The nutty truth about squirrels on campus


Dave DeLuca/The Record

It is the best of times, it is the worst of times to be a squirrel that calls Buffalo State home. Love them or hate them, these small mammals spark a big controversy on campus.

Patrick Koster, News Editor

Bushy tails, big round eyes, slender bodies, soft and silky fur.

To some, they’re the cutest, friendliest things you’ll ever see. To others, they’re the inner workings of a sick, twisted nightmare that weren’t mentioned anywhere in their acceptance letter.

Squirrels: They’re everywhere at SUNY Buffalo State. Yet little know the impact these small mammals have on campus.

In a Twitter poll that asked the Buffalo State community if they liked the squirrels on campus, 42 percent voted “Yes,” 15 percent voted “No,” 19 percent voted “I love them!” and 24 percent voted “They scare me.”

Other tweets highlighted more negative opinions of campus squirrels:

“Squirrels at Buff State have no fear. Almost had to beat one up with my coffee mug today because it tried to climb in my car for some chips,” @mikemusilli69 said.

“The squirrels at Buff State are fearless. This mf came RIGHT up to me like no thank you sir,” @MaryMarciniak said.

“Buff state squirrels don’t give a f—,” @ZacharyGuzda said.

One Twitter user took the time to tell The Record about a recent encounter with a squirrel:

“… I was walking on campus all calm listening to my music with my headphones and it went sour,” said Mikey Pee, a senior graduate student majoring in special education. “While walking with my headphones in, I heard a noise and turned to look if a biker was coming from behind me. In the same moment, I passed a trash can and turned my head forward again to continue walking and as I did, I was confronted with a squirrel. This mangy, greasy, dark-eyed demon of a squirrel came popping out the garbage can and launched right at me like it wanted to fight. In that instance, I got a fight or flight response, jumped back, and squared up ready for this #BuffStateProb to try and run up on me again. It decided that it wasn’t the day and I wasn’t the one, seeing as I didn’t bother it to begin with. From that day on, I’ve been on even higher alert for those furry beings to come flying out of a trash can at me.”

Despite Pee’s encounter, he said the squirrels aren’t a bother for the most part.

Freshman Yvode Helovesus, junior computer science major Emilio Pena and senior apparel design major Sabetha Holley echoed the same notion.

“I guess they just mind their own business and do their own thing. I don’t get bothered by them,” said Helovesus, an Albany native. He thinks there’s less squirrels on campus and they’re less accustomed to people than back at home.

“I don’t really see them as a hazard to anyone,” said Pena, a Buffalo native. “I do realize there are some that ‘dumpster dive’ for a lack of a better expression. I would say I have a friendly relationship with them. If I see them, it kind of makes me feel better.”

Holley thinks the squirrels are friendlier on campus than other places.

“I think there’s too many of them but they’re not really much of a problem,” she said.

Holley added that she thinks the Buffalo State community litters too much and that’s why there’s so many squirrels on campus.

Along with littering, proper disposal of garbage leads to problems with squirrels, or “dumpster diving,” as Pena mentioned. But the history of dumpster diving squirrels goes back to a few years ago.

“A trapped squirrel is much more formidable than a free-range squirrel,” Campus Services Director Terry Harding said. “A while back, we decided we were going to remove all of the doors to the trash can lids that they were getting into to allow them to exit freely. That was because when they got trapped inside the cans, they were pretty nervous about getting out and when someone went to use the cans or when our maintenance people went to dump the cans, the squirrels would jump out and obviously frighten whoever it was, whether they were a constituent or an employee. We removed all of the lids of the cans so that no one would have to deal with irate squirrels, so that the squirrels could come and go.”

Harding said an employee preferred to keep the lids on and campaigned to get them back. After a successful campaign, Campus Services dutifully complied and put the lids back on.

“We tried to make the cans safer for everybody by letting the squirrels go in and out freely, and that apparently was not adequate for some peoples’ purposes,” Harding said. “So we put the lids back on and now squirrels are a little bit more agitated coming in and out of the cans.”

Harding said squirrels apparently force the lids open. Once inside the trash cans, some squirrels don’t like being trapped, resulting in them chewing their way out.

He said most trash can lids have chew holes on them now, allowing squirrels to get in and out.

“That’s a hazard to them [the squirrels] as well as the people who collect the trash,” Holley said when asked her opinion of squirrels getting into trash.

Harding said Campus Services is examining other avenues, such as replacing current lids with metal lids of the same shape. The metal lids can’t be chewed and would provide more resistance that will prevent squirrels from forcing their way in.

Pee thinks Buffalo State needs to replace the lids.

“Now on a real note, Buff State needs to get trash cans with better quality doors,” Pee said. “They’re really easily opened by, say, animals like squirrels and other creatures. Also, they need to teach these damn students to stop tipping over the trash cans. Some people may like to live like scumbags and litter, but I myself enjoy a clean campus free of trash and ignorant people who would trash it.”

Harding said they are trying to locate a manufacturer that designs metal lids. There are hundreds of lids that would need to be replaced. He said even at $100 per lid, it would be a “formidable expense” to replace them. But for now, most of the current lids still have chew holes.

“It still presents an awkward situation for anyone using the cans because they don’t know whether the cans are occupied or not when they go to use them,” Harding said. “It does not exactly encourage the disposing of litter.”

Harding said he hasn’t run into a case of a rabid squirrel yet. He advises anyone who witnesses erratic behavior from a squirrel to report it to the maintenance department so they can intervene.

“I’m not a squirrel expert, but I would have to say where there are trees, there are squirrels,” Harding said. “I think they add to the ambience of the campus. We have a 1,500-tree arboretum here and that’s also a nice home for squirrels. I think we can live in harmony if we find the right product.”

Buffalo State’s Maud Gordon Holmes Arboretum is a collection of different species of trees and other landscaping throughout campus for scientific and educational purposes. Arborist Steve Sypniewski said at least 10 or 15 percent of trees on campus are oaks. He said they are intermixed throughout campus and attract squirrels the most because of the acorns.

“The red oaks really didn’t produce any acorns at all this year,” Sypniewski said. “Honestly, this time of year, we should just be walking on acorns right now. I think also, because of the drought, a lot of things didn’t produce, like the seeds and stuff. So I think the squirrels stripped the trees of the acorns before they even got ripe.”

Sypniewski said other trees on campus, like sweetgums and maple samaras (the helicopter trees, for those who don’t feel like Googling), produce seeds and nuts that attract squirrels. But the recent drought in Buffalo has left many trees bare or with immature food production. He thinks the presence of squirrels on campus has been lower this semester than in the past.

The lack of food from trees because of the recent drought, combined with the urban environment at Buffalo State could be the reason more people have had encounters with squirrels.

“I know squirrels can become kind of aggressive,” Sypniewski said. “They are very territorial to each other, they do fight amongst themselves a lot. But for the most part, I haven’t seen much of that here this year.”

Sypniewski said he’s had a squirrel take a peanut out of his hand in Niagara Falls State Park.

“I don’t know if they’re that tame around here, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they are because of how populated it is and how [they’re] used to having people around.”

When asked “If squirrels somehow gained the ability to speak, what would you say to them?” students responded:

“If they could speak, they surely would get a quick cuss out for running up on me and I would tell them to find another place to scavenge for food because Buff State food isn’t even that good and they’re trippin’!” Pee said.

“Leave,” Holley said.

“I’m not so sure that I’d have anything to say. I just kind of like watching them. They’re pretty curious and they’re always up to something,” Pena said.

The Record tried to speak to squirrels on campus, but they were unavailable for comment.


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