C.W. Gusewell


Will his ornate fate be a tail of romance?

I have to confess a profound lack of interest in the romantic and reproductive activities of movie stars, rock singers, athletes, wayward politicians and members of the British royal family.

I am, however, concerned about mating prospects for the rat-tailed squirrel that has begun showing up in recent days at our bird feeder.

His first appearance was startling. In all other ways, in appearance and behavior, he seemed an ordinary – if rather smallish – gray member of the Sciuridae family.

In past years we fed our three bird dogs out of pans by their kennels in the backyard. Then one day an acquaintance noticed what she said was a rat poaching on the dogs’ rations.

My wife remembers being humiliated, fearing that her friend might think we coexisted happily with resident vermin.

This new visitor, however, clearly is no rat. His head, shape, coloration and nimbleness in climbing are indisputably squirrel-like.

My concern is that this is the mating season. Outside my window the other squirrels are engaged in endless chasing games – making spiraling ascents of tree trunks and circus leaps from limb to limb. It looks a bit like playful courtship behavior. If so, the strange one takes no part in that.

Doing a bit of Web research, I’ve found that ornamentation is an important factor in mate selection in the animal world.

According to the literature, female finches choose males with the most colorful plumage. Blackbirds are attracted to the ones with the yellowest beaks. Female wolf spiders prefer brushy-legged males.

Among wild turkeys, hens look for the toms with the brightest red heads, the longest beards and spurs, and the widest fanned tails.

Seeing that squirrels are ordinary little beasts in all other respects, the tail – if it’s a full, bushy plume – must be the most obvious ornament. Hence this concern of mine for the rat-tailed one we’ve been seeing in our yard.

Will romance ever come his way? And why, years and years ago – back in my young bachelor Army days, when it might have mattered – did I not get my hair dyed flaming red or luxurious purple and invest some time and money sitting in a Georgia tattoo parlor?