Fall was hard on squirrels
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 1996:
ALBANY, N.Y.––Prolonged summer/fall drought had a
mixed effect on wildlife in the Northeast, generally helping birds but
hurting other species. Already menaced amphibian populations suffered
as breeding pools dried up and shallow water made both surviving tadpoles
and adult frogs easy pickings for great blue herons and
egrets––who also thrived on exposed small fish. Pennsylvania and New
Jersey delayed trout-stocking because of the risk they would be killed by
oxygen depletion in low streams and lakes. Beavers became unusually
vulnerable to foxes and coyotes. Bears and deer were driven down from
the hills to find water, into often dangerous proximity with humans.
Authorities in Ottawa, Ontario, relocated 62 black bears during the
summer, 10 times the usual number. But crickets and grasshoppers
hatched in high volume, much to the benefit of wild turkeys and quail.
New York state biologists reported extraordinary numbers of
dead squirrels on highways. New York Department of Environmental
Conservation wildlife pathologist Ward Stone said one person counted
922 dead squirrels along the New York State Thruway––where roadkills
are normally relatively few––just between New Paltz and Albany.
Secondary school students at more than 100 New England locations
who participate in the Dr. Splatt roadkill census project also found lots
of dead squirrels, and not many of other mammals. The Dr. Splatt project,
begun in 1993, is coordinated by Brewster Bartlett, a science
teacher at Pinkerton Academy in Essex, New Hampshire, and is the
largest, longest-running study of roadkills ever conducted.
Some authorities speculated that the squirrel deaths were
caused by drought. A sounder explanation, however, may be that the
mid-Atlantic rabies pandemic, depleting raccoons throughout the region
for the past five years, has left more hollow trees and food available to
squirrels, who apparently had a record breeding season. Squirrels tend
to gather nuts along roads partly because Northeastern roads are typically
lined with nut trees, partly because nuts that land on roads are easy to
find. And squirrels usually respond to cars as if they are hawks, their
leading wild predator, zig-zagging to avoid swooping talons only to run
right beneath speeding wheels.