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Squirrely and Violet

By Alta Campbell

December 2018

My first indication that something was living in the birdhouse was my cat Violet’s unwavering attention to it.

I had learned, since Violet and I moved to the woods and she began sitting on the screened-in porch ledge to watch wildlife, that if she is staring steadfastly at something, it is likely to be interesting.

She was staring steadfastly at the birdhouse.

It was attached to the deck wall adjacent to the screened-in porch where Violet could easily see it. She’s an indoor cat, so she does not go out on the deck. I had mounted the birdhouse there because it was too pretty to put out on a tree where it would be damaged by rain and snow. It was a gift, and I wanted it to stay pretty.

When I was thinking about where I could hang it, a friend said, “Hang it on the house wall of the deck. It will be protected there.” “But how will the birds find it?” I asked him.

“They’ll find it,” he said.

But they didn’t, and something else did. Finally, after looking at the birdhouse every time I saw Violet watching it, I saw the critter that was inhabiting it. But I didn’t know what it was.

Its eyes were too big for a mouse, and it didn’t really look like a mouse. It was too small for a squirrel. I sent a photo of it to several friends. “What is this animal?” I asked. “It’s living in my birdhouse.” But no one knew.

Finally, I showed the photo to my brother. “It’s a flying squirrel,” he said immediately. “They’re smaller than regular squirrels and have big eyes like that.”

“A flying squirrel!” I exclaimed. “I have never seen one. I didn’t even know they lived in this area. How did he get in the birdhouse? That little hole is the only way in. How would he fit?”

“They can make themselves pretty small,” he answered. “And they don’t really fly. They glide. They’re nocturnal, so you probably won’t see it leave the birdhouse during the day. They go out at night to get food.”

So we looked up flying squirrels on the Internet, and, sure enough, the photos matched my birdhouse inhabitant.

“Isn’t living in the country fun!” my brother exclaimed.

Violet and I named him Squirrelly—not very original, I know, but it seemed to fit him. He didn’t appear to be afraid of us. I could walk to the screen, close to him, and talk in a low voice, asking him questions about his life, telling him that we were very happy to have him live on our deck. He didn’t move, didn’t pull his head back in, just stayed there, very quiet, seeming to listen. He wasn’t even afraid of Violet. Perhaps he knew that she couldn’t get to him.

Then one evening, after dark, I went out on the porch. Violet was out there. She stayed out there late every evening, listening to the pond frogs and the woodland insects, until I made her come in.

Then I saw it, a dark shape flat against the outside of the screen. At first I thought it was a bat, but then it half walked, half glided across the screen and up into the birdhouse. Squirrelly! Coming home! I actually saw him glide! Violet and I were both thrilled, mesmerized by our little friend!

Squirrelly has lived in the birdhouse now for several seasons. He comes and goes. I thought for a while that he had left us, when several months passed without a sighting, but then he returned. Violet always seems to know when he is home. If she is watching the birdhouse, I know that Squirrelly is in residence.