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NATURE STORIES: Fishing in Harlem | Endangered turtles | Park activists | Bushy-tailed friends | Bird watching | Earth Day | Views of the park | Man's other best friend | Carnivorous wildlife
By Catherine Shu

IT MAY BE AN EXAGGERATION to say that Central Park would just be another strip of pretty scenery if it weren’t for its abundance of squirrels – those bushy-tailed, pointy-eared, nut-chomping, heart-stoppingly adorable denizens of the branches. 

But then again, it may not be.

For tourists, hikers, employees and dogs, the park’s squirrels are an endless source of amusement. Regina V. Alvarez, a woodland manager, remembers watching an intrepid little fellow struggle to secure some vittles from a garbage can. The squirrel hung face down, its little hind legs holding on for dear life to the brim of the garbage can as it tugged on the plastic bag with its wee paws. 


“Her life’s mission
was to come here with
a shopping cart full of
nuts. She had a lot of money and was in the park feeding the
squirrels every day.”
— Regina V. Alvarez, woodland manager

“We watched it for five minutes, and then it came up with a peanut butter sandwich that was almost his size,” said Alvarez, “All this time it had been hanging on with its hind legs because the bag was so slippery.”  

According to Alvarez, park officials have never done a census on the squirrel population, but they know the frisky little fur balls breed a lot. All of the squirrels in the park are eastern gray squirrels, which are native to the eastern United States and Canada.   


Most of these squirrels have a dashing silver coat, but fur color varies throughout the park. Reddish-brown squirrels can be seen in the south, near Columbus Circle, while gray squirrels scamper from the north to the middle of the park.

Park visitors go absolutely nuts over squirrels, especially those from countries where the bewhiskered acorn hoarders are tragically rare or absent. There are also a few regulars who feed the squirrels about once a week. Alvarez remembers an elderly woman, Bernice, who used to sit in the Conservatory Waters near the Metropolitan Museum of Art everyday and feed the squirrels lots and lots of peanuts.

“Her life’s mission was to come here with a shopping cart full of nuts,” said Alvarez.“She had a lot of money and was in the park feeding the squirrels every day.” 

Most of the squirrels in the park are relatively tame and will come up to visitors who offer them food. Alvarez cautions, however, that squirrels are still wild animals. Though rabies has not been reported in the park for 10 years, squirrel lovers shouldn’t test their luck.

The biggest problem, however, is when squirrel lovers leave piles of peanuts and other food for their fluffy buddies. These nutty feasts are also convenient for rats, the squirrel’s slightly more unattractive and infinitely more grungy cousin. Squirrel lovers are cautioned to keep the feeding to one carefully doled-out peanut or sunflower seed at a time. Or better yet, let the fluffy-tailed darlings feed themselves. Squirrels, Alvarez said, love acorns, flower buds (much to the consternation of park gardeners) and some insects.   
SLIDE SHOW: Take a look at some of the squirrels that enchant and aggravate park-goers.
MAP: Conservatory Water, a good place for spotting squirrels
MAP: Elva Ramirez


Related stories
Endangered turtles
  Bird watching
Quick facts

Nobody knows for sure how many squirrels are in Central Park.

Visitors are encouraged not to feed squirrels; their leftovers often attract rats.

Gray squirrels can be found in the north, while black and reddish-brown squirrels are common in the south.

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