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Expert: Warm Winter Has Interfered With Squirrel Population

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A squirrel in action. (Credit: Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

A squirrel in action. (Credit: Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

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CHICAGO (CBS) — The warm winter that is technically still in progress may spell trouble for baby squirrels.

As WBBM Newsradio’s John Cody reports, the squirrels will have to compete for food with adults who survived the winter. Usually, squirrels die off in the frigid winter months, but that didn’t happen in nearly the same numbers this year.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s John Cody reports

Urban ecologist Steve Sullivan of the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum estimates adult squirrel populations are 3 to 5 percent above normal around Chicago.’

“Squirrel populations are actually a little bit higher than they probably should be, because we’ve had such a warm winter,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan says the winter normally kills off up to 80 percent of the squirrel population with low temperatures, and low food supplies. He says this warm winter killed off fewer adults than normal, but he doesn’t know how many.

Sullivan is trying to find out what the squirrel population looks like in Chicago through “Project Squirrel,” which enlists citizen scientists who survey parks and backyards for information on how many squirrels of what types are around.

He says the next generation of baby squirrels will have to compete with older stronger and more experienced squirrels that survived.

But he also notes that nature has many self-balancing mechanisms available: increased squirrel numbers may draw in more hungry hawks than usual to keep the population down.

He says he doesn’t know what the long term impact of the warm winter and early spring may be, and is hoping curiosity will inspire citizen scientists to join ProjectSquirrel.org and help him find out.

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