Fat squirrels one consequence of warm start to winter

HUBERT, N.C. (WNCT) – Many of us struggle with packing on the pounds this time of year. Some of our furry friends are having the same issue.

Toni O’Neil, director of the Possumwood Acres Wildlife Sanctuary, explains the process squirrels go through this time of year: ”Eat and eat and eat and eat and eat. Get fat. Put on as much fat as you can to make it through the leaner times in the winter.”

It may not be the goal for you and I, but for squirrels, it can mean life or death.

”If they don’t put on enough of a fat layer, they’re probably not gonna make it,” says O’Neil. “They’ll be thin come spring.”

It’s a yearly process for our acorn loving friends, but this year, they’re taking it to the extreme, thanks to the weather. A warm start to winter has meant that squirrels are still out bulking up instead of settling into their winter slumber.

”Basically, they’re double eating,” says O’Neil. “They’re eating all the things that are still in the wild for a longer period of time. We had a very good acorn production, there’s been some berries on the trees, and they’re still raiding everyone’s bird feeders.”

Other than being a little plump, the squirrels shouldn’t see any long term problems from the warm start to winter. The same can’t be said for other animals, especially those that migrate south for the winter.

”We’re seeing things like some of the birds have gotten their timetables a little messed up,” says O’Neil. “They’re already starting to build nests, which is way way way too early, which could cause some problems if they start laying eggs that could freeze.”

Even worse, the birds’ food supply, fish, has already headed south. O’Neil says she’s already seen 7 or 8 young pelicans come in to her sanctuary this winter, suffering from hunger and frostbite. Sea turtles haven’t escaped either. Many have ended up cold stunned on North Carolina beaches over the past several weeks. O’Neil is prepared to take in more animals, as winter weather has finally arrived.

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