The Taunting Chickaree Print
     It started in the wee hours one morning, just as dawn was breaking.  My mind was barely beginning to function, as I stretched and opened one eye to see what the weather might be.  Surprisingly, a scurrying, rustling noise went through the bedroom wall near my head.
     “What was that?” I thought, sitting upright.  Wicca, my faithful black lab, was also immediately awake and staring at the wall, ears pricked and twitching.  The rustling noise moved across the wall upward, then across the ceiling and soon disappeared.
     If wishful thinking could have made the problem go away, the noise would have ended, but again the next morning, the rustling sounds began.  This time I was ready, hopped out of bed, and was able to follow the scurrying across the wall of the hallway before I lost it, an excited lab with her nose in the air right on my heels.
     “Well, it’s too big to be a mouse,” I told her, not really wanting to explore the possibility of what animal it was…opossum, raccoon, wood rat.  Ugh!  However, after breakfast, I bundled up and before going to the greenhouse, I searched around the perimeter of the house for animal footprints or holes.  I didn’t see a thing.
     In the days that followed, the sound seemed to grow louder and the mysterious animal seemed to be exploring other walls and ceilings.  Occasionally, I was certain that I heard the sound of a something being dropped.  Sometimes it sounded like a hard ball rolling between the joists.
     Then one day while I was working on the computer, Wicca, who had been lounging by the French doors that lead to the deck, began to bark.  By the time I made it to the doors, the lab was in a frenzy, eager to be let out.  I looked out, and saw a small red squirrel calmly sitting on our outdoor breakfast table, eating a black walnut and eyeing us with suspicion.  His eyes were bright, his tail twitched as he nibbled the meats from the shell.
     I let Wicca out the front door, but by the time she’d run around the house to the deck, the squirrel had long disappeared.
     That night, there were two black walnuts sitting on the table.  Now, understand that the walnut trees are forty yards from the deck, and the deck itself is on the second floor, connected to another deck at ground level by steps.  This little squirrel is only about the size of a chipmunk, maybe 9” long, but half of that is tail!  The black walnuts are as big as his head!
     Each morning, the spunky little athlete would sit on the table, eating his breakfast walnut, and taunting the big black dog.  When bad weather was approaching, there were sometimes six or eight walnuts piled in a neat stack in the center of the table, so he wouldn’t have to dig through deep drifts into frozen earth.  Smart, industrious fellow!
     The red squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) is a native to our area.   Both sexes look alike, so the rusty red fur with whitish stomach could belong to a male or female.  Their tails are not as fluffy as a gray squirrel, being slightly flattened in appearance.  A little research told me that these active little squirrels are also called “chickarees.”  They are common in parks, neighborhood trees, orchards, and forests.  They are especially fond of evergreens since they love to eat the seeds from cones of pines and hemlocks, as well as apples and other fruits.
     Their antics are fun to watch, because they are so quick.  An adult can run 15 ft. in a second, which is more than 10 miles per hour!  And our little chickaree has an engaging personality.  He/she is especially active now, probably because red squirrels mate in February and March.  They are very promiscuous, and I assure you our little fellow is quite saucy and spends much time preening his fur.  Breeding couples will stay together until the little ones are independent, then they may find new “spouses” to raise a second litter later in the summer.  A litter is normally three to six blind, naked, helpless babies that take about five weeks to weaning.
     I eventually found the 1 ½” hole near the ceiling in the garage.  I waited one morning until I knew he had left, then nailed a piece of tin over the opening.  Now you may think I am heartless, but my research made me decide that the chickaree had no place in my walls.  First of all, the noise was driving me crazy, not to mention Wicca.  Since a chickaree’s normal life span is twelve years, I suspected he was going to be around for a long time.  Secondly, there was the possibility of gnawing on wiring and causing a fire, not to mention the droppings and walnut hulls that were no doubt accumulating in our insulation.  Thirdly, the possibility that there might soon be an entire family scurrying through the walls, maybe inviting the relatives, or throwing elaborate parties made me nervous.  And, fourth, after further research, I decided my chickaree was not quite so cute after all.  
     Apparently, red squirrels are not vegetarians.  A single adult may eat 200 young birds in one season!  He happily raids ny bird feeders when he gets tired of walnuts and pine cones.  And, I suspect he invited his pals, the chipmunks over for a crocus bulb buffet soon after I planted them last fall.
     So, I nailed the hole firmly shut, and am vigilant to watch for new ones.   I’ve decided to put up a “bottle tree/corn feeder” for the squirrels.  I’ll keep filling one regular bird feeder for his use far away from the new squirrel-proof feeders for my birds.  I hope by providing plenty of food, he’ll become a vegetarian after all!  In some areas, red squirrels are considered vermin.  However, I can’t help but respond to his antics, and recognize that he is also a gardener.  After all, he is an important planter of cones and nuts.