Helen, the Neighborhood Squirrel

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By Tricia Roberts

My husband and I relocated to Florida in the fall of 2017. When we first viewed our home during a long week of house-hunting, I thought, “There are so many squirrels.” I won’t say that was the reason we chose our house, but it didn’t hurt. I love all kinds of animals, and ever since I fostered an abandoned 2-week-old squirrel after a hurricane in the early 2000’s, I’ve been drawn to the fluffy-tailed creatures.

Not long after we moved to Wellington, I decided I wanted to make friends with the squirrels that frequented our front yard. So I bought some natural, unsalted peanuts and practiced a lot of patience, getting a tiny bit closer to the squirrels each day. Eventually, I had them all eating out of the palm of my hand…literally.

I noticed that each squirrel had very different and defining characteristics. There was one guy that seemed frail and had a little limp. I named him Braveheart. There was a really pretty one with  silky, shiny fur that I named Edie (who I later realized was a boy, so I changed his name to Eddie). And then there was a very bold female squirrel who didn’t seem to be as timid as the others. She had a little cut in her right ear. I called her Helen.

They say that squirrels are highly intelligent. They will return to a food source over and over again and can even recognize humans. Helen has proven that to be true. She comes back repeatedly and has been doing so since 2017.

On a normal day, Helen will come to one of the windows at the front of our house. She’ll sit and stare inside until I see her. After we make eye contact, she meets me at the front door where she gently takes her peanut. As much as I would love to leave a constant supply of food out for her, I don’t want to attract unwanted visitors, so she only gets one nut at a time. She’s usually patient and waits for me to notice her in the window, but she has been known to come around to the back door or a window on the side of the house to get my attention.

But does Helen recognize me specifically? Without a doubt. She’ll find me walking down the street, run up to me on the sidewalk and stretch her little hands up for a snack. She has learned that I almost always have a peanut or two in my pocket.

Helen even recognizes my car. When she sees me pulling in the driveway, she hops on the window ledge to greet me. Sometimes she stares at me as if to say, “Where have you been?”

Through conversation and social media posts, our neighbors have come to know and recognize Helen. They all know her by name, and they let me know when they see her in their yard. It makes me happy to know she’s being looked after by so many people.

As a disclaimer, not all squirrels are as friendly as Helen. You should be cautious when approaching them in the wild, and sometimes avoid them altogether. It’s also important not to feed wildlife any food that could hard them. I only give Helen natural, unsalted peanuts in moderation. Lastly, squirrels don’t make good indoor pets. It would be cute if they did, but even when raised by a human from birth, their natural instincts kick in within months, and their sharp nails can do some damage if you aren’t careful.