anne mikolay 2012 120Yes! There is such a thing! Squirrel Appreciation Day (January 21st) was started in 2001 by wildlife rehabilitator Christy Hargrove to celebrate the spry, furry creatures populating backyards and parks across the country. After-all, if groundhogs can have their own special day, why not squirrels?

My fascination with squirrels dates back to my childhood when my Dad convinced me I could press my ear against a tree trunk and hear squirrels chattering inside. My mother and I fed a squirrel we named “Sweetie” in the backyard of our home in New York. “Sweetie” quickly learned where the kitchen door was and often sat on the back porch railing, begging paw raised, staring into the kitchen. My Aunt Sarah and I fed squirrels in the park. She trained a black squirrel to accept a peanut from her hand (not a good idea!), and whenever Sarah sat down upon the park bench, the black squirrel appeared and walked right up to her as though he had been waiting just for her.

I've learned a lot about squirrels through observation. They communicate through chattering or flicking their tails (which is a “do not approach” warning). Additionally, their tails are used for balance and warmth in the winter. Squirrels do not hibernate and are active all year. They have dichromatic vision, meaning they see color. Their walnut-sized brains enable them to remember where they stash their food and recognize people who routinely feed them. While there are several different species of squirrel, the smallest in the world is the African Pygmie with a two and one half inch body; the largest is the Ratufa, better known as the Indian giant squirrel (three feet!) found in southeast Asia.

The average speed of a squirrel at full run is between eight and ten miles per hour; though my dog enjoys chasing squirrels, I doubt he will ever catch one. Squirrels can swim, but not well enough to keep from drowning in backyard pools. A few years ago, my husband rescued a squirrel who had fallen into our pool. Now we leave a boogie board in the pool as a rescue device in the hopes of giving a squirrel something to float on if he falls into the water when we are not there.

Squirrels build nests called “dreys” high in the treetops between two sturdy branches. Fashioned from twigs and leaves, the interior is lined with fur and feathers. Some squirrels build “dens” in hollow trees. Baby squirrels are born in the spring commonly in a litter of four. At eight to ten weeks of age, the juvenile squirrels venture out on their own. Solitary animals, if they survive their first year and are not hit by a car, they will likely live six or seven years. In captivity, a squirrel can live twenty years.

Last summer, I learned firsthand why squirrels are known as backyard bandits. Aside from easily climbing my allegedly squirrel proof bird feeders, my backyard squirrels memorized where I keep the peanuts in my screened patio and raided the stash by chewing a whole in the screen. Such is the risk of feeding backyard wildlife!

On January 21st, Squirrel Appreciation Day, toss a couple of peanuts into your yard and watch the squirrels come running. Yes, they are considered rodents, but they are the cutest, most comical rodents around.

Just don't keep the peanuts in your patio room.

To find out more about squirrels or to upload photos/videos of your backyard critters, log onto projectsquirrel.org