Best Local Web Site Featuring Live Squirrels

The Austin Chronicle - Critics Best of Austin Picks

Nuts about squirrels but live in a habitat unfriendly to the bushy-tailed creatures? Let Bob Smith bring 'em home to you with his five cams aimed at various points around his South Austin back yard. Aside from the rotating cams, Smith's site features news about the squirrels in his life, including new additions. Better yet, features the most comprehensive list of squirrel-related links, so you'll be prepared for anything the little guys might throw at you!
© The Austin Chronicle
Reprinted from The Austin Chronicle
The most squirrelly Web site in Texas
Digital camera records the secret lives of squirrels and their families

By Steve Steinberg / The Dallas Morning News

Three years ago, Bob Smith grew tired of having squirrels raid the bird feeders at his South Austin home. They also were nesting in his attic, and when he evicted them, he found a dead one.

Enough already, he thought. Why not give the squirrels a proper nesting and feeding place?

That was Point A. You can see Point B today at, Mr. Smith's Web site for people who are – sorry, this can't be helped – nuts about squirrels. It has four digital cameras trained on a squirrel condo, a squirrel feeder, a bird feeder and the interior of Mr. Smith's house. (Who knows when the squirrels may decide to move in?)

Mr. Smith got from A to B a few furry little friends at a time: First, he built a simple wooden box for squirrels to live in. Then another one. Then a third. Then an inspiration: the spy cam.

"Back in high school, I read in a magazine about how someone had done something similar with a birdhouse in the late '70s or early '80s," he says. "I had a desk cam for a computer that I wasn't really using, so I rigged it up."

He tucked the camera into an empty spray can, cutting a hole in the cap to shoot through. Then he mounted it on top of one of the nesting boxes, aiming downward. Meanwhile, the Smith Estates squirrel population was preparing to explode.

"A pregnant squirrel had moved into the second box," he recalls. "So I took that one down and replaced it with the camera box. Within a day, she'd settled in."

That was Lucy, who proceeded to have three babies and several more litters since then, all on camera. The proud foster squirrel dad has an extensive photo album on the Web site.

"That was the whole goal – to get pictures of squirrel babies," he says. "Unless you find one that's fallen out of its nest, you don't see squirrel babies."

Lucy has developed a fan club. "People will e-mail and ask about her," Mr. Smith says.

And in truth, those shots on the Web site can be irresistible. One shows a couple of Lucy's adolescent offspring draped over the condo's balcony, all fur and attitude. You can almost envision them holding tiny squirrel Budweisers and squeaking "Whazzzzup?"

People have responded warmly to the site. An e-mail from a woman in Somis, Calif., read: "I have just spent hours perusing your Web site with the squirrels. I had to let you know how great I think it is and what a service you are doing to promote good feelings toward our wonderful little furry friends."

And this, from "Anita a.k.a. Jedi Mom": "Seeing your squirrel cam and the photos of Lucy's summer babies was wonderful. Whether you realize it or not, you are also providing a service with your excellent photos of squirrel infants in their various stages of development. Gives less experienced rehabbers something to compare their new charges to in order to make an educated guess at age. Keep up the good work!"

But isn't this some sort of invasion of squirrel privacy – squirrel exploitation, even?

No need to get your acorns in an uproar, says Stephanie Boyles, a wildlife biologist with the animal-rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

"I don't see where we'd have a problem with that," she says. "Actually, it sounds pretty interesting.

"I think what he's doing is great, as long as he's not interfering with their daily life."

These days, when Mr. Smith puts out food, as many as six squirrels may answer the dinner bell. "I think eight is the record – you're unlikely to have more than that. They're somewhat territorial. Two squirrels won't eat from the same feeder unless they're siblings."

Meanwhile, Lucy is thriving. "She's more friendly now than she's ever been," Mr. Smith says. His five pecan trees didn't produce much this year because of the drought, he explains, so Lucy is "real eager for a handout. In the yard, she'll often come running up to me."

Mr. Smith, who is 37 and works for the Internal Revenue Service as a tax examiner, also enjoys mountain biking, snow skiing and refereeing college volleyball. Photography is one of his foremost passions, and he'll point the camera at just about anything.

"I'm also interested in bugs and hummingbirds," he says, and you can see reptile and hummingbird shots on his site.

Those who want to join him as squirrel landlords can purchase his condo plans for $7 through the Web site. People also often ask him what to do with abandoned squirrel babies. But rehabbing the orphans isn't something to try to do at home. Mr. Smith refers these visitors to

"They're good to consult ... they can get you in touch with a licensed wildlife rehabber," he says.

JIM SIGMON/Staff Photographer
© The Dallas Morning News
Reprinted with permission of The Dallas Morning News

Feeding wild critters a lesson in politics Orwell couldn't dream up

By Rowland Nethaway. / Cox News Service

Out my back door, I feed squirrels and birds.

Out my front door, I feed animals that might eat squirrels and birds.

Since I don't have time to properly care for an animal of my own, I feed any animal that wants to stop by my house for a toothsome morsel.

I have lived in places where deer would come up to the back door for their daily repast. Some of the deer could be hand fed.

It would be nice to feed deer where I currently live. But the deer occasionally seen in the nearby creek and woods are skittish.

Actually, once deer lose their fear of people, they can become pests. They start grazing on your shrubs and flowers. They do this to force you to put out better food in greater quantities, which you do.

Then about the time that you think you have put out enough food to keep your herd of lovable moochers out of your flowers, the word spreads and more deer show up.

Squirrels also can be demanding. They simply lack an effective method to force you to put out more food. Screaming at me when I go into the back yard does not get them any more corn or sunflower seeds until I'm good and ready.

Sometimes they send a cute little baby squirrel to stand on his back legs and look pleadingly in my back door. That works. I'll stop whatever I'm doing and go outside and put out more squirrel chow.

A friend built an architecturally splendid squirrel house that he gave me as a Christmas present. For some reason, the squirrels won't move in.

I thought it would be entertaining to install a miniature camera in the squirrel house and watch their domestic interactions.

This would be a form of reality TV with squirrels. I got the idea from a Web site called Bob's Backyard Squirrels. Bob, a man from Austin, Texas, put a tiny squirrel cam in his backyard squirrel house and became a big hit with squirrelly people around the nation. This was long before "Survivor" and "Big Brother" became TV hits.

I'll leave it to moralist buddies Joe Lieberman and Bill Bennett to determine if squirrel voyeurism is a perversion or abusive of squirrel privacy rights. If it is, a lot of bird watchers, zoo visitors and others can expect to be castigated by America's excessively bizarre animal rights outpatients.

A case could be made, I'm sure, that putting food out for animals is a form of abuse.

The Republicans have long argued that handouts for poor people make them dependent and take away their incentive to work. The Democrats want to spend all the Republicans' money in handouts for poor people as long as they vote Democratic.

Since four-legged squirrels don't vote, I don't know how to judge the politics of feeding squirrels and other animals.

Certainly, a case could be made that I abused a fat opossum found dead in my back yard. At first, I thought he was just playing possum. Then I realized there was no play left in this obese marsupial.

Chances are he had been gorging himself every night at the front yard feeding bowl and eventually had a heart attack waddling home. It's also possible that this possum inherited a predisposition to be overweight. Perhaps it was simply his time to check out after living a long and satisfying life. Who's to say?

The raccoons and other animals that eat at the front of the house look fit and happy. So do the squirrels and birds that I feed in the back yard. So I'm not going to feel bad about feeding all these animals.

I'm beginning to think that my neighbor has the best idea. He put up a purple martin condo. These entertaining birds swoop around the neighborhood feeding themselves.

Perhaps he's a Republican.

Rowland Nethaway is the Senior Editor of the Waco (Texas) Tribune-Herald. E-mail:
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