A Spring Tail

How wonderful the blossoming of spring after a long cold winter! The sweet month of April has arrived, the crocus are blooming, and the summer birds are back to establish their breeding grounds. I spotted our first robin high in a May tree on March 13.

… chirping away as I retrieved the morning paper. I came back out and took a video so you can hear it too.

We have gray squirrels scampering across our back yard all winter long, see all those nests up there in those ancient trees behind our house?

A veritable scurry of squirrels. Okay, so I know squirrels are rodents, part of the scientific order Rodentia. https://www.westernexterminator.com/blog/are-squirrels-rodents/

And they are certainly considered by many humans to be pests and a bit of a nuisance. They chew on things like telephone wires, electrocute themselves on transformers and knock out power lines. They scurry on your roof when you’re trying to sleep and might chew their way into your attic, but hey, they’re just looking for tree nuts and acorns and maybe a place to nest. You have inevitably flattened a squirrel while driving because they are a bit OCD about crossing the road, dang it, make up your mind which direction you’re going there, Mr. Squirrel! Darned if you’re going to slam on your automobile brakes to avoid running over a squirrel.

But I love watching the squirrels in our back yard. It’s a pretty sweet spot for them on account of we have an ever bearing flowering crab apple tree planted right in a center garden. The tree should bloom in the next few weeks, beautiful dark pink blossoms, the fruit comes late summer and hangs on the tree all winter. To feed the squirrels and birds. I love to watch them!

I captured a video of the squirrel from inside the house when our dog decided he was thirsty. A weird soundtrack. Don’t worry. The dog is not sloshing water from the dog dish onto your shoe and you really don’t have to let him out to chase the squirrel.

By mid March the bird feeders come out. What species will we attract? Small woodpeckers perhaps? The chickadees. Yellow warblers?

Squirrels. Let the bird feeder wars begin!

He’s on!

Yes, but I’ve got a solution. Watch this video for the big reveal:

Rabid squirrel-chaser dog. Okay, but I have to step up my game here. Feeder situation not tenable.

I head to my friend Rene’s house. She’s way ahead of me in all areas garden related. She has birds on her feeders. An Audubon book to identify them. Huge trees in her back yard, and at least three gray squirrels foraging around all the time. She thought she had outsmarted them hanging her bird feeder 12 feet down from a tree limb. We were standing at her back door enjoying her utopian garden landscape when suddenly a squirrel leaped from a limb onto the hook 3 feet above the feeder and dropped right down on the feeder. Easy peasy.

Stealthy little bugger!

A few days later Rene looked out her back door and there lying on the ground near the feeder was a tail. Just a tail.

Oh no! A tail without a squirrel attached to it? How did that happen? Is the squirrel dead and eaten? By a …. raccoon? No. Surely they are too slow for squirrels. A hawk? Did a large raptor swoop down and snatch the squirrel? No, would the tail be sitting here right by the back door, then? A cat? A wily quick snatch of its claws, torture and kill, the body eaten, save for the tail. (And a kidney. Is there a squirrel kidney splayed out on a neighbor’s back stoop dropped there as a trophy from the kill, compliments of the cat?)

I just can’t stop thinking about that tail. As it turns out, it isn’t that uncommon for squirrels to lose their tails. Not like lizards lose their tails, where they drop off and bounce on their own to confuse a predator and then the lizard just grows it back. Squirrels can get their tails caught in fences. A predator can rip it off, but once the tail is gone, it’s gone. But I just can’t imagine being a lowly rodent squirrel going forward in life without that bushy tail. A squirrel without a tail? Lowlier than a vole!

A disturbing spring tale.

Here’s a Google link with interesting facts about squirrels losing their tails, not surprising, on a “squirrels at the feeder’ site (you can find anything on the Internet)

Squirrels can live without their thick, bushy tails, albeit, at a higher risk for early death. Their fluffy appendage helps with balance, regulates body temperature, breaks their falls, and serves as a parachute in the air (yeah, we know). A squirrel’s tail is an important thermoregulatory device. Did you think about the tail providing a source of shade for the squirrel in warm weather? The squirrel can wrap its tail around itself in the winter to keep warm and use the tail to protect itself from rain. A squirrel can control blood flow to the tail – rushing blood to the tail to disperse body heat or reducing blood flow to the tail to conserve heat. During a fall, the hairs on the tail separate in order to catch as much air as possible. This slows the squirrel’s fall and provides time for the squirrel to orient its body to land safely. You know, verses falling to its death with a splat from a high tree limb with no tail or a rat tail.

I dunno. This is a dumb squirrel story. I did feel pretty sad thinking about that squirrel tail, obviously belonging to a squirrel, likely a dead squirrel. Rene has been watching out in her back yard for a tail-less squirrel. She hasn’t seen it yet. If alive, it’s likely hiding out somewhere, utterly devasted and depressed over losing its fine bushy appendage. Rene certainly won’t see it on the bird feeder.

Yeah, that thick bushy tail is a pretty dang fancy appendage, for any living thing to lose. Even if the living thing happens to be a medium-sized rodent foraging for tree nuts and acorns, and otherwise, a bit of a pest and, on most accounts, a general nuisance.

Picture taken of our flowering crab, May 7, 2017

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2 Responses to “A Spring Tail”

  1. Rosie Says:

    Well there’s more about squirrels than I ever thought I wanted to know Jodi I enjoyed your story though and reading all the facts that’s good story I found two squirrel tails in my yard my cats eat squirrels when they can catch him and they do catch him. I like your writings are fun! Your dog chasing him is cute thanks Jodi

    • Jody Caraher Says:

      Ah, so it was a cat! I suspected as much after I thought about it a bit. A neighbor’s cat was prowling in Rene’s back yard, likely at night, of course it was, with all those birds she has, caught the squirrel – tortured, killed and ate it right on the spot – save the tail (and a kidney?). We had a couple of cats for pets when our kids were young. One of our cats was a great mouser. It would eat the whole kill except leave a mouse kidney or some other entrails on our back stoop to greet us as we opened the back door. I suppose for bragging rights or something. It was gross.

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