Opinion: That moment when you’re poked by a squirrel on a park bench

A similar offender in Stuy Town in 2016 (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Squirrels have been a hot topic in this community and in this newspaper over the years. Each side has been unexpectedly passionate in defending its position, to say the least: one of the most recent controversies involved a resident who received a threatening postcard because of a lukewarm annoyance at the rodents’ ceaseless begging. But the debate has finally become personal because on a weekend earlier this summer, I had an encounter that tipped my bias in favor of a ban on squirrel-feeding.

I was sitting on a bench in Madison Square Park on a Saturday afternoon, minding my own business, when I felt something tap against my shoulder. I turned and realized I was almost face to face with a squirrel, not the expected human hand, perched on the back of the bench, who for some reason thought I had a treat for him.

I’ve never had particularly strong feelings about this topic before and could see both sides of the argument. Squirrels can be a bit ratty-looking but also cute in their own way and I can understand the appeal of communing with nature in a city where nature is scarce. And if someone wants squirrels surrounding them or even climbing all over their body, that’s their business.

On the other hand, feeding wildlife trains squirrels (and pigeons) to expect food from people and makes them much more comfortable with human interaction than they would be in the wild. This has annoyed me in the past but I’ve been willing to tolerate it as a byproduct of living in a big city. Dirty animals are part of the deal. But when they become aggressive to the point where they’re impossible to ignore, it’s gone too far.

The Parks Department’s rules and regulations specifically exempt squirrels and birds from a ban on feeding, referring to the feeding of all other critters as “abuse of animals.”  It’s time to stop being intimidated by the squirrel and pigeon lobby and ban the feeding of them, too.

8 thoughts on “Opinion: That moment when you’re poked by a squirrel on a park bench

  1. And just where are the squirrels and birds supposed to get their food ?
    From the supermarket ? Fresh Direct ? Take Out Delivery ? Amazon ?
    They get hungry and are hungry, just like people.
    If a squirrel came that close, it must have been very hungry –
    where is the humanity ?
    So, if a squirrel or bird are hungry, we should just kill them off –
    so much more civilized.
    What if you lost your job and had no more unemployment –
    should you be considered a pest by asking for food ?

    • Squirrels are wild animals. They live in nature and survive just fine off of their natural food sources, which include fungi, seeds, nuts and fruits. Wild squirrels will also munch on eggs, small insects, caterpillars, small animals and even young snakes. They are not people, they do not have jobs or go to grocery stores. They do not need us to feed them. It’s dangerous. They have injured multiple small children in Stuytown. It’s not an annoyance, it’s a threat to public safety.

      • Oh stop it. Get a grip. Squirrels have lived on the property for 70+ years, and have always been thrown a peanut here and there. There has never been a major problem or vicious squirrel attack in ST/PCV. You’re about 1000 times the size of a squirrel. Leave them be.

      • Wondering… what nut and fruit trees are there in Stuy Town, snakes ?
        Mushrooms are rare.
        These are city squirrels, not country squirrels.
        People are a threat to nature.

      • “They have injured multiple small children in Stuytown. It’s not an annoyance, it’s a threat to public safety.”

        I hear this all the time, but if that were the case wouldn’t it be publicized? Also, they have been here forever, why all of a sudden are they an Alfred Hitchcock movie. It wasn’t the case for decades before this.

  2. Madison Square Park?: Last time I’d ventured there was 1972–probably before Maria was born. It’s like an open sewer now (very similar to Stuyvesant Town). A “ban” on squirrel/pigeon-feeding would also be useless, because there is almost Zero enforcement of any laws or rules in this entire City, much less ST. Anything goes.

  3. Pingback: Letters to the editor, Aug. 16 | Town & Village

  4. Pingback: Madison Square Park Conservancy begs visitors to stop feeding squirrels | Town & Village

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