Eastern grey squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) are well adapted to surviving winter and many of their natural predators are less abundant in cities which make urban habitats an unlikely but relatively ideal setting for these crafty rodents.
Between the tasty things we throw out and their preferred edibles that literally grow on trees and there is no shortage of food for them here.
These critters can be spotted in just about every park in the city and are such a common sight we barely give them a second thought but they are actually quite remarkable creatures.
Even with the variety (and often magnitude) of scents in city parks they are able to use their olfactory aptitude to sniff out buried food they stored months ago.
When you consider the powerful aromas of things like full trashcans, unattended dog excrement, and worse you realize what a truly impressive feat this is.
In addition to their impressive noses, they have quite a good long term memory.
A study published this past summer from the University of Exeter demonstrated that squirrels were not only capable problem solvers, but that they were able to remember the solutions they learned almost two years later.
Perhaps this intelligence was a factor that helped made them some of the most popular pets in American in the 18th and 19th centuries – so popular that they were painted into portraits and books were authored on their domestic care.
Just because they can get used to people does not mean they are friendly pets, however.
Squirrels scampering around are a delight to watch, but it is important to remember that these are wild animals you’re dealing with.
While a squirrel in the park will gladly take human food (and in some high traffic parks, even demand it), food they will find on their own will always be healthier for them.
Though rabid squirrels are rare a Prospect Park squirrel last summer suspected of carrying the deadly disease attacked five people in Prospect Park.
In the parks give them space not only for their benefit but for yours as well, especially if you’re with a curious canine friend that may want to chase them.
Though overlooked because of their commonality, eastern squirrels are actually quite fascinating creatures and I encourage you to take a second look the next time you see one.