Mike Tighe is the Tribune newsroom's senior citizen. That said, he don't get no respect from the cub reporters as he goes about his duly-appointed rounds on the health, religion and whatever-else-lands-in-his-inbox beats. Call him at 608-791-8446.

All the fuss over whether zombies are coming is mystifying, because I don’t understand the zombie craze in the first place — and I think the real issue ought to be black squirrels.

The cute little rascals are taking over our backyard and, I suspect, many yards in the Coulee Region. At first, I thought they were just an anomaly, because only a few showed up in the spring, jockeying for position to steal seeds from our bird feeders.

Black squirrels

Black squirrels are mutants, with just black pigment instead of the orange and white also present in gray squirrels, resulting in their gray appearance. Black squirrels have the advantage of having more immunity to some diseases, such as squirrel pox.

Robbery is their forte, and they initially were craftier than their gray cousins in their stealthy thefts — until Kate bought me a feeder that foils virtually every attempt.

Usually able to find something — even a hairline crack or pinhole-sized niche — to latch onto in other feeders, the squirrels were surprised that the shiny wire protrusions collapsed every time they tried to climb onto one. The glistening perches hold birds, but not the animals that some people view as glorified rats just cruising to set up housekeeping in attics.

Most of the miscreants gave up after a few tries to swipe food, and virtually all soon figured out that good things could come to those who wait. Birds aren’t the neatest eaters, so their lousy eating habits tossed plenty of seeds onto the ground, providing a feast for the squirrels — regardless of fur pigmentation.

Particularly cute among the birds that flocked to the new feeder were a cardinal couple in which the female also assumed the male role of hunting. The male, whom you could tell because of his bright red feathers, compared with the female’s dingy brown feathers.

Practically speaking — and no offense, ladies — that’s the way it is with the lesser animals, compared with humans. In nature, the males usually are more attractive, all the better to lure the females into their lairs; in human nature, the women fall prey to the makeup industry.

Roosting below the feeder, the male was able to feast on the seeds that his mate dutifully pecked perfectly to propel toward him.

Excited with wonderment about whether the emergence of black squirrels might be signaling Squirrel Change, similar to Climate Change, I left no stone unturned to find the answer.

Zeal rewards those who wait, as the squirrels had taught me, and that proved true with the brain-teasing black squirrel apocalypse.

It’s all a matter of tapping the right resource — in this case, Kathy KasaKaitas, animal control supervisor at the Coulee Region Humane Society in Onalaska — to help solve the mystery.

Squirrel colorations are the result of varying pigmentations, as one might imagine, but KasaKaitas explained the finer points regarding black squirrels: They are mutants of grays, which get their coloration from a combination of black, orange and white pigments that appear as stripes when you get up-close-and-personal, she said.

Still other refinements result in two variations: Squirrels with shiny black coats have only black pigment, while those who appear to have dirty black fur have the orange and black pigments, she said.

Advantages go to the black squirrels as far as some diseases, as they seem to have a degree of immunity against some maladies — squirrel pox, in particular, KasaKaitas said.

Don’t despair that red squirrels are dying off if you’re pining for that variety and searching for them like a frustrated “Where’s Waldo?” player. They aren’t common in the Coulee Region because they prefer to nosh on pine cones, so they tend to settle Up North. A few red ones still hang around these parts, but they’re in the distinct minority, she said.

Some homeowners are so fond of squirrels that they feed them, but the lovers often have neighbors who are haters and trap the squirrels to relocate them, KasaKaitas said. The squirrel lovers resent their neighbors for removing one of their favorite pastimes.

Actually, trapping and moving the critters elsewhere just opens the pathway for more squirrels to move in, she said. The evictors should be aware, also, that they need other landowners’ permission before they can release squirrels on their property.

Don’t even try to release squirrels on public property — Myrick and Pettibone parks, for instance, as many do — because that’s illegal, KasaKaitas warned.

Similarly, the humane society discourages relocations during certain times of the year, such as October, she said. The poor evictees have spent much of the summer hiding nuts where they live, and they know where they are. Relocation removes them from their winter pantries.

Another potential peril for the migrant squirrels is that the natives will get restless with the immigrants and kill them to protect their own storehouses.

Despite that warning, my impression is that squirrels are as absent-minded about where they hid their nuts as I am when I go from one room to another to fetch something and forget why I’m there. They say even a blind squirrel finds a nut sometimes, but I still have no idea how I ended up in the kitchen or what I was after.


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