Meet my squirrel. Adorable, but mangey.

This little guy or girl comes by my backyard every day and raids my two bird feeders, sometimes with the help of another squirrel.

Because it has sarcoptic mange, I’ve been concerned about its winter survival. You can treat mange with ivermectin, selamectin, or any of the class of avermectin insecticides that kill mites and other topical parasites that cause itching in pets and livestock. Left without treatment, the animal will suffer fur loss and diminished immunity, not to mention being driven mad with the itching. It will also lose out on some time better spent food gathering and stashing. Finally, there’s an increased risk of transmitting it to other animals and species. I certainly don’t want this, but I’m not sure if the mites that affect squirrels also affect birds.

It’s possibly illegal for me to have done this, but as my dog, Daisy, died and couldn’t take her HartGard pills with her on her journey, I shaved off a slice of one of the pills and slathered it in frozen peanut butter. I put one out for the squirrel about a month ago, hoping it would take it, and started occasionally feeding it a tidbit or two. The mange cleared up, but in the past week, it has come back (probably the eggs in the nest have hatched and new juvenile and adult mites have latched on). So I followed up with a second treatment. He (or she) has since stopped running away whenever I open the patio door, because it knows something edible is going to come flying out and land somewhere in the garden. Sure enough, it made a beeline for it!

I had friends in the suburbs who used to feed a black squirrel. They named it Buddy, and it would come right up to them every day. Then Buddy disappeared — for a little while. It turned out Buddy was a new mom, and she brought her babies around to visit. While the squirrels I’ve befriended have been bold about coming around to me, usually they aren’t so bold with their babies. But over the years, my sporadic friendliness with the local squirrels means there’s a shared moment of mutual recognition when we meet each other in the garden, or on either side of the patio door.

Originally published at Big City, Little Homestead.