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Nebraska Discoveries 6: Herbie the Thirteen-Striped Ground Squirrel

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Sunday, May 16, 2010

Nebraska Discoveries 6: Herbie the Thirteen-Striped Ground Squirrel

For those who didn't know, living is Nebraska is the farthest west I've ever lived in the Continental U.S.  I lived in Hawaii as a child, and Seoul, Korea in the late 1990s, but this discussion is about experiences in the GREAT PLAINS!

Not long after we moved here, we started noticing the changes in flora and fauna compared to our many years east of the Mississippi. Of course, the first thing was the lack of trees. There are lots of trees in Bellevue, but once you come away from the Missouri River Valley, you are greeted with the flowing grasslands and enormous corn and soybean fields. I was definitely surprised at how hilly Nebraska still is. I always thought it was flat, like Indiana and Illinois. But it isn't at all. And trust me, we drove through plenty of Nebraska in our first weeks here.

In our first couple months here, Howie was doing a lot of digging in our backyard. It turned out it was due to these little critters that were burrowing in the backyard, preparing to hibernate.

Chipmunks? No.
Prairie dogs? No.
Marmots? No.

After some research I figured out what the little rodents were: "Thirteen Striped Ground Squirrels". It's more closely related to the gopher than a squirrel, so much so that apparently Goldy the Gopher of the University of Minnesota is designed after one of these things, albeit due to the first artist's misunderstanding about what a gopher actually looks like.

So...Howie has had his share of digging in certain locations in our backyard when the ground squirrels are breeding or preparing to hibernate. We just fill in the holes and re-seed the area.

Unfortunately, on Friday night Howie made an incredible mess out of our garden near the downspout on the southeast corner of our house. Howie had scared a ground squirrel into the downspout, and apparently with some sticky feet, the squirrel was able to suspend himself partway up the downspout.  That's romaine lettuce on the right side of the picture, and that area you see was ALL romaine before Howie got to it Friday afternoon.

From 2010 05 14 Ground Squirrel in Yard

I think I'm going to call the squirrel "Herbie", for simplicity's sake. I'm tired of typing "the ground squirrel".

After attempting to bang Herbie out by knocking on the downspout, then by using the hose to blast him out with water, Dave suggested I use one of our wax firestarters shoved up into the downspout to "flame" him out. So we did it:
From 2010 05 14 Ground Squirrel in Yard

Herbie leaped out from the vertical part of the downspout, over the flames, and into the horizontal extender, which takes the water over my garden into the grass. Dave was then able to disassemble the horizontal piece:
From 2010 05 14 Ground Squirrel in Yard

...and try to poke him out with the handle of a rake.

You'd think a normal rodent would freak from the rake handle and drop out. But I think Herbie knew that Howie and 2 young boys were waiting in the open for him. In this next picture, if you look very closely at the upper right of the bottom opening, you can see a foot sticking out:
From 2010 05 14 Ground Squirrel in Yard

BOOM! Out he plopped -- with Howie at the ready!
From 2010 05 14 Ground Squirrel in Yard

Herbie came out of there in such shock -- soaking wet, probably semi-burned from the flames, and definitely freaked from the dog and the kids hovering...Herbie just stood there and let me take all kinds of pictures of him.
From 2010 05 14 Ground Squirrel in Yard
From 2010 05 14 Ground Squirrel in Yard
From 2010 05 14 Ground Squirrel in Yard

This is the last picture I took -- Dave took Herbie to the front yard to get Howie away from him, and he sat there and shivered.
From 2010 05 14 Ground Squirrel in Yard
Our neighbor Jake from across the street came over and offered some advice -- get a box for him and get him warmed up, so that's what we did. Dave set him up in a printer cartridge box, wrapped him in a small towel and we put him under our apple tree. By the following morning, Herbie was gone.

Was he eaten? Did he recover well enough to go back to his burrowing life? We don't know. The important thing was that we got him away from Howie somewhat humanely, and got Howie out of our garden...for now.

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