Olney IL: Population of white squirrels explodes

29 12 2007

The 29th year of counting gray and albino squirrels in Olney showed a large increase in the number of white squirrels.

The count was headed by Chris Mathews, biology instructor at Olney Central College, and Olney City Clerk Belinda Henton.

During the three weeks of the count, there were approximately 66 volunteers counting squirrels and cats, consisting of students from Olney Central College, Bridgeport Science Club and volunteers from the community.

The annual squirrel count was held at 7:30 a.m. October 13, 20 and 27.

Upon averaging data from the three counting dates, there were 872 gray squirrels, 141 albino squirrels, 18 fox squirrels and 93 cats. Compared to 2006, the gray squirrels increased 17.73 percent; the albino squirrels increased 47.38 percent; and the cats decreased by 2.11 percent. The gray to albino ratio in 2006 was 7.77 to 1; the gray to albino ratio in 2007 of 6.21 to 1 was an encouraging improvement.

Of the three weeks counted, the highest count for gray and white squirrels and cats was October 20. It was a sunny day with a temperature of 52 degrees at the beginning of the count.

This year, two visitors from the Chicago area came to Olney for the purpose of helping count squirrels. They enjoyed seeing the white squirrels and shared their enthusiasm for squirrels.

Some suggestions on ways to encourage the population are:

Feed and water the squirrels generously. This is essential.

While driving, be watchful of squirrels near the roadway and slow down in areas of large concentrations of squirrels. Many of these areas are marked with “Squirrel Crossing” signs.

Predators such as cats need to be controlled. Chapter 6 of the City of Olney Municipal Code restricts dogs and cats from running at large. This chapter also protects squirrels from being captured, trapped or harassed.

More nut and fruit trees need to be planted to help with a natural food source. Mature nut trees act as a grocery store for the squirrels that is only open for a short period of time during year.

Additional squirrel houses would help house the squirrels in severe weather and while raising their young.

Avoid cutting down trees during the times in which babies are in their nests. Squirrels are usually born in February or March and do not leave their nests until May. Another litter is usually born in July or August and do not leave until October. It possible, avoid cutting trees in February, March, April, July, August and September.

If a baby squirrel appears to be abandoned by its mother, residents are asked to leave it for a period of time because it might be possible to reunite the baby with its mother. A wildlife rehabilitator should be called for assistance.

Belinda Henton continues to hold a Wildlife Rehabilitation Permit through the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and can be contacted concerning orphaned white squirrels.

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