Hon, I have so much to report from the rocket launch but, in the meantime, I wanted to share news that made me laugh. First up: squirrels.
In an article in The New York Times, “Counting Squirrels Was Just the Start,” Vivian Ewing reported on the Central Park Squirrel Census, a tally of how many Eastern Gray squirrels live in New York City’s Central Park. The answer: 2,373. Who knew?
The Census includes a Squirrel Supplemental, “a 37-page booklet of squirrel insights–their behavior in the morning and evening, the number of teeth in their mouth (22) and more.” Says Jamie Allen head of the squirrel team, “We’ve brought attention to perhaps the most overlooked creature in the United States…I’ve discovered the Eastern Gray Squirrel to be one of the coolest, most intelligent animals with a sweet sense of humor. It’s a sentient being. And it’s there, right in front of us.”
More squirrel fun:
Excerpts from a June 24 article by Linda Poon published on City Lab,
If you ask Allen why he did this, he’ll say, why not. A humorist and writer, Allen started wondering why no one kept count of squirrels while he was working on a short story eight years ago about his dog’s friendship with neighborhood squirrels in Atlanta.“We kind of know other animal populations, like rats, in cities,” he says. (The conservative estimate is one for every New Yorker.) “It immediately became comical to me. Squirrels are an animal that we interact with on a daily basis, they’re disease-carrying, and they’re so common that we don’t even pay attention to them.” (It’s worth noting that most of the diseases squirrels carry don’t transmit to humans. Still, don’t go petting them.)
With that, Allen assembled a team of scientists, wildlife experts, and graphic designers and began counting the squirrels in Inman Park in Atlanta. After two counts, the team set their eyes on a more ambitious location: Central Park, which measures more than five times the size of his neighborhood park.
“It was the ultimate challenge,” he says. “And it’s the most famous park in the world.”
His team didn’t just count the squirrels. Just as the U.S. Census records demographics, housing data, and more, the Squirrel Census is filled with details about where each squirrel was spotted, what color its fur was, and whether there were clusters of them throughout the park.
Volunteers also recorded the squirrels’ behaviors—whether they were running, climbing, eating, or foraging, for example. Some descriptions were colorful, others were clearly just for giggles.
One record logs a squirrel hanging in a tree “like an acrobat, hanging onto branch by its legs upside down.” Another “got bored.”
The project started out as something humorous, but there’s some real science involved. Early in the process, Allen enlisted the help of Donal Bisanzio…who helped him figure out how to tally squirrels—a crucial but complicated task for conducting a census. Squirrels are, well, squirrelly, meaning there’s a good chance that some would be counted more than once, and others might not be counted at all.
The Squirrel Sighters, as they were called, spent 20 minutes per count searching for furry subjects, looking up in the trees and down in the bushes, and listening to the clawing and clucking sounds they make.
Allen says being part of the project is about more than counting squirrels. In a way, he says, it allows you to experience the park differently than, say, if you were jogging through…Listen closely enough, and you can hear them rustling in the bushes, making the “kukking” noise, or crunching on a nut.“Squirrels give themselves away by eating,”Allen says. “They’ll just be crunching on a nut and you’re like, ‘What in the world is that?’ And then you look up and there’s a squirrel.”Asked how the census will further the academic literature on squirrels, Allen makes a clear distinction: This is not a study, and he’s not looking to prove or disprove any hypothesis. What researchers do with the observations is up to them. He says they will eventually release all the data into New York City’s open data portal.For him, though, the census is simply his way of telling a story—about Central Park and its beady-eyed “citizens.”