Wildlife: Chitter chatter!
It is incredible to be able to observe wildlife slap bang in the centre of some of our busiest, noisiest and polluted cities, but the cheeky little palm squirrel is perfectly at home in parks and gardens all over the plains of Pakistan and seems to relish the hustle and bustle of city life just as much as some people do and, for example, thoroughly enjoys gardens and parks in Karachi.
More correctly known as ‘Funambulus pennanth’ or ‘Northern palm squirrel’ or even ‘five-striped squirrel’ after the distinctive stripes down its back, this inquisitive creature chitters and chatters away at all and sundry as it goes about its daily business of gobbling up tree and plant seeds, leaf and flower buds, the bark of tender twigs, insects and birds eggs when
it can find them and makes its home inside convenient holes in tree trunks or inside crevices in walls.
Up and active from sunrise to sunset, these agile squirrels which leap from branch to branch, from tree to roof to wall or whatever happens to be there and within reach, are often mistaken for the chipmunks seen in children’s cartoons. These are our very own squirrels and are indigenous to this part of the world, India and Sri Lanka.
The combined head and body length of an average male palm squirrel varies from about 130 – 165mm, tails are generally from 120 – 160mm and body weight between 100 – 155g. City dwelling palm squirrels are usually larger than those living in semi-desert locations where food is often in short supply. The head, neck, shoulders and legs of this pretty creature are an overall grey in colour while its back is a grey-brown, down which runs a series of three cream-coloured stripes with two more, pale cream stripes separating the colour on its back from the softer cream-grey hues of its tummy. Its tail, nowhere near as bushy as that of picture book red squirrels, is brownish grey with a black band in the middle and a cream or white coloured tip.
Very common in areas it finds to its taste, palm squirrels give birth to two litters of young each year with the first litter of between two and four babies being born in the spring and the second litter, of the same size, being born in the autumn.
Building a nest for its babies is the work of the female squirrel, although perhaps ‘building’ is the wrong word as she finds a suitable hole in a safe and sheltered place and then simply lines it with soft material. She even pulls hairs out of her own tail to line the nest with if she can’t find anything else soft enough and she does all the work of rearing her babies too while the male goes his own way.
The babies are born with their eyes closed and are completely hairless and get their first sight of the world at about three weeks of age and are able to fend for themselves when they are two months old. It is a real pleasure to be able to watch palm squirrels enjoying city life and it is important that parks and gardens are always there for them.