New Hampshire Tidbits: Beware the Little Red Devil in the Tree Above

Red Squirrel in the New Hampshire snow. Photograph by Tina Penrod-Bates, used with permission.

Depending on where you live in the United States you may call these furry creatures: tiny beasts, chickarees, fairy diddles, cute, squacks, pests, little red devils, pine squirrels, red squirrels, or even Tamiasciurus hudsonicus if you are the brainy sort. When they are still babies, you’d call them kits or kittens. They are born blind but make up for that disability in short order by maturing quickly. [Editor’s note: The term little red devils, from New Hampshire Wildlife Journal magazine, Sept/Oct 2015, attributed to Mark Beauchesne, a NH hunter.

They are native to the United States and New Hampshire, and often get a bad rap by their feathered neighbors and human watchers alike for their hoarding superpowers and acting as the guard dog [sic] of the forest–warning all its creatures of incoming dangers that include human hunters.  Yet for all their protective efforts, they don’t always get a welcoming reception from other forest inhabitants. As early as 1825 the New Hampshire Gazette newspaper reported on the observation of a red squirrel “being warmly attacked by the feathered enemy” for having robbed one of the birds babies from their nest. The story goes on to say the squirrel was shot while the songster birds rejoiced.

Doubtless the poor squirrel’s pelt was quickly saved for future use. In March of 1829 The Farmers’ Cabinet newspaper contained the following advertisement that shows one use: “LOST on the 10th inst. a Red Squirrel Skin PURSE, containing a Three Dollar Bill, and some Change. Any person having found the same, and will return it to the subscriber will be suitable rewarded. SAMUEL TRUELL. Amherst [NH] March 11, 1829.”

The bursts of speed and navigational acuity of the red squirrel is renown. In fact observation of their skill makes for some interesting tales. The New-Hampshire Statesman of 4 Dec 1830 reported this story: “ADVANTAGES OF A STRAIGHT FORWARD COURSE. Two fellows gifts in story telling, met a short time since over a bowl of blue ruin, commenced telling a few — anecdotes to pass away the time. One said he had been caught out in a thunder storm, and was standing under a tall hemlock, on the top of which sat a red squirrel. The lightning struck the hemlock, and running round the tree, which was very winding, found its way to the ground. “But,” said he, “the squirrel took a bee line and reached the ground six feet ahead.”

Illustration of Red Squirrels.Squirrels and other fur-bearers, by John Burroughs, 1900; page 137. Internet Archive.

On 7 October 1857 The Farmer’s Cabinet in Amherst NH thought so highly of squirrels that it printed an entire article [from the Dover NH Inquirer] on that topic. “The red squirrel is larger than the ground squirrel, but not so large as the gray, whom he resembles in his habits. His color is russet, somewhat inclined to gray in winter, except his throat and belly which are white.– His trim and flexible figure with his long and bushy tail cocked over his back, give him a very jaunty look. He is the most agile and spry of all the squirrels. So rapid are his movements that he will dodge at the flash of a gun and escape the discharge. His home is in the tall trees, where he builds his nest, and fills his larder, and with his wife and children folic away the bright summer days, in leaping from branch and tree to tree. His flowing and beautiful tail is not entirely for ornament for it serves him for a parachute, enable him to slide off through the air, and breaking the fall in his break-neck leaps.”–  [Editor’s note: don’t get any ideas here about squirrels living together as a family. Red squirrels pair briefly and afterwards they part. The female squirrel raises the litter alone]

“He likes to come about the orchards for sweet apples and is partial to the corn-field and the greeny is sometimes quizzed by being told that a squirrel has been seen with three ears on its head, (one being an ear of corn in his mouth). The boys have lots of sport in hunting squirrels, often using the primitive Indian arms of bow and arrow, and the inquiry of each other on meeting is, “How many squirrels have you killed this season?…

The red squirrel is also known for its cunning and persistence. In February of 1869 The Farmers’ Cabinet newspaper stated that a D.C. Brown, Esq, a farmer in nearby Vermont stated that in less than 3 months time, a red squirrel had carried two bushels of corn up a flight of stairs to safely stow it away for future use.

*****ADDITIONAL READING*****

The Tale of Nutkin Squirrel by Beatrix Potter, 1903 – Internet Archive

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1 Response to New Hampshire Tidbits: Beware the Little Red Devil in the Tree Above

  1. Virginia says:

    Love it, oh my!!!

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