It’s time for a breather. Leaving politics and religion behind, let’s talk about something really squirrelly.
The trees guys were here yesterday to do some heavy trimming in our birches and a honey locust, and a little light trimming in our other trees. The locust is healthy, but it’s been generating dead branches at an accelerating pace. It turns out to be related to squirrels. Urban squirrels have a life span of a year or so, being regularly thinned out by traffic, electrocution, and such. A healthy squirrel living in a protected area with plenty of food and water can live a lot longer: five to eight years maybe.
Squirrels can have several litters each year, and they become sexually active at a very young age. I’m told that eating, sleeping, and sex are their primary activities. You know all that friendly running around chasing each other up and down limbs? It’s not play. It’s squirrel courtship, and it’s hard to tell who is chasing who. Anyway, the tree lined back yards running up and down our block are a wonderfully safe place for squirrels. The neighborhood is quiet with little traffic. All electricity is under ground. The only squirrel dangers are hawks and a couple of ferocious neighborhood cats. Of course the dogs would be dangerous if they could ever catch one, but they can’t.
What about food and water? We feed birds, so do a few of the neighbors. Being a soft hearted sort of fellow, I’ve often bought squirrel mix along with bird food. They eat both, but get special joy out of a mix of peanuts and oily sunflower seeds. Bird baths, fountains, and lawn watering take care of the rest. It’s a squirrel paradise. So how does that affect the locust tree?
Squirrels make their nests of patched together leaves and twigs high in the trees. Their favorite one is a neighbor’s enormous oak, but others will do. The nests look fragile but can withstand wind, snow, hail, and ice. If the trees holds up, so will the nest. It turns out that the very best stuff for nest building are strips of locust bark, which is easy for them to peel away, and flexible enough to be woven, in a squirrelly way, into a nest. It wouldn’t be a problem if this wasn’t a squirrel paradise where generations of them can live in comfort, but it is. Which means that there are too many squirrels ripping up to much bark on too many branches, and that’s causing smaller ones to die.
The old honey locust has been heavily trimmed. Birds happily eat out of feeders the squirrels have given up on (so far). I sat out on the patio at sunrise this morning to watch the world wake up. Confused squirrels scurried along their arboreal highway only to discover dead ends and cul de sacs where main arteries used to be. With any luck, most of them will find better pickings at the other end of the block. We shall see.