A sure sign autumn has arrived is the number of squirrels scampering around the county collecting nuts. But residents in many parts of Arlington will notice a lot less squirrel scampering than in years past.
It appears most parts of the county have fewer squirrels this year. Arlington County Natural Resources Manager Alonso Abugattas confirms that from spring through October — although no hard numbers yet are available — there have been “reports of fewer squirrels and anecdotal evidence” of a smaller population.
Abugattas said although many people immediately point to last year’s cold winter as the culprit, that’s probably not directly the cause. He said it would be very unlikely for large numbers of squirrels to die here by freezing to death.
“These animals, squirrels and so forth, if they have an adequate food supply, their little motors can keep them going and they can survive. If they have food they can keep their metabolism up and the cold won’t affect them as much,” he said. “Remember, we have squirrels way up in Canada, so they’re used to that weather. These animals are remarkably resilient.”
A more likely scenario, according to Abugattas, is that last year’s small acorn crop negatively affected the squirrel population. Many squirrels probably struggled to find adequate food with the decrease in acorns, but the problem is very localized. Certain neighborhoods where the animals managed to find other sources of food — such as bird feeders or berries — didn’t see the sharp decline other neighborhoods experienced.
“Places where they’ve been able to find an alternate food source, those may have been able to bounce back. It really depends on local conditions at that site. I still don’t think there are many places where there are extra squirrels, which we saw a few years ago,” said Abugattas.
Because it is the beginning of the season, so far the robustness of the 2014 acorn crop is not known. Researchers have begun analyzing acorn production but won’t have a better idea of the crop specifics for another couple of months. It’s something naturalists are paying close attention to due to the amount of wildlife that oak trees support.
“I don’t think I’ve come up with a more important tree in our woods, as far as its importance to wildlife,” said Abugattas. “More than 600 different species depend on oaks. Caterpillars, birds, bears, turkeys, deer.”
And of course, the squirrels. Although this year seems to have been an overall down year for the local squirrel population, Abugattas offers a reminder of how quickly it could see a resurgence.
“Squirrels are rodents, so like other rodents they can reproduce fairly quickly. If they have an adequate food supply they can reproduce twice or three times per year,” he said. “In fact, we’ve probably just had another batch born. Again, it’s all anecdotal at this point, but we could see the population bounce back in many areas rather quickly.”
The flyer at the left was recently posted at the Washington & Lee Apartments (2200 2nd Street N.), threatening “legal action and fines” against those who feed the squirrels. Sandra Rose, who has been the apartment property manager for 18 years, stresses she’s not trying to be nasty, but the animals have been causing thousands of dollars worth of damage to the property.
“People think they’re cute and cuddly, and they are. But they don’t always understand they’re a rodent,” Rose said. “As a rodent they do rodent type damage.”
The squirrels recently have chewed holes in roofs on the buildings and residents have complained about the animals getting into their attics. Rose said she has had to hire exterminators to try to capture the animals once they’re loose in the building.
The roof damage isn’t the only problem with the squirrels the property manager has encountered. Rose said in the past, she’s sent out similar flyers when the squirrels managed to get into residents’ car engines and strip spark plug wire material, which they then used to pack their nests.
Rose said one of the exterminators actually spotted residents feeding the animals, which is why she sent out the flyer. She recommends other property owners inform their residents of how destructive the squirrels can be.
“I think they should let tenants know not to feed them because that’s domesticating them,” said Rose. “When they become domesticated they become dependent on you and won’t go away.”
Arlington County Natural Resources Manager Alonso Abugattas shared Rose’s concerns. He said feeding any wild mammals, squirrels or others, is a bad idea.
“In a nutshell, with mammals the overall idea is it’s not a good idea to feed them,” Abugattas said. “When you start feeding more unusual wildlife — squirrels, deer, foxes, raccoons — that’s a bad idea. It changes their behavior, and not only will they hang out in places where they shouldn’t, but they lose some of their fear and healthy respect for humans. Wild foods are always healthier for the animals anyway.”
While contracting rabies is a rare occurrence, it could be a possibility if the animals become so domesticated that they approach people, and perhaps bite them. Abugattas said it’s one of the many health concerns stemming from feeding wild animals. Another concern is the the spread of diseases to pets.
A smaller acorn crop in Virginia and West Virginia this fall is prompting squirrels to change their behavior this winter, Abugattas added. As a result, squirrels and other animals have been seeking out non-traditional food sources to make up for the lack of acorns.
Major Rosslyn Redevelopment Proposed — Monday Properties has filed an application with Arlington County to redevelop two aging office buildings in Rosslyn. Monday is proposing to tear down the 1960s-era buildings 1401 Wilson Blvd and 1400 Key Blvd and replace them with a 1 million square foot residential, retail and office development. [Washington Business Journal]
Arlington Woman Turns 105 — Helen Crossley, a resident at the Culpepper Garden retirement community, turned 105 on Saturday. Of her longevity, Crossley, a former nurse, said: “This lassie’s taken care of her chassis.” [Washington Post]
Possible Squirrel Poisonings — Three dead squirrels were recently found outside the Westmoreland Terrace Condominiums, near Rosslyn. Might someone be illegally poisoning the critters? [Ode Street Tribune]
Flickr pool photo by @ddimick
The Animal Welfare League of Arlington recently rescued a group of newborn baby squirrels from the engine compartment of a car, and the encounter was caught on video.
“When an Arlington resident took his car in for an inspection, the mechanic noticed a squirrel’s nest under the hood,” the AWLA said. “The mother squirrel had chewed through wires, cables and the container of windshield wiper fluid.”
“The squirrels were taken to a wildlife rehabilitator to be cared for until they are old enough to be released,” the organization noted.
If you’ve noticed more acorns on the ground than usual this fall, you’re not crazy. In fact, 2010 is “a bumper year” for acorns, according to a naturalist quoted by the Sun Gazette.
After an arduous nut famine in 2008, Arlington’s four species of squirrels are enjoying the feast, writes Scott McCaffrey. And the excess acorn production isn’t just good news for squirrels — it’s also good news for trees. The plethora of nuts may eventually result in new trees sprouting up around the county.
The DC area isn’t the only part of the country seeing an abundance of squirrel food. Ohio is “looking at its best [acorn] crop since 2005,” according to the Columbus Dispatch.
Why are the acorns so bountiful?
The meteorologists over at ABC 7 say that a lack of a major spring frost and a summer drought helped to spur acorn growth.