Monday, February 27, 2012

Backyard thugs unmasked: Sciurus carolinensis

We've had our share of losses at the teeth of the local rodent population.  Just before bloom time each year, squirrels decapitate my spring bulbs, and rabbits have decimated many of our small trees and shrubs while searching for food in past harsh winters (see here).  This year's mild winter had lessened our worries about more property damage.  But then one balmy February morning we looked out the window to see this:

Can you spot it?  Look for the tree limb with its bark completely stripped

That limb belongs to a beautiful basswood tree (genus Tilia), which although it appears behind our fence is actually our tree. We hope to reclaim it when we re-fence the property, but only if it can survive this current onslaught.  At first we suspected raccoons because the damage seemed so extensive, but then we caught the true fiend in the act!

Caught in the act
It was a grey squirrel (well, a black grey squirrel, but same species, Sciurus carolinensis).

Oooooh, you varmint!
Now, I abhor violence, but at this moment I was really longing, like Alfie, for a Red Ryder carbine-action, 200-shot, range model air rifle BB gun.  Unfortunately, as you can see, we're in an urban area (note the alignment of neighbouring windows and offending animal) that precludes any violent action--even against known felons.  And so, we plot.   Squirrel catapult?  Squirrel scarecrow?   

Apparently, pregnant female squirrels have been known to strip the bark from several favoured tree species, especially basswood--well known as a source of cordage*--in the search for nesting material.  So, we can look forward to a rapidly expanding population of squirrels who by genetics or observation will continue to strip the bark from our trees.    Squirrel taxidermy?

*I didn't actually know about basswood's cordage potential until this year and neither apparently did the local the local squirrel population, because in twelve winters here this is the first time I've witnessed this specific form of destruction. My source was Google, but theirs? 

A dropped bundle of freshly stripped basswood cordage, now apparently sullied by snow and unsuitable for nesting

the damage done
What we do know, through experience, is that this behaviour is certain to spark copycat crimes.  And I would like to nip them, so to speak, in the bud.  Any suggestions of just desserts for bark-stripping squirrels would be welcome.