The fall is a difficult time to be a squirrel. It is rare to drive down busy city or neighbourhood streets without seeing the aftermath of roadkill. Regardless of how you feel about these playful furry rodents, you probably don’t want to see their little lives ended before they begin. However, sometimes collisions are unavoidable, primarily because of the squirrels’ instinct to dance in the lane.
You don’t have to be an expert on wildlife to know that most squirrels get hit by cars because of their indecisive back-and-forth dance. What you may not know is that squirrels are hardwired for such displays, so the roadkill jitterbug may be automatic, if not instinctual. Check out what our Skedaddle wildlife control experts in Oakville have to say about this behaviour.
Squirrels’ Place in the Food Chain
Squirrels are understandably skittish. They are small and serve as a satisfying meal for numerous predators, including those that fly. While there is no definitive study proving that squirrels dance back and forth to avoid predators, most researchers believe that to be the case.
The assumption is that through the thousands of years that squirrels have existed, certain evolutionary behaviours have remained because of the usefulness. For example, as hawks and other birds of prey make up a significant portion of squirrel predators, it is not surprising that the animal has developed evasion skills. Many researchers believe the dance squirrels perform is due to many generations learning that zigzag running patterns result in less capture.
Unfortunately, the same evolutionary skill that helps protect squirrels from diving predators makes them susceptible to oncoming traffic. Unlike predators that can be tricked by ducking and weaving, a car maintains a straight and wide path. If the driver fails to see the little critter scurrying back and forth, car tires are likely to make a quick end to the matter.
The Impending Winter
Beyond instinct leading to many squirrels’ exit to nut heaven, the fall brings a time of panic. Squirrels are known as foraging animals, needing to find and secure a food supply for the winter months. As the cold weather approaches, squirrels begin a cycle of rapid collection. You will see many more squirrels in the fall during this collection period because they need to find enough food to last through the cold season.
Young and Reckless
Another reason for an increase in the squirrel population running around and crossing busy intersections is the increase in juvenile squirrels leaving nests. The fall signals the beginning of the adulthood of squirrels born the previous seasons. Because the new squirrels are not used to the dangers of running free, they are more likely to get hit by cars due to running recklessly into the street. While it may seem strange when talking about squirrels, with age comes wisdom, and surviving young squirrels quickly learn the perils of busy roadways.
Curiosity and Anxiety
Beyond instinct and age leading to odd behaviours when facing a vehicle, squirrels are also curious and cautious animals, which is a dangerous combination. A squirrel is always curious about new things, especially if there is an expectation of food, but the careful side can give way to indecision.
For example, a squirrel enters the street and sees an approaching car. Without understanding what the object is, the animal must decide if it offers food or if it is a threat. The delay can lead to panic, especially when the critter determines the vehicle is a threat, at which point the squirrel darts back and forth to avoid capture. The combination of curiosity and anxiety rarely end well for squirrels, as evidenced by the increase of fall roadkill.
While some accidents are bound to happen in the fall, you can help reduce the loss of countless squirrel lives. If you know you have a nest on your property or are aware of a large population of squirrels in your neighbourhood, contact Skedaddle Humane Wildlife Control for help.