Are Stuy Town’s squirrels getting more aggressive?

July14 Squirrel cropped

Is this the face of a food snatcher/child biter? (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

Residents weigh in after complaints of kids bitten

By Sabina Mollot

Anyone who lives in Stuyvesant Town or Peter Cooper Village — or even anyone who has ever strolled through the grounds once — is well aware of one thing. The property is overrun by a population of the world’s best fed squirrels. Despite the various landlords’ feelings on the matter, many residents have, for decades enjoyed feeding the squirrels, and they in turn have been known to get up close and personal with anyone that might be willing to do so.

Earlier this summer, when a child was bitten by a squirrel in Stuy Town, the complex’s general manager, Rick Hayduk reminded residents in a May newsletter that squirrel feeding is discouraged.

But earlier this month, a Stuyvesant Town mom took to a community Facebook page to warn neighbors that she’d heard of two additional incidents of children getting bitten, and that the local squirrel population appeared to be getting even more aggressive.

The resident, Carolyn Hurley, later told Town & Village, “It’s seriously becoming a problem.”

Partially, she said it has to do with people hand feeding the squirrels nuts and other treats. “So they’re not afraid of people. And the crazy squirrel people say they don’t know the difference between a finger and a peanut. If they don’t know the difference between a finger and a peanut, why would you feed them a peanut from your finger? There’s a difference between throwing them a handful of food and getting them to touch your hand.”

Of the three squirrel biting incidents this summer, Hurley said what she heard on a local Facebook group for parents was that in one case a child was hand feeding a squirrel. In another incident, a child was attempting to throw out a wrapper from a granola bar only to have a squirrel jump out of the garbage bin. In another, a child was simply near someone who was feeding the squirrels.

While biting incidents are rare, the squirrels have more commonly been known to hop into strollers looking for food, and, noted Hurley, they don’t seem to be frightened off by people’s dogs, at least not hers. “In three years, they’ve never come this close to him,” she said. “Stomping used to get rid of them. (Now) that’s not working.” Though she doesn’t feed the squirrels, she was still concerned about her one-year-old son.

Also more aggressive, in her opinion, are the squirrel feeders, who have even begun leaving cat food tins full of water around. Stray peanut shells have also become a frequent sight at playgrounds, which alarmed Hurley due to her own peanut allergies.

“They’re not allowed in schools for a reason,” she said.

July14 squirrel1

This squirrel kept a cautious distance from a T&V reporter.

 

In response to her concerns, a Town & Village reporter asked around in Stuy Town to see if anyone else had noticed the bushy-tailed beggars getting any bolder than in previous years.

In response, longtime resident Lorraine Gutfleisch said she had noticed that they’re “very brazen lately. They come up onto the bench.” She, too, blamed the feeders, gesturing to a woman sitting on a nearby bench who was tossing bread crumbs to a pack of eager birds. “To me, it’s a rat with a tail,” said Gutfleisch. “I try to discourage them.”

Still, she, and some neighbors sitting with her on a bench near the fountain dismissed the recent reports of squirrel bites as an urban legend.

“People tend to exaggerate all situations,” said Bill Whitney. On the squirrels, he added, “They’re tame because people hand feed them. In fact, I read in your newspaper that the wildest plant around here is peanut plants.”

This comment was in reference to a statement made during an interview with Stuyvesant Town’s director of horticulture and landscape, Chuck Hartsell, that was published in 2014. Hartsell had said the weed the grounds crew had to pull the most was the peanut plant. Hartsell had also said that the complex’s oaks, which make up 30 percent of the trees, are acorn producers and provide food for the squirrels.

Connor Finnochio, who lived in Stuyvesant Town for the past year after moving from Florida, said he noticed the squirrels are “more aggressive than Florida squirrels.” But otherwise he said he’s never had a problem with any. “I see them acting aggressively towards each other, but never towards me.”

However, a babysitter working in Stuy Town went as far to say the squirrels were “scary.”

Hannah Weber, after just three weeks on the job minding a baby said once at the Oval she was eating a cookie, and a squirrel “ran up and touched my foot.” But, she also said she’s seen residents and even workers feeding them. “They should put up a sign like at the zoo, ‘Don’t feed the animals.’” Still, Weber added, she’s seen worse in other neighborhoods, like in Brooklyn’s Carroll Gardens. “The squirrels will go inside the strollers and inside the bags to look for food.”

An East Village resident, Ron Curtis, said he too has seen bolder squirrel scavenging elsewhere.

In Tompkins Square Park, he said, “They’ll crawl up your leg and go into your pockets. I’m serious.” Curtis blamed the people who toss bread, which he believes is the root of the park’s rat problem.

Meanwhile, Steve Karten, a Stuyvesant Town resident for 20 years, said he’s never noticed any aggressive behavior. They’ve jumped in his lap, but that never bothered him.

“You’ve got to get along with your wildlife. Some people can’t even stand the pigeons,” Karten said. He then added, “With all the problems here, that really seems to be the least of it.”

A spokesperson for StuyTown Property Services, Paula Chirhart, said tenants are encouraged to approach public safety if they’ve had any problematic encounters with squirrels and management is aware of the concerns raised on social media. So far no incidents involving squirrel bites have been reported directly to management.

Clarification: Hayduk told T&V that while the public safety department has not received any reports of specific incidents, he was personally contacted by mothers speaking on behalf of others who’d allegedly been bitten. This is what prompted his mention of squirrel feeding in the May newsletter.

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9 thoughts on “Are Stuy Town’s squirrels getting more aggressive?

  1. “So far no incidents involving squirrel bites have been reported directly to management.”

    And I think that says it all.

    • “So far no incidents involving squirrel bites have been reported directly to management.”- INCORRECT, Paula Chirhart! I and several other mothers in Stuy town personally emailed Rick Hayduk about the squirrel bites and received responses back.

    • Stuy Town squirrels are not more aggressive, they are exactly as they have been since I’ve live here for 30 years. They look to be fed and will walk toward you UP TO A CERTAIN POINT but if you make a sudden move toward them, they run for cover. Stuy Town is now a revolving door community, students in/out every two years, new tenants in/out when their rent increases, visitors from all over who actually take photos of squirrels as if they are an exotic wild creature; all this to say that I’ve noticed families allowing their children to attempt to HAND FEED squirrels, hand-feeding is a big no, no. Any squirrel (or wild animal) may bite to get food rather than risk taking it from a person’s hand and risk capture. It’s their nature…they are wild. Parents complain when their child is “attacked.” I call those parents ignorant or stupid for allowing a child or adult for that matter, to hand feed a wild animal instead of throwing the nut. They want to get up close and then suffer the consequences Don’t blame the squirrel, they are non-aggressive creatures who are trying to live in a park with some people who never learned to keep boundaries and treat a squirrel like a pet. Feeding squirrels is not the problem, foolish people attempting to treat them like tame creatures are the problem. They need better parenting skills or educating regarding wild things with teeth.

  2. As a longtime resident 40+ years, this is nothing new. It has always been the people that Feed them that cause them to be crazy. They hear the bag crinkle, and they come running. Squirrels used to always jump in strollers in the 80’s. People need to look up on YouTube about people feeding animals that they shouldn’t be – squirrels are definitely on that list.

  3. When I vacation at the shore I am always amused when an unsuspecting beach goer leaves food in a beach bag, covered up with a sweatshirt or hat and goes for a walk. The seagulls wait until the person is just out of range, the swoop in to get into their stuff and scatters everything all over to get to that bag of Cheetos. Animals are smart enough to feed themselves under varied circumstances. If the squirrels could afford it, I bet they’d place a classified in the T&V to beg for food !

  4. The worst part about feeding squirrels is it contributes to overpopulation of squirrels in local parks in New York City. Then when winter comes and there are less people milling about feeding them food or using the garbage receptacles they starve which is even worse

  5. I beg to differ with the naysayers speaking against the squirrels. In the 30 years that I have lived in StuyTown, the squirrels are no more aggressive today than they were back then. They are playful and will chase each other. This winter, for the first time I noticed a dearth of adult squirrels and wondered if StuyTown was killing them. In the vicinity of the 1st Ave.Loop, there are fewer squirrels than there used to be, and I do not know if its because there are more people walking their dogs. The squirrels are skittish and will run when they see a dog. I find that they are exuberant in play with other squirrels.

    Mother or nannies who have young children in tow, should exercise the same care they would, were they visiting a zoo or a park. I love the squirrels and birds. They do contribute to the natural environment to StuyTown that you do not find elsewhere. I have never seen a squirrel attack a human…….just act responsibly with your child when any strange animal is around.

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