Posted by: Memorizing Nature | February 5, 2012

Squirrels, Keep Us Company

Any wild species that lives so closely with humans – and has managed to survive – deserves some recognition. So it is with squirrels. Whippy and wily, with arresting eyes and cushioned claws, squirrels are taken for granted. But what do we know about them, except that they chew through wires and attics? (That behavior is apparently a necessity. Their incisors never stop growing, so they gnaw away to file them down.)  

Photo by E. Medline

Recently, I visited a small urban park near the Ottawa River to watch black and grey tree squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis). There were more than half-dozen of them there, bouncing across the snow, scaling trunks, hanging upside-down, nibbling, and using their double-jointed hind feet to descend.  Several approached me, no doubt thinking I had brought some junk food.  When it was clear that wasn’t happening, they stared at me warily, or climbed higher to get away. Squirrels are friendly but cautious, although not too great with cars. Many a time have I risked a rear-ender by  slamming on the brakes for some zig-zaggy squirrel jaywalker.        

Photo by E. Medline

Really, the bushy tail makes all the difference. If rats had the same sort of tail, instead of the hairless variety, we’d probably find them adorable too. After all, they’re both rodents. Since we haven’t evolved with tails, we humans can’t appreciate the benefits of such an appendage. For squirrels, the tail helps them balance, but it also acts as a parachute when they slip. It’s a blanket in the cold, and a parasol in the heat. And there are other adaptations. Black squirrels are rare in most parts of the world, but appear in colder climates because the darker fur keeps them warmer. On the other hand, grey squirrels are thought to be less noticeable to predators such as birds of prey, so it’s a gamble either way.

Photo by E. Medline

During summer, I’m usually looking down, not up. I might examine the petals of wildflowers or hope to see a millipede. Now it’s winter, and the ground is cloaked in snow.  But above, that’s where the interesting action is. Squirrels are grasping with their marvelous long claws, trapeze-swinging from branch to branch, tree to tree, seemingly from cloud to cloud. They are busy the same time we are, in daylight. They amuse us, but more importantly, they remind us that in this desolate season, we have a few neighbours, that we are not here alone.  

Photo by E. Medline

Note to readers: I am pleased to report that Memorizing Nature took first prize in the 2011 Canadian Weblog Awards, nature category. Thank you for your support, and be sure to take a look at the other winners here.



  1. Congratulations on your well deserved award! I love the fact that my house has a small patch of woods behind it.. I can watch the squirrels whenever I am washing dishes (yes I do it by hand!).

    These are fabulous shots.

  2. Adding my congratulations on your weblog award — Brava! — and my appreciation of your appreciation of squirrels. Double-jointed hind feet — that explains their acrobatics in my back yard!

  3. Congratulations on your win. The consistent quality of your writing and the great picrues make it a richly deserved award.

    I have a love hate relationship with squirrels. If they could only keep their little gnawing teeth off my tomatoes, I’d like them a whole lot better…. They are quite amusing to watch though, and they seem to have such a fine time in life, as they run hither and thither, they play together, they have races and wrestling matches. Plenty of time in a squirrel’s life for amusement, it seems.

    I have also seen them using their tails as an umbrella as they curl them over their head in the rain while they eat the sunflower seeds the finches throw out of the feeder to them.

    Mostly around here we have grey squirrels, but those black ones are quite lovely.

  4. Congrats Elaine! I’m not surprised at all that you won first prize. Both your writing and your photos are stunning!

  5. Thank you for your kind words: milojar, Sue, healingmagichands and Simone. People across the world can really relate to squirrels – they show up almost everywhere. It’s nice to discuss and get pics of more hidden species, but so comforting to celebrate our everyday neighbours.

  6. Congratulations on your award!

    Such lovely squirrels here, that last photo ois particularly cute!

    Crafty Green poet

  7. Congratulations on your award!
    Your photographs are great.

    Regards and best wishes

  8. Great photos, Elaine! How did you get squirrels in so many different poses?

    • Domesticus, I used a telephoto lens and visited a park-like area where there were many squirrels. Then I spent about an hour moving about and snapping hundreds of pictures. There was one squirrel in particular who was very lively and I wanted to capture that movement and dexterity. When I first arrived, the squirrels drew closer, mistakenly believing I had brought food, but after awhile they became wary and distanced themselves. At that point, I felt I was interfering, so packed up and left.

      • You weren’t interfering! If you hang around long enough and don’t shoot a gun at them, animals start to accept your presence and go on with their lives while you watch. You have the patience of a good photojournalist.

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