September 7, 2007
Black Squirrels of Uptown
I spotted my first one the summer I moved to Uptown—a jet-black squirrel. I did a double-take, not quite trusting my eyes. While I was used to seeing red and brown squirrels in the suburbs and in Iowa, the only ones I was familiar with in Chicago were of the common gray variety, and those were generally small and scrawny looking at that. But here was one that not only had sleek, dark fur, but was larger and fatter than your average nut gatherer. It didn't take long to figure out why. Neighbors all up and down the block were feeding this one; he was the neighborhood mascot, known as "Schwartzie," "Blackie," or "Cody," depending on which neighbor you asked. I couldn't help it. I took to feeding him, too, even getting him to take a peanut from my hand when he climbed up to my balcony.
Turns out Cody was a female. The next spring there were several new black squirrels running up and down Winthrop Ave. They've become more common to the area, but hardly a week goes by without hearing someone marvel at them. "Will you look at that? A black squirrel!"
Unfortunately, I've had to stop feeding them, at least from the deck. One day, when the screen door was open, one of the squirrels decided to come inside for a look around. My 17-year-old cat, in a rare burst of energy, chased it out of the bedroom and off the deck. I can't risk her tangling with these creatures; she's not as young as she used to be. (Although she did strut around in a rather self-satisfied way after reclaiming her turf.)
I've asked some of the neighbors who have been here longer than I have if these black squirrels have always been here, or if they're a fairly recent addition to the hood. Most of them only remember seeing them in the last few years. I'm curious if these guys are limited to the Winthrop/Kenmore corridor north of Lawrence, where I see them almost daily, or if they live in other parts of Uptown as well. Has anyone else encountered them?
There is an article on black squirrels in Chicago Wilderness Magazine, which is definitely worth the read.