Can squirrels understand humans?

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Can squirrels understand humans?

Richard McKinley

Votes: 9951

Yes. Well, at least one of them could. In the late 1990s, I lived in a 5th floor condo with balcony. Every morning when I headed out the building entrance for my car to go to work, I saw this squirrel sitting on the grass looking at me. Finally, I just said “Hi” to it, and it hopped over and walked with me until I stepped off the curb into the parking lot. After that, the squirrel escorted me to my car every morning, like a ritual, even though I never once offered it food. After over a year of that, we had a 22 inch New Year’s 1999 blizzard (I was in Chicago northwest burbs). Once all the snow stopped, he showed up on my 5th floor balcony, sitting on top of a chest-high snow drift as I was coming back from the fridge with a beer during the football games. I knew it was him. At first I was surprised how he would know which balcony was mine, but he probably saw me out there many times during the summer after I got home from work while he was up in some tree.

It didn’t take rocket science to know why he was there. After 22 inches of snow, he probably couldn’t get to his usual food stores. So I opened the slider and he just walked right in. We’re longtime buds, right? He followed me into the kitchen where I had some little bags of nuts (cashews, almonds and pecans), the kind for cooking recipes, not the snack nuts with added sugars, salts, etc. Then he followed me back into the living where he hopped right up on my thigh as soon as I sat down on the couch, waiting patiently as I opened the three little bags. After giving him an almond and a cashew first, which he ate, then I gave him a pecan. You should have seen how he lit up, like “WOW!!! Where did you get THESE!!! Sensational!!!”. When I started to get another almond, he leaned forward and tapped on the bag with the pecans, letting me know his preference. The level of non-verbal communication BOTH ways was very high. Keep in mind you can get the same thing with any dog or cat kept as a pet since they live with you and get to know you. But this was not a pet. After he ate his fill, he hopped back over to the slider to be let out, just like a dog or cat would. Communication.

The next Saturday a week later I was up early on the computer in my home office room as usual, checking emails and planning my day. He apparently knew about my Saturday routine because he showed up on the window ledge and tapped on the window, waving his “arms” like an air traffic controller when I turned to look. As I walked past the living room on the way to the kitchen to get nuts, I could see him already waiting at the slider. After two more Saturdays enough snow had melted so he could get to his usual food, so he stopped his weekend visits, though he still escorted me to my car every morning as always.

Weeks later, on one of the first very warm Saturdays of spring, I was out on my 5th floor balcony relaxing when he came up to my balcony. He brought a candy bar with him and gave it to me. When I put it on the side table, he picked it up and gave it to me again. It was in pristine condition, one of those fundraiser candy bars (“World’s Finest”) that are frequently sold outside the supermarket by some youth sports group like little league. I know where he got it. On Saturday mornings it was always a busy time for grocery shopping, and people would get back from the supermarket to unload at the main entrance where it was no parking. They would make a couple trips inside, putting their bags by the lobby elevator while leaving the hatchback or trunk open. Many times I saw squirrels hiding in the shrubs waiting for someone to go inside, then they would quickly hop in the back and help themselves to some things. They knew EXACTLY how much time they would before the guy would be coming back through the vestibule so they could be gone before he got back for more bags.

I am sure that was where that candy bar came from, and some poor kid probably got his butt whupped for stealing the candy bar and then lying about it. But the squirrel took the effort to bring it up to me, either thanking me for my past help after the blizzard, or buttering me up for the next winter that was sure to come.

Still wondering whether squirrels understand humans? Rest assured, the squirrels that live in your yard (along with chipmonks, rabbits and the like) know everything about you, who lives in your house with you, your pets, everything. It is their business to know because their survival depends on knowing the other creatures sharing their habitat. So say “Hi” to a squirrel or rabbit once in a while when you are out in your yard. They know who you are. And maybe put some scraps out after a blizzard or other extreme weather. Maybe you will even get a candy bar out of it.

Bridget Swain

Votes: 7496

Yes, up to a point. Birds and squirrels don’t use the kind of complicated language we do. But each of their calls does have a meaning and just like a cat figures out that ‘cat food’ means they’re going to get fed and a dog (mine most definitely) figures out “go for a walk” means their going outside on the leash and get some exercise, a squirrel can quickly learn that particular chirps from a bird probably means “I found food!” I do know also that birds learn that a particular loud barking noise a squirrel uses means Danger! So they do communicate after a fashion.

I watch the birds and squirrels interact in my orchard and side yard a lot. I’ve often seen birds go silent and dive undercover when a squirrel barks an alarm and I’ve seen squirrels go silent and dive for cover when a jay yells “Hawk alert!” I’ve even seen both small birds and squirrels react to chicken’s calling an alarm. And when I feed the chickens, and they start calling their “foods here” cluck (a very distinctive call), the small wrens and sparrows suddenly show up in the nearby bushes.

Oh, and my dog not only knows “Go for a walk” but has also learned to spell walk. Or when I spell it at least. Darn dog.

Maitland McDonagh

Votes: 7068

Why do squirrels chatter at humans when they’re no threat to us?

They chatter at us because we’re a threat to them. I only notice it during breeding season—I live in a big city and the squirrels here are very accustomed to being around people. Most of them are bold as brass, always looking for a handout, which I’m happy to give them: I admire animals that can live cheek-by-jowl with people and cars and dogs and trucks and just be about their business (NYC is full of raccoons, too—they’re awesome—and I don’t have anything against rats and mice; they mostly go about their business with admirable fortitude).

Jonathan Rose

Votes: 2458

To a certain extent, yes. There’s a video where a wild squirrel is on the ledge of a porch facing sideways. A woman watching it says the squirrel “looks evil”. The squirrel recognizes that she’s talking about it and turns around to face the woman. The squirrel then points at itself and the woman confirms “yeah, you!” The squirrel then has an indignant expression on its face like it’s been insulted!

George Rix

Votes: 7635

Why are some squirrels not afraid of humans?

I’ve hand reared three squirrels from infancy, they trusted only me. Sometimes when I was introducing them to the wider world they would run up my back and take refuge between my shoulder blades like they would with their natural mother when a strange human turned up. I get wild squirrels that come into my home for treats but run away if a friend walks in. The trust gets earned. In many parks and other points of human contact they are more trusting of much more people to the point that mistrust is what gets earned instead, also they are often doing their trusting in the safety of numbers.

Dan Tannehill

Votes: 1735

Squirrels are tasty. Not just to me and other rural Americans, but to hawks, foxes, coyotes, dogs, cats, bobcats, lynx, etc. etc.

Squirrels know this-either by instinct or by seeing other squirrels become the main course. Obviously, squirrels don’t want to be on the menu. All of the predators mentioned earlier have a distinct trait. They all have eyes on the front of the head. Squirrels and other prey species have eyes on the side of the head. So when a squirrel sees a creature with eyes on the front of the head, it knows there is a potential for danger. It must make a decision.

Now if that predator has recently eaten and is no mood for a chase, the little squirrel …

Beth Goldowitz

Votes: 5505

A few things I’ve learned from squirrels over the years, by observation.

Viola Yee

Votes: 6433

What does it mean if a squirrel keeps staring at you?

Many rodents have this habit of becoming motionless, with staring unblinking eyes. They seem to be in some kind of a nap or zen state.

I once saw my hamster do this. He was completely still with eyes staring, and even when we waved our hands in front of his face he did not seem to notice but continued staring/meditating. He did this for about five to ten minutes, until we were quite worried about him and started to stroke him to wake him up. He jumped, quite startled, as though he had been asleep. But his eyes were open the whole time.

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