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There’s a new king of the feeder this winter at the home of Sue and Gary Drinkwater in Northport.
They have enjoyed watching the usual assortment of birds and gray squirrels, but they weren’t prepared for the arrival of one particular critter: a black squirrel.
“We’re amazed at the black squirrel,” the Drinkwaters said in sharing a photo and video of the animal.
“This black guy chases the gray ones away, thinks this is his private backyard,” they said.
Shevenell Webb, furbearer biologist for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, explained why this particular squirrel is different.
“Melanism is a rare genetic condition that causes dark pigment of the skin, fur and feathers (yes, it occurs in birds too!),” Webb said. “In addition to gray squirrels, it has been documented in woodchucks, chipmunks, white-tailed deer, red foxes, coyotes, garter snakes and various bird species in Maine.”
Black squirrels are uncommon in North America. One estimate calculated a rate of one for every 10,000 squirrels, according to Live Science.
The Northport black squirrel has made itself right at home, taking advantage of the Drinkwaters’ food offerings, including a peanut holder they had hoped might deter it from consuming so much bird food.
“He’s fat and happy, eating all the birdseed and peanuts. He’s king of the yard, won’t let the gray squirrels eat if he’s close,” they said.
The squirrel is fond of grabbing a peanut and scurrying off into the garden or the woods before coming back for more.
“I’ve watched him and then checked the spot he stopped at but can’t see the peanut!? Very fun to watch,” they said.
The Drinkwaters also have been blessed with other wildlife near their home, including gray foxes.
“We’re lucky to have so many animals around us,” they said.
The Drinkwaters wonder whether the squirrel’s unique color, which makes it much easier to spot in snowy conditions, might also make it an easier target for predators.
“There are pros and cons to darker coloration, depending on where you are in the food chain, season, and other factors,” Webb said. “A darker predator may be more camouflaged when hunting at dawn, dusk or night. But if you are a black object running around against a snowy backdrop, you may have some thermal benefits but you are more vulnerable to predation as well.”
Many thanks to the Drinkwaters for sharing the visuals of the black gray squirrel.