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Archive for March, 2010

The coywolf, groundhog and black squirrel we’ve been following have all done pretty well in the last week.

Coywolf
The coyote captured in SoHo last week (and probably the same one that’s been lurking around Central Park this winter) got released in Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, where a pack already lives, the city’s pre-eminent wildlife rehabber Bobby Horvath says. This young female may have been part of that pack, but was pushed out in mating season. Three coyotes were spotted up at Columbia University this winter.  One was hit by a car on 130th Street and another may still be out there.

Groundhog
The groundhog that turned up on the street near the Soho Grand is doing fine, awaiting release into Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx. No one is sure how the woodchuck turned up there, but the staff caught him and gave him a dog crate. Bill–as I call him, though he may well be female–turns out to be quite healthy. He enjoys apples, chestnuts and acorns, but shuns the greens he is supposed to like. Bill lunges at the cage bars when I hang around too much–proving that he’s quite healthy and most likely not a misbegotten pet.

Bobby researched where groundhogs live in the city–where I’m required to release him. He only found evidence in Pelham Bay Park, Van Cortlandt and Fort Tryon. I called a parks biologist to find the best place to release him. At first he was unsure whether I’d be allowed to release him in the park at all, then confirmed I could. He suggested a nice field in Van Cortlandt.

Black Squirrel

Mickey, the black squirrel who came to me with bottom teeth grown into her top gums, is getting stronger. She had a top tooth, lost it and now has one back again. She is an odd duck, preferring to throw out the padding I put in her cardboard box; most squirrels can’t stuff enough junk in their makeshift houses. I got her a lovely cedar house that she repeatedly rejected. Until all of a sudden she decided she loved it and didn’t want to leave. Since then she comes out only to eat–though she prefers I just hand-feed her avocado at her house door–and to pee on her roof. I take that as a sign she likes the house.

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To animal tourists, Yellowstone National Park is Mecca, with a Broadway show that also somehow includes the the U.S. Capitol. You have to go once; it’s spectacular, important, historical. But most Americans don’t ever get to go. If you do go, chances are you can’t stay as long as you’d like. So, even though it’s a wildlife wonderland, you may want to hire a guide so you don’t miss out.

Normally animaltourism.com focuses on seeing animals close to where people live in cities and suburbs. Anybody can tell you there are a lot of bears in Alaska or Wyoming. (And too many guide books give that kind of impractical and expensive advice.) But since my husband and I are planning a trip to Yellowstone, I’m checking out all the options there and assembling a guide to the guides.

These guides are expensive. But these are the people that know Yellowstone wildlife intimately, professionally and may be able to save you from an afternoon hoping for a bear jam. If you’re only traveling with a couple people, the science centers seem ideal. The private tours are generally priced for groups of four to six, making them two to three times more expensive for couples.  I’m sure this chart will grow and I’d like to focus on each in depth.

Check out the chart of Yellowstone Guides

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The entertaining part of being a wildlife rehabilitator–aside from aside from all that helping animals whose lives have been thrown off course by humans–is the crazy phone calls. Right in Manhattan I’ve gotten calls about “a bird someone told me is an eagle,” a baby skunk, a few possums, a handful of raccoons and pretty much every baby bird one neighbor ever sees. Today I got call from the SoHo Grand–a hotel more known for celebrities than wildlife–about a groundhog they found out on West Broadway.
In what little experience I have, I have learned that New Yorkers do not know their animals. Every call I get for a baby squirrel, I fear I am going to pick up a rat. But, much to my amazement, tonight I have a Manhattan groundhog sitting in a dog crate in my living room, awaiting release.
The people at the SoHo Grand couldn’t have been nicer–to me or the marmot. They captured her (or him) off the street, despite the animal’s screaming, because they figured leaving her there would be cruel. (They used to call them whistle pigs.) They gave her a nice crate, water, carrots and apples. Their theory was that she climbed into somebody’s trunk, then unwittingly stowed away into Manhattan. There was some speculation that she had somehow escaped a Chinatown kitchen. Groundhogs can move faster than you think, but I doubt one could make its way into Manhattan like the coyote.

I talked to Bobby Horvath, the kindest and most experienced wildlife rehabber in New York. He was surprised the groundhog let itself be caught. “Picture a squirrel, times 10,” he said, describing the difficulty of catching one without equipment. Bobby suggested I keep her till the rain stops in a day, just to be sure she’s okay, while he figures out a decent release site. Meanwhile, I put a plate of food in her cage. She sat on it. I looked at her near the bars. She lunged at me. I think she’ll be fine.

Where to See Wild Animals Around New York City

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Kailani finds goodies in an old stump.  Monty Sloan/ Wolfpark.org

The Easter Bunny visits Indiana’s Wolf Park this weekend, but don’t worry about his personal safety.
The park assures visitors “The Easter Bunny will hop into the wolf enclosure (the wolves will be elsewhere) and will hide Easter eggs for the wolves to find (after the Bunny leaves).” Whew!

The non-profit, educational park is really clever in coming up with events that both keep wolves busy and gently persuade the public to enjoy wolves instead of fearing them. They recently had a Twilight event, give the wolves pumpkins at Halloween, have a communal birthday party (all the wolves are born around the same time) and have overnight kids camps.

Volunteer Caity did let us in on an Easter secret: the wolves prefer other treats to the traditional colored hard-boiled eggs (just like people!). Wolves go for peeps and sausages. “The eggs are not necessarily their favorites, but they do look really cute,” Caity says. The wolves catch onto the game right away. “They’re very inquisitive,” she says. “Some are braver than others when it comes to exploring new items, but they all  pretty quickly notice it is food.”

The event, now in its eighth year, also includes Easter egg hunts for kids–no sausage included.

Where to Go To See Wolves
See More Animals in the Midwest

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Photo from 1010 Wins

Cops captured a coyote in lower Manhattan Thursday and are holding the young female at least overnight. She may be released into Van Cortlandt Park as early as Friday night, people who were in on the discussions say. Right now she’s sleeping off tranquilizers at Animal Care and Control.

Dumping the coyote in the Bronx may sound like Manhattan just dumping its unpleasantries in an outer borough, but there’s solid reasoning to it. Most New Yorkers don’t realize that Van Cortlandt and Pelham Bay Park already have coyote populations. 

No one is sure if this is the same coyote that’s been hanging around Central Park the last couple months. My guess is that it is. One thing that surprised most people is that the coyote turned out to be a female. People had figured the Central Park coyote as a young male who got pushed out of his territory by dominant males in mating season.

But it does seem that the Central Park Coyote was out and about yesterday. Bruce Yolton said the Central Park coyote–who has a habit of leaving the Hallett Nature Preserve just after dusk–was seen wandering around the preserve woods at lunch yesterday. On Wednesday 1010 says the canine was spotted down near the Holland Tunnel, but evaded cops. Of all the ways a coyote could get into Manhattan, I don’t think the Holland Tunnel was high on anyone’s list.  Cops finally caught her Thursday in a parking lot on Canal Street near the West Side Highway, The Daily News reports.

Getting caught outside the park may be her lucky break. The Central Park may have been slated for immediate death and rabies testing  for the coyote because of the outbreak of rabies in Central Park’s raccoons. The Health Department may still decide the coyote should stay in quarantine for 10 days to make sure she shows no rabies symptoms.

1010 also quotes a vet saying this is a coydog–half coyote, half dog. That’s not quite right. Genetic tests on similar animals have shown they aren’t “wild dog,” but a mix of western coyote and the eastern wolf that was wiped out. No coywolf has successfully moved to Manhattan, but there are at least two packs in parks in the Bronx. They may move this one out, but another will be sure to try to take over the real estate again.

Where to See Wild Animals Around New York City

Read more about coywolves
Read about the coywolf from its original tracker, Urban Hawks

Check out the Eastern Coyote Research center

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Unbeknownst to Molly, a young barn owl mother, about 2 million people are scrutinizing her egg-sitting, feeding and every move, day and night, asking questions and offering critiques about every 30 seconds. Since January, when Molly moved into a backyard owl box in San Marcos, CA, the box’s landlords started adding progressively more advanced photo equipment, culminating in the live streaming camera at Ustream, which has had about 2 million views.

Viewers won’t be disappointed. Molly fusses over her eggs–and now two chicks–like a Park Slope parent. She incessantly gets up to rearrange herself, providing a glimpse of the chicks. Her mate arrives just after sunset with dinner–once a whole rabbit. 

A retired couple, Carlos and Donna Royal, have been waiting for just such a visitor for years. “We have a very eco-friendly backyard; we live on an acre lot with lots of trees and plants for wildlife,” they say in their Ustream profile. “We have had kestrels, bluebirds, hummingbirds, phoebes, wild ducks, killdeer and mockingbirds all nest and raise their young in our habitat. We do not have any cats or dogs to disturb the wildlife.”

Carlos, a former real estate broker,  told the San Diego Union-Tribune that they put up the house two years ago, but got no tenants. Then in January a neighbor asked if they heard the owls screeching in a storm. With the help of their teenage grandson, they added a camera on the outside of the box, then an infrared camera and hooked it up to the internet. (Since Ustream is free, the whole arrangement probably only costs a less than $300.)

The Royals, who had a casual backyard blog Birds R Us before Molly, are clearly having a good time with their owl family. Back when Molly was a just a smalltime internet spectacle with 33,000 fans, they declared her “the most famous barn owl in the world.” They sell Molly Merchandise. They’ve changed their blog profile to suit Molly. The author’s occupation is listed as laying eggs, her favorite movie: The Birds.


Live TV : Ustream

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When you hear a report of a unexpected animal or bird showing up someplace, is it because they really moving into new places? Or did we just become better spotters? Or maybe it was the biological authorities who became less dismissive of citizen scientists? That was the gist of what ornithologist Shibail Mitra mulled over at a lecture at the Linnean Society of New York last night.

Mitra, who a biology professor at the College of Staten Island, came down for the citizen scientists, showing through several bird species examples how official guides willfully overlooked several species–counting them as an unremarkable subspecies, invasive escaped pets or just rare lost souls. Then when a committee somewhere declared it was a legitimate species, people started reporting more of them.

Barnacle Goose  Branta leucopsis

Courtesy of Ucumari

This bird breeds in Greenland, so its appearances early in the 20th Century were written off as escaped pets. Serious birders would put parentheses around them on their lists because they didn’t really count. Now they’re showing up more than once a year and records counters are accepting them.

Cackling Goose Branta hutchinsii

The Cackling Goose was dismissed as a a subspecies of the Canada Goose. So nobody counted it and it was “grossly overlooked,” Mitra says. Then in 2004 the American Ornithology Union decided that this much smaller bird that breeds in the arctic and winters in the west from Oregon to Mexico really is a separate species. That manmade distinction always makes the birds more interesting to people,  Mitra says.

Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea

Courtesy of Reders

Arctic terns were seldom recorded before the seventies by the birding authorities. They were at best a celebrity vagrant–a bird that quickly becomes the object of desire and gossip among birders. (The Central Park coywolf is certainly New York City’s celebrity vagrant of the moment.) Then sub-adult Arctic terns started showing up where and when nobody expected them: on Long Island beaches in mid-summer. Not old enough to breed, these adolescents don’t have to keep up with the rigorous arctic to Antarctica schedule of adults, so they visit the Moriches Inlet.

“When people did not have the predisposition to think they would find arctic terns,” Mitra says, “they did not find arctic terns.”

There was much grumbling in the crowd toward the arrogance and whimsy of the ornithological authorities that seem to have birders under their thumb. Assuming that we know more than we really do about the species in an area can lead to lousy identification and conservation. If you assume you know exactly what birds, plants and animals need protecting, you may only protect their specialized habitat and overlook more prosaic landscapes that will save an animal you haven’t thought of 100 years from now. Of course, this kind of thinking is what leads to boring wildlife preserves, but better mundane preserves than none at all.

Where to See Wild Animals Around New York City

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Dr. Robert “Birding BobDeCandido leads birding tours around New York City. Usually he takes people to see owls in Central Park, which he helped reintroduce. He lets us run his newsletter here. This week he saw a northern Saw-whet owl in Central Park and the carcass of a woodcock.


Northern Saw-Whet Owl, by Richard Leche

The carcasses are in bloom! Yellow and purple and some white – or so it was on Sunday when we were in for other surprises as well. On our walks, we were able to provide discussions of the age of migrating Saw-whet Owls (including photos by Debs), American Woodcocks and more in Central Park in the last several days – by our group. We think with birds…and to find them, we have to think like birds too.

Our historical notes include a NYC area summary of the spring season – 1920. Today, our observations show that many bird species are arriving earlier than in the past. Why? We will leave it to others to explain. In the meantime, we document the changes, and provide the historical record for comparison. We also provide the first records of breeding Tree Swallows in our area. Now they are common breeders at Jamaica Bay and elsewhere on Long Island – but not 90 years ago!

Not had enough of us yet? Beginning the first week of April, our Sunday and Tuesday walks will begin meeting at the Dock on Turtle Pond.
=====================================
Good! Here are the bird walks for this week:

Friday, March 26th: 9:00am. Central Park – Meet at the entrance to Conservatory Garden (105th street and 5th Avenue)
Sunday, March 28th: 9:00am
Central Park – Meet at the Boathouse $10 –  rain or shine.
Tuesday, March 30th: 9:00am – Central Park – Meet at the Boathouse
$5.
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The fine print: Our early spring SUNDAY walks meet at the [Loeb] Boathouse (approximately 74th street and the East Drive; the SE corner of the lake). – $10 for adults, and $5 for kids.  Easiest way to get to the Boathouse is to enter the park at 5th Avenue and 72nd street and walk west until you find the south to north road (the East Drive) that intersects the 72nd street “transverse.” Then just walk north for about 1-2 minutes…Look for a small restaurant type place with chairs/tables outside – we are inside. 
On FRIDAYS, we meet at 9am at Conservatory Garden, 105th street and 5th Avenue (just inside the main gates). Easiest way to get there by subway is to take the #2 or #3 train to 110th street and Central Park North.  Then cross the street to Central Park and head east (to the left) toward Fifth Avenue, and then south until you reach Conservatory Garden (about a 7-10 minute walk from the train station; easy and safe).   Most Friday bird walks last about two to three hours in autumn-winter, but feel free to leave at anytime, we won’t take it personally.  We have an extra pair or two of binoculars to rent, so if you want to rent a pair, just call or email before the walk to let us know.  Also, if you are thinking of purchasing new binoculars, ask us – we probably have used them, and we will let you know how to get them for the best price. These days we like a relatively unknown brand by the name of  Zen-Ray, specifically their 8 x 43 model.

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Here is what we saw last week (selected highlights) with some anecdotal notes and observations.  Not all species we saw are reported here – we list the best:

Friday, March 19th – we found two significant occurrences today, one common – an abundance of Dark-eyed Juncos in Central Park, and even Madison Square Park on 23rd street (thanks Sandra). Juncos on the move turning up everywhere – they were mostly gone from CP by Tuesday (23 March). The second, a most unusual spring migrant in New York City – a Northern Saw-whet Owl. Here is the owl after a squirrel had flushed it from its perch in an evergreen cedar halfway down the “Point” in the Ramble:

Debs, wanting to know more about the age/sex of this owl asked some questions of the local owl experts, Trudy Battaly and Drew Panko. They have been banding and tracking these little owls in NYC and Westchester County Parks. Debs wanted to know why (when she greatly enlarged the photo) the edges on all the primary/secondary feathers were very worn. Drew and Trudy emailed back that this is most likely a bird in its second calendar year (SY).  In other words it is an owl that was hatched last summer (2009).  These young birds make up the bulk of the migrants since they outnumber adults. Juvenile feathers of saw-whets wear out faster than adult feathers, and that is exactly what can be seen in enlarged images – the feathers are very uniformly worn suggesting that the feathers are all the same age. Trudy went on to write: “I think we are near the end of their [Saw-whet Owl] spring migration, and yours is most likely a SY female who is not in too big a rush to get back because she knows there is a male already on territory waiting for a female to fly by.”

OK let’s tell that story with photos. Here is a photo of another SY Saw-whet Owl – note how all the feathers look the same.

On the other hand, here’s an After Second Year (ASY) saw-whet, in February.  Note the three different types of feathers (= ages) in the wings:

Banding birds allows you to see much more – ultimately to think about birds. That is why precise age/sex identification is important – it leads to thinking.

Sunday, March 21st (Central Park, Ramble) – I was sitting in the Boathouse with Dan Silbert on this lovely mild and sunny Sunday. He casually remarked that he had just returned from Death Valley. To which someone replied: “I hope it wasn’t too serious and you are better now.” 🙂 Right about then, some whisperings began that Deborah Allen had a woodcock in her pocket. This turned out to be true – Ed Simon had given her a dead one, that he had found on Third Avenue and Tenth Street. (Frank Rutella had found another approx. ten days earlier, about 40th street also on the East Side.) Deborah took the woodcock and did a feather demonstration with it – she could age/sex this bird. The very russet (almost orange color) suggested adult male, and the width of the three outer primaries confirmed it. Why? The males use the narrow primaries to make the winnowing sound during aerial courtship displays.

Not to forget other birds we headed off to the Ramble. Here we noted good numbers of Northern Flickers (new arrivals). Isaiah Wender found a male Wood Duck perched, where else, in a tree above us…and then he added Golden-crowned Kinglet, Song Sparrow, Black-capped Chickadee and a number of others. Jack Walsh found us a Red-tailed Hawk in flight. Others were contributing too: Eastern Towhee at the feeders; two Brown Thrashers at the Maintenance Meadow; two Red-breasted Nuthatches; a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (male); Cedar Waxwings (flock); Swamp Sparrow (Emilie) and many others. Easily the best day of the year. And one other important spring sighting: Yellow and Purple Carcasses were in bloom everywhere. Dan Silbert, based upon his visit to Death Valley, identified them immediately. He and I are like psychedelic Turkey Vultures when it comes to blooming carcasses. We zeroed in on them…and await everyone else to join us next week.

Tuesday, March 23rd (Central Park, Ramble) – Anders, Tom and I wandered about the middle of the Park. Our most exciting sightings were the young Sharp-shinned Hawk chasing a Red-bellied Woodpecker; a female Hairy Woodpecker (there is a male at the north end; the pair tried to nest last year); a pair of Wood Ducks in a tree; and a diving large falcon, probably Peregrine in the area of the Great Lawn. Otherwise it was a bit breezy and surely cold. We recalled the 70 degree temps of last week – and lamented the real spring of the present.
======================
THE SEASON XIX. February 15 to April 15, 1920

New York Region.—The last half of February saw an increase in Redpolls, now in considerable flocks, but they soon disappeared again. There seems also to have been a flight of Long-eared Owls at
this time, noted at Amityville, Douglaston, Staten Island, Englewood, and the vicinity of Plainfield. February 23 a number of Evening Grosbeaks were found in a patch of red cedar woods at  Amityville, Long Island, feeding on cedar berries. With them were many Goldfinches, some Red Crossbills, and a few Purple Finches The Evening Grosbeak has been reported repeatedly from Douglaston, Long Island (G. C. Fisher), last seen April 10 and likely still around. The attraction here seems to be the fruit of the hackberry.

More than in the New Jersey direction, late February and the very first of March usually find an increase of scattered Robins on Long Island. We have been at times in doubt as to whether these birds are arrivals from the South or have been driven in from southern New England where, at that date, the Robin is generally present in considerable flocks. This year these early Robins were less than usually noticeable on the Island, an indication that they are southern birds, as late winter birds from the North of all species were more than usually represented.

The spring was late in putting in an appearance with its first migrants from the South. The entire absence, during the very end of winter, of Song Sparrows at Garden City, Long Island, made it possible
to determine when the first individuals returned, March 12. Fox Sparrow and Grackle were present here for the first time on March 14, the Grackles being about two weeks later than their usual arrival,
the end of February. The first unquestioned increase in Meadowlarks came on the 21st and they became common on the 24th. The Flicker put in an appearance on the 28th, and Chipping Sparrows only on April 7 this year, although they had been reported from the New York Region a few days previous. Up the Hudson, vicinity of Rhinebeck and Poughkeepsie, data compiled by M. S. Crosby shows the earliest arrivals to have been delayed: Fox Sparrow, March 14; Grackle and Song Sparrow, March 15; Robin, March 2. The next lot of birds were, however, as early as one could expect them: Phoebe, March 23; Flicker and Cowbird; March 26: Chipping Sparrow and Tree Swallow, April 3; Barn Swallow, April 11; Louisiana Waterthrush, April 12; etc.

Reports from New Jersey indicate retarded migration, though by April 1 spring arrivals were about ‘on time’; and a better showing than usual of the less-abundant Ducks. At Englewood, Rough-legged
Hawk, March 21, Golden-eye Duck and Tree Sparrow, April 11, are late dates obtained by L. Griscom, who also reports the Hooded Merganser, Baldpate, Blue-winged Teal, and Ruddy Duck from there. C. H. Rogers and W. DeW. Miller found the Baldpate, Green-winged Teal, and Pintail at South River, April 4.

A Blue-gray Gnatcatcher was noted in Prospect Park on April 7 by R. Friedmann, and the record corroborated by a number of Brooklyn observers who found it there again April 12 and 14. The occurrence of this species north of its regular range at so early a date is doubtless correlated with the fact that, like other southern species, its regular spring migration comes early.
—
J. T. Nichols, New York City.

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Wolf at Longleat Captivated by Twilight New Moon

The wolves at Longleat Safari Park in England were impressed with the realism of Twilight: New Moon. At a special showing in the their park west of London, they paid attention to the wolf scenes and howled back, the Telegraph reports. They’re just the latest tie-in wolf parks are making with the vampire movie.

Sure, the whole “World Wolf Premiere” thing is a ploy for the DVD release. “Whilst we’re used to deafening screams for Robert Pattinson, it’s a nice change to hear howls of approval for the rest of the cast, including the screen wolves themselves,” one movie promoter said. 

But at least the wolves were entertained. Or enriched, as animal care people say. They circled the giant screen pulled by a semi, making sure it wasn’t a predator about to attack. Then they started watching and sometimes howling. “They seem to be really keen on the wolf bits,” Ian Turner, the park’s deputy head warden said.

The folks at Indiana’s Wolf Park were way ahead of the Brits. In January they hosted a special night for Twilight fans, who learned the differences between real wolves and those hunks in the film.

As every hack journalist knows, you need three events to make a trend, so here you go. Turns out the animators for the movie got their accuracy on by hanging out at Wolf Mountain Sanctuary in California. “They all climbed into a 40ft pen with the wolves and spent the afternoon feeding, touching and walking around with the wolves, observing wolf behaviour first hand,” Digital Media World reports. The wolves at this sanctuary outside San Beradino aren’t wild of course; the sanctuary, founded in 1980, has 17 wolves rescued from private homes or the movie industry. The center allows some very close contact with wolves. If you want to see the wolves Twilight makers learned from and help out a sanctuary in financial distress–you can visit. It’s $20 for an hour tour, $120 for an all-day visit. Now that would be the ultimate Twilight fan experience.

See if there’s a wolf preserve near you

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Three weeks into her convalescence from having bottom teeth growing into her upper gums, Mickey, the good-natured squirrel from Queens, is recovering well. The best sign for her was that one of her top teeth grew back. Then it disappeared again. But it’s an excellent sign that she’ll one day do fine in the wild, or at least the Queens community garden where she lives.

One of Mickey’s friends at the community garden, Peter Richter, says a couple months before he brought her in she had a bad fall from a tree after charging a red-tailed hawk. What I now think happened is she broke her top teeth, without which her bottom teeth grew out of control. The teeth grew both up and down and she still has a gaping hole in her chin that I really wish would go away. She had to badly infected digits–you can see one here covered in scab and peanut butter.

 Personality-wise, she is still sweet, has never tried to bite hem, but she is done with me. That’s a good sign. She’s much more independent and intolerant of handling.

Over the last week she’s had a number of opportunities for a new life come her way. Twice I got calls about litters of baby squirrels needing a home. Mickey, an experienced mother, would be good for the babies and they’d give her something to do besides hide from me. Both litters fell through. (One, I think, went to another rehabber. The other turned out not to exist: a dead squirrel’s nest turned out to be empty.)

Subway vigilante/squirrel-lover Bernie Goetz called her “a prize animal” (both sweet and black) and wanted to breed her with his pet squirrel. We passed on that. In a country where hunters kill 16 million squirrels a year, I’m not going to get riled up about the handful kept as pets. But I still don’t want to do it. No matter how great Ben Franklin thought it was.

Mickey now has a fine cedar house for when she’s ready to move back to Queens. She has systematically avoided it except to pee on, preferring a grubby cardboard box. How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have an ugrateful squirrel.

Where to Go to See Unusual Squirrels

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