• The 14th Street Produce stand sits under a large live oak tree. Photo by Pat Foster-Turley/For the News-Leader

Squirrels can be brazen little thieves

We have had our problems with squirrels, those pesky rodents that enjoy bird food, warm attics and other things we really haven’t intended for them. There’s a big business in pest control companies removing squirrels from attics (at great expense) and in selling “squirrel proof” bird feeders (which often don’t work).

But no one I know has quite the squirrel problem that Jessica Byrd-Moore has.

Jessica runs 14th Street Produce, the quaint fruit and vegetable stand on South 14th Street in Fernandina Beach near Walmart. Except for the traffic rushing by on busy South 14th Street, this stand looks like it could be located in the far recesses of Nassau Country. I always stop there for fresh vegetables and fruits before heading to Publix or Harris Teeter to finish my shopping.

The shop is open air, with only wire mesh enclosing it to stop people from stealing the vegetables when the stand is unattended at night. But that didn’t stop the other marauders in the area that also like fresh veggies: the squirrels. And Jessica says that since the devastation to the large property at South 14th and Lime streets started to make way for a new apartment complex, the squirrels have no place to find food and her own squirrel problems have gotten worse.

Take the pecans, for instance. Jessica was in the habit of keeping a large bin of unshelled pecans in the shop overnight along with most of the other fruit and vegetables. But she started noticing that the pecans in the bin were getting fewer and fewer each night. Then she figured it out. Squirrels! She is certain now that there are pecans planted all around her shop that the squirrels have tucked away for the future. Now, she brings the pecans home at night. She also takes her avocados home at night because of similar issues.

But during the day, when the squirrels are pestering her in the shop, she often gives them something of their own to eat to keep them occupied elsewhere. They love corn, she says. When she tosses them an ear, a squirrel will husk it completely from the stub end upwards, then go about eating the kernels. She’s tossed them sweet potatoes, green peppers, hot peppers – there’s not much these squirrels won’t eat. 

The shop is situated under a large live oak tree, a perfect squirrel habitat, and high up in the tree is a stubby branch, their favorite perch on sunny days. When I was at the shop recently, Jessica had just tossed an apple to a fat squirrel lurking under the oak tree. The squirrel was not happy eating the apple so close to the people in the shop and wanted to take the apple up to its perch to eat in private. I lingered there watching as long as I could, as the squirrel kept trying to carry the apple up the trunk without success. I took photos of the attempts that ended a few times with the squirrel dropping the apple halfway up. It was a big apple and maybe weighed about as much as the squirrel itself.

As I watched, the other customers started paying attention too. One young girl in the shop told us her own story about squirrels. She was playing with her cousin in a backyard on the island that had an orange tree, and there were oranges scattered on the ground. Suddenly, an orange peel dropped from the sky and hit her cousin. Looking up, they saw it. Yes, a squirrel had carted an orange up to the top of the tree and was peeling and eating it overhead.

I never did see Jessica’s squirrel succeeding with its apple mission, but I have proof that it happened. When I got home that day, there on my Facebook feed was a perfect photo of the squirrel on its high perch with its apple. Persistence apparently paid off.

Sandra Baker-Hinton, an artist and squirrel foster mother on Amelia Island, reminds us to feel sorry for the squirrels during our cold days and to toss them some food. We may sometimes be annoyed at their thievery, but let’s face it, we often enjoy their intelligence and persistence. Squirrels are a part of life on Amelia Island so we might as well learn to live with them. Jessica has learned how to cooperate with squirrels and we can too. As long as they don’t move into our attic!

News-Leader

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Fernandina Beach, FL 32035

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