Posted On: August 21, 2018
Please Don’t Feed The Squirrels
As you may know, the squirrels at Madison Square Park are eccentric critters who provide a world of entertainment and whimsy to all who visit the Park. While we welcome whimsy and encourage people to engage with nature, we also aim to keep our urban wildlife healthy and our Park-goers safe. That is why we ask that you please do not feed the squirrels, or any other wildlife that you may encounter in the Park. Please limit your interaction with the infamous Mad. Sq. Squirrels to that of observation.
Feeding the squirrels may seem helpful, or at the very least innocuous, but it can be very harmful to both the squirrel and the environment in the long run. Squirrels who become accustomed to humans feeding them lose their instinctual sense of fear and discretion, and for an animal in the wild, a healthy sense of fear is essential for survival. Your one off interaction with a Mad. Sq. Squirrel, while well-intended, could contribute to an increasing epidemic of urban wildlife becoming dependent on humans to provide their primary food source, only to lose that food source in the colder months.
You might be surprised to learn that squirrels become aggressive once they learn to associate humans with food. James Griffin, Director of Urban Wildlife for the Humane Society, mentions this in last year’s New York Times article about a series of squirrel attacks in Prospect Park. Aggressive squirrels are known to bite, and as Griffin goes on to explain, almost all of such instances “come down to food attractant.” Which is to say, that despite their adorable appearance, squirrels are not above biting the hand that feeds them, or in many cases, the hand that abstains from feeding them. With teeth made for cracking nuts, you can trust the bite to be worse than the bark— which is not what we have in mind when we say we hope you have a memorable time in the Park!
Apart from your own safety, it is ultimately best for wildlife to be left to their own devices to avoid weakening their natural ability to forage independently. If you’ve met the legendary Mad. Sq. Squirrels, then it should come as no surprise that they are highly capable creatures. However, when they become accustomed to people feeding them they face a dangerous problem in the winter when there are fewer people in the Park, and thus a less consistent supply of food. This leaves many squirrels vulnerable and more desperate than ever. The result is increased competitiveness, aggression, and willingness to attack. Squirrels have even been known to rob Park staff and visitors of food.
Even if you have not personally had conflict with a squirrel, it is still important that you exercise caution by avoiding close proximity, as they have been known to jump on people, out from Park trash cans, or even into children’s’ strollers to steal snacks. To many, the squirrels’ bold behavior may be comical or endearing, and it is natural that they would spark ours—or our children’s—curiosity, but it is important to consider their impact on the Park, as well. Our seven-acres of green space can only accommodate so many squirrels, but the more people feed them, the more crowds are drawn to overwhelm the feeder and subsequently, our arboretum. Increased populations of squirrels means increased harm to our world-class horticulture, as squirrels have a habit of damaging trees and plants through persistent gnawing. As a result, our Gardeners have had to cut down otherwise healthy tree branches that were damaged by squirrels and posed a safety risk to the public, such as the ginkgo branch pictured here.
We love the Madison Square Park squirrels, and want to keep them safe! Unfortunately, most foods that people feed to them are at best, detrimental to their diets, and at worst, harmful to their health; especially foods that are fed to them in excess, such as nuts, which should only comprise a small portion of their diets. Peanuts, for example, are frequently fed to squirrels, although these pose a large danger to to their well-being and are unnatural to their diets due to the fact that they are not tree nuts, but legumes. Squirrels may love them, but peanuts often contain salt and other properties that contribute to severe malnutrition in rodents, which can prove fatal. It is in everyone’s best interest that we allow them to feed themselves. Thank you for reading and for your cooperation in keeping the Park safe and enjoyable for all!