RIGHT IN OUR BACKYARDS: Pumpkins in the Wildlife Food Chain

Pumpkins perched on front porches and sidewalks are a major part of the fall outdoor decorating scheme in Rye.

A14 Squirrel pumpkin
Published December 14, 2012 5:00 AM
3 min read

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A14 Squirrel pumpkinPumpkins perched on front porches and sidewalks are a major part of the fall outdoor decorating scheme in Rye.

 

By Bill Lawyer

 

A14 Squirrel pumpkinPumpkins perched on front porches and sidewalks are a major part of the fall outdoor decorating scheme in Rye. Some have cutouts for eyes and mouths, many are carved into scary or weird heads to entertain the onslaught of trick or treaters and passers-by. Others are put on display as is – in celebration of the season.

 

This year, due to the uninvited trickster known as Hurricane Sandy, very few people were able to enjoy the décor.

 

I don’t know how many people bring the decorative pumpkins back in and take out the flesh to make pumpkin pies and roast the seeds for snacks. But, due to the fact that probably 99 percent of all the decorative pumpkins were left out for several weeks into November, a new dynamic took over, at least in my neighborhood.

 

Even before Halloween, I began to notice little scratched and clawed marks on the pumpkins. As the weeks went on, these gashes and gouges grew larger, and pretty soon it became obvious what was happening: squirrels.

 

Squirrels, squirrels, and more squirrels. My guess is that the squirrel population has increased dramatically in the last few years. And yes, deep down inside I’m sure that it’s due to the global warming pattern here in the northeast. It’s the same factor that has caused our neighborhoods to have more spiders, more ticks, and more deer.

 

As I walked around my neighborhood, which I have taken to calling Halstead Hill, I came upon countless squirrels dividing up the pumpkin spoils and gorging themselves. It was as if the squirrels were having their own block parties.

 

The squirrels were so sassy that they would keep munching away until I was almost within easy grabbing distance.

 

But one day recently I was walking past a particularly large banquet on Rye Beach Avenue when all of a sudden the entire feeding party dashed for cover – across the street, up the trees, under porches or wherever. A few seconds later a large hawk flew right past me — missing my head by just a few inches – and right onto a sluggish and no doubt overfed reveler.

 

It wasn’t a pretty sight. But I have to report that the portly partygoer was able to escape into some bushes.

 

I waited around for a few minutes to see what might develop, but the hawk flew back up to a tree – no doubt to consider its options.

 

Just a few days later I encountered another swooping hawk by a pumpkin fest on Dearborn Avenue. It was nearly dark, so I couldn’t tell whether it got its prey or not.

 

As much as I like squirrels, I have to admit that I was rooting for the hawks. Due to Hurricane Sandy, many of the hawks that would normally have been flying south in late October and early November were delayed. Being daytime predators, they were stuck in areas where the day-lengths were getting shorter and shorter. They had to literally “get prey while the sun shines” to paraphrase a familiar saying.

 

Hawks are beautiful creatures that are very important to the balance of nature, so I say to Rye residents, “let’s keep those pumpkins coming” — right in our backyards — or front porches and sidewalks.

 

For an interesting video of a hawk capturing, killing, and eating a squirrel, check out this Georgia Deercam website: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VgNvGp1xxOM.

 

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