I’m one of those nuts who feeds the squirrels.
There’s an old playhouse in our backyard; its steps are protected from the wind and rain. So every morning I dump a good-sized bowl of unsalted, unshelled peanuts onto the top two steps for the little guys.
The enclosed steps also have the added advantage of making it harder for blue jays to see and get to the nuts. (When they do, they can make life miserable for the squirrels.)
I’ve learned a lot about my furry friends by observing them. I usually watch out of my kitchen window, which gives me a perfect view of the playhouse.
They usually show up between 8 and 10 a.m. If they’re not around, I’ll make a loud “chip-chip-chip!” sound to let them know breakfast is ready.
If they’re there and I’m late in getting the peanuts out, they’ll gather around the playhouse and dash up and down the stairs. They’ll stop and sniff around, looking for even one leftover morsel of nut.
When I finally approach with the goods, they’ll usually freeze where they are until I get too close for the comfort zone, then virtually fly to the nearest trees for safety. I’ll dump the nuts and by the time I’m back in the kitchen they’ll already be feasting.
They pick the nut up with their front paws while sitting erect. They nibble to crack the shell, careful not to eat any of it, until one of the two nuts inside is exposed. They nibble at that until it’s gone, then flip the peanut over and repeat the process.
I’ve got six squirrels. Occasionally others show up, but they don’t stay for long. The other six drive them off. The six are not a team; they are three pairs that have learned to live with each other. Two squirrels at a time will go into the pile, each grab a nut, then take it five to 10 feet away to nibble on it. While they’re chewing, another pair grab nuts and go a short distance, and then the third crew will do the same.
When the weather’s dry and I see the squirrels searching for scraps, sometimes I’ll be lazy. I’ll just open the kitchen window and dump the nuts onto the ground, calling out to advise them of the change in dining venue.
Usually when I open the window, the squirrels either freeze or flee, to return moments later when the window is closed and that dangerous guy who feeds them is gone.
The nut pile on the ground is more vulnerable to other squirrels so my guys guard the pile in various ways. One will take a nut from the ground and run all the way to the playhouse in the back, climb to the top and watch out for other squirrels while it nibbles away. The other will eat its nut with its back to the house, looking in all directions for interlopers.
Not all six of my buddies are there at the same time. Sometimes a couple will be late. If I see them, I’ll put out food.
But one guy doesn’t wait for me to notice him if he or his mate are hungry. He’ll come right up to the front door, if the weather’s nice and it’s open, and sit on the step waiting for me to look out. More often, he’ll sit a few feet away from the kitchen, looking up at the window for any sign of life.
He sits up on his back legs, put his tiny front paws into the typical beggars pose and looks at me with eyes that say, “I know you’re the kind man who feeds me. I missed out on my meal today. Could I kindly trouble you for something to eat? I’m so hungry, and I know you’re such a softy.”
In the summer, before I was back to work full-time, I had more time to spend watching. And so did my friend. He knew my car. He’d sit atop the utility pole in the neighbor’s yard when I was out and watch for my return. By the time I got to the front step, he’d be a few feet away, tugging at my heartstrings.
I think sometimes he didn’t miss his morning meal at all. He just wanted more nuts.
Some squirrels are smarter than others.