Last year the Hudson Valley was overrun with pumpkin-eating squirrels.  Where did they all go?

In late September our family bought three large pumpkins at the store to decorate the front of our home. After seeing all of our pumpkins devoured by squirrels last year, we resigned to the fact that they would be long gone before Halloween and we'd have to buy more pumpkins in October for carving. Well, it's over a month later and the pumpkins are still in perfectly good condition. I can't help but wonder what happened to those ravenous squirrels.

During the fall of 2020, no pumpkin was safe from hungry squirrels. It was unlike anything I ever remember seeing since moving to the Hudson Valley over thirty years ago. Holes were chewed in pumpkins on every stoop in our neighborhood, with squirrels clawing themselves through the skin and eating up the gourds from the inside out.

There were lots of theories on why the squirrels were suddenly attacking pumpkins. Some thought that because so many people had stayed home during the pandemic, there weren't any cars on the road to run over the squirrels, creating a population explosion. While that may be partially true, the real culprit was the oak trees.

Last year, while humans were in the middle of a toilet paper shortage, squirrels were experiencing a serious shortage of their own. Oak trees weren't putting out nearly as many acorns as they usually do, causing squirrels to find other sources of food. Those fat, juicy pumpkins were ripe for the picking, and squirrels all over the Hudson Valley gobbled them up wherever they could find them.

A. Boris
A. Boris

Because of the lack of food, this year there aren't nearly as many squirrels as there was last year. And, as luck would have it, the oak trees are pumping out an enormous amount of acorns this year. It's what horticulturists call a "mast year." It's kind of like heading to the store in 2021 and seeing bottles of hand sanitizer everywhere when just a year ago people were knocking each other over to buy the last tiny bottle. Acorns are now just as plentiful as Purell, so there's no heated competition between squirrels that's forcing them to gobble up your pumpkin.

So, consider it safe to place your Halloween pumpkin back on the porch this year. Chances are it will be ignored by the squirrels, who will be busy finding places to bury all of those delicious acorns.

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