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Fragile Bird

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This is National Squirrel Week.  Who knew -- despite the utterly squirrely state if everything these days.

Massive waves of squirrels once roamed America. No one knows why.




Even people who love squirrels might have been unnerved at what Philo Romayne Hoy, a doctor and amateur naturalist in Racine, Wis., witnessed in the autumn of 1842: thousands of squirrels scurrying across the landscape in an unbroken wave.

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On they came, day after day, a great, unrelenting tide of Sciurus carolinensis: the Eastern gray squirrel. Hoy saw a similar spectacle in 1847, 1852 and again in 1857.

He wasn’t alone. The mass movement of squirrels across different portions of North America is noted in the journals of hunters, explorers, farmers and others. Every few years, thousands upon thousands of Eastern gray squirrels moved in a roughly southeasterly direction, usually in the fall. They surged through forests, their natural habitat, and into prairies, an unnatural one. They tore through cornfields like earthbound locusts, making the stalks pulsate as if buffeted by a strong wind.

Water was no deterrent. Great furry armadas swam across the Ohio (1819), the Niagara (1866), the Mississippi (1881) and other rivers, arriving bedraggled and exhausted at the far shore, where they were easy prey for hungry animals astounded at the sudden, sodden bounty.

In 1920, a wildlife writer named Ernest Thompson Seton tried to quantify the phenomenon, basing his calculations on P.R. Hoy’s account of the 1842 onslaught.

Hoy had reported that it took a month for the squirrel army to pass. Seton put the speed of the squirrels at five miles a day. He estimated how far Hoy could see at any one time and thus how many squirrels would have been in Hoy’s field of vision.

Seton factored in other variables and arrived at a density of 30,000 squirrels per square mile. He estimated the mass movement could have included more than 400 million squirrels.

Wrote Seton in “Migration of the Gray Squirrel,” his 1920 paper in the Journal of Mammalogy: “Such numbers seem incredible, and yet that is what the old naturalists said they were, unbelievable, incredible, etc.”

A tall tale, like Bigfoot or the jackalope? No.

“They were real events,” said University of Wyoming biologist John L. Koprowski, co-author of “North American Tree Squirrels.” John James Audubon was among the reputable witnesses of what are more properly called emigrations, not migrations. Caribou migrate, moving back and forth between habitats. These squirrels were on a one-way journey. Another term biologists use is “eruption.”

The last notable emigration was in September 1968, when squirrels from Vermont to Georgia took off on a hike. This attracted a lot of attention. Hunters demanded squirrel season be opened early — and bag limits doubled — to take advantage of the profusion. Animal lovers, concerned the squirrels were moving because they were starving, organized relief efforts. Florida residents were encouraged to gather acorns and send them to Tennessee.

The Smithsonian studied the phenomenon. So did teams of researchers from Maryland, Georgia and Missouri. Famed University of Maryland squirrel expert Vagn Flyger traveled from New York to North Carolina collecting carcasses. (It was easy. Highways were splattered with the unfortunate critters.)

In the end, no one could be sure why potentially millions of squirrels decided to get a move on en masse.

Koprowski said a combination of factors could be at work in a squirrel exodus. One year’s bumper crop of seeds and nuts can produce a bumper crop of baby squirrels. If that’s followed by a sparse acorn year, squirrels may decide to leave in search of food. Because gray squirrels live in communal groups of related females, it may be easier for them to decide to get going.

“You’ve got social groups that live closely together,” he said. “They could move together.”

Koprowski said he would love to witness a squirrel eruption but laments it’s increasingly unlikely.

“We don’t have the extensive continuous forests that we once had,” he said.

The most vivid accounts of squirrel eruptions date to a time when old growth forests had yet to be logged, when bison roamed the West and flocks of passenger pigeons darkened the skies. Just imagine: Squirrels as far as the eye could see.

Until and unless it happens again, we’ll have to rely on the words of our forebears, including this description from 1811: “A countless multitude of squirrels, obeying some great and universal impulse, which none can know but the Spirit that gave them being, left their reckless and gambolling life, and their ancient places of retreat in the north, and were seen pressing forward by tens of thousands in a deep and sober phalanx to the South.”

Said Koprowski: “It would have been, I think, an amazing sight.”

Welcome to Squirrel Week 2023
It’s time for my 13th annual squirrel eruption. All this week I’ll be featuring squirrels. Please join my deep and sober phalanx.



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  • 2 weeks later...

Best pronouncement read so far today:


...  Public schools exist to create the material they need for the class they want to build. When Eton needed soldiers, it was a very harsh environment; later, when it needed shysters and chancers, it adapted successfully to produce Boris Johnson and David Cameron.  ....


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3 hours ago, LongRider said:

Brutal, but really hilarious.  

The last one where she locks the door, zomg!    :lmao:

I got the feeling that most of those folks were Americans. So dangers like, oh I don’t know, you might get shot at the mall or the movie theatre or at school aren’t enough, you have to invent invisible dangers? Or is the prank so successful because, in fact, you might get shot at the mall or the movie theatre or at school? Paranoia? I’m a bit bemused by it. 

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On 4/29/2023 at 2:55 PM, Zorral said:

43-year-old used her life savings to open a bar that only plays women’s sports—it brought in almost $1 million in 8 months

She named her bar, "Sports Bra."


This so fucking awesome!   :cheers:  

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2 minutes ago, Derfel Cadarn said:


I wish we could still post pics without needing Twitter. For me no sign will ever be better than one that was translated into English mistakenly saying "Don't Bluth the park." (an Arrested Development reference for the uninitiated).

In happier news, pay your fucking writers Hollywood:


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