A squirrel and a park goer share a bench at Madison Square Park. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)
By Sabina Mollot
A group of animal rights activists will be holding a rally on the front steps of City Hall on Tuesday to protest a full wildlife feeding ban in city parks that’s expected to begin this summer.
The Bronx Animal Rights Electors is arguing that the mayor has “only listened to the Parks Department’s arguments for the ban and now, despite overwhelming public opposition and without any form of a city council review, he approves the Parks Department steamrolling this ban.”
Earlier this year, the Parks Department, which technically always forbade the feeding of animals in city parks, except for squirrels and birds, pushed for a full wildlife feeding ban. The reason, the department explained at the time, was to keep rats at bay.
“We think all New Yorkers should be healthy eaters, including our wildlife,” spokesperson Meghan Lalor said. “But, food left on the ground is an open invitation for rodents to congregate for a free meal. This amendment will help to clarify the rules, and keep our parks safe and clean.”
By this summer, there’ll be no such thing as a free lunch for squirrels and birds at city parks, even sooner in Stuyvesant Town Peter Cooper Village, at least not from a human benefactor. (Pictured) A squirrel noshes on a park goer’s leftovers at Madison Square Park. (Photo by Madison Square Park Conservancy)
By Sabina Mollot
Animal lovers who enjoy feeding the squirrels and birds in this city should do so quickly, because soon it won’t be allowed in the places where the aforementioned animals congregate.
As for the Stuy Town policy, this new rule comes after management conducted a resident survey on the subject (as well as dog-related policies for pet owners) last summer. Then, last Thursday, StuyTown Property Services made sure to remind tenants of the soon to come ban in its weekly e-blast, and the reason for it.
This was “due to several incidents involving resident children being bitten by squirrels.”
A squirrel-related blackout is unlikely to happen here, Con Ed says. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)
By Sabina Mollot
Just when you thought all squirrels did was chomp on unsuspecting children in Stuyvesant Town and damage trees with their incessant gnawing, they’ve also begun causing massive power outages.
According to a story in the Daily News, officials upstate discovered that a pesky squirrel caused a string of power outages that left more than 10,000 in the dark last weekend.
“The rodent somehow managed to make its way into a substation in Lancaster, a Buffalo suburb, Sunday, knocking out three substations, New York State Electric and Gas said,” the News wrote. Fortunately, for the residents in the area, power was restored three hours later.
But with the threat of more extreme wintry weather ahead this weekend, Town & Village turned to Con Ed to ask about the possibility of such a thing occurring in a certain Manhattan neighborhood that has not only a power plant but an abundance of Eastern Greys scurrying about.
A squirrel samples human cuisine at Madison Square Park, where, the conservancy says, squirrels, in their growing numbers, have been damaging trees. (Photo courtesy of Madison Square Park Conservancy)
By Sabina Mollot
On the heels of Stuyvesant Town’s management appealing to tenants for suggestions on ways to prevent squirrels from attacking their children, the overseers of Madison Square Park have appealed to community residents with a plea to stop feeding the park’s squirrels.
In a blog post published on the conservancy’s website on Tuesday, August 21, the conservancy told feeders their actions are doing more harm than good, by getting squirrels used to a free food source that disappears in the winter.
Additionally, according to a conservancy spokeswoman, as a result of all the feeding, squirrels have been multiplying more, and due to competition for food and resources, have taken to gnawing on tree branches, damaging the park’s dense tree canopy. Humans have also been getting pestered more, as recently noted in this newspaper by Town & Village associate editor Maria Rocha-Buschel, who was recently poked — twice — on the shoulder by a pushy squirrel as she sat on a park bench.
That is one of the questions asked by SPS after another child gets attacked by squirrel in Stuy Town
A squirrel forages for food in a garbage can in this photo taken last year. (Photo by Brian P. Loesch)
By Sabina Mollot
This one’s a hard nut to crack.
After yet another child was injured by a squirrel in Stuyvesant Town (in this case scratched), Blackstone is asking for residents’ thoughts on what to do with the property’s unofficial mascots.
Nearly a year ago, a child was scratched in the face while playing in a Stuy Town playground, and in the more recent incident, another child was scratched. Two summers ago, three different mothers reported that their children were bitten by squirrels. According to Rick Hayduk, general manager of Stuyvesant Town and CEO of StuyTown Property Services, there was another scratch incident this year in April as well.
In the most recent incident, about two weeks ago, Hayduk said the child was behind a playset at Playground 8 near First Avenue, also known as the train playground, when it happened. While the area where the young resident was at the time isn’t seen by a security camera, both parents later told Hayduk that a squirrel had been looking for food inside the child’s stroller. Upon seeing the stroller’s owner, the squirrel jumped out, clawing the child in its bid for freedom. Hayduk said he doesn’t know the child’s gender or where he or she was scratched, but does know that the child was promptly whisked off to a doctor. Asked if the injury was serious, Hayduk indicated he didn’t think it was appropriate to decide if it was or wasn’t, adding, “I don’t want to understate it.”
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.
Deceased squirrel found in Stuy Town on Tuesday (Photo by Marilyn Pascarelli)
By Sabina Mollot
Several reported sightings over the past couple of weeks of dead and dying squirrels in Stuyvesant Town have had residents wondering what’s going on — since they clearly weren’t devoured by hawks.
One resident, Noam Freedman, said he saw a dying one near Playground 7, with his wife spotting another one behind 7 Oval. The one he saw was lying on the ground, its legs twitching.
“I’ve been here for 50 years and I’ve never seen a single dead squirrel,” said Freedman. “To see two in two days seemed strange.”
On November 15, Freedman noted the incidents on the Tenants Association’s Facebook page. This was followed by a few more residents commenting that they’d seen dead squirrels in different areas in the complex recently.
A sign outside Peter Cooper Village’s Playground 2 (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)
By Sabina Mollot
Aw nuts! Squirrel feeding is now being actively discouraged in Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village playgrounds.
Following a few reported incidents of squirrel bites on the grounds nearly a year ago, a number of parents pushed the owner to install some signage indicating that people shouldn’t feed the local wildlife. This week, that signage finally appeared — although it only asks people not to feed the squirrels near the playground as opposed to not at all on the property.
The sign, which features a silhouette of a squirrel as well as management’s “Good Neighbors” campaign logo of a blue heart, reads: “Please do not feed the squirrels within 50 feet of this playground.”
Squirrels frolic in Stuyvesant Town. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)
By Sabina Mollot
Just when everyone thought they were free of the holidays, at least until Valentine’s Day, another one is looming around the corner — this one in celebration of squirrels.
The bushy tailed critters are honored once a year on January 21 with Squirrel Appreciation Day, a holiday that began in 2001 as the pet project of wildlife rehabilitator Christy Hargrove.
Hargrove started the tradition, according to various online reports, on this particular date to draw attention to the animals during a time of year when their food supply starts running out.
Though such a thing might seem unthinkable in a neighborhood like Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village, which is home to the most well-fed squirrels on the planet, winter is still a tough time for any animal. So in honor of the holiday, Town & Village spoke this week with three local animal rescuers and rehabilitators, Marilyn Pascarelli of Stuyvesant Town, Kathy Compitus of Peter Cooper and Bernie Goetz, a 14th Street resident, to ask for their tips on how to help squirrels make it through the colder months.
Animal rescuer and City Critters volunteer Marilyn Pascarelli (Photo courtesy of Marilyn Pascarelli)
Pascarelli, a City Critters volunteer who once rescued two baby squirrels that had dropped down from a tree in Stuy Town along with numerous other animals in the area, said she still doesn’t consider herself an expert on squirrels. But after conferring with another more experienced rescuer, she had this to say: Don’t feed the squirrels.
“People shouldn’t really feed them at all,” she said. However, she quickly added that she knew no one was going to pay any attention to that advice, so she wanted to stress that there’s a responsible way to go about feeding them.
One is to not offer peanuts. “If you have to feed them, feed them walnuts, almonds or pecans,” she said. They’re more expensive, she noted, but healthier. Peanuts can cause skin problems, she warned. “You’ll see that they lose fur,” she said.
Additionally, people shouldn’t overfeed them. More than once, Pascarelli said she’s seen squirrels get fed in a particular spot in Stuy Town only to return to the area three hours later to see someone else feeding squirrels in the same place. Those who want to feed the squirrels should try to avoid overfeeding by coordinating spots to do so with other feeders and also by cleaning up any food that doesn’t immediately get eaten. This is especially true if feeders heed her next tip.
Buy dry food intended for pet rats as a supplement to nuts.
“It has a lot of nutrients squirrels need,” she said. Squirrels’ natural diet consists of tree roots, branches and bark, though, “they don’t bother eating roots because they’re waiting for their peanuts.”
Pascarelli added that this time of year is when squirrels tend to get pregnant and in March and April, they have babies. As she’s seen, it isn’t unusual to find an abandoned squirrel if the mother has had too many babies. This could be blamed on overfeeding though. “If you overfeed them, they start to multiply like crazy,” she said.
Meanwhile, Goetz had a differing point of view.
Squirrel rehabilitator Bernie Goetz with a fluffy-tailed friend in Union Square Park (Photo courtesy of Bernie Goetz)
Goetz, an entrepreneur who’s been known as the “subway vigilante” for his shooting of several robbers on a train three decades ago, is better known these days for being an advocate for squirrels.
Though not a licensed rehabilitator, he has nursed over 100 injured squirrels back to health over the years. Usually, they’re brought to Goetz by people who find them around the city or he finds them himself in Union Square Park or in ST/PCV, where he frequently goes to feed the little guys. Usually, he said, when a squirrel is hurt, it’s the result of an attack from another squirrel. However, Goetz did once encounter a squirrel who’d gotten caught in the spokes of a bicycle wheel.
In his view, the squirrels should be fed this time of year, because “there’s no nutrition on the trees, anymore.”
He also doesn’t believe peanuts are a problem, though he knows many rehabilitators have the view that they are.
“What squirrels need in the winter is calories,” he said. “Peanuts are cheap and they have a lot of calories.”
Compitus, who often feeds the birds and squirrels in Peter Cooper Village when not at work at the dog daycare center she owns, Wiggly Pups, echoed Goetz’s sentiment that squirrels need a helping human hand during the winter months. This is especially true in ST/PCV, she said, since squirrels have gotten used to humans providing food for them over a period of decades.
“Squirrels have nests and they find places to keep warm, but it’s hard for them to feed themselves,” she said. “The winters can be so harsh in the city.”
While Compitus agreed with Pascarelli that other nuts are more nutritious for squirrels than peanuts, she also suggested that feeders give squirrels fresh veggies like collard greens and fruit, especially cherries. “They love cherries and they’re great for them,” she said.
Animal rehabilitator and dog daycare center owner Kathy Compitus (Photo by Sabina Mollot)
While Compitus has found herself being scolded by ST/PCV security in the past for feeding the pigeons on the property, she said lately that hasn’t happened. She also said she thought that residents’ feeding of the local wildlife was “what makes Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village so unique.
“You don’t have wildlife on the Upper East Side walking around outside your window, so I think we have to take care of them so that we can continue to enjoy them,” she said.
Meanwhile, a rep for CWCapital didn’t get back to us on what ST/PCV policy currently is when it comes to squirrel feeding, but the truth is it hardly matters. Former owner Met Life had a no-feeding rule, which went completely ignored and Tishman Speyer, when owner, never bothered to say if there was still a rule in place. However, there have been times over the years, including during CW’s reign, when management has indicated that people who leave food out for the squirrels end up attracting rats. This is possible, though judging by the girth of many of the local squirrels, it’s also just as likely that the rats’ fluffy-tailed cousins are in fact managing to eat every treat thrown their way by well-meaning humans.
Fun fact: The squirrels that overrun Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village and have black fur and copper fur as well as the more common gray fur, are all known as Eastern Gray squirrels.
The Diaz y Flores Community Garden on East 13th Street is one of 30 local gardens to be photographed by George Hirose.
By Sabina Mollot
Ever since the 1970s, when he moved to the East Village, photographer George Hirose found himself inspired by the scenes there that were both gritty and pretty. In particular, he was a huge fan of the community gardens that popped up then and the years that followed, since it was usually the locals’ way of thumbing – or rather greenthumbing their noses – at would-be developers of vacant lots.
Now a resident of Stuyvesant Town, Hirose has continued his love affair with the community gardens and is involved in the tending of a couple of them. He has also, since the spring of this year, been working on an ongoing exhibit of photos he’s taken of the gardens in the East Village and along the Lower East Side.
An exhibit is currently on display at the 14th Street Y, where Hirose will also be speaking about the photos on December 29 at 3 p.m. In addition, some of his photos are also on display across the street at Kati restaurant, 347 East 14th Street.
So far, he’s captured 30 of the 39 gardens in the area, and there are some he wants to go back to.
“I want to give a sense of the individuality of the places and how special they are,” said Hirose. “People are
interested in what other people are doing even if it’s out of the range of their immediate environment.”
As for his own interest in the gardens, for Hirose, they were always a way to meet likeminded people, artists, musicians and other characters, along with the nightclubs in the Lower East Side in the 70s and 80s. They were also a way to enjoy a bit of nature close to home, allowing a brief escape from the crime-ridden streets and graffiti-covered buildings.
However, even as the neighborhood gentrified over the years since then, the volunteer-run gardens still remained a special place to Hirose. A couple of them even had play areas for kids, and he would take his daughter to the gardens when she was younger.
“Some of them don’t have much in them, some have a lot in them,” he said, adding that some are obviously run better than others. Naturally, he has more appreciation for those where volunteers have been willing to let him in at night when the gardens are normally closed so he can do his photography.
The photos Hirose takes are always at night, enhanced by additional light sources he’ll bring into the gardens, since he wants to capture the bright colors of the trees and plantings. He also uses long camera exposures of up to 20 minutes and digital enhancements.
“It’s a very different way to see the gardens,” he said, explaining that the naked eye can’t see much in the way of depth and color in the dark. “So I have my camera do the things that my eyes are unable to do.”
For Hirose, a professor of photography at Pratt, it was only recently that he decided to start photographing the gardens. His hesitation, he said, had to do with his feeling that the art community would look down on his attempt to present the subject matter in a beautiful way. But, he said, “This was something I really loved and I just wanted to create something beautiful. I’d like for the whole city to be aware of community gardens in general.”
George Hirose’s photo of the Children’s Workshop Garden on East 12th Street and Avenue C
He’s also been concerned about the future of the gardens since one, called the Children’s Magical Garden on the corner of Norfolk and Stanton Streets, has been fighting to keep part of its space, which is slated for development of a six-story building.
“In the Lower East Side, there’s no real parks except for Tompkins Square, so it is important,” he said.
As for Stuyvesant Town, where he’s lived for the past 12 years, Hirose said he doesn’t feel compelled to photograph it much (though he’s made exceptions for the squirrel population). He also loves that it’s a natural bird sanctuary.
Though he does think the grounds look attractive, the problem, said Hirose, is that the property is “too manicured for my photography,” and therefore lacking the personality and roughness of the community gardens.
“It’s my home but I don’t feel a connection,” he admitted.
“It feels institutionally beautiful. It’s landscaped. The dynamics come from when neighbors gather to create something. I like when it’s a little grungier.”
Hirose’s photos will remain on display at the 14th Street Y, 344 East 14th Street between First and Second Avenues, through December 29. Hours are Monday through Friday, 6 a.m.-10 p.m., Saturday from 7 a.m. To 9 p.m. and Sunday from 7 a.m. To 9 p.m.