GREY SQUIRREL (Sciurus carolinensis)
Grey Squirrels, equipped as they are with back paws that rotate up to 180 degrees, have adapted to climbing urban drainpipes, guttering & roofs. Native to North America, they have adapted to the UK, largely replacing the British Red Squirrel.
They show no fear of heights, leaping fearlessly from tree to tree. Sometimes they miss a branch & fall to the ground, springing back up straightaway. They must be made of solid muscle.
Grey Squirrels eat nuts (especially acorns, beechnuts & chestnuts) & other seeds. Also buds, flowers, fruits, fungi & some insects. In our garden they like peanuts (monkey nuts), sunflower seeds, suet, fruit pips & avocado stones.
They dig in bare earth, burying seeds and nuts. RF put shiny decorative stones in his pots, covering the surfaces to discourage squirrel digging. Some feeders were given metal cage ‘squirrel guardians’ to deter them.
VIDEO – SQUIRREL KITS ON ASH TRUNK
VIDEO – SQUIRREL HANGS ON ASH TRUNK
Squirrels & Sunflowers
Squirrels would have watched from the trees as RF planted sunflower seeds. They sprouted, stems grew tall & flowers appeared. Seeds with black oily shells formed in the centre… One day a squirrel decided it was harvest time. It gnawed at the base of the sunflower’s stem (about an inch thick) until it toppled over. The flower head was then chewed away from the other end of the stem & dragged up onto our low brick wall for relaxed dining. We know this is what happened, but all we later found was a seedless sunflower head & a pile of shells. Every one of RF’s sunflowers suffered the same fate.
VIDEO – SCOLDING SQUIRREL ON GUTTER
VIDEO – TAIL THRASHING SQUIRREL
One day two squirrels came into the garden with their heads covered in some sort of white gunge. In a 2013 Springwatch, a viewer’s video showed a mother squirrel leaping from roof guttering with her hesitant young one grasped tightly to her. Something similar may have happened here.
Building work is ongoing in this neighbourhood. One very senior squirrel with a fine bushy tail (papa? mama?) & one thin-tailed young squirrel may have plunged from a roof together and landed in a pail of… whitewash? Plaster? Or it may have been a chase that went horribly wrong. They did manage to remove the stuff, but it took over a week to do it.
2019 – Squirrel eating sunflowers on new tray feeder.
VIDEOS – SQUIRREL SCOFFING AN EARLY MORNING SNACK
Wildlife Response ~ History & life cycle of the Grey Squirrel:
It was April 2006. A squirrel scuttled across the roof of a house in North London. It slid down a drainpipe, reached the ground & made its way to the pavement. It crossed the road & squeezed into the gap below the front gates of Highbury Stadium’s North Bank. This was nothing out of the ordinary; other squirrels had been seen disappearing into the stadium. Some locals suspected a squirrel plot of world domination was being hatched inside Highbury Stadium. ‘Today Highbury, tomorrow the world!’
On non-Matchdays, Highbury was often empty but for its groundskeeping crew & the local Chief Crow, who liked to blast out his caws from the North Bank’s roof struts. This day was a Matchday. The grand old stadium was in the last throes of its life. A larger stadium, built nearby to replace it, was now ready for the new season. Highbury was to be pulled down & replaced with flats. Its last ever night game, the first leg of a Champions League semi-final, Arsenal v Spain’s Villareal, was set for that night, with kickoff at 7.45pm.
The hours went by. The usual sell-out crowd packed into Highbury along with camera crews & press photographers, & the game began. It was nil-nil after ten minutes, when a squirrel jumped over the advertising hoardings, landed on the pitch and joined the game.
Local Squirrel Becomes Celebrity
On Radio Five Live, Alan Green shouted ‘THERE’S A SQUIRREL ON THE PITCH!’ ‘Poor little tyke’, he said, thinking the squirrel had buried its nuts in the Highbury pitch… ‘Doesn’t he know that this place will be a demolition site in a month’s time?… They’ll have to stop the game!’
But the game went on. Fans spotted the rodent & chanted ‘Squirrel! Squirrel!’ as it ran down the pitch, blocking Diego Forlan. It raced over to Jens Lehmann’s goal to guard the post. Finally, after 8 minutes of squirrel-on-pitch action, the referee stopped the game. The rodent left the grounds under its own steam; some said it crossed the street & got into Gillespie Park.
Arsenal won the game 1-0. That night internet chatrooms buzzed with squirrel tales. Names for the squirrel were suggested: Tufty, Nutkins, Squirrelinho… A clip of the moment turned up on youtube.
Next day the sports section of every newspaper carried news of the pitch invasion: ‘Arsenal fans go nuts over latest signing’…‘ The Squirrel Nutmeg’…’12th player at Highbury as Arsenal win first leg of Euro semi-final‘… ‘Tufty the Squirrel thought he was going to watch Nuts County…’ Sports journalists rated the squirrel’s footballing abilities, along with players for Arsenal & Villareal. Manager Arsene Wenger was quoted, saying ‘he was a good dribbler’. The Evening Standard had two photos on its front page: one of the Queen, celebrating her 80th birthday; the other of the Highbury Squirrel.
On the day after the semi-final, a press photographer came to Gillespie Park’s Ecology Centre, hoping for candid shots of the now famous H. Squirrel relaxing at home. He was shown round, but not a single squirrel showed itself.
Keeper Jens Lehmann appeared at the next Arsenal press conference. Asked about the 12th player who’d helped defend his goal against Villareal, he reminded everyone about the World Cup, to be staged in Germany that summer. ‘We have many squirrels. Brown squirrels…’ he grinned. An obvious drawing card, footballing squirrels.
The next Premiership game at Highbury was with old rivals Tottenham. Even the broadcasters were intensively searched before going into the stadium. ‘Just checking for squirrels’, said a steward… The legend lives on.