Thursday, December 13, 2007

Look Out - There are Squirrels About

Squirrels…they do cute things: climb down trees head first, use their hands like humans use their hands, walk along power lines, fill their cheeks so full of food they can barely close their mouths.  So, why do so many people want to kill them?

That’s because they are an invasive species, and quite possibly a threat to Victoria’s biodiversity.  The Eastern Grey Squirrel hails from eastern parts of the United States and Canada, and in 1966, three of these little critters escaped from a farm in Metchosin to wreak havoc on Southern Vancouver Island.  Ever since then, many people around the island have called for the disposal of this cute little creature because of it’s attacks on birds nest and eggs, destruction of Douglas Fir trees, and consumption of our native squirrel species, the Red Squirrel.  But let’s really look at what we’re talking about.

The CRD website describes an introduced species as “plants, animals and microbes that are not native to a region and that tend to out-compete native species for available resources. They often form dense populations and dominate regions or ecosystems.”  Fair enough, so they’re introduced, but the real question is:  How much has the Eastern Grey Squirrel out-competed the Red Squirrel?

I suppose we can think of it in two ways.  Firstly, we can think of our own experiences.  When was the last time you saw a Red Squirrel?  Keep in mind that the Eastern Grey Squirrels come in grey and black.  Okay, so I can’t think of a single time I saw a Red Squirrel, either; but if you want to check, here’s a picture:


Secondly, we can ask an expert. Here’s what University of B.C. PhD candidate Emily Gonzales has found:  “Human development, not competition from grey squirrels, is responsible for the decline of the native red squirrel. Red squirrels prefer coniferous forests, so as forests decline, so do they. Eastern grey squirrels are increasing, by contrast, because they prefer residential habitats, which are on the rise.”

And apart from other squirrels, Gonzalez goes on to say “it has not yet been demonstrated that grey squirrels have negative effects on other native wildlife either.”  So if the Grey Squirrel poses no threat to BC’s native wildlife, why are they considered a pest species? (  The answer is obvious:  They bother Humans.  They get into our attics; they chew holes in everything; and they attack birds, which so many of us enjoy looking at.  This is obviously ridiculous, although true.

They do get in to our attics, and they do attack birds, but do they do anything that our native species of squirrel wouldn’t do?  A website on invasive species says of the Grey Squirrel:  “bird eggs, nestlings and frogs are all relished when they are available” (  However, our native Red Squirrel’s “sustenance includes nuts, seeds, birds' eggs, young birds and fungi” (

In my mind, leave the squirrel alone.  They provide just as much entertainment as watching birds does, and the Grey Squirrel is not responsible for the disappearance of the native Red Squirrel, we are.  Here’s another case of Human beings “pickin’ on the little guy.”  Only this time, the little guy is cute and furry…and there are thousands of them.

Please watch one of my favourite squirrel moments from one of my favourite Christmas movies, and have a safe holiday season.


Grey Squirrel - Adam Wharram

Red Squirrel -



Dominic B. said...

Thanks for that post Adam...will look at the YouTube video for sure...I like your crisp and humorous style...interesting!

Cynthia said...

I have been living in Boat Harbour for 11 years now, and have been feeding many generations of Red (Douglas?) squirrels. Which is why I am investigating this. Could anybody help me with identification on these lovely little fellows. I have fed and watched pairs raise their families to move on to another part of the property, and continue the cycle. They even have names and characteristics so I do recognize them. I read something that said the Douglas hold their tails over their backs? Do the Red squirrel not do this. Mine do.