National Squirrel Appreciation Day: Robo-rodents, Plus a Squirrel-Food Recipe

from Wildlife Promise

squirrel appreciation day, gray squirrel, bird feeder

A gray squirrel caught by a National Wildlife photo contest entrant in a typical pose that suggests they may be masters of theft as well as deceit.

Although January 21st has been recognized as National Squirrel Appreciation Day since 2001, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technologyhave carried squirrel appreciation way beyond a puny period of 24 hours. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, squirrels should be packing their bags for a major ego trip this January 21, thanks to Georgia Tech.

Hidden Resources

Research covered in National Wildlife magazine almost five years ago showed that gray squirrels try to deceive one another when hiding food for the winter. They engage in misdirection to keep other squirrels from stealing their loot. Using this behavior as a model, researchers led by Ronald Arkin, a regents professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Interactive Computing, have developed robots that deceive each other.

Arkin and his team began by reviewing biological research showing that squirrels gather acorns and store them in specific locations. Each animal patrols its hidden caches, routinely checking on them. When another squirrel shows up, the hoarding squirrel changes its behavior. Instead of checking true locations, it visits empty cache sites, trying to deceive the interloper.

Arkin and his Ph.D. student Jaeeun Shim implemented the same strategy in a robotic model, and the behaviors worked: The deceiving robot lured the “predator” robot to false locations, delaying the discovery of protected resources.

The research is funded by the Office of Naval Research, which suggests that the military may find ways to employ squirrel deception behavior. “This application could be used by robots guarding ammunition or supplies on the battlefield,” Arkin says. “If an enemy were present, the robot could change its patrolling strategies to deceive humans or another intelligent machine, buying time until reinforcements are able to arrive.”

Succor for Squirrels

Despite their military potential, let us not forget that squirrels are hungry little creatures struggling to survive in native habitat where we have built houses and places of business. While some of us may grapple with ways to keep squirrels out of our bird feeders, on Squirrel Appreciation Day perhaps we can relent and offer the bushy-tailed rodents a snack of truce. For those so inclined, here is a recipe that I, uh, borrowed from the website squidoo.com, which has not adopted the gray squirrel’s deceptive techniques for hiding goodies and which offers a lot of information on National Squirrel Appreciation Day.

Homemade Squirrel Cakes

squirrel appreciation day, bird feeder, gray squirrel

What’s good for the birds is good for the . . .

Total Time: 24 hours

These tasty cakes for squirrels are less expensive than purchasing ready made squirrel food.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 pound suet
  • 1 cup peanut butter
  • 1 cup oatmeal (uncooked)
  • 3 cups birdseed
  • old pan
  • wooden spoon
  • muffin tins
  • plastic knife or old knife

Instructions

  1. Melt the suet in an old pan until it becomes mushy and almost turns to liquid. It does not matter if it is a little lumpy.
  2. Stir in the peanut butter and oatmeal using the wooden spoon over medium heat until the peanut butter becomes runny.
  3. Add the birdseed 1 cup at a time until the mixture becoms difficult to stir. Do not let the mixture cool as you add the birdseed, because it will be too difficult to get it out of your pan.
  4. Spoon the mixture into the muffin tins filling to the top.
  5. Let the mixture sit for about 24 hours. Use the plastic or old knife to pry the cakes out of the tins.
  6. Place the little cakes around your yard and watch the squirrels go absolutely nutty over them.

Help Squirrels and Other Wildlife

Help squirrels and other wild animals year round in your backyard or elsewhere by planting trees and by gardening for wildlife.