Recent encounters at parks and in the backyard are prompting many area residents to suggest the squirrel population has increased in Cherokee County. But they might want to check nature’s calendar before deciding the two-legged species is becoming a minority.
In fact, frequent sightings of squirrels scampering about to gather food are due to the sequential responsibilities set by Mother Nature.
Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation Game Warden Brady May said most small game populations are currently experiencing an increase due to the annual birthing process that begins in early spring and runs through the middle of summer. The eastern gray and fox squirrels found in the area are no exception.
“They’re pretty active in feeding and taking care of their young right now,” said May. “So that’s probably why people are seeing more of them.”
Despite a widespread suspicion that the squirrel population is exploding this year, May said the numbers in Cherokee County have always been stable.
“I can’t think of any particular year when it’s been bigger than others,” he said. “I’ve always heard the old-timers say that a squirrel can be born in any month that has an R in it.”
According to The Squirrel Place website, the tree-dwelling rodents are most active in the late winter months when the mating season begins. The gestation period can last up to 60 days for the larger species like the common gray and fox squirrels, which produce an average litter of four that will vary with climate and location.
If an adequate food supply is available, a second litter can be born in mid-summer, the Minnesota-based website reports.
“Typically in heavily wooded areas, you’ll find the gray squirrels,” May said. “In Tahlequah, the town is a wooded area, and primarily you should see the gray squirrel. On the outer fringes of town, you can see the bigger fox squirrels.”
Fox squirrels are more likely to be found on the edges of farmland, he said.
“The grays, by far, out number the fox squirrels in Cherokee County,” May said.
The eastern gray squirrel, described as a prolific and adaptable species, is a scatter-hoarder, storing food in several small caches for later recovery. Its diet consists of nuts, seeds and fruit, but it will eat bird eggs, bugs, and if no other food sources are available, even animal carcasses, according to The Squirrel Place website.
“Squirrel season opens May 15 every year. Most seasons are closed during the summer, and here it is the middle of summer, and we’re in squirrel season because they’re plenty in number,” said May.
The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation website lists squirrel season as May 15 through Jan. 31. The season bag limit is 10 per licensed or exempt hunter.
“It’s an aggregate number and not 10 of each, but 10 altogether,” May explained. “You need a hunting license or proof of exemption if you’re hunting on your own land. If you’ve got what you believe to be too many of them coming in to the yard – because they can chew things and dig and present a problem – the best way to get them is with bird seed.”
May said his 70-year-old mother has been dealing an abundance of squirrels near her home in the Oakwood Addition. She used bird seed and a live cage-trap to humanely thin the numbers.
“She’s trapped five in the last week,” he said. “She takes them out into the country to relocate them. It is against the law to keep a live squirrel as a pet. If my 70-year-old mother can do it without calling me for help, it’s something that anybody can do.”
May said people with pets shouldn’t be concerned with squirrels bringing ticks and fleas to their yards, and stressed that you should never disturb what may appear to be abandoned nest.
“Ticks and fleas on squirrels is not a major contributing factor to anyone’s pet population,” he said.
“That’s just not a common factor. I wouldn’t think that would be a concern for anyone. And if people find a nest, please leave them alone. The mother knows where they are. Don’t assume they’re abandoned. Leave young wildlife alone.”
Make it a meal!
City dwellers may turn up their noses at the notion, but many rural folks who have grown up eating wild game find the meat very tasty.
It can generally be cooked any way rabbit can be cooked. Once skinned and cleaned, the squirrel can be cut into pieces much like a chicken.
A favorite method is to dredge the pieces in seasoned flour, then dip in an egg-milk mixture, dip into the flour again, and fry in hot grease in a cast-iron skillet.
Baked squirrel can be made by dredging the pieces in seasoned flour, then lightly browned in oil in a cast-iron skillet. Drain the grease, and put the pan into the oven, adding some minced garlic and sliced onions, plus celery and parsley to taste. Then add 2 cans cream of mushroom soup slightly diluted with water, and baked covered with foil at 325 degrees for 2 hours.
Squirrel can also be cooked in a stew like rabbit or chicken, or served up with traditional flour dumplings.