Monday, 17 December 2007

Grey tree rat eats birds eggs

If you have been following my diary you will know that I had a grey squirrel visit my garden and after buying a squirrel feeder I reconsidered using it. During the time I was considering this I emailed a column (Craigie) of a local Newspaper (The Courier) asking if any readers had advice or experience they could pass on to others in the same situation as myself. I asked the question: “what damage, if any, does a squirrel do by visiting a garden?” I was delighted that last week I had a response to the article.

Laurie Richards of Cellardyke mailed the Newspaper with a reply:

“In answer to your correspondent who wonders if grey squirrels should be encouraged, she should be aware that their proper name is grey tree rat and, like most rats they are disease-carrying vermin.

“Whether she wishes to encourage such in her garden is up to her, but she should make sure her nest box is squirrel proof, because there’s only one thing a grey likes better than a bird’s egg, and that’s a nice helpless nestling!

“Reds, on the other hand, are vegetarians.”

This column has published a number of my emails when I have had a wildlife story to share and it is known that I have a camera Nestbox. I have to say that although I had never mentioned bird’s eggs as a concern with the squirrel before I did think I had read something about this somewhere. This reader has now confirmed this but I had no idea at all that the grey would also eat the young! I also had no idea that the reds were vegetarians! Thank-you, Laurie for your reply.

I would also like to highlight a comment I received over the weekend on my post Decision made . Thank-you Bella for leaving such a detailed account of your experience with squirrels in your garden and I am sure there are many more people who will be interested to read about it. Bella made her comment after reading the other comments on this post but as not everyone reads them I thought I would share hers here. Thank-you Bella this made very interesting reading indeed!

Bella wrote:
“I came across your site by accident today, but have been fascinated to read the different comments about squirrels. I've always been encouraging to wildlife in my gardens too, but never had squirrels until we moved to this present house which has a wood at the end of the road, only a few houses down from me.

“I was told they used to come through these gardens anyway but once I started feeding the birds they came even more and I was foolish enough to put up a squirrel feeder a number of years ago to keep them away from the bird food, and to keep it replenished at least once a day. As anyone who has done that will tell you, all it succeeded in doing was encouraging more squirrels - and the silly things would all insist on coming at the same time to feed from it. You can imagine it was like a massed canteen full of teenagers who could only be fed one at a time! This caused mayhem since the top squirrel who got there first would be challenged by at least numbers two and three on the social scale and led to some bad and very noisy fights (sometimes early in the morning) and the more timid ones further down the rankings would still hang around the various bird feeders and eat all their food and stop the birds from getting any - and the ones who weren't eating at present often spent the time in my garden between feeds mating and thus trying hard to increase their numbers since they must have thought they never had it so good.

“Eventually after polite mutterings from neighbours (all except one were very nice about it, and that one just doesn't like any wildlife or children whatsoever) and after even I became exasperated by them I stopped feeding them entirely from their own box and removed it. They had been so used to coming though that it took a while for them to get the message, but eventually the numbers trickled to the odd one or two a day. Now what I do when I see them is put out a very small amount of peanuts and sunflower seeds in a saucer just enough for him/her and that works just fine, and any time they attack the bird feeder I bring it in temporarily and the squirrel leaves in minutes when I can put it out again.

“By the way, one of the benefits of once having had so many come regularly was that I saw at close quarters the differences in the greys (since we don't have reds in this part of Scotland) and could distinguish individuals in the population and I saw also both an albino and a black one up close. There was also one cute one who, if the feeder was empty, would come knocking on the bedroom window to waken me and let me know she wanted food - and that one still comes thankfully and still is friendly. Everyone is now happy, including me, for I like squirrels. Good luck with keeping yours, but keeping it under control.”

Bella had exactly the same idea as I had about the squirrel feeder and I did suspect that might happen too and that is the main reason I returned mine. However if I had read Laurie’s reply first I would never have bought the feeder in the first place!

So yes, my recent posting of the Squirrel on an obstacle course was entertaining but only that. I would much rather watch the activity in my Camera Nestbox and see our nestlings survive. So now, I may consider chasing the squirrel should it visit my garden again.

6 comments:

urbanextension said...

Everything people have said on your site is right... I know that. However, we have a large garden with lots of large trees and at least 6 squirrels BUT there are a couple of things I have noticed.

Although I have 5 feeders the squirrels only come and feed for a relatively short amount of time (and usually only autumn/winter) the rest of the time the birds have the feeders to themselves.

I also have several bird boxes, they are all "squirrel proof" (ie hole too small for them to get in), and the fledglings don't seem to have a problem at all. My open fronted boxes are away from trees and not accessible by the squirrels (on the side of the house).

When I was growing up in North London, squirrels were the only "wild" mammals I ever saw. They were so cheeky in our local park that they climbed up your body and came and sat on your hand to eat monkey nuts. In fact I spent all my pocketmoney on monkey nuts just so that I could be close to them!

OK, now I'm in the countryside they are more of a nuisance.... but I will always be thankful to those London squirrels, as they gave me a love of wildlife that has never left me.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Shirl for reposting the post of my experience with grey squirrels, though it certainly didn't warrant it, except possibly as a cautionary tale to anyone thinking of putting up squirrel feeding boxes (which nearly all garden centres do encourage!). However, on coming back to your site to explore more views of your lovely garden and the bloom-day site I found from yours (great idea!) I find I disagree entirely with some advice you seem to have been given, so forgive me for posting again on this topic since you have made up your mind (and I entirely agree with your decision especially when I now find, and missed before, that you live in Perthshire), but some of the comments were not only unfairly pejorative towards the greys but highly inaccurate about both squirrels. I feel the need to stand up for the much maligned grey.

The greys proper name certainly isn't tree rat but Sciurus carolinensis, while the red is Sciurus vulgaris, so both are from the same family, genus and sub-genus, only the species being different, and they are not that different, except for the things like greys having longer gestation and lactation periods, ability to digest acorns, and ground feeding - both are tree rodents, both deserve to be called 'rats' and it is wrong to state that greys like nothing better than eating eggs or nestlings any more than reds and it is totally inaccurate to state categorically that reds are exclusively vegetarian - any expert will tell you that both are mostly vegetarian but are opportunistic feeders and both will plunder birds nests at times and I myself can attest that reds do so for I have seen it with my own eyes (and the aid of binoculars).

Until moving here (just down the road from you south of Edinburgh) I had little knowledge of grey squirrels and had never had squirrels in my garden, but having lived further north and close to a large coniferous woodland where there was a large population of reds, always being a wildlife lover, appreciator and enjoyer of our beautiful Scottish countryside, walker and climber, then I had more knowledge or reds and not a grey in sight. Since moving here and finding my suburban garden inundated with greys I initially did the same as you and posted to various groups online about experience with grey squirrels (without your lovely garden photos unfortunately) and got similar responses to you, and the tree rat designation seemed to be applied more by my American online friends who were especially vitriolic about greys, and many homeschooling, crafting, wildlife-loving, otherwise soft and mumsy types were also the ones telling me they happily shot squirrels any time they saw them! Well as you already know I fed my lot for a few years until they became an annoyance and stopped feeding them a few years ago now though still have them, but I must state that in that time they were so numerous here they never damaged my property (or my neighbours) and, like Urbanextension, I found they couldn't touch my nestboxes and only once in these years did the greys attack a nest in a neighbours tree (while in that same time birds nests in nearby trees were attacked six time by neighbouring cats, four times by crows and twice by magpies - since I work from home and am here a lot I can be pretty accurate). Because the greys carry but don't succumb to the pox virus that kills our reds and because over here, unlike USA, they do damage to our woodland then I can see there are genuine reasons to be concerned about their abundance, but painting them as exclusively the villain of the piece is hardly fair.

The real villain as far as I am concerned is us, since we introduced them. When I first started to find out about greys I also found out more about reds and among fascinating facts were that the reds in the early 1800s were in serious decline due to deforestation during the great age of sailing ship building and after reforestation and, in places, deliberate reintroduction by the end of the 1800s and early 1900s reds were so numerous to be considered pests and there were a number of squirrel clubs formed for the sport of killing them - the Highland Squirrel Club killed about a hundred thousand of them and offered bounties until 1946, and that greys were last released in 1929. Thankfully present day red squirrel clubs try to save them - yet now it is the greys turn to be vilified and hunted - hardly fair, now is it? preservation and extension of the reds habitat is the most important thing. I would have urged you and anyone else to take part in the Scottish squirrel survey http://www.scottishsquirrelsurvey.co.uk/survey.html
or join a local squirrel club. But I don't live in an area with any reds now and will happily continue feeding the occasional grey when it needs it - after all, every species could do with some help at times.

On a final note I will be back again to your site and the bloom day one to see the lovely photos (may even start posting myself some day) - in flower at the moment I have mahonia media charity, viburnum tinus and winter jasmine but everything else is very bare. You however have a lovely site of garden photos.
Bella

Pete said...

i ought to mention that the "red squirrels are vegetarians" comment is untrue.

according to the forestry commission "Red squirrels are seed eaters. They favour pine cones, but also eat larch and spruce. Their diet also includes fungi, shoots and fruits of shrubs and trees, and sometimes birds' eggs. They can choose between good and bad nuts by holding them in their paws. Reds do not hibernate and store fungi in trees to eat over the winter months. When food is plentiful, they put on weight in the autumn to help them through the winter. This is important for breeding females, so that they are in good condition for producing young."

my view is that here Squirrels are a fate accompli.

I think alot of our fascination with the red is nostalgia. At one time there was even a cull on Reds.

If I could send them all back to North America I would but I think that time has long past. The Reds best chance is on Islands like the Isle of Wight and Brownsea.

shirl said...

Hi again, Jane, Bella and Pete :-)

I would like to thank you all for adding so much info on the subject of squirrels in gardens. I knew this would be a contentious issue when I raised it. Thanks for taking part in discussions.

Jane – my first wildlife memories were also of squirrels but being in the countryside I only every saw the red and was always thrilled to see it racing up the trees and jumping from branch to branch above me. I never thought of it as a rat then nor will I do now :-D

Bella – You are quite correct, I saw your comment as a cautionary tale especially with regard to feeders being sold in shops - although I only found them in a pet shop as the garden centres weren’t selling them in my area. Thanks for adding so much information to this post – I am sure you will help others decide for themselves :-D

Pete – I had no idea that the reds were culled at some point. Thanks for adding info on the red - nature is fascinating! As for nostalgia with the red, well perhaps, but I feel the same about the trees in the woods where I used to see them climb :-D

Mr. McGregor's Daughter said...

I had no idea squirrels ate bird's eggs. I thought they ate only acorns, peanuts, bird seed & donuts!

Amelie Gough said...

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