Respectful Insolence

Alright, after being castigated for being a stereotypical American tourist complaining about the service in restaurants in London, here’s an off-the-wall observation that my wife and I have made:

Why is it that there seem to be no squirrels in London?

We’ve been all over the city now in the last five and a half days (at least, all over central London), and we’ve been out into the western part of England to see Stonehenge and Bath. Neither my wife nor I have seen a single squirrel. We’ve seen lots and lots of pigeons. We saw lots and lots of sheep in the English countryside. We haven’t seen a single squirrel.

We started to notice this a couple of days after we were here, after which we actively kept an eye out for squirrels whenever we’ve been in parks or other places where they are found in abundance in New York, Chicago, the midwest, or most American cities that aren’t in a desert.

What’s going on here? Are there squirrels here? Or are they just more circumspect and better at hiding, so that we just haven’t seen them, even though they’re there?

Comments

  1. #1 SteveF
    August 30, 2007

    There are loads of squirrels! Are you sure you are in London!?

  2. #2 JW Tan
    August 30, 2007

    There are plenty in North London near Hampstead Heath, but not in Central London (except Hyde Park and St James’s Park).

  3. #3 Robin Levett
    August 30, 2007

    What colour squirrels are you looking for? The grey tree-rat version are everywhere there are trees (which means most of London, but not maybe so much Stonehenge); the reds are limited (in the south) to Brownsea Island in Poole Harbour, the Isle of Wight and Thetford Forest in Norfolk.

  4. #4 Joe
    August 30, 2007

    I really can’t believe you’re asking this, especially if you’ve visited Hyde Park! There are enough squirrels in London, at least, that they’re a bit of a pest. I regularly see them raiding bins along my street. Foxes, too, and very occasionally an egret. I’ve even seen one accidentally catapult itself into Regent’s Canal through some ill-advised clambering through the branches of a *very* springy willow.

  5. #5 Joe
    August 30, 2007

    I think the squirrels reside in Buckingham Palace.

  6. #6 Andrew Dodds
    August 30, 2007

    You know that curry you had the other night..

  7. #7 kamagurka
    August 30, 2007

    Clearly, you must be a dumb American. Only smart Europeans can see squirrels in London.

  8. #8 Dan Gundersen
    August 30, 2007

    Funny. I asked the inverse when I first moved to the US from Norway 8 years ago – Why are there so many squirrels in the US? Everywhere, I’ve been there are squirrels

  9. #9 luca
    August 30, 2007

    I don’t think there’s many squirrels out in the Salisbury Plains, where Stonehenge is, but I’ve been living in hampshire for four years and the place was teeming with grey squirrels. Red squirrels you can only find in the Isle of Wight, now.

    In London’s parks however there’s plenty of squirrels too.

  10. #10 Warren
    August 30, 2007

    Why is it that there seem to be no squirrels in London?

    What do you think they’re serving in the restaurants?

  11. #11 Doc Bill
    August 30, 2007

    I lived in London for many years and wondered the same thing. Where are all the squirrels?

    A little research turned up the answer: the pigeons eat them.

    Yes, yes, they look harmless and slow-witted but that’s just an act. Beneath that diseased exterior beats the heart of a viscious hunter; the arch enemy of the defenseless squirrel.

    If you don’t believe me just go down to Charing Cross Road and duck down one of the smaller streets in the area like Tower St. or Gerrard St. and look closely near the drains and in the dark corners. There you will find piles of squirrel bones.

    Picked clean.

  12. #12 potentilla
    August 30, 2007

    What we call grey squirrels in the UK, Sciurus carolinensis, were introduced from the US, and are widely supposed to have driven out the native red squirrel (although I think the actuality may be a bit more complicated). Anyway, grey squirrels are “officially” considered pests and certainly aren’t protected in any way.

  13. #13 notcontrary
    August 30, 2007
  14. #14 Jimmy_Blue
    August 30, 2007

    Orac, One can only surmise now that this is a deliberate attempt to play the part of the Rodney Dangerfield tourist character and have one over on us dull witted Europeans.

    Would you like to complain that there is not as much fog as you thought there would be in Old London town? I could reply ‘Cor blimey guv’nor’ for you if it helps. Then I could have a Victorian gentlemen with a cane attack a comely prostitute whilst complaining about the ‘Bloody fuzzy wuzzies’.

    It really beggars belief that you can visit some of the finest green countryside in the world, and one of the finest cities in the world, and all you have to say is bad service and no squirrels.

    No, I can’t imagine where American tourists get their reputation from. Perhaps you’d be better to stay within the confines of the lower 48 next holiday?

    Now I’m off to roast my skin in the American sun whilst wearing my Union Jack skinnies and drinking warm beer all day before finally vomiting in the street and picking a fight with a local. Long live King George.

  15. #15 kevinJ
    August 30, 2007

    london has plenty of the rats with good pr, salisbury plain prob wouldnt have so many.

    ps. look out for the parakeets in london instead, far cooler

  16. #16 Ginger Yellow
    August 30, 2007

    “ps. look out for the parakeets in london instead, far cooler”

    There are tons of them in Ealing.

  17. #17 Skeptyk
    August 30, 2007

    Parakeets in London? Feral budgies? Cool. Are these wild birds, descendents of former pets, or pats on the lam? Are they as variously colored as pet parakeets are?

  18. #18 notmercury
    August 30, 2007

    Parakeets? Ah, you mean those rather large black birds. Nevermore.

  19. #19 MikeB
    August 30, 2007

    There used to be a load of parakeets in Borehamwood when I lived there a couple of years ago – legend has it that they escaped from one of the studios back in the 1930’s. On the other hand, I’ve heard much the same story about flocks in at least three other areas of London.

    Squirrels? Hyde Park – loads of the damn things.

  20. #20 grasshopper
    August 30, 2007

    Parakeets in London?

    The 12th Duke of Bedford was an amateur ornithologist. He published a book entitled ‘Homing Budgerigars’.

    I believe he had flocks of several hundred flying about his estate. Perhaps not all them came home.

  21. #21 Orac
    August 30, 2007

    It really beggars belief that you can visit some of the finest green countryside in the world, and one of the finest cities in the world, and all you have to say is bad service and no squirrels

    Dude, you really need to get that chip off your shoulder and lighten up a bit. I can understand why some might get defensive over complaints about poor service in restaurants, but the squirrel post was just a lark. You seem to be working hard to be the counterexample to my previous post about how friendly and polite I found most of the Brits I’ve interacted with since I arrived.

  22. #22 Nat
    August 30, 2007

    I can add to the list.

    There are no squirrels in Sydney.

    That is all.

  23. #23 kevinj
    August 30, 2007

    ermm, was not that post about friendly londoners sarcastic?
    if not it might explain why you havent seen any squirrels since you must be in a different dimension.

  24. #24 Mojo
    August 30, 2007

    Hey, watch out for those squirrels!

    http://homeopathy.wildfalcon.com/archives/2007/05/05/please-be-careful-around-squirrels/

    “In England they regularly bite fingers off the hands of the little children who feed them peanuts in the park.

    Our pest controllers are out constantly because they get so BIG eating food scraps in the city they are now big enough to take out our cats.”

  25. #25 Orac's Mum
    August 30, 2007

    Orac,
    I think it’s time to blog about how great London and its people are. Never mind the restaurants or the squirrels.
    Almost all your favorite TV shows are on the BBC. So as to not forget – remember, your great, great, grandfather on my side of the family was from London.

  26. #26 Jon H
    August 30, 2007

    “A little research turned up the answer: the pigeons eat them.”

    Sort of, but not how you’re thinking.

    Ever seen a baby pigeon? Of course not. During the larval stage pigeons live inside a host – the squirrel – devouring it from the inside. Eventually the young erupt from the host, and devour what remains.

    Some pigeons are able to paralyze the squirrel with venom, and drag it back to the nest before implanting the eggs. That’s why Orac isn’t seeing squirrels – they’re either in hiding, or paralyzed in a pigeon roost.

  27. #27 Jon H
    August 30, 2007

    “I can add to the list.

    There are no squirrels in Sydney.”

    Bollocks, that’s just what Australian Tourism is saying.

    We’ve all heard the stories about small children dragged screaming into the lair of a ferocious Australian Funnel-Web Squirrel, and never seen alive again.

  28. #28 Jason
    August 30, 2007

    To definitively answer one or two comments:

    The Squirrels in Regent’s Park, when I lived there in ’99, were known to get uppity and steal food from tourists. hilarity mostly ensued, injury sometimes. By now, the squirrels may have moved on to bank robbery, or possibly gaming the stock market.

    Sydney Squirrels? Aside from the previously mentioned Funnel Web Squirrel, the niche in Sydney is occupied by possums, which are either adorably cute or a furry, noisy, hammer drill-equipped menace.

  29. #29 Jon H
    August 31, 2007

    “By now, the squirrels may have moved on to bank robbery, or possibly gaming the stock market.”

    Who do you think produced the ‘dodgy dossier’?

    Let’s just call them the UK’s version of the PNAC.

  30. #30 luca
    August 31, 2007

    Ever seen a baby pigeon? Of course not. During the larval stage pigeons live inside a host – the squirrel – devouring it from the inside. Eventually the young erupt from the host, and devour what remains.

    So, that’s the new post Carl Zimmer is preparing over at The Loom?

  31. #31 Robin Levett
    August 31, 2007

    Parakeets? Ah, you mean those rather large black birds. Nevermore.

    No, them’s ravens.

    We’ve got hundreds of parakeets – green and ring-necked – down here in Bromley. Distinctive(ly noisy) birds; and there’s always a tail-end Charlie who didn’t get off the ground fast enough (he was probably the one left to tip the waiter) and is chasing after the flock shrieking “wait for me”.

    And we’ve got hundreds of squirrels; and similar numbers of “rats with wings”.

  32. #32 Tracy W
    August 31, 2007

    Go to a park, stand still and watch (you may wish to try sitting still). You will see squirrels. More and more squirrels the longer you watch. Feed them mandarin segments, it’s very cute.

  33. #33 NoAstronomer
    August 31, 2007

    ‘Australian Funnel-Web Squirrel’

    roflmao, so ferocious even Steve Irwin wouldn’t mess with them.

    No squirrels in London? Did you try looking down… on the street? Oh and I wouldn’t really consider Stonehenge as the West.

  34. #34 Jimmy_Blue
    September 2, 2007

    Dude, you really need to get that chip off your shoulder and lighten up a bit.

    After you remove the freedom fry on yours. Incidentally that post of mine was also clearly ‘a lark’, I even managed to throw in some jibes at the British. Why is the American sense of humour so crappy?

    You wrote:
    We started to notice this a couple of days after we were here, after which we actively kept an eye out for squirrels whenever we’ve been in parks or other places where they are found in abundance in New York, Chicago, the midwest, or most American cities that aren’t in a desert.

    So again, as with the restaurants thing, you assume that because American cities have squirrels other cities must.

    Whether it was just a lark or not this simply reinforces the stereotype of the American tourist who thinks that the rest of the world is either just like America but with funny accents, or wants to be America but isn’t very good at it. Like Canada.

    It’s the same junk I hear everyday at work, I just didn’t expect to hear it from you.

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