Because I feed the birds, I have a surfeit of Gray Squirrels in my yard. Sometimes, there are half a dozen under my feeder, picking through the seed that drops from the platform above when the birds are being especially picky; Blue Jays bring a feast, with their careless, powerful flings.
The squirrels can be a costly headache, too. They have crawled up in the undercarriage of my car and chewed gasoline lines and electrical wires on more than one occasion. Can such things actually be tasty?
I used to have fewer squirrels when feral cats patrolled the property, but the arrival of Eastern Coyotes about three years ago decimated the feral cat population. It's very rare to see a cat any longer. In response, the squirrel population has skyrocketed.
A few days ago, I noticed the squirrel in the (unsatisfactorily blurry) image above, under the feeder. I could see that the fur was missing from the squirrel's tail, and I attributed it to an infestation of mange. But last evening, when I went out to get a picture, I saw that the tail was in really bad shape and, even worse, the side of the squirrel away from the camera was horribly disfigured and partially hairless. It also looked like the animal had lost its eye on that side. Now, I'm questioning my mange diagnosis and wondering if the squirrel got in some kind of fight or escaped from a predator.
Many of the coyotes I see in the neighborhood are afflicted with mange; it's a horrible disease, but I think that it comes from too many animals sharing too small a habitat. It's a natural (but terrible) population regulator. In contrast, I've seen quite a few Red Foxes lately, but their coats are beautiful, sleek, and bushy. I've seen my share of mangy foxes in the past, so it's possible that they could suffer in the future, too.
'Off to suburban northeast Ohio this weekend for six days.