They’re not everyone’s favorite, as the ubiquitous squirrel wreaks havoc on birdfeeders, electrical cables and more, but Iowans and the country as a whole can celebrate their benefits during National Squirrel Appreciation Day on Jan. 21.
The holiday began in 2001, at the suggestion of wildlife rehabilitation specialist Christy Hargrove “to encourage kind attitudes towards our bushy-tailed neighbors.”
According to National Today, up until the mid-19th century, squirrels weren’t present in American cities, with the first documented introduction of squirrels occurring in Philadelphia’s Franklin Square in 1847. Boston and New Haven followed suit and brought in squirrels a few years later in 1850. Releases began again in the 1870s, this time on a larger scale, as expansive parks were built in New York, Boston, Washington D.C., Chicago, and other major cities, providing a welcomed habitat for squirrels to live and thrive.
In Iowa, squirrels suffered an enormous loss of habitat during the August 2020 derecho, particularly in the Cedar Rapids area, which lost about 70 percent of its tree canopy to the hurricane-strength windstorm.
Locally, ImOn Communications in Iowa notes that the telecommunications industry tends to look at squirrels as a frustrating foe, as squirrels chew on things to sharpen and control the length of their teeth, including electrical and fiber-optic cables. ImOn averages 17 small outages a year due to squirrel damage, when they chew off the outer insulation of the wires and even chew on the hard wires themselves.
Still, give the fuzzy rodents credit for their environmental benefit, as their habit of burying nuts to find later when they’re hungry contributes to reforestation, making them nature’s gardeners.
National Today notes that squirrels fail to recover up to 74 percent of the nuts they buried, and most of the nuts they dig up are nuts they steal from other squirrels.