Mama Sings the Squirrel Blues

A mama squirrel rests on a tree branch as she sings her sad song.

Say quaaaaaaaa

Use your saddest raspy voice, and you’ll sound like a squirrel singing the blues.

Quaaa is how biologists describe the squirrel screech that catches my ear from time to time. If you live anywhere near a tree, you’ve probably heard it, too, along with the critters’ kuks and moans, the other documented squirrel sounds.

The scientists call the quaaa an alarm sound, but after seeing one mama perform an extended quaaa soliloquy, I think they’re misinterpreting the lady’s meaning.

Last spring, I watched a squirrel try to coax her kids out of the nest. Each time, she scaled the tree and stuck her nose in the nest to get the kids’ attention. Then she ran partway down the trunk, in an apparent attempt to entice them to follow. They weren’t having it, and she ran herself ragged, judging by her heavy breathing as she periodically paused to catch her breath on the tree. She even tried to yank them from the nest, but the kids put their limbs and claws in four-wheel drive to hold tight and resist her tugging. (You can see that story here.) I would find those kids’ behavior alarming (raise your hand if you’ve ever wanted to scream after a teenager’s refusal to get out of bed). But this mom kept her silent cool.

So, back to the quaaa I caught on video. A day or so after watching Mom v. Kids, a squirrel’s lengthy quaaa caught my ear. She was within camera range, so you can see and hear her plaintive song. Take a look.

Was she the mom I saw trying to boot her kids out of bed? She’s the same black variant of our Eastern Gray Squirrels, and if you look closely, you can see swollen nipples that suggest she was mothering her young. Still, there’s no way to know if she’s the same squirrel—there are dozens of them in our trees.

Even so, I’m convinced this was the mom in question. By my count, she had at least five reasons to sing the squirrel blues.

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