When we moved into our current house six years ago, the first animal to greet us was this squirrel.
We had only been in our new home a few minutes, and suddenly there she was, peeking in at us from one of the windows that looks out into the backyard.
This squirrel was really easy to identify because she had white spots all over her coat. Bold and instantly familiar she seemed to want something, so we started feeding her treats.
A few days later we realized she was also nesting in our soffits, right above the bedroom window, and if you listened closely you could hear several squirrels rustling in there: babies!
In fact one night there was a thunderstorm and after every thunderclap we could hear the babies whimpering in their nest.
Eventually the babies emerged – this is a few years back so I’m not sure how many there were – but there was at least two of them, one grey and a brindle one.
The babies would enjoy sunning themselves on the window sill below their nest during the day and eventually started to venture out into the yard.
She was equally friendly with us. I found that if you fed her a treat “underhand” you could scruff her on top of the head a bit. If you were slow getting her her food, she would come right in the kitchen and look up at you expectantly.
The first summer we had her with us we ate at our patio table almost every evening.
She developed the habit of eating her treats right under the deck chairs where we were sitting. The others squirrels who were less tame wouldn’t come as close, so she didn’t get her treats stolen or chased around that way.
One time in the fall she showed up at the back porch entangled in an old piece of nylon badminton net or something. I fed her a pile of sunflower seeds to keep her busy and was able to snip it off her using a pair of scissors.
When the babies were old enough we sealed off the entrance to the nest she had made in the soffits, but not before building a cedar squirrelhouse, which I attached to a tree above the garage.
She moved her family into the squirrelhouse and we spent the summer feeding her and her kids every day, along with the other neighbourhood squirrels of course.
Eventually she dispersed the first litter and had another litter in that squirrelhouse. We watched them grow up as well.
Then another fall came and one day in October she didn’t show up at the back door looking for treats. One day became two and then three.
I checked the streets around our house expecting to find a body. Nothing.
So after about a week I made up this poster. Since she was so easy to identify I thought it might be worth a try.
I papered the neighbourhood with these for two blocks in each direction.
Not too surprisingly no one called. Most people probably thought it was a joke.
Some of the posters disappeared. Maybe the high school students wanted them for souvenirs.
About a month later my wife got a call from an unfamiliar number. The woman on the phone said, “I’m calling about the squirrel.”
By then we had forgotten all about the poster, so my wife didn’t clue in right away and said, “Huh? What squirrel?”
Apparently the caller lives about a kilometre south of us in a house backing onto a forested ravine. Her daughter noticed the poster and put it on their fridge and kept a lookout for the squirrel.
About a month later a squirrel fitting the description, brindle coat with white spots, started showing up at their bird feeder.
I went down to the ravine a few times looking for her but never spotted her myself.
It looks like I was more attached to Momma squirrel than she was to us.
The way I rationalize it to myself is that she needed to leave the squirrelhouse to her babies so she could build a nest elsewhere to raise another litter.
For a while I was able to keep track of her kids and sort of had a hazy idea of who her descendants were before completely losing track. None of them had white spots though.
For a year or two afterwards I could credibly tell myself that she was happily living in the woods south of our house somewhere. But squirrel lifespans in the wild being what they are, she is probably gone by now.
Who knows, despite having to move away to raise more litters, maybe she also thought of that summer we spent together as the good old days.