Popular Science

Why counting Central Park's squirrels isn't nuts

This isn't Josh O'Connor's first—or last—squirrel census.
Squirrel Census Central Park

A squirrel eating a mushroom in Central Park's North Woods.

Josh O'Connor, Squirrel Census

A biker shifting gears sounds a lot like a snapping branch. Or at least that’s what Josh O’Connor, Field Commander for the Central Park Squirrel Census, told me. Though it sounds like a trivia fact, it makes a difference when searching for squirrels, who are always dropping acorns and snapping twigs above our heads. A volunteer with 15 minutes of experience under my belt, I looked up expecting to find a squirrel rustling in the tree canopy, but O’Connor looked out. Sure enough, a bike whizzed by on an incline seconds later.

This knowledge is hard-won, but he’s happy to share. From 6 to 9 a.m., he tells me,. And while squirrels haven’t been observed eating the nuts of the park’s abundant gingko trees, O’Connor says humans certainly have, turning the fleshy white orbs into soup, or roasting them as a salty snack.

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