There’s a half-blind squirrel that visits our house each day. He scurries down the tree in the backyard and chills out on the picnic table. Because of his haggard appearance, there’s no confusing him with any other squirrel.
I nicknamed him Kurt Russell after the Snake Plissken character in Escape from New York. My kids requested we rename him One-Eyed Willy after the captain of the pirate ship, Inferno, in The Goonies. It was a name I had originally considered myself. To my kids’ dismay, I informed them Kurt Russell had been bestowed a name and it wouldn’t be right to change it.
An unscientific naming convention
I name all my backyard wildlife if I am able to identify a specific woodland creature by appearance and personality. Like people and pets, wildlife have their own unique markings and character traits. For the ones I can’t identify, I tend to ascribe a name for the whole crew of the species:
|Tweedle Dee||Mourning dove|
|Chick Norris||Black capped chickadee|
Kurt Russell joins a few others from my backyard animal kingdom that have earned their keep in the name game:
Mr. Jones the American crow
Crows get a bad rap. Did they eat eyeballs on the battlefields of wars a thousand years ago or even one hundred and fifty? Yes. But were they the ones slaughtering their own kind? No. They were eating what they believed to be carrion. Speaking of eyeballs, Mr. Jones is a brave and gentle crow that doesn’t hesitate to make eye contact with me. If you so much as stare at his black feathered buddies for more than 10 seconds, they’ll fly off. Mr. Jones will come closer. He follows me around my yard and on runs. I’ve written a poem about this particular corvid (read “Stowaway On a Cloud”). And no, I have not lost my mind. Crows are hella intelligent, family oriented lifeforms that don’t deserve the historical stigma — and very underrated in the animal kingdom.
Tailless: Eastern Gray squirrel
Tailless is no longer with us. She was taken out by a car about a year ago. Her name implies her appearance. Tailless was without half of her tail. Sadly, Tailless appeared to be a mother as there were abandoned baby squirrels shortly after her death. Even sadder, one perished, dying I assume from starvation, curling up at the base of a tree only a few yards from where her mother was hit by a car. By the time I noticed the baby squirrel crawling around behind the fence and called the wildlife hotline, it was too late. She died two hours later.
Little Girl: Eastern Gray squirrel
Sweet as can be but feisty as all get out if you slink into her territory while she’s eating, Little Girl’s belly is white as snow and she has a faint scar on her nose. It’s not uncommon for her to nestle down three feet from where I sit.
I’m not much of a texter but when I do text it’s often a group chat to my mom and sister with an animal of some sort. My sister has referred to me as Snow White.
How did the half-blind squirrel lose an eye?
Yesterday, while I was standing at the kitchen sink, Kurt Russell laid flat on his belly on our picnic table soaking up the sun’s rays looking like a squirrel skin rug.
I don’t know what the half-blind squirrel’s love life is like, but I wonder if he has fallen out of favor by the opposite sex due to:
- his rough looks, or
- his inability to see the full range of predatory threats from above, beside, and below?
The latter would make the most sense from a biological and evolutionary stance. But considering that Kurt Russell managed survival through the winter and now spring and summer, he looks as though he has a hang on the whole Survival of the Fittest contest.
And there’s Little Girl that is either a relative or a potential future mate of Kurt Russell. They didn’t always get along well but they do now. You could say they are friends. Kurt Russell is the only squirrel Little Girl doesn’t run off. They eat together in peace.
How he lost his eye I’m not sure. I do remember when it was freshly injured. When he first came to my attention, he was in bad shape. His entire right side was scratched up, the skin and fur torn off his side, his bushy tail mangled. His eye looked as if it was leaking out of his head. Within a few days, infection was setting in.
In this state and with dried blood all over him, I didn’t think he’d make it. Slowly, he began to heal. His movements went from hobbled to spry over the last few months.
As I was sitting out back and he was looking at me with his good eye from the picnic table, I began thinking of the likely scenarios. I’ve ranked my theories below:
I. Neighborhood cat
We have cats in the neighborhood which slink about the woods, preying on birds and squirrels. Kurt Russell may have had a run-in and escaped with minor, albeit permanent, life-altering, injuries.
This seems the likeliest of scenarios. I’ve seen more than one squirrel fend off a predatory cat. I’ve never seen one come out unscathed. Thus, the injuries of Kurt Russell seem most consistent with a cat.
II. Hawks and the threat from above
The threat from above by hawks can’t be understated, red-tailed hawks especially. I’ve seen adult red-tailed hawks swoop in and snag a house cat like they were hitting up a fast food drive-thru window. Squirrels are more evasive due to their instincts in the wild, but still a common meal for hawks here.
It’s possible a talon from a hawk took out the eye and damaged his side. While squirrels can survive hawk attacks I find this scenario less likely than the cat because there were no deep puncture wounds. Cats scratch. Hawks grip tight and pop holes.
III. Other possibilities, though unlikely
- Fox: Once every two or three weeks, I see a sly fox sauntering through the woods behind my house or in the general vicinity. I’m not saying a fox won’t take out a fully grown squirrel, because they will, but the injuries Kurt Russell sustained don’t seem consistent with that of a fox attack. A fox is a more bite-and-squeeze the life out of you kind of killer and not a predator where you’ll see a bunch of scratches and claw marks.
- Crow: The missing eyeball could be the result of a crow’s beak. I’ve seen, on rare occasion, a crow chase after a squirrel for food they snagged; but getting into a physical confrontation with a squirrel, for a crow, would lend its own self to serious injury. While the eyeball damage could be explained by an injury sustained from a crow’s beak, the scratches and claw marks couldn’t. Crows and squirrels have a bit of a symbiotic relationship anyway, and it’s the squirrel that’s the aggressor in typical scenarios. Nothing terribly aggressive. More of a bluff charge.
- A scuffle with another squirrel: I’ve never seen a full-on squirrel scuffle that lasted more than a few seconds. Squirrels, as cute as they are, can be pretty damn vicious and their teeth are no joke. But when fighting one another, what I’ve witnessed goes like this: one squirrel chases the other squirrel like a maniac through the woods and up and down a tree for about 45 seconds. There may be a nip or two, perhaps a bushy tailed roll-around in the dirt, but not an all out brawl meant to maim or kill.
- A fall from a tree: I almost put this in the likely category because the eyeball and scratches could explain a fall from a tree onto multiple branches. But if a squirrel falls from a tree and hits a branch they usually latch ahold to it. It’s when a squirrel falls from a tree and doesn’t catch hold to a branch, they get injured. Sometimes they smack the ground and spring right back up like nothing happened. Other times they limp away with an injured paw, which squirrels can easily survive with, even if broken. I’d put this one low on the totem pole of possibilities because the full extent of the injuries Kurt Russell sustained don’t add up. His entire body would have been marred, not one side. And while he did have a limp at the beginning, it wasn’t terrible.
So there you have it folks. You’ve met my buddy Kurt Russell, the half-blind Eastern Gray squirrel, and you’ve read my theory on how his eye came to be. But my question for you is: do you have a backyard wildlife pal? What’s his or her name?
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SHARING IS CARING