July 23, 2019
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Why Maine roadways are littered with squirrel carcasses this year

Photo illustration by John Holyoke | BDN
Photo illustration by John Holyoke | BDN
Two seasons of abundant food, combined with the annual dispersal of young squirrels, has led to a higher-than-normal number of roadkill squirrels in Maine.

If you’re like many other Mainers, you may have begun wondering whether you’re seeing an increase in the number of roadkill squirrels on the state’s roadways.

Bob Duchesne | BDN
Bob Duchesne | BDN
Squirrels have had access to plenty of food over the past few seasons, and they've survived through winter at high rates. Now, many Mainers are finding them as roadkill on the side of the road.

According to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, you’re not imagining things: The carnage is, in fact, piling up, as young squirrels strike out to find their own territory for the first time.

“The last couple of weeks it’s really come to the front as far as people talking about it,” DIF&W wildlife biologist Kendall Marden said Wednesday. “It’s certainly squirrels more than other species [that are ending up as roadkill].”

Marden said a combination of factors is leading to more roadkill squirrels than normal.

“Last year was such a phenomenal seed year for a whole multitude of species, from hardwood mast to softwood trees, maple, cedar, ash, pine cones, cedar cones. All of the abundant food provided a lot for the squirrels,” Marden said.

All of that food led to a bunch of fat and happy squirrels heading into the winter, and those animals fared well through the coldest months. Then, they’ve enjoyed another banner food year this summer.

“It’s a phenomenal year for mast and the squirrels that benefit from it, and all the way up the food chain to avian predators and everything else,” Marden said.

The other contributing factor: normal squirrel behavior.

“It’s that time of year when animals that are young are starting to disperse and go out on their own,” Marden said.

And when those squirrels start tromping, they often end up crossing roads.

Sometimes, they’re unsuccessful.

It’s all a basic math equation, Marden said.

“When you have more squirrels, you have more roadkill. It’s simply a numbers game,” he said.

Marden, an avid outdoorsman, said he began to suspect something was up last fall, as he headed into the woods to go deer hunting.

“[Squirrels] cache pine cones next to a stump, somewhere that they can find them easily,” he explained. “There was such an abundance that you would see piles that were two and three feet in diameter everywhere that you went in the woods.”

Marden said those piles of squirrel food came in handy during a special event last fall.

“[My wife and I] got married last fall in October and had the ceremony in the woods,” Marden said. “We kind of joked that the squirrels helped us decorate.”

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