A squirrel is a rat with (much) better PR. There. I’ve said it.
Doesn’t mean I don’t adore William the Conqueror-Squirrel, or that I love rats (although I’ve kept much-loved pet rats and hamsters). Or that I haven’t cussed at the occasional dammit-get-OUT-of-my-attic squirrel.
If you’d like to read other stories about William (actually, along the way we discovered William was actually a girrel squirrel), check out her page.
Let’s be honest: There’s not much difference between a rat and a squirrel. They eat the same things, carry the same germs, deliver nasty bites if you corner them, and given half the chance, are destructive as hell. Both are incredibly smart and mighty cuddly if you take the time to get to know one (or, more correctly, if they decide they want to get to know YOU).
Nobody would call a rat tail beautiful, and I’ve yet to see someone sew a ratfur collar on a coat. Squirrel fur is soft cuddly, not hard and greasy, and comes in your basic nut tones–pecan, chestnut, almond, brazilnut. There’s no denying that a squirrel’s rounder, fluffier, chubby-ish shape is adorable.
IOW, the only difference between a squirrel and a rat is the degree of cute.
“And taste,” added The Resident Carpenter, “Squirrel meat is delicious.”
“Don’t you EVER EVER EVER,” I warned, covering poor William’s squirrely little ears, “Let the S-Q-U-I-R-R-E-L hear you say that!”
And so I learned that, in the more rural parts of this country, squirrels are considered a delicacy. And that, in his youth, The RC frequently supplemented his family’s pantry with freshly caught viande d’écureuil. With nine kids to feed, the wilderness and a giant garden were major contributors to the family table, and Nathan was an excellent shot.
My dad grew up that way, too, and apparently those habits die hard, even when you’re living in the city with a grocery store on every corner. I was 10 when Dad shotgunned a rabbit to death for our dinner. He proudly brought it home to show off to his beloved daughters.
“YOU KILLED THUMPER!!!!!” we screamed, and made him give the poor thing a decent burial. In the frozen Iowa ground. In the dark.
It was a looooong time before my father went hunting again. Remembering this, I gave Nathan The Look.
Nathan recovered fast: “Of course, since William came to live with us, I’m not sure I could eat a squirrel, much less shoot one,” he promised, then, wistfully: “But they sure are tasty…”
Savage. Barbarian. Peasant.
Anyway, questionable culinary habits aside, Nathan is a wonderful squirrel-mama, and under his constant, round-the-clock care, William is flourishing. He concocted a vet-recommended squirrel formula, baby animal formula mixed with Pedialyte.
William’s eyes opened around six weeks, and he’s started going to the bathroom on his own.* Nathan’s stepped up William’s dining to include his first solid food, nuts. At the first tidbit of walnut, William went, well, nuts.
Nom. Nom. Nom.
So now, to approach William without a nut is to risk a nip from those sharpening teeth (at least for me; William would NEVER bite Mama Nathan). He’s still drinking formula, but increasingly preferring solid foods. Right now his favorites are pecans (expensive tastes, given that they’re about $15/pound and he can go through that much in a couple of hours–if we let him).
Our readings on squirrel rehab tell us that nuts are, at best, an occasional treat, not to be overshadowed by nutritious fruits and veggies. William, unfortunately, can’t read, and demands nuts on a regular basis. Given a bowl of veggies with a single nut fragment buried inside, he’ll sniff out the nut and chow down on that first.
We’re delighted when he chews on strawberries, broccoli, and/or other delicacies. We’re bringing odd veggies that WE would never eat–candy-cane-striped beets, sweet potatoes, kale, kumquats–home for William’s gustation. Surprise! He won’t eat them either.
Still, he likes apples, and the occasional peach slice. We’re supplementing with something called Henry’s Blocks, little golden nuggets packed with squirrel vitamins and minerals. He’ll eat those…as long as he gets his nut reward in the end.
This is what happens when a Resident Carpenter moves in: You’ll find yourself catering to the picky tastes of a baby squirrel.
More on William later.
* Going to the bathroom on his own for the first time was an event of great joy and raucous celebration at our house, tempered only by the fact that our growing-up boy chose my favorite bedsheets for his urinary debut. Thanks a lot, William.