The Billings Outpost

Missing squirrels, birds make barren summer

The track of the serial killer crossed 27th Street North and wound through the tree streets before fading somewhere near Rose Park.

I recognized the work of the killer. It was that 20th century invention, the automobile. I counted eight road-killed squirrels in a stretch of a couple of miles. Juveniles accounted for seven of the eight.

Young squirrels are like young magpies. The spawn of very intelligent parents, they haven’t got the sense God gave human teenagers.

I saw one adult squirrel in that drive. He or she was clinging to a tree, about four feet off the ground. When my pickup neared, she scrambled upward 20 or 30 feet.

“That’s why she wasn’t one of the corpses,” I told myself.

The only warm-blooded creature dumber than a young squirrel is a ground squirrel of any age. One will creep up to the edge of the highway, look both ways, then dash out in front of a car doing 75 mph. In a short time, traffic flattens the dead beast into a small grease spot.

It isn’t long before the scent of the bloating body attracts a sibling or second cousin. Ground squirrels eat grass mostly, but will never pass up the chance to enjoy some prime cannibalism.

Ground Squirrel Number 2 scrambles out onto the highway and begins to dine on yesterday’s fatality. When an observant driver passes that way, he or she will notice two grease spots where there was only one.

The next day there will be three grease spots or four. Then five or six. This increase continues until the local population of ground squirrels is exhausted.

There are no dead squirrels on our street. No live ones either. Once I could sit on the porch and count a half dozen in the time it takes to drain a Pepsi-Cola.

The largest of the bunch was a big buck squirrel that bullied the rest of his tribe. His victims would take refuge on the slender tips of small branches.

The squirrels struck camp and all disappeared at about the same time. I reckoned they had taken a clue from the season and hibernated. When they failed to reappear, I thought a coyote, dog or cat had thinned the pack.

But I have never seen a dog in our neighborhood that wasn’t on a leash or behind woven wire. A coyote could kill and eat dozens, but if there were coyotes in the vicinity we would hear them at night.

Cats are out, too, for the same reason. Whitetail deer and wild turkeys take a shortcut through our yard often enough, but cats are as rare as rain.

If cats were abundant, that would explain the disappearance of certain feathered species. In June, robins nested atop a light fixture above my front door. A pair of robins hatched four young ones. The babies fledged and hung around the neighborhood while their parents scolded them, prodded them to find worms and try a bit of flying. When home grown family left, so did all the occasional visitors.

The most plentiful bird on the block was the chickadee. The dee, dee, dees lived in a blue spruce tree. They left in late spring as chickadees usually do. When summer heat becomes oppressive, they seek refuge in the cooler climes of higher altitude. From here that spells the Pryor and Bull mountains. I’m not certain when they return, but they haven’t yet.

The chickadee was Chief Plenty Coups’ medicine. The tiny bird protected him in battle. There were no flies on Plenty Coups.

The wee totem stuffed with cottonwood cotton or downy feathers weighed less than a half ounce. Tucked behind his ear, the totem protected him in battle and was no hindrance to action.

Imagine if his helper had been a beaver, jackrabbit or even a mule deer he tucked behind his ear. His name might have been “No Coups at All” or “His Medicine Is His Anchor.”

I miss not being scolded by the chickadees. I miss, too, the flicker eating Virginia creeper berries along the fence that separates my yard from the neighbors’.

A family flock of magpies and a lone blue jay hung with us last year. This year all are no-shows.

Maybe winter will restock our little preserve. Western tanagers are due soon.  Tanagers court, breed and rear their young in high places when the temperature climbs. Sometimes a mountain chickadee or two will join a flock of black capped chickadees on their way to the wintering grounds down in the valley.

Let it be a surprise. A delightful surprise. I’m up for that.

Copyright 2012 Wild Raspberry Inc.

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