There’s a new pest in town and he’s looking to take over the world.
Although his natural territory is strictly the eastern parts of Canada and the U.S., the eastern grey squirrel is moving into Kelowna and chasing out the smaller native red squirrel in the process.
Karl Larsen, professor of wildlife ecology at Thompson Rivers University, says they will eat anything, including garbage, so they could have an impact on the tree fruit and grape industries once they become established here.
Already the species has moved into countries such as Australia, South Africa, England and Italy as well as many other parts of the world, until they’re considered one of the top 100 invasive species on the planet.
In addition to pushing out native species of squirrel, they also eat birds and birds’ eggs, dig up flowering bulbs, chow down on fruits and nuts as well as stripping the bark from trees, chewing through electrical wires, eaves and shingles and then nesting in and damaging roofs, attics and chimneys.
Larsen will be speaking in Kelowna at the next meeting of the Central Okanagan Naturalists’ Club Tues., Oct. 9 at 7 p.m. at the Evangel Church, 3261 Gordon Dr. He has done 20 years of research on squirrels and will talk about native squirrels as well as the invasive greys. Visitors are welcome.
While the native red squirrels are very territorial and will scold any interlopers into their territory, the grey squirrels are more amiable and will forage with a group of fellow greys, so populations can expand more rapidly, explains Larsen.
He’s concerned that there is no clear response mechanism in this province for dealing rapidly with invasive species before they have a chance to become established.
“This summer we should have been trapping them out of Kelowna and trying to eradicate them. By the time there are grey squirrels in a neighbourhood there are no red ones left,” he comments.
Reports of greys have come in from Kelowna’s downtown, Glenmore and Knox Mountain areas as well as south of Harvey Avenue and in the Swamp Road area, said Larsen. And, 16 have now been counted west of the bridge.
That data comes from reports from a dedicated website that’s been set up to monitor their movements locally: www. introsquirrel.ca
“I think if we’d jumped on it right away we could have eliminated the problem,” Larsen comments.
However, they are trying to monitor the expansion of greys in this area and ask that anyone spotting one report it through the website or by calling 1-855-468-7077.
Greys can be distinguished from reds by colouring, although sometimes greys are black, and sometimes reds are more on the brown side, but greys are twice the size of reds and fatter.
The tails of greys are bushier and they do not have such a distinctive white eye ring as reds.
Live traps or slingshots may be used for controlling them on your property, but do not relocate them, advises the Conservation Officer Service.