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Flying, Giant Squirrels of Washington DC

December 5, 2012 by  
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SquirrelSquirrels of Washington, DC

London may have mysterious werewolves but Washington, D.C., is full of hyperactive squirrels. They are found in all places you go, they might cross your path, or you might cross theirs but it is hard for anyone to ignore them for long.

To some Washingtonians they are just a common occurrence in D.C. life, like metro rail single-tracking, another local official caught with his hand on the cookie jar of public funds; or the weather turning from sunny to rainy in a matter of minutes. Most tourists, however, find our squirrels unusually appealing or just plain irresistible. I was told some tourists have only seen squirrels in children’s coloring books, T.V. programs or nature shows, and that’s the reason they go bananas (or nuts!) when they encounter the gray, white or black creatures with furry coats and swollen bellies scurrying around in parks, monuments and sidewalks. Of course, the D.C. squirrels, ever conscious of their rock-star status, seem willing to stop and take time off their busy activities to pose for pictures or to feed strangers’ long stares hoping for a peanut or candy in return. I have learned that baby squirrels like human babies are born fearless, and that urban squirrels like ours, actively search for humans as food sources, so this makes sense. Surprisingly though, I found that despite their cuddly looks and flamboyant personalities, they can be a menace to some.

I was recently guiding a tour of doctors from abroad in downtown D.C., our itinerary was right on schedule and the weather was cooperating so I had started to think that the tour was a complete success. As we concluded our visit to the White House, crossing Lafayette Square in the process, I heard one of the members in our tour group scream! I turned around to see a very mature and respectable male doctor squirming while being protectively surrounded by some of his peers. I immediately saw the culprit of his fears: a black squirrel lurking at the feet of a nearby oak that appeared both stunned and amused at the ruckus he created. I was then told by another physician in our tour group that there is a type of wild flying squirrels in his native town that are known to charge at, pounce and even bite any person who gets too close for comfort. Not our highly sophisticated and domesticated D.C. squirrels. “No way, our Washington, D.C. squirrels are not like that”, I told them. Just like true Washingtonians, we are accustomed to tourists visiting from everywhere and we welcome them with open arms– as long as they stay on the right while riding the metro escalator– and I only mentally told myself this last part.

I am not sure whether the fearsome doctor believed me or not, but as we walked back to and briskly boarded our motor coach already waiting for us on Vermont Avenue, I realized how many idiosyncrasies there are and how much there is to know about our visitors from all over the world; and that a simple squirrel deciding to make an impromptu appearance at the most inopportune time, can make or break a tour guide’s efforts of the day.

photo credit: Genista via photopin cc