Friday, January 22, 2016

Pesky Neighbor That's Here to Stay

Quick sketch of Eastern Gray Squirrel
Central Park called January 21st Squirrel Appreciation Day, and that probably doesn't sit that well with everyone. I know that the Eastern gray squirrel, Sciurus carolinensis, is considered a pest by many humans and a good source of dinner by hawks, owls, and falcons, but they are also one of our neighbors, perhaps pesky but a neighbor nonetheless.  And for some city children, the squirrel is the only “wild” mammal they see outside of the zoo.  I know there’s an occasional skunk, raccoon, chipmunk, or coyote, but there are lots and lots of squirrels. We can learn a lot about squirrels from just watching them:  they are fast scamperers—dogs love to chase them up trees; they are hoarders--storing nuts, berries, fruits and other seeds in caches all around their home base; they build leafy nests, or “dreys,” in trees—females produce a litter once or twice a year; and the sexes are not dimorphic--males and females look pretty much the same.  The gray squirrel is native to North America, to eastern and Midwestern United States and to eastern provinces of Canada.  Eastern Gray squirrels have found their way to Europe where they are unwelcome visitors. It is thought that they have displaced some of the more favored red squirrels, and so they are widely hunted.  In fact, one thing the European Union might agree on is building an Eastern gray- squirrel-proof wall and then getting the squirrels to pay for it.  But I think I’ve ventured into other territory, so back to the squirrels.

Eastern gray squirrels were a source of food for Native Americans and colonists.  Hunters still eat their meat and say it is flavorful, like the dark meat of chicken.  Their furry tails were used to decorate and make hats and other winter wear warmer.  And my husband once told me that they were a perfect size to make into a fine slipper.  I/we haven’t tried that or any of the above.  But I do think they are great animals to watch and draw. They have fluffy silvery upturned tails, dark slightly slanted eyes, whitish tummies, pink inside their ears, and pinkish noses--noses that have an amazing sense of smell.  I’ve enjoyed walking with neighborhood children as they “ooh” and “aah” about the squirrel running up the tree or staring down from its nest.  I’ve also seen dogs, even I’m sorry to say my own little Lana, chase squirrels.  That’s not such a good idea.  They get nervous, chirp, and could be dangerous.  That reminds me of one thing that we all need to know: Squirrels bite.  They’re cute, but let me say it again, they bite, especially when they are cornered or frightened.  So the best advice is to watch and admire them for their spunk and city skills.  And if it’s not too cold, it’s fun to take a pencil and pad and draw them—their general shapes and expressions.  This little quick sketch is an example of that kind of drawing.   

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