Save the Squirrels


Seeing so many squirrels as victims of wildlife vehicle collisions is sad.  As a wildlife conservationist, I began wondering…could the drastic swings in temperature be the reason?  Are they running across roads searching for food?

The type of squirrel native to southeastern Pennsylvania is the grey squirrel.  They build their nests high up in trees. In the winter they stay in their dens to keep warm and nap.  Squirrels can’t retain high levels of body fat to sustain them through the winter and eat their store of nuts to keep their body temperature normal.

The colder it is the more nutrition animals need when they are awake.  During this frigid weather we’ve experienced this winter, squirrels need to replenish their food supply frequently.  Squirrels need to eat at least a pound of food per day.  On warmer winter days, squirrels wake up and look for the little stores of nuts they buried for winter snacks. When the stash is gone, they run across roads looking for food.

If winters with sub-zero temperatures continue, the question becomes how animals who store food to ward off hypothermia can adapt.  Although we’ll have to wait to see if wildlife can work out new ways to survive the cold, we can help.  Motorists are encouraged to follow the Humane Society of the United States tips for driving around wildlife: scan both sides of the highway; watch the edges for approaching wildlife; slow down if you see an animal on or near the road and give it time to cross.  The good news about squirrels is they cross roads during the day; the bad news is they don’t realize a car is approaching until they are on the highway and they freeze.  When a squirrel senses danger, its first instinct is to stand still.  Consequently they spend more time on the road, so motorists’ patience in slowing down until they cross is required.

To keep them off the roads consider feeding wildlife during this harsh winter.  If you’re worried about them raiding the bird feeder, check with your wildlife supply store…most carry feeders which are squirrel proof.

We have a vested interest in saving wildlife…they help us care for the environment.  Squirrels are Nature’s Little Gardeners: they bury nuts which can sprout into trees and thereby prevent them from washing into streams.  One neighborhood in northern Chester County which experienced regular flooding, realized the contribution squirrels had made…too late.  A housing subdivision brought with it motorists who, in their hurry to get nowhere fast, ran over all the squirrels.  While dredging the stream near the road to help relieve flooding, workers found hundreds of acorns, squirrels favorite food, on the bottom.  This debris decreased the depth of the stream which resulted in the water overflowing its banks and flooding the road.  Hopefully, the more we understand the contribution wildlife makes to the environment, the more we will appreciate them.

Deer Vehicle Collisions

Standing fawn

October through January are bad months for deer vehicle collisions. Highway engineers put roads in the middle of wildlife habitat. As a result, deer must cross roads for shelter and mates and run for their lives from hunters.

The Humane Society of the United States has tips to avoid wildlife vehicle collisions:

  1. Scan both sides of the road as you drive and watch out for wildlife at the edges.
  2. Deer are on the move during the full moon when night seems like dawn to them.
  3. Wildlife traffic is highest at dusk and for several hours after sunset, and at dawn.
  4. Limit driving at night if you can. Reduce your speed when wildlife traffic is highest and when it’s raining or foggy.
  5. Deer slow down on wet surfaces to avoid falling.
  6. If you hit a deer, call 911, report the incident even if the animal leaves the roadway.Explain the danger to other motorists. Unless the animal is euthanized it dies in agony from its internal injuries.

they aren’t so great at staying away from busy roads.

We see many animals as we venture out and about and raccoons are no exception. Unfortunately, most of the ones I have seen have met with a vehicle and they don’t look so cute.

Stay alert when you are on the road and watch out for these creatures. You’ll often find a higher population of raccoons if you travel close to water sources as their dens are always close to water.

“British homeowners Build A New Superhighway For Hedgehogs” grabbed enough attention to be featured as a segment of NPR’s weekly broadcast by the BBC. The concept began with Gary Snyder who noticed the only way for his night visitor to leave his yard was to cross the street because the hedgehog couldn’t get through Snyder’s backyard privacy fence.

Hedgehogs rove around as much as several miles a night. So Snyder made a small hole and encouraged his neighbors to follow his example. A few inches of space means that hedgehogs can scoot through the suburbs without wandering onto roads. Seems like an idea we could adopt to encourage squirrels and bunnies, about the same size, to stay off our roads and prevent wildlife collisions.

Stay Alert

"Are you watching out for me?"

You’ve heard it before, STAY ALERT, while you are driving.

That does mean all the time, but at night, you need to be extra alert and mindful of the deer and other wildlife that will attempt to cross your path. They haven’t been raised with the same warning as we have about being careful and checking over and over again before crossing a street. It just takes one second for a collision to happen that could potentially be damaging for you, your vehicle, and an animal.

Stay alert while you are driving and warn others if you see deer crossing the road – where there is one, there may be many.

According to the State Farm press release in October 2011, Pennsylvania is one of the highest risk states for deer-vehicle collisions.

Some things you can do:

  1. When you see the deer crossing signs on the side of the road, or the public awareness ones we have posted around the area, pay close attention. These are located in areas where there is a high deer population.
  2. Don’t Litter. This seems like a no-brainer, and there are many reasons not to litter, including the attraction to wildlife it could convey. We don’t want to encourage them to come anywhere near the road. This includes food, paper, etc.
  3. If you see one deer, there are most likely more to come.
  4. Use your high beams when possible.
  5. Stay alert while you are driving. Always watch the road and pay attention to the surroundings.
  6. Keep your windshield clean.