50 shades of gray squirrels

Photo by Mary Ziems A half-gray, half-white squirrel.

ESCANABA — There are a few nutty ones in every family…

A few squirrelly ones in every backyard…

And a few bushy-tailed gray, black or tawny ones on every block!

I am talking about gray squirrels.

No matter if you live downtown or down a country road, chances are there are dozens of squirrels in your yard.

Bird and squirrel watching is a form of entertainment in the U.P. These amazing, acrobatic, energetic and sometimes annoying animals are at home just about anywhere.

Anybody who feeds sunflower seeds to the birds knows all about the gray squirrels’ thieving ways. Some bird feeders are made to be squirrel-proof, while other people provide special corn cob feeding tables just for the squirrels.

Regardless if you feed them or not, gray squirrels kind of get to be part of the family. Every spring they raise a couple of litters in the old hollow of the maple tree in the backyard. You watch Mom squirrel come and go, scamper down the fence top, tightrope walk the power line, chatter at the neighbor’s cat and then return to her nest in the maple tree.

Finally, after a few weeks, the faces of the little squirrels peek out of the hole for the first time! Last year, my neighbors and I watched a baby black squirrel emerge from a nest tree with its gray litter mates.

Part of the fun of squirrel watching is that not all gray squirrels are gray. They can range in color from white (with pink eyes — true albino) to jet black in color. For years, near my parents’ house, a “buff,” almost yellow-colored squirrel called “Blonde” was a favorite to watch.

At camp, a few years back, we had a black squirrel with blue eyes coming into our feeder. He was always more elusive than his gray friends. Perhaps he knew he wasn’t quite as well camouflaged. I nicknamed that squirrel “Snow White” and always hoped to get a picture of it holding an apple in its paws, but I never did.

Recently, one of my readers brought me a photo of a two-toned squirrel in her yard. Sure enough there he was — half gray and half white!

Just for fun or for photography, you can go for a squirrel ride. To see a lot of great gray squirrels, Ludington Park in Escanaba is good. Lakeview Cemetery has grays and buffs. The oak trees of Lake Bluff offer all colors — even a few snowy white ones. The Stonington Peninsula has squirrels of many colors too.

The gray squirrel is a native animal to Michigan. Other squirrels in the state include fox squirrels (mostly downstate), red squirrels, and flying squirrels.

Gray squirrels in the cities can get very tame and accustomed to people and noise. The grays out in the country are shy treetop dwellers. Acorns, maple seeds, hazelnuts and beechnuts are some of their favorite foods.

Act a little nutty this weekend and see how many squirrels you can see.


Karen (Rose) Wils is a lifelong north Escanaba resident. Her folksy columns appear weekly in Lifestyles.