The grey squirrel

by Richard Jones

Sitting in the crook of the large, rather gangly, elder tree in a neighbour's garden, the squirrel was staring into space, bleating out its miieeeoorrrl, call over and over again. I've never heard this noise before.

Leaping grey squirrelA plaintive mewling took me to the end of the garden a couple of days ago. At first I thought a cat had caught a bird or had cornered a fledgling. As I got closer I realised it was coming from a tree and wondered if some strange seagull was lost in East Dulwich. But no, it was a grey squirrel. It was singing.

Sitting in the crook of the large, rather gangly, elder tree in a neighbour's garden, the squirrel was staring into space, bleating out its miieeeoorrrl, call over and over again. I’ve never heard this noise before. Unlike birds, whose songs are well known and documented in books, CDs and on the web, animal noises seem less likely to be described.

Even my favourite mammal book, Beast Book for the Pocket, by Edmund Sanders, has very little to say. According to Sanders, the grey makes an "indignant scolding, chur-urr". Not my meowing. Sanders' sometimes witty text usually can't be beaten. The book starts with an entry on 'man', Homo sapiens, complete with physical description, habits, behaviour, dental formula, skeleton, calls and distribution map of the British Isles. But it was written in 1936, only a few years after the grey squirrel started to spread widely through the country. Maybe he hadn't heard many.

On holiday in Canada last summer, we heard and saw many different types of squirrel. North America seems to be the evolutionary home of these animals, with at least a dozen in British Columbia and Alberta alone. The noisiest were some of the ground squirrels, 'piping' from outside their burrows beside the railroad tracks at Field in the Rocky Mountain's brilliantly named Yoho National Park.

My squirrel's sorrowful noise was very different from the happy piping in Canada. I've now identified a British grey squirel 'song' on the internet. It's similar, but not quite the same. Perhaps the squirrels hereabouts have a south London accent.

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Talkback: The grey squirrel
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Gardeners' World Web User 31/12/2008 at 10:27

Isn't nature wonderful! Last time we were in Dulwich we saw a fox waiting at a red light! Happy New Year to all gardeners and garden-dwellers! Kristina =)

Gardeners' World Web User 08/01/2009 at 16:40

I have heard a squirrel making a similar noise to this though slightly faster so it sounded like a baby crying at first which is what attracted my attention. It was on my neighbours roof and seemed as though it was looking for a way down and considering whether to jump. After a while it climbed back over the ridge and presumaby found a way down on the other side.

Gardeners' World Web User 15/01/2009 at 21:30

I've also heard a grey squirrel make this sound - it was in my parent's back garden in Dublin over a year ago. There was some blood on the ground below the branch where the squirrel was perched, so I thought it might be injured. The sound definitely seemed to be that of a scared or injured animal - and was quite different to the repetitive coughing/barking sounds that my squirrels in Cardiff make occasionally. I'd be very interested in any expert's opinion on how to recognise and interpret grey squirrel calls!

Gardeners' World Web User 10/02/2009 at 15:19

i love squirrels and everything but recently i have been raided of my bulbs by them. i live near a small wood and they have started coming up into my garden and digging up my bulbs eating the new shoots of them and destroying the bulb on each plant. To me this is very strange behaviour for them, but i was wondering would you have any solutions to keep them away and stop them destroying my bulbs?

Gardeners' World Web User 17/02/2009 at 10:48

There are ultrasonic pest repellers available that detect the motion of the squirrel and send a burst of ultrasonic noise that deters them without causing any harm.

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