October 2020: Sciurus carolinensis ‘Harriet’

OK, this isn’t a plant. It’s that time of year when pest plants are going happily to sleep for the winter and are ceasing, temporarily at least, to instil feelings of fear or disgust. Not that any plant disgusts me. Well, Japanese knotweed might but, thankfully, there’s none of that round here. So I’m being creative and thinking outside the borders, so to speak.

And, to be fair, it’s not as if every Sciurus carolinensis in the world could be described as a bane of my life. Indeed, it can be fun watching the specimens in my garden grow and play around in the sun. Nope, I’m concentrating on one particular specimen who I’ve christened “Harriet”. I do know, however, that many people absolutely hate the species as a whole. No holds barred! These are a real pest for many. But not for me. Except for Harriet!

You see, Sciurus carolinensis is the posh name for the grey squirrel. and Harriet is but one particular grey squirrel. I’ve got a few regulars; they each have unique fur markings that allow identification. Two are males whom I’ve named Henry and Herbert. They’re pretty well-behaved and more fun to watch than the TV. They happily visit the squirrel nut feeder, remove a nut and eat it on the top of the arbour to which the feeder’s attached. Herbert sometimes brings me presents of brambleberries in the autumn – he’s been around for a couple of years. Harriet, though, is determined to transform my lawn into a mini bomb-site. She will appear, dig a nut up from the grass and eat it. Then she checks out the feeder and, one by one, removes every nut and scampers down to bury them, one at a time, in the lawn. Now she has graduated to the front lawn and has discovered the crab apple tree. She will spend ages climbing, removing fruits and carrying them down to bury in the grass. She’s very tidy when she buries, carefully camouflaging the holes, but when she digs them up again a day or two later, she isn’t worried about someone else finding her stash! You may think that ants’ nests in the lawn can be a pain. They’re nothing compared to a single Harriet.

So she takes the “Bane of the Month” mantle for October.

If you want to know how to sex a squirrel, there are three fairly easy ways:

  • Look at the bum! It’s fairly easy if you can get behind one. The male “privates” are two fairly distinct “openings” whilst the female look more like a single eliptical one
  • In mating season, males will get a bit agressive with each other as they establish a pecking order – the dominant one gets first dibs. Then the winner will start chasing the female until she lets him catch her. The actual mating lasts for less than a minute but the chase can be fun to watch. But males argue whilst the female keeps her distance
  • When the kits (or pups) visit the garden with an adult, that adult will be a female as once they’ve had their wicked way, males take no further interest in what follows.


John Kingdon