Friday, March 7, 2014

The Squirrels of Cypress Hills, Brooklyn


For the last three years, I thought what is portrayed in the photo on the left was a crow’s nest; it was a logical assumption because of the size and the fact we do actually have crows living in the forest composed of our neighborhood’s backyards.

Boy was I ever wrong! It is a nest all right, but it actually belongs toHPIM1695 the little character in the photo on the right. Yes, a squirrel. Now, there are several squirrels in our neighborhood (yes, there are squirrels even in good old suburban Brooklyn, New York, along with several other creatures that one wouldn’t necessarily think of finding in a big city) including a pure black one.

We also have a very large bird of prey that comes to visit from time to time; I presume that this is why the squirrel population in our neighborhood hasn’t exploded – it’s certainly not because of the cats and dogs in the area, which have bonded with the squirrels and are more likely to be chased by the squirrels rather than the other way around.

I discovered that the nest belongs to the squirrels quite by accident; my desk faces our backyard and I love watching what goes on outside. There is always something to distract me from whatever I happen to be working on at the moment, and any distraction is an excellent reason to “run” outside with my camera and take pictures. I particularly enjoy watching the squirrels as they run up and down the trees, along the branches and jumping from one tree to the next without ever breaking their stride. The only time I don’t enjoy watching their antics is when they run along the fence and attack my vegetable garden, which they do the very moment my strawberries or tomatoes are ready to be harvested. Someday… well, that’s another discussion.

HPIM1705On this particular occasion, I noticed that one of the squirrels was heading toward the “crow’s nest” carrying something in its mouth. It’s way too early for that something to be from someone’s vegetable garden, since most of the backyards around here are covered with a thick layer of snow and ice. I was most curious because, as Alice would say, the situation was becoming curiouser and curiouser. Said squirrel, which just happens to be the same in the picture on the upper right, disappeared into the nest, emerging shortly thereafter, empty-mouthed.

The nest turned out to be formed by nothing more nor less than a conglomeration of soggy dried leaves – as I discovered later – that continually changes shape and size according to the circumstances. And, despite these differences the two photos are of the same nest, only two days apart. There has been a great deal of activity surrounding the nest today; there was a very strong wind last night and this morning and a large amount of the leaves fell to the ground. The photo here is of the squirrel leaving the nest after depositing the bundle of leaves, which were put into place by yet another squirrel.

Another reason for my suspicion about new members in the squirrel community is that one of the squirrels (again, I suspect it’s the mother) has been behaving in a very unsquirrely manner. If another squirrel should happen by, probably not so innocently, it gets chased off, and the nest’s resident quickly returns from whence it came. Now, in and of itself, running haphazardly is not uncommon behavior: a squirrel’s favorite pastime is chasing or being chased by other squirrels, and they will run for hours up and down tree-trunks, along branches, jumping from one tree to another, running up and down stairways, along fences while in the meantime getting into as much trouble as they possibly can. This morning, in fact, one of them found a bagel and began running all over the neighborhood with at least two other squirrels running in hot pursuit. The first squirrel’s progress was somewhat hampered by the fact that the bagel was twice his width. They provided me with much needed humor.

For some reason, there haven’t been a lot of baby squirrels in the neighborhood, and though the nest has been there for at least two years, it really is the first time I’ve noticed any activity involving it by the squirrels. In any case, we will probably be seeing anywhere from 2-8 baby squirrels in about three to four months. Baby squirrels are born blind and completely helpless, like most rodents, and depend on their mothers for 2-3 months before facing the world on their own.

Although the nest isn’t right in my own backyard, it’s close enough that when the babies begin to experiment the world around them, I should be able to see them. And, strangely enough, I’m excited about seeing them, along with the others we already know—Blackie, Blondie, Fatty, Scraggly Tail, and all the others—as long as they don’t eat all my fresh vegetables.