Saturday, January 16, 2010

Thanks For The Mammal Reads

From Oak Harbor, Ohio, Kenn writes: Way back last year -- on December 25th -- I wrote a post about a wild animal that we observed at our bird feeder. In case you don’t remember or didn’t see the post, here’s another picture of this wily creature:

Actually, if you didn’t read it, I’d like you to scroll back to Dec. 25 and read that post and tell me: could you tell that I was trying to be humorous, or was it just too subtle?

The reason I ask is that, in that post, I didn’t mention what kind of squirrel it was. I was trying to strike a familiar chord with all those people who have had their bird feeders emptied by voracious squirrels. This has happened to a lot of people, but it isn’t always the same kind of squirrel. In the U.S. and Canada there are at least eight species of tree squirrels, plus various ground squirrels and chipmunks, that will come to bird feeders at least occasionally. If I had started to get technical about the particular type of squirrel that was chowing down at our feeder, the post would have bogged down in detail.

It was sort of like saying: "Don’t you hate it when your neighbor’s dog barks all night?" instead of saying, "Don’t you hate it when your neighbor’s three-year-old female beagle-spaniel mix with three white paws and one brown paw barks all night?" If your statement is more general, it’s easier for people to relate.

Anyway, after that blog post was published, I got three anonymous comments -- one mild, two (not published) pointedly snarky -- taking me to task for not identifying the species of squirrel. "Do you think all squirrels are the same kind?" "Are you so narrow-minded that you can’t even identify the squirrels in your own yard?"

So -- okay, the animal at our feeder was an Eastern Fox Squirrel. Our area of northwest Ohio also hosts Eastern Gray Squirrel and Red Squirrel, as well as Southern Flying Squirrel, but the Eastern Fox Squirrel is more common out in the farm country with scattered towns and scattered groves of trees.

To quote from published information: "Very common in many areas east of the Rockies, in open woods and parklike areas with large scattered trees and an open understory. It is often found in the same forests as the Eastern Gray Squirrel, but because it favors more open habitats, it is more numerous in the midwest ... Less arboreal than some of its relatives, this squirrel spends a lot of time foraging on the ground ... Like most tree squirrels, Eastern Fox Squirrels have a varied diet. Acorns and other nuts are staple items, but they also eat flowers, buds, seeds, bark, fungi, birds’ eggs, insects, and sometimes carrion. They also raid bird feeders, but because they are not as agile as Eastern Gray Squirrels, they are more easily foiled by strategic placement of feeders in places they can’t reach."

I’m happy to say that the source of that information is the Kaufman Field Guide to Mammals of North America, written by Nora Bowers, Rick Bowers, and myself, published in 2004 with a slight update in 2007. So, um, to answer the question from one person who commented on the Dec. 25 post: Yes, I do know what kind of squirrel it was.

The book’s treatment of Eastern Fox Squirrel includes a full page of text, a range map, a diagram of the tracks, and six color illustrations. That’s more detail than some species receive, but every North American mammal is treated in the book. I hope I don’t sound too horribly conceited in mentioning this book, but I'm proud of the way it turned out. It’s an excellent guide -- not because of me, but because of hard work by Nora and Rick Bowers as writers and photographers, by Stacy Fobar as managing editor for the project, by Eric Powell on digital graphics, by expert consultants Christine Hass, Nancy Mann, and Ronnie Sidner, by my editor Lisa White at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and by more than 50 photographers who contributed to the book. If you’re interested in wildlife, I would encourage you to consider picking up a copy.

Okay, enough of this. Who cares about mammals, anyway? Let’s get back to birds!


  1. Feed the squirrels, not the trolls.

  2. I remember the post well, as I got quite a chuckle out of it, and am reminded of it every time I see a squirrely visitor at my feeder! I thought it was obvious that you were taking a stab at humor and never once wondered why you didn't launch into an i.d., etc. ~karen

  3. Kenn-

    Loved your blog then, love your blog now. Some folks just need to lighten up.

    And instead of getting their knickers in a twist, if people don't like a blog... the fix is simple. Don't click the link.

    Just don't harass the blogger.. it is not nice! Cheryl

  4. My favorite critter to watch while deer hunting(too many deer destroy bird habitat)...less aggressive than gray or red squirrels....easily run off by them.

  5. When you say "Let's get back to birds..." you are a bit vague. Bird ID? Bird life history? And what species? And why don't you like mammals?

    *wink,wink-nudge,nudge ;)*

  6. I lik mammals, kenn. Also, da burdz need mor fud. Peenutz and corn.

    Ima Fawkskwirl

  7. I never go on a birding trip without having your mammal field guide along with me!! I also own the field guide, "Squirrels of the West" which causes me the most harassment from my family!

    Nothing like birding and having some awesome chipmunk break up the day!

  8. I wonder if my comment was one of the ones deleted?
    You darned bird snobs! If it doesn't have feathers you won't label it!
    *Please note, this is humour...albeit not very funny.

    Love ya kids!
    Loopy and the Doodles

  9. Your blog post says nothing of the etymological roots of the term, "blog."

  10. "Wildlife at the Bird Feeder" was wonderful humor. I laughed, then read it again and laughed more. To me, the post seemed like a Christmas gift, thanks.
    More levity, similar to your squirrel, would be welcome anytime !

  11. Love the book, Kenn, and it was a nice squirrelly post. I have a copy of your Field Guide to Mammals of North America on my shelf, and just referred to it for an article I am writing, and often recommend it.

    As a fellow blogger, I too occasionally get those flakey anonymous - always anonymous - emails from various nattering nabobs of negativity. Sometimes, I can even tell who they are, so distinct is their brand of snarkism!

    Keep up the good work!

    Jim McCormac

  12. Excellent story. Please keep the blogs and the get rid of the negative comments. I can't believe how different your Fox Squirrels look from our southern Fox Squirrels. Can't wait to see you both in FL. Thanks!

  13. I guess there are at least a few Dodo's left in the world eh? They are generally harmless (and mindless) so I find it best to either ignore them or have some fun and torment them with common sense and intelligent conversation. They can never keep up.

    I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I'll get a scholarship so I can bird with you again at Hog Island this year! Hope to see you there Kenn.

  14. I have seen lots of mammal guides but the Kaufman Guide is the best one I have come across. The same is true with the butterfly one (heck, all of your guides are great). I have learned so much about identification from them and love to carry them with me wherever I go. I am going on the Camp Chiricahua trip with vents next summer and I can't wait to use your guides there!

  15. Thank you very much, everyone, for the kind comments about the field guide! As I said in the blog post, the quality of the book is mostly owing to Nora Bowers and Rick Bowers, and to the many people who helped in some way. But I'm honored to have been involved with the guide and I'm really pleased that people are getting some good use out of it.