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Is someone poisoning our squirrels?
November 16, 2008 9:46 AM   Subscribe

Is someone poisoning our squirrels? My wife's worried; I'm not convinced, so I thought I'd turn to metafilter.

A few months ago we saw a squirrel die in our backyard. We had seen it act sickly on the back fence (it would crawl a few feet and stop again). Later it was in the crotch of our tree and eventually moved about 10 feet away from the tree where it died. There was no sign it had been attacked.

Today we saw another squirrel lying dead at the base of the tree.

My wife, unlike many people, loves the squirrels and bought a squirrel feeder to keep them around our yard. Now she's worried that one of our neighbors is poisoning them, and she doesn't want to attract the squirrels if she's leading them to their untimely deaths. My assumption is that they've died of old age (and for this latest one, it's been getting cold here lately).

Is there any way, short of
1) asking (which might be odd and awkward because we don't know most of our neighbors)
or 2) taking the latest in to the university extension and having an autopsy done
to determine whether these guys were poisoned? My guess is "no," but metafilter always amazes me.
posted by chndrcks to Science & Nature (17 answers total)
 
You night want to call your county's vector control agency and ask them if they're interested in collecting the carcasses. Ground squirrels are a known vector for Bubonic Plague in my area.
posted by buggzzee23 at 10:12 AM on November 16, 2008


If there are no other signs of trauma, but a wee smutch of blood around their noses and mouths, that would strengthen my suspicion that someone was giving them food laced with warfarin (rat poison).

There is the possibility of communicable disease, avoid contact!!

That's all I got.
posted by Restless Day at 10:13 AM on November 16, 2008


Ask your neighbors because you (have a dog / are dogsitting for the weekend) and are worried they will get into something.
posted by bradbane at 10:24 AM on November 16, 2008


I have lived amongst lots of squirrels and have never seen a dead one that wasn't the victim of a an animal attack or a vehicle. Seeing two would definitely lead me to believe that something is going on. Nthing the advice of calling animal control or the county extension office.
posted by pearlybob at 10:37 AM on November 16, 2008


I agree that calling the county extension agent is a good idea. For the last 10 years, I've lived in the woods. My bird feeders are popular squirrel gathering spots, so I see lots of squirrels. I've never seen a dead one that wasn't hit by a car. I've seen a sick squirrel only once, the day after a tornado came through and brought down lots of trees. I assumed it was in shock or had some sort of brain injury, because it was staggering and came towards me instead of running away.
posted by PatoPata at 10:59 AM on November 16, 2008


I live in an urban area where the squirrels are plentiful, unafraid of people, aggressive and not very well liked. They also rummage through the trash cans and dumpsters, and are frequently poisoned whether by accident or intentionally by unkind residents. When a squirrel dies from poison, it is exactly as you described.

I wouldn't go around calling the neighbours squirrel-killers just yet, though. It could be simply that the squirrels got into something and suffered the consequences. However, if it keeps occurring, I'd suggest going to your neighbours and asking if they knew why the squirrels were dying or calling the city - this could cause more trouble if curious pets were to get into whatever was killing the squirrels.
posted by wsp at 11:34 AM on November 16, 2008


In the past few years I have seen probably a half-dozen squirrels that had apparently just dropped dead, and I remember reading an article in the paper about some disease that was afflicting them. I'm sorry I don't remember any more, but I would definitely nth calling your county extension as this is the sort of thing they would know about. Bradbane's got a good idea, too, just to be sure.
posted by HotToddy at 11:42 AM on November 16, 2008


What is your wife feeding them?
posted by watercarrier at 11:53 AM on November 16, 2008


The anecdotal absence of squirrel corpses isn't conclusive; I read an article about bird longevity not long ago which concluded that most birds live a little over a year, despite having the potential for longer lifespans. They even specifically addressed "then why don't we see more dead birds?" Their assertion was that meat laying about doesn't last a real long time in nature, and injured animals often find secluded spaces that hide them from our view while they rot and/or are picked clean.

That said, if your wife is feeding the squirrels she should make sure she's not accidentally causing an issue. When we started feeding the birds we were inundated with advice to make sure we periodically cleaned the feeders so as to make sure we didn't cause them any illnesses from moldy food or by creating a hospitable vector for icky diseases. I presume similar caveats exist for feeding other animals.
posted by phearlez at 12:21 PM on November 16, 2008


screw the squirrels, if your neighbor is putting fucking rat poison in your yard, I would be pretty pissed - especially if you have kids or a dog. Thus, I'd ask your neighbor and animal control.
posted by wuzandfuzz at 12:36 PM on November 16, 2008


No-one's mentioned rabies yet, but that seems to me a real risk. Be very careful.
posted by idb at 12:45 PM on November 16, 2008


The Squirrel Board has the answers
posted by watercarrier at 1:18 PM on November 16, 2008


If she's feeding them reliably, then you probably have more squirrels around your house than usual, and the squirrels around your house probably don't have as wide a range as a squirrel normally would, so there there is more chance that you are going to have dead squirrels around your house.

That's not to say that people aren't poisoning them, but its not to say they are. By feeding them though, your wife is habituating them more to humans, which may make it more likely that they do get poisoned, either deliberately, or accidentally.

Personally, I'm not much for feeding wildlife. Its nice to see birds and the like, but feeding them just creates a population expansion and makes them dependent on your ongoing feeding. If, for whatever reason, she decides she wants to discontinue feeding them, I think the most humane thing would be to gradually reduce the amount and frequency of feeding over the course of a season so the reduction of resources is absorbed, in part, by natural attrition, rather than a resource crash.
posted by Good Brain at 1:32 PM on November 16, 2008


No-one's mentioned rabies yet, but that seems to me a real risk. Be very careful.

Not saying you shouldn't be careful, but squirrels aren't a rabies vector species, at least in our area. I think rabies is pretty unlikely.

Two dead squirrels seems strange to me. I don't think it would be awkward to ask the neighbors, just flag them down next time you see them outside. "Hey, you don't put out poison for rats or squirrils, do you? We've seen few dead squirrels recently, and I'm worried they might be suffering from some disease."
posted by robinpME at 2:05 PM on November 16, 2008


Please, please beg your wife not to feed the squirrels. Your wife putting out food for squirrels means she's almost certainly also feeding rats, mice, and possums, which are much creepier to have around and certainly are morally permissible to poison by most people's standards, because they're vectors of disease and they're perfectly happy to come indoors, especially in colder winter months (as are squirrels, incidentally). It's quite likely your neighbors are trying to poison rats and squirrels are eating the poison instead. Furthermore, for every adorable squirrel she gets to ogle, you probably have a neighbor who's being driven absolutely batshitinsane by squirrels digging in their garden, destroying root systems of seedling plants in order to hide an acorn, or eating every single goddamn pecan off a hundred-year-old pecan tree. Let's face it: they're cuter than rats, but they're pests. It's inconsiderate to bring them deliberately into your neighborhood, especially when squirrels are uber-abundant in most neighborhoods anyway.

I come from a long line of suburban farmer/gardeners who have driven themselves to distraction (ie, bought dogs to chase them, deployed all manner of weird nettings and wires and other protective mechanisms, thrown clods of dirt) trying to stop squirrels from destroying our crops. They absolutely gorge themselves to excess and sometimes sickness on things they like (seriously, EVERY pecan??), and for things they don't like, they will take one little squirrel bite out of every one to make sure it's not an exception. My upstairs neighbor has a birdfeeder and the spillage from them attracts squirrels to our porch, and while I haven't confronted him about it yet (mostly because there's an ongoing squirrel/cat drama taking place on the porch that's been absolutely hilarious), if the squirrels' digging kills one of the plants I just planted, katey bar the door. Feeding pests is not something I associate with good neighbors.

And, yes, squirrels in some regions do carry plague. Adorable!
posted by crinklebat at 5:37 PM on November 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


I would bet hard money they've been drinking antifreeze. Antifreeze is like crack for animals, and just as lethal. Often animals that have just ingested antifreeze will be seen walking around like they are drunk or suffering from a neurological condition. Once they've drank enough of it (lethal dosages for pets can be as small as a teaspoon... for a squirrel? a thimbleful perhaps) their livers metabolize the ethylene glycol into some nasty things that invariably kill it.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:08 PM on November 16, 2008


It's inconsiderate to bring them deliberately into your neighborhood [...]

I'd say it's inconsiderate to plant yourself in what used to be a natural habitat for many other animals and displace them, too. Humans rock and all, but dealing with squirrels in cities and dealing with them in farmlands or large gardens is entirely different. Personally, I'd rather suffer the little creatures than live in an area that's all concrete and artificial grass. There's nothing wrong with squirrel feeders - unless you know that they're causing a major destruction of property.
posted by Bakuun at 8:51 PM on November 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


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