DEAR JOAN: One of our enjoyable backyard activities for the past several years has been watching the antics of the squirrels who have lived, at least some of the time, in our Italian Cypress trees. Our cats have also been looking forward to the view outside our living room window.
We haven’t seen a squirrel in weeks, and my husband has noticed their absence on his morning walks. A friend told him the county “got rid of them.” Do you know if this is true?
I feel sad and frustrated whenever the decision is made to kill animals instead of finding ways to co-exist with them and just let them live. When I think about Wisconsin’s war on wolves, Japan’s dolphin hunt, and the potentially imminent slaughter of the Point Reyes tule moose, my stomach turns.
Surely there is another less lethal way to deal with squirrels? Should any creature that some consider a pest be exterminated?
Maris Bennett, Antioch
DEAR MARIS: I don’t know what happened to their squirrels, but to my knowledge, neither Contra Costa County nor the city of Antioch have launched a war on squirrels. However, that doesn’t mean someone in your neighborhood hasn’t been killing them.
Squirrels in California have some protections and can only be hunted during certain times of the year with a hunting license. Special permission is needed at other times to deal with squirrel populations that are causing extensive damage to crops or buildings. The exception is the non-native eastern fox squirrel, which can be killed at any time and without permission. The use of poisons, however, is prohibited.
Squirrels can come back for a variety of reasons. The most common cause of a relocation is that food in its original place is scarcer or that food is more available elsewhere. Predators moving in areas can also cause squirrels to get up and move.
I hope your squirrels are back by now or others have moved into your empty trees. Some consider them pests, but just like you, I find them very entertaining.
DEAR JOAN: I have a resident bird at my feeders that looks like a chickadee, hangs out with chickadees, but has a completely white tail and back. Could it be some kind of hybrid?
DEAR NANCY: I’m not sure what bird it is, but if it looks like a chickadee and hangs out with chickadees, it’s most likely a chickadee, but with a genetic problem.
Animals that have a lack of pigmentation have a condition known as leucism. It is a genetic mutation where there is an inadequate deposit of pigments. It can be complete, turning an animal’s fur or feathers white, or partial, where only patches of the animal’s fur are white, usually referred to as piebald.
Birds with leucism retain coloration in the eyes, beak, and feet. It looks like your chickadee is missing coloration on its tail and back feathers.
Otherwise, animals with leucism are completely normal and healthy. They may be at greater risk of being attacked by predators that can spot the animal more easily, so hopefully your chickadee isn’t in too much danger.
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