January 21st is National Squirrel Appreciation Day and with so many of the little varmints within the District limits, there are plenty for Washingtonians to appreciate.
However, that was not always the case. At the beginning of the 20th Century, squirrels were sadly lacking in the Nation’s Capital, their numbers dwindling due to hunting. Elliot Woods, then head of the office of the Architect of the Capitol, decided to do something about it. In 1899, he requested gray squirrels from the Commonwealth of Virginia to repopulate the Capitol grounds and, since then, they’ve taken the city by storm.
Squirrel Fact: A family of squirrels is called a dray, while a group of unrelated squirrels is known as a scurry. As squirrels aren’t generally social animals, these terms don’t get much use.
While many of Washington’s gray squirrels came from our south, the city’s black squirrels emigrated from Canada. A group of eight black squirrels was transferred from Ontario’s Rondeau Provincial Park to the National Zoo in 1902. In exchange, Canada received a group of gray squirrels from the Smithsonian. [For more on the history of squirrels in the District, refer to The Washington Post and The National Journal.]
Squirrel Fact: While there are 272 species of squirrel worldwide, only six of them reside in the District:
- Eastern gray squirrel (Note: black squirrels are in fact Eastern gray squirrels)
- Delmarva fox squirrel
- North American red squirrel
- Southern flying squirrel
- Eastern chipmunk
- Woodchuck (Note: woodchucks are marmots and marmots are squirrels)
Although there are squirrel species that are white, if you see a white squirrel in the District, it’s actually an albino. [Hint: the red eyes are a dead giveaway.]
Squirrels in the District have quite a following. Each April, The Washington Post‘s John Kelly celebrates Squirrel Week with squirrelly feature stories and a photo contest. Angela Napili, squirrel photographer extraordinaire, who won first place in the contest in 2015, contributed many photos to this story. She recommends using long lenses to capture squirrel pics, as the critters can be a bit skittish. “But on the other hand,” Angela notes, “some DC squirrels are so used to getting treats from locals and tourists, they’ll come right up to you.” Angela reminds squirrel aficionados that it is actually against the rules to feed animals in National Parks, including the National Mall.
In addition to The Post‘s Squirrel Week, local blog PoPville sponsors Friends of the White Whale Society for fans of albino squirrels. And these furry friends also inspire local artists…