By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
Havre residents are seeing some squirrely behavior this year from new residents in town - squirrels.
Frank Ybarra, who lives on Fourth Avenue and Seventh Street, said he's lived in Havre since 1989, and this year he saw his first squirrel in town. That was on April 5.
Ybarra said he first saw one squirrel by his house. A few days later, he saw two.
"Now they're everywhere," he said.
Ybarra and his wife, Susan, have been feeding and watching birds at their house for some time. Now they've added squirrel watching to their routine.
Ybarra puts out peanuts for the squirrels - that seems to be their favorite, he said - but they also eat from some of the other feeders.
"They hang upside down and eat from the bird feeder," Ybarra said.
Al Rosgaard, wildlife biologist at the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks' local office, said this is the first year he has seen squirrels in Havre. He can't say where they came from, although he has some ideas.
"There are any number of ways they could have gotten here," he said.
The squirrels may have migrated from a town with a native squirrel population, like Great Falls, hitching a ride in the back of a truck.
Havre Assistant Police Chief George Tate said he heard an unconfirmed rumor that the transplant was intentional. The story is that someone trapped the squirrels, brought them to Havre and set them free, Tate said.
Tate said he moved to Havre in 1987 from Glendive, where there are lots of squirrels. He immediately noticed that Havre didn't have squirrels. This year it does.
"It's definitely something I hadn't seen since I had been here," he added.
Havre hasn't had squirrels because the area surrounding Havre isn't squirrel habitat, Rosgaard said. Squirrels need a place to survive the bitter Montana winters, like a cavity in a tree or spaces in or under buildings.
"They're kind of attuned to a more moderate habitat," he added.
There may be enough squirrels living in Havre now that they could become a permanent fixture, he said.
"It seems like enough people have seen them," Rosgaard said.
Squirrels multiply fairly quickly. The Web site for the Squirrel Almanac at the University of Colorado in Boulder said most kinds of tree squirrels breed in the late winter to late spring, and have litters of three to seven baby squirrels six to seven weeks later.
Generally, tree squirrels have only one litter a year, but sometimes they have a second litter in August or September.
Most tree squirrels do not hibernate during the winter, although they may reduce their activity and be seen less. The squirrels typically store food they gather over the summer to eat during the winter months.
Rosgaard said that while people usually enjoy watching squirrels, they can become a problem if the population grows.
"In some towns they become more like a pest," he said.
Squirrels can get under the eaves of houses, into crawl spaces, under roofs and into storage areas.
"They can kind of make a mess," Rosgaard said.
Ybarra said he has enjoyed feeding and watching the addition to the local wildlife.
"I get a big kick out of them," he said.
On the Net: Squirrel Almanac: http://spot.colorado.edu/~halloran/sqrl.html