Doug Rutherford

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Requiem for a squirrel

January 2012
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Well, it’s been more than one month since we saw Grumpy Squirrel.  He has not been dining at the squirrel/bird feeder and there were no tracks around his nest. If the weather had been cold for a length of time, I could understand his reticence to go outside. However, a good bit of the stretch of time in question was quite mild and other squirrels have been noisy around the neighbourhood. I have come to the conclusion that Grumpy may no longer be with us.

Grumpy has been around for quite a time as this was his fourth or fifth winter living in and around the back yard. A squirrel that lives past the age of one has an average life span of 2.3 years, but can live to a maximum of 8. As squirrels go, he had a pretty good life span. It wasn’t that hard, I’m sure. After all, my neighbour, Gordon, and I had been feeding him and for the last four years, he has been living in our shed. I was going to evict him, but never got around to it the summer before last and this summer, I wasn’t up to doing some general squirrel-proofing in the shed. I didn’t want to evict him after that, since a squirrel without a nest and store before winter won’t survive very long.

Grumpy was a good squirrel. OK, he was a bit on the psychotic side, but I liked to think of that as being a character trait rather than a failing. Some of his foibles were rather entertaining. For example, I think he figured out who filled the feeder and I could come rather close to him. On the other hand, he seemed to have a particular dislike for Clara and would quickly climb a tree if she came into the back yard. Also, you didn’t have to be too fluently bilingual to understand that some of the calls he made at her probably weren’t complimentary. And she sassed him right back. They did come to like each other enough to share the space on reading days but raking days were entertaining.

Despite his tolerance of us, he did have one bizarre practice. He wouldn’t eat while looking at us. There was a little stub branch above the feeder that he would often eat on. If we were in the yard or on the deck, he would eat on the branch with his back turned to us. If we moved to the other side of the yard, he would switch around. Maybe, we gave him indigestion. I don’t know. This happened numerous times so I assume there was something in it. Also, he was only so tolerant. The feeder was his and I learned early in the game that taking it down to fill it when he was in the yard was not a good idea. Squirrels are a bit territorial, it seems. After having a squirrel threaten you a few times, you take the hint and wait until he wasn’t around to refill it.

I wasn’t the only one he would defend his feeder against. Many a scrap ensued in the yard when another squirrel expressed an interest in the feeder. I’m not sure how he knew there was another one around, as he would often come out of nowhere chirping and yelling and chasing the squirrel down the yard and out of his territory. He would also defend it against birds. He would often chase the chickadees but they would often only fly to the next tree. This obviously wasn’t far enough, so he would climb up and jump to the next tree and scare them out of it. They’d fly to the third tree, which also wasn’t far enough away for Grumpy. He’d go to the next tree and scare them out of it. This, however, was far enough away for the chickadees and they’d often fly from there back to the feeder. Grumpy seemed to take a particular dislike for this and the process would repeat itself.

I’ve only seen his defence process fail twice. Once, he tried to evict a large flock of sparrows. Sparrows are a bit on the aggressive side and since there were several hundred of them, they weren’t backing down from a mere squirrel, regardless of how much attitude he had. He quickly backed off after being continuously dive bombed. The other time I’ve seen him fail to defend something involved the next tree. That’s where the suet block hangs. I have never seen him eat the suet; however, when a hairy woodpecker tries to eat from it, Grumpy chases him away. One day, Grumpy was at the feeder when a three-toed woodpecker (about 2 ½ times the size of the hairy woodpecker) decided to eat at the suet block. Grumpy moved a little further up the tree and sat quietly until he left. Discretion may be an important aspect of squirrel valour, as well.

What happened to him? There are foxes in the yard commonly and owls as well. Dean Marten, the pine marten, has also been around this winter and many cats run loose in the neighbourhood. And, since I have to bust the lock off the shed, I haven’t had a chance to determine if he’s still in there, passed away from a little squirrel coronary after eating all of the oily sunflower seeds I’ve fed him. That’s a project for the next few days. As for what comes next, Grumpy is really Grumpy II. Grumpy I was preceded by a squirrel that used to antagonize the neighbourhood cats and Gordon, our former neighbour (who, according to Clara, moved on up to Heaven to feed the squirrels there) and I simultaneously christened him Cat Food one morning. Some other squirrel will take over his territory sometime this spring and I’ll be feeding a new one soon enough. We’ll see what name the next one earns.

I’ve been lucky enough that I’ve never had to write an obituary before. Who knew the first one would be for a squirrel…



  1. Krista says:

    This is awesome! What a fun read. 🙂 I have some fun names for my squirrel but none of them are polite to say in a public forum.

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