew the neighbors would have
a fit. But it didn't stop the squirrels. I stopped putting it in after
a while and the rat didn't come back. Must have moved.

Graydon, #34, I have 18 mourning doves who eat regularly from
the feeder (and the porch, where the seed falls) and there's four
courting couples now!

#52 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2008, 07:17 AM:

Feòrag @ 50

Unfortunately, the whole hypothesis falls over when you realise
that the two species occupy completely different ecological niches

You're wrong. There is considerable overlap. Habitat types used by Eurasian red squirrels (Sciurus vulgaris)
include boreal coniferous forest but also broad-leafed woodland in
western and southern Europe, and parks and gardens. They prefer
mixed-species woodland rather than forests with a single tree type, as
the food source is more reliable year-round.

The Eastern grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) is found
in Broad-leaved woodland, mainly with many tree species and
particularly mature oak-hickory forests (in North America). In Britain,
it uses a wide range of habitats, particularly mature broad-leaved
forests (oak, beech, sweet chestnut, hazel), but also mixed woodland
(broad-leaved/coniferous), mature coniferous, hedgerows, parks, gardens
and urban areas with mature trees.

Reference - Wildpro: The Electronic Encyclopaedia and Library for
Wildlife online at, with information from:
The Handbook of British Mammals Third Edition (1981) G.B. Corbet &
S. Harris, Blackwell Scientific Publications, Oxford, UK, ISBN

The Atlas of European Mammals (1999)A.J. Mitchell-Jones, G. Amori, W.
Bogdanowicz, B. Krystufek, P.J.H. Reinjnders, F. Spitzenberger, M.
Stubbe, J.B.M. Thissen, V. Vohralik & J. Zima. T. & A.D.
Poyser. ISBN 0856611301

Grzimek's Encyclopedia of Mammals (1990) S.P. Parker (English Language
Edition) McGraw Hill Publishing Company, New York. ISBN0-07-909508-9

A World List of Mammalian Species. (1991) G B Corbet & J E Hill
.Natural History Museum Publications, London & Oxford University
Press, Oxford. ISBN 0-19-854017-5

Key to British Land Mammals (1998) Simone Bullion Field Studies Council / The Mammal Society

Re. TB and badgers even though the Irish did so and reported that it made no difference whatsoever , I'm afraid you're wrong again.

The Irish study DID show a positive result from badger culling. It
was the British study which suggested a positive effect in the centre
of the culled areas but a negative "edge effect" due to increased
pertubation of badger populations on the edge of the zone. References:

The impact of badger removal on the control of tuberculosis in cattle
herds in Ireland (2005) J.M. Griffin, D.H. Williams, G.E. Kelly T.A.
Clegg, I. O’Boylea, J.D. Collins and S.J. More.

Preventive Veterinary Medicine 67 p237-266.

Impact of localized badger culling on tuberculosis incidence in British cattle (2003)

Donnelly, C. A., Woodroffe, R., Cox, D. R., Bourne, J., Gettinby, G.,
Fevre, A. M. le, McInerney, J. P., Morrison, W. I. Nature (London),
2003 (Vol. 426) (No. 6968) 834-837.

This doesn't mean that badger culling is the only or necessarily the
best way to solve the cattle TB problem. There are all sorts of other
factors, such as movements of cattle from TB areas to TB-free areas for
restocking after the 2001 Foot-and-Mouth disease epidemic, to consider,
and more work is needed on keeping cattle and badgers apart (fencing to
keep badgers out of barns, etc.) and on vaccines for use in the badgers
and the cattle. TB is a horrible disease in badgers and the present
situation is not good for badgers (or cattle).

#53 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2008, 10:27 AM:

I want to take a moment here to praise abi for the nice structure
and clever allusions of the primary post. Workmanlike essay prose is
all very well, but making the words sing and carry each other as she did makes us all more interested in getting the words right. Thank you.

#54 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2008, 12:08 PM:

Bruce Cohen @53

You're right. I enjoyed both the prose and the poetry, and I loved Abi's take on "packing a dead squirrel."

#55 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2008, 12:16 PM:

Feòrag @ 50:

no, they don't eat acorns; in fact they make them ill

I was aware of that, but elided the detail to make the post title work. The alternative, Bury my nuts at Wounded Knee, while memorable, was not suitable to the topic.

dcb @52:

Wow. A fantastic, informative post.

Do red squirrels eat Douglas fir seeds? Doug firs are an introduced
species, but they're ubiquitous (in Scotland at least). The Forestry
Commission seems to have a fetish for planting them in rows and calling
it a forest.

#56 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2008, 12:22 PM:

Bruce Cohen @53, dcb @54:

Thank you both very much! I was under a lot of stress when I wrote
it*, and found the process of adapting the verses extremely soothing.

I'm delighted that they've provided you with some enjoyment as well.


* The mortgage company buried our application in their paperwork and
missed a deadline. They then needed explanations that would have been
better sought a month ago. Yesterday, however, they confirmed that all
is complete.

#57 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2008, 12:23 PM:

I don't know if squirrels eat Douglas fir seeds, but it wouldn't
surprise me. They certainly like pine seeds (and also walnuts and

(I have to admit, I've never seen squirrels with acorns. Woodpeckers, yes: there's one species that stores them for later use.)

#58 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2008, 01:11 PM:

abi @ 56, sympathies. The same thing happened when I applied for my
mortgage -- when I called to finish the deal, no one had ever heard of
my application. My way of dealing with the stress was not nearly so
delightful. (Yelling on the phone to bank, realtor, and boyfriend,
collapsing in tears, cursing loudly, and finally getting mortgage
through different company that could turn it around in 3 days so we
didn't lose the house by having to delay closing.)

The verses are wonderful.

#59 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2008, 01:18 PM:

Caroline @58:

The temptation to shout and scream was extremely powerful. However,
my imperfect grasp of the local language was a highly effective
incentive to find another way of dealing with things.

#60 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2008, 02:07 PM:

Abi @ 55

Thank you for your kind words regarding my post. I was afraid I'd
provided too much info./references - but that's what I do for a living
(collate wild animal health and husbandry information, fully
referenced). If preferred, I could just put (references available) and
provide them if requested...

At the risk of sounding pedantic, I would like to point out that saying that acorns are poisonous to red squirrels is a slight exaggeration. Red squirrels do eat acorns, but they can't use them as a major part of their diet: "Captive grey squirrels thrived on a diet of acorns,
but red squirrels had a comparative digestive efficiency of only 59%,
apparently because they were much less able than grey squirrels to
neutralize acorn polyphenols." (Kenward, R. E. & Holm, J. L.
(1993). On the replacement of the red squirrel in Britain: a phytotoxic
explanation. Proc. R. Soc. Lond. (B) 251: 187-194)

Regarding Douglas firs, it appears they are used by red squirrels
but they are not a preferred tree species. Norway spruce are prefered
(Bryce et al. (2002) Can niche use in red and grey squirrels offer
clues to their apparent coexistence? J. Applied Ecology 39, 875-887

Interestingly, and pointing up again the importance of squirrelpox
virus, in the Craigvinean Forest, Scotland, the two species have
coexisted for about 30 years - they have diifferent niches within the

It is true to say that reds do better in pure conifer areas than
greys do, but the two species didn't evolve together and their habitat
use shows a lot of overlap (see the Bryce et al. paper again).

#61 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2008, 02:09 PM:

(Again, rejoice ye readers in this damned cold, or I could tl;dr on
Pseudotsuga menziesii seeds, squirrels, and the weird connection
between Scotland and the PNW thanks to Douglas, Menzies, Tolmie, and
the Hudson Bay Co. until you all begged for mercy).

Douglas squirrels, in particular, are specialized feeders on Doug
Fir seeds, but Northern Flying Squirrels and Red Squirrels also eat
them, as do numerous bird species. They're not nutty wonderfulness like
pignolas, though, and have not been reported as even famine food for
humans. Bears, however, will raid squirrel caches of doug fir seeds, at
least such is reported from Vancouver Island and the BC coast.

Douglas Firs look weird in the UK- they were introduced through seed
rather than plants, so the dozens of commensal fungi, mosses, and
lichens which color them in their native habitat are missing. It took
me several minutes staring at the huge doug firs at Stourhead to make
them fit my definition of that species; luckily, there were cones on
the ground and even though they lacked the fine white lichenous growth
of the real thing, they had the diagnostic trident seed scale, which
Margaret McKenney described as "a rat going down a hole."

#62 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2008, 02:11 PM:

Abi @ 56

Sympathies for the mortgage problems; glad to hear it's been sorted
out. As I recall, moving house is one of the most stressful life events
- third after losing a loved one and divorce, I think! This kind of
paperwork hassle is one reason...

#63 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2008, 02:53 PM:

dcb; To echo P.J., the squirrels round here love the pecans. This is
a problem for us, because they thrive, and then use them as highways to
our stone fruits and avocados.

#64 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2008, 03:18 PM:

P J Evans @ 57; Terry Karney & 63

It's clear that in general, squirrels like all sorts of nuts from
deciduous trees and seeds from conifers. A quick browse through papers
available onlline shows that there are differences in which of these
foods are prefered by different squirrel species - which is one of the
reasons why more than one squirrel species can live in a given area
(different niches).

Terry, I'm envious that you can grow avocados. My parents have a
walnut tree, but it doesn't produce many walnuts and the squirrels get
them before we do. Ditto with the hazel in the hedge of my in-laws'
house. A year ago I started planting a native-species hedge which
includes some hazel (more hawthorne and sloe). I doubt, even when the
plants get big enough, -we- will ever get any hazel nuts, since grey
squirrels eat them before they ripen...

#65 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2008, 03:24 PM:

We didn't get all the walnuts off the trees we shared with
neighbors, what with the jays and the squirrels. Also the raccoon that
showed up one Christmas and picked through the nuts on the floor of the
covered patio ....

The pecan tree I remember, down the street, wore a wide metal collar
a few feet above roof level, to discourage the furry bandits. (It was
flat to the bark, not standing out from it.)

#66 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2008, 03:29 PM:

JESR @61:

Having spent a material amount of my childhood in Humboldt County, I
found the sight of Douglas firs in the UK highly disconcerting. They're
simply the wrong color, like the wrong note in a chord.

And seeing them planted in rows, in a monoculture, made me actually wince.

#67 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2008, 04:36 PM:

Has the government considered offering a bounty on grey squirrels?
Humans with traps and guns have been the best eliminator of dozens of
species, a la wolves, wolverines, passenger pigeons, beavers, etc... I
have some vague idea that bounties were considered in the case of
rabbits in Australia, but I don't remember how that turned out.

On other threads, I have seen grey squirrels industriously burying acorns
from the oak out front in the front yard every fall. Also, the little
bastards deny me almost every plum that grows on the plum tree in the
backyard, missing only the ones waaaay out on the ends of branches.
They also break a lot of branches getting to plums. I suppose it's
nature's way of pruning for strength.

#68 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2008, 05:01 PM:

dcb/P.J.: Maia's mother has two pecans, even with the number of
squirrels, there are more nuts than can be collected. The damn things
are weeds (unless you spot the seedling right away, they just keep
coming back from the piece of taproot you can't pull out).

Madeline (speaking as one who has been tasked with reducing the
predacious squirrels): Traps aren't going to be much good (because they
will get the red squirrels as well) and they breed too quickly for
casual shooting to eradicate them. There are species which can take
such a hard knock that they fold up the tents and go away. Rodents
aren't usually in that category. They breed prolifically, and don't
seem to be much bothered by disturbance; the red squirrel was holding
on pretty well until the grey showed up, so it would take a lot of
people actively hunting them to kill them off.

It might be that a program of really aggressive (and selective)
hunting could keep them in check long enough for the resistant red
squirrels to reclaim a slice of the pie, but I don't think they'll ever
be eradicated.

#69 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2008, 07:07 PM:

abi, it's the bark that flummoxed me- it looked, at best, like a badly hand-painted black and white photo, monochromatic and much too orange.

#70 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2008, 09:03 PM:

Mary Aileen@3: That's wonderful! I wonder why it hasn't been taken down yet; from recent rumors, the USPS has no sense of humor.

To all having squirrel problems with bird feeders: you need better
predators. Some friends who live ~25 miles out from Boston say the last
squirrel that tried stealing birdseed got carried off by a red-tailed

I hate to hear of the red squirrels' wane, but AFAIK it could be
worse; pray that the Canada geese don't spread. (When we visited Kew
Gardens, before InterWhatsis 2, we looked at the condition of the paths
a few steps in from the gate and said "Geese!" to each other.) Someone
imported them thinking they were "ornamental" and perhaps not realizing
just how effective they are at turning grass into gooseshit.

#71 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2008, 09:38 PM:

CHip, I've got redtails, Cooper's hawks, and sharpshins, (also bald
eagles, but they're not into rodents). I've even seen a goshawk and the
occassional peregrine. Eastern Grey Squirrels out-reproduce them all.
Especially since my neighbors in the subdivision next door had
squirrell feeders up until this year.

What I'm missing, I suspect, is the great horned owl who disappeared
a few years ago; the long eared owls are truly nocturnal, and the
screech owls way too little.

What I forget to mention is the one upside: since the grey squirrels
came, I've got Oregon White Oak seedlings everywhere; perviously, all I
had was the mature trees.

#72 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2008, 04:00 AM:

CHip @ 70

I'm not even going to -start- about the problems caused by Canada
geese. [References available on request - and the problems in the UK
are minor compared to some large US cities]

Our hope there is to encourage the greylag geese to return. Not that
they would necessarily cause less problems, but at least they are

I once had a lady, best described as a "Canada goose bunny-hugger",
tell me earnestly that it would be wrong to kill even a single Canada
goose in the UK, ever, even if they could be shown, for example, to be
putting native species at threat of extinction, because that would be
"natural", while humans killing the Canada gees they had imported from
the other side of the globe would be "wrong".

#73 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2008, 06:42 AM:

dcb #72- I know someone with a punt gun, and someone else with a firearms licence. Where do we sign up?

#74 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2008, 11:54 AM:

CHip (70): It's been there for years, through several different
page-redesigns. Someone at the Post Office must still have a sense of

Several Long Island golf courses have resident Border collies to
chase off the Canada geese. It apparently works rather well, but it
doesn't help the neighbors. Probably makes it worse, in fact, because
the geese have to go somewhere.

#75 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2008, 12:07 PM:


It's not that easy (as I'm sure you know)! Just because they are non-native doesn't mean they are not protected.

There's been a lot of work on things like how to make an area less
attractive to Canada geese -which, as indicated by Mary Aileen @ 74,
really has to be at least a regional effort - if you put up orange
netting (which they don't like) and plant shrubs between your lake and
grass lawns, so they don't have a clear line of sight, then you
alienate your neighbour who now has to cope with the ones he already
had plus yours as well.

#76 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2008, 12:15 PM:

Mary Aileen @ 74

Just to say I really enjoyed "How to pack a hippo" as well.

My family had fun back in 1981 moving house complete with about a
dozen tanks of tropical fish, various aviary birds, two greenhouses
full of orchids, a couple of mallard and a pinkfoot goose (plus a cat
and a dog, of course).

There's a whole set of regulations on air transport of live animals
(IATA regulations), setting out cage construction etc. - much less
entertaining than "How to pack a hippo".

#77 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2008, 12:45 PM:

All this talk about Canadian Geese is making me think of The Water Babies, for some reason...

#78 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2008, 02:36 PM:

Canada Geese are also a problem where they're putatively native;
large stretches of green lawn where there was previously woodland means
that what was once an unusual migratory species present in small
numbers during the breeding season has now become a year-round plague.

They out-compete smaller waterfowl for both land and water food
resources by means of their strength, aggression, and (in water) long,
long necks. The subspecies B. c. gigas out-competes smaller subspecies,
for that matter.

#79 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 12:51 AM:

I was at the transfer station today, dropping off mixed paper, and
only saw one of their Canada geese. Usually there's a batch. But they
pretty much just hang out around the pond.

#80 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 02:03 AM:

Madeline F @ 67

I'm not going after any gray squirrels. One day years ago I
was sitting outside of the Tektronix Laboratories building (bldg 50,
that used to be the corporate headquarters) eating lunch at a picnic
table. A couple of crows landed a few feet from me, clearly after a bit
of food that had fallen on the ground from somewhere. They sidled over
towards their target, and just before they reached it, a squad of 5
gray squirrels came around the nearest tree and chased away the crows.
A couple of the squirrels grabbed the tidbit while the rest gave us
humans the hairy eyeball, making sure we wouldn't try to steal their
loot in turn. Any animal with that kind of military organization is not
worth going after with traps and hunting rifles.

#81 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 02:07 AM:

I have no idea if red squirrels can live on Douglas Firs, as there
aren't any squirrels of that color with several thousand miles of here,
AFAIK. But there a lot of Doug Firs, and I know that two of the fattest
gray squirrels I've ever seen spend a lot of their time in the Doug Fir
just outside my kitchen window. I'm surprised those squirrels don't
fall off the tree, they're so plump.

#82 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 02:31 AM:

Bruce: They aren't that hard to take out. They are all bluff and bluster (at least to people).

Then again, I use a scope, and pot them from 30-60 ft.

#83 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2008, 11:24 AM:

Mary Aileen @74

Border collies have become a common solution to Canada honker
congestion in a lot of places; as you say, it's a very local solution,
suitable for golf courses that don't care about their neighbors' lawns.
But it's good exercise for the dog.

#84 ::: A. J. Luxton ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2008, 08:53 AM:

*pokes head in after long absence*

The poetry is haunting and appropriate. This one may be small, but
recent environmental news is quite disturbing in general. I've been in
a state of incredulity since reading about the continent-sized garbage soup in the middle of the Pacific...

Grey squirrels are incredibly tenacious. Once I was out walking with
one of my partners and we saw one of the local squirrels walking along
a telephone wire... wheeling a humongous apple with its front paws. The
apple was slightly bigger than the squirrel. The squirrel kept pausing
when the wire swayed, then starting up again. We watched mesmerized
until the apple finally tipped off the wire and I could swear that
squirrel sported a crestfallen look as it scampered towards the pole to
go down after its catch.

#85 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2008, 10:30 AM:

"Apple core!"

...only that was chipmunks. Never mind.

#86 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2008, 12:05 AM:

Last year I was cleaning out the cabinet and found some truly
ancient pecans and walnuts. The trouble was, they were still unshelled
nuts and some of them were still good and not rancid, even if not
tasting terribly good. Of course, that still wasn't terribly good.

So I put them out in the garden on the roof of the shed. They lay
there for several days until I went out and suddenly a squirrel came
down the fence, paused, sniffed, then looked at all the nuts and had
this expression like it had seen a mirage, quickly followed by one of
"I found the Mother Lode!" Then it noticed me watching it and it
quickly selected one pecan and ran off with it, looking back at me
frantically every few feet down the fence as if it were afraid I was
going to jump its claim.

The next day all the old nuts were gone except a few fragments, and the day after, even the fragments were gone.

The amusing thing is the squirrels have stashed them all over the
place since a month later I saw a squirrel come out of the bottle brush
tree holding one of the same old pecans.

#87 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2008, 12:24 AM:

#86: The first squirrel realized they were bad old rancid nuts and regifted them.

* * *

You could probably put a bounty on those English gray squirrels, but
a lot of the red guys would probably get knocked off as well. And
pretty much anything else that has a tail and climbs trees. ("No, sir,
you may not have the two shillings. These are cat ears.")

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