Today is Squirrel Appreciation Day. Oh, yes, it is.
Called "suburban rodents" by those who do not appreciate squirrels on any day, the little guys are part of Sciuridae -- the scientific name for the squirrel family.
Squirrels do not hibernate, as pointed out by Washington Post columnist John Kelly: "They're out there 24/7, living la vida squirrela: climbing trees, foraging for nuts, chittering, trying to get into your attic, getting flattened by steel-belted radials."
Why does this special day for squirrels occur in late January? The wildlife rehabilitator who founded Squirrel Appreciation Day back in 2001, Christy Hargrove of Asheville, North Carolina, figured squirrels were running out of food sources around this time of year, according to the National Wildlife Federation.
So scatter some cobs of dried corn, a squirrel favorite, and some peanuts. And, of course, put out extra sunflower seeds.
My parents would sit at their kitchen table and watch the birds and squirrels in the trees and rabbits in their vegetable garden. Binoculars hung on the wall, right next to the pellet gun. Dad had frequent skirmishes with the squirrels, which would scramble right up to the folks' picture windows, stand in the flower box below and look right back at them.
The squirrels would raid the bird feeders full of sunflower seeds, even though Mom and Dad purchased a variety of feeders advertised in garden catalogs and guaranteed to deter the squirrels. Dad would grab the pellet gun and fire "near" the squirrel to scare it. He also used the pellet gun to chase the rabbits away from his vegetables -- particularly his asparagus which you aren't supposed to harvest and eat for several years.
Finally, he actually hit a bunny with a pellet and killed it. After that, he didn't hit small animals any more. Friends bought a life-size cement rabbit statue as a memorial and set it where Dad buried his victim, and dubbed the garden ground The Rabbit Cemetery.
"Those squirrels are really smart," the folks would say, relating a variety of squirrel adventures to prove squirrel-intelligence-quotient.
Actually, there was a scientific study widely published in Europe a few years ago that purported to show that squirrels were a lot smarter than we thought. They looked like they were attempting to fake out would-be thieves and prevent them from stealing the stash of nuts that feeds a squirrel through winter. Researchers observed the squirrels "pretend" to bury food in the ground. The squirrels put on a big show of hiding non-existent nuts more often when they were being observed by humans.
"There are more than 280 species of squirrels -- from tiny pygmy squirrels to giant flying squirrels -- so there are a lot of squirrels to appreciate," wrote John Kelly.
Squirrels tend to live only two or three years, so give your backyard squirrels a little appreciation while they're alive.
By Sharon McEachern