Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Squirrels of Darlington

One of the pleasures of living in the country is the closeness that one has with nature.  Although Darlington House is in a hamlet setting, it is surrounded by fields and forests teeming with life.  On our property stand half a dozen enormous old oak and black walnut trees that produce a bounty of nuts each autumn.  And where there are nuts, there are squirrels.

A 19th-century cast-iron and wood squirrel nutcracker

There are two types of squirrel that live at Darlington.  One side of the property is inhabited by red squirrels.  They are very playful, aggressive little creatures who spend much of their days gamboling about their territory, skittering up and down the trees and chattering in high-pitched voices.

A 20th-century cast-iron squirrel nutcracker
perched on the edge of a cast-iron birdbath

The other side of the property is inhabited by a population of larger and somewhat more docile gray squirrels.  We see more of the gray squirrels at Darlington than we do of the red ones.  That's because the grays live on the busier part of our property, where much of our day-to-day activities take place.  It is also where we keep several bird feeders, filled throughout the year.  The gray squirrels scavenge for fallen seeds on the ground below the feeders and occasionally try to get to the source themselves, often with hilarious results, as the feeders are designed to thwart such efforts.

A 19th-century cast-iron squirrel nutcracker,
surrounded by recently fallen black walnuts

The grays are are not as aggressive as the smaller red squirrels, and they appear less frantic and frenetic in their activities.  They are more of a "hang-out" squirrel, if there could ever be such a thing.

A 20th-century cast-metal squirrel sprinkler

Although there are more gray squirrels on the property than red ones, there is little risk that they will drive out the red squirrels anytime soon.  That's because the red squirrels are feistier than the gray ones and vigorously defend their turf from all encroachments by the grays.

The water sprays out of the squirrel's head

I've seen numerous altercations between red and gray squirrels at Darlington over the years.  And in each and every case the red squirrel has been the victor, with the gray one scurrying away at the end, having been soundly thrashed by the smaller red squirrel.  The red ones are tough little cookies indeed, and I certainly wouldn't want to tangle with one of them.

A 20th-century cast-stone squirrel garden ornament 

Boy and I are quite fond of the squirrels that live at Darlington, and we enjoy sharing the property with them.  We recently lost a very large, very old oak tree in a freak tornado, and we were concerned that our squirrel population would decline as a result of acorn diminishment.  But that doesn't appear to be the case, I am happy to report.

Two 20th-century cast-stone squirrel garden ornaments

Not surprisingly, and as is seen in this post, we've collected a number of squirrel-inspired objects over the years.  Most of them are vintage or antique, but we have some other, new ones as well.

A 19th-century squirrel taxidermy under glass

We always keep our eyes out for interesting, well-priced examples to add to our collection.  But we are discriminating in what we buy.  That is because if one isn't careful, it is possible to find oneself in possession of too many squirrels, since there are many opportunities to collect squirrel-related objects, given their popularity.  And just as one does not wish to be overrun with an explosion of live squirrels, one does not care to be inundated with a collection of inanimate ones, either.


  1. Dear Reggie, I was most interested to read what you say here of red versus grey squirrels. In Britain, the opposite appears to be the case where the grey squirrels have, over the last fifty years or so, virtually driven out the indigenous red ones so that now they are seldom seen outside of Scotland or the Isle of Wight. In Hungary, however, they remain a fairly common sight.

    I was very taken with the image you show of a squirrel in a glass shade. I have many similar shades and cases, all from the C19, but almost entirely of birds. I agree that when making a collection of anything, caution and discrimination need to be the watchwords.

  2. Edith Hope: Thank you for your comment. I am aware of the loss of much of the red squirrel population in Britain (as a sometime reader of Country Life where it is a frequent subject), and am sympathetic with the sense of loss it engenders. As a boy growing up in Washington, DC, I remember seeing many red and black squirrels in the neighborhood where I lived, long since driven to extinction by marauding grays. And I believe that has been the case in many areas here in North America. Consequently, I feel particularly blessed to have a group of reds living here at Darlington that appears to be at little risk of being driven out by the grays, given what I've seen of their testy tempers and superior fighting skills. The squirrel under glass was a great excitement when found, as we had been looking for one for years.

  3. I was about to make similar comments to those made by Edith Hope, and indeed it was why I was so excited to see one the other evening as were strolling in the grounds of the castle in Scotland. Again, this morning I spotted one from the kitchen window, and it is such a joy to see that they have taken up residence and have not been eliminated by the greys. I think I'm right is saying that there is a movement to cull the greys and to allow the indigenous reds to re-establish themselves throughout Britain, (and Prince Charles is a great supporter of this movement).

    Anyway, we've decamped to our delightful Garden House in the Borders this afternoon, and have come across some other delightful wildlife. More anon.

  4. You two are the very Best at collections-these are "darling" all, and the string holders another perfect collection. The water sprinkler is my fav.Had I only known of your squirrel collection sooner- nothing holds a candle to them! pgt

  5. Reggie --

    Black squirrels have made a big comeback in recent years, and I've even noticed a couple of white-tails. But as in most cities, the greys are ubiquitous.

    (I miss the flying squirrels that lived in the great elms of my grandparents' house. Wonderful creatures -- and not one of them ever deigned to work with a moose.)

  6. Well, having a Westie and a Lab in residence it has been very difficult to see wether we are the beneficiaries of red or grey squirrels here at the lake. The poor things spend most of the time perched up on the trees the minute we open the door. So do the birds and any small animal that moves fast. My daughter tries to warn them before she opens the door but i'm the sadist who enjoys watching the chase. I actually think the squirrels enjoy the game too except when it gets periously close. That amusing taxidermy squirrel would last all of two seconds here at the lake!

  7. Although not a huge squirrel fan as they try to deprive our visiting birds of all their food, I do adore your wonderful inanimate squirrel collection!

  8. My Grandmother was an avid gardener and she would have gladly supplied many squirrels to your collection.
    Now all I want to do is sketch them, and the cute chipmunks.
    We have an obese groundhog, he has eaten all the remaining eggplant in my garden.
    What does Pompey think of the squirrels?

  9. I love your collection of squirrels. I hope you do not mind my saying so, but It does, bring to my my mother who always called them "rats with tails".
    She was always swooshing them away because the ate her favored birds, food!

    I collect rabbits for outside decorative use. No, not the live ones. Am sure many would not want bunnies about eating from the vegetable garden.

    So nice to see your collection.

  10. Reg- I'm of two minds. I love the birds, but clever squirrels have obliged me to stop putting out the feeders for them (except for thistle which doesn't seem to be to the squirrels' taste). No matter how clever I thought I was- including having an "ingenious" "squirrel proof" stand made for the bird feeder (it had a huge baffle half way up), the damn things were able to figure their way around whatever I came up with in a few days. Nevertheless, it's hard not to admire them as you watch them try to work their way around an obsticle, and when you see how dexterous they are with their almost hand-like claws. Given my druthers, though, I'll take your inanimate versions any day.

  11. The Scottish Wildlife Trust is running an initiative to support red squirrels in my native Scotland. And very successful it appears to be too, though I've never seen one live myself.

    I like your squirrel collection. I'm a fan of the gray squirrels here in Kansas - they are very entertaining and haven't really made a nuisance of themselves in my garden recently.

  12. We have gray squirrels here of two kinds: gray fur and black fur. My husband tells me the back story is this: sometime in the 1800's gov't officials decided there were too many squirrels and put out a bounty for them. Soon the population was decimated. Then they realized they had erased a food source for fox, hawks, etc so they imported some squirrel couples from Ontario, Canada, including a pair of black squirrels.

  13. Reggie - Just saw your comment on the black squirrels in DC. We do have some in our Arlington VA neighborhood - maybe they crossed the river to safety. Although I haven't seen any Red ones here.

  14. We have both here in the country but the large gray squirrels are predominate. The little reds live mostly in the woods. I enjoy watching the gray squirrels hang upside down on the feeders trying to get seed. Some are so tame in local parks they will approach people.

  15. I sometimes see white squirrels in the Ginter Park neighborhood of Richmond. I suppose there is some genetic quirk going on but it is slightly spooky.

  16. Whilst I find this post perfectly charming, Edward is appalled! Statues of squirrels! The real things are enough for him. And we have plenty of those!

  17. Very cute, esp the sprinkler. David.

  18. By the way.....not sure about East Coast Oaks......but California live oaks are one tree which will keep on living even when fallen down! It is true!

    If there is even a third of the roots still going in to the ground.....they just keep on living and putting new branches straight up from the fallen trunk!

    I have seen it happen......and first read about it in Thomas Church's books on landscaping. (Gardens are for People)..... Wonderful! So; if you have another one fall down.....give it a chance!

    I tell people this all the time.....they just cut them down anyway! I have saved two......I will take pictures and send you , if you are interested!

  19. I have seen fox squirrels the size of a small dog. what a shock it was. I have visited a town in North Carolina which prides itself as the home of the white squirrel. As elusive as they are, we had the good fortune of a white squirrel making an appearance as we visited a picnic area.


Please do comment! I welcome and encourage them, and enjoy the dialogue.

Related Posts with Thumbnails