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Monster Squirrel

April 30, 2010

The fiendishly destructive red squirrel that’s been hassling me for a while is also foul-tempered. For a little guy, he sure punches above his weight class. He chased a chipmunk across my entire backyard and then engaged in a tumbledown scrap. If there were a tiny folding chair around, I can see him whacking the poor chipmunk over the back with it! I haven’t seen the poor chipmunk since.

Then he jumped aggressively at a cottontail rabbit to get him away from a pile of sunflower seeds. He even begrudges the juncos and white-throated sparrows the measly droppings from my millet and corn feeders. If they’re around when he makes his appearance, he runs them off.

Imagine my horror then when I came across a red squirrel that was more than twice its size. In fact, it wasn’t a Red Squirrel at all (phew!). It was a Fox Squirrel (Sciurus niger), a HUGE near relative.

Fortunately, the Fox Squirrel wasn’t in my yard, but it was close enough to give me nightmares!

I was on a bird outing when we stopped in a riverside park in the small town of Carmen, Manitoba about 60 kilometres (40 miles) southwest of Winnipeg. The park used to be a tangle of bushes and old oaks, elms and cottonwoods. It was a great stopover spot for migrating birds. Since I was last there, some misguided do-gooders have cleared out all the bushes and planted grass.
Hardly any birds there now. A couple of nuthatches, a downy woodpecker and a chickadee. Suddenly I heard an unfamiliar peeping sound. Looking around I found the source– a pair of Wood Ducks (seeing ducks in a tree, calling like passerines, is always confounding). And they were arguing with a monster squirrel that looked like an oversized grey squirrel crossed with a red squirrel.

The fox squirrel is the largest squirrel in North America -as large as a foot and a half to two feet long (half tail). In some places it is called a Stump-eared Squirrel, a Raccoon Squirrel, or a Monkey-faced Squirrel, based on its physiology and coloration.

In my 35 years in Manitoba I’d never seen a squirrel like this before. There aren’t all that many around; the northwestern limits of their range extend only into the very southern edges of Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Fortunately, as the squirrel scampers, it’s quite a long way from Carmen to Winnipeg. I’d hate to see this bruiser in my yard. Who knows how much destruction it could wreak on my property and the other resident fauna!

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