The Squirrel Girl


Freshman student Kelsey Thompson sits outside Old Main a few days a week to spend time with the squirrels.

The tradition began with her and her sister after a psychology class when she learned about classical conditioning.

“I have a psychology class right now and we were learning about Pavlov, and his dogs,” Thompson said.

“We learned about how he taught them with the bell, it’s called conditioning and really you can condition anything if you do it long enough.”

Thompson said she has always liked squirrels and was inspired to test out Pavlov’s process for herself.

She said she wanted to know what would happen if she was a consistent force in the life of the campus squirrels.

She began early in the semester, and as it has gone on she has watched the squirrels grow more and more comfortable in her presence.

She refers to the squirrel who first accepted her food as Todd.

Todd is the first squirrel who would eat out of her hand, and as he approached her more and more, many of the other squirrels followed.

“Eventually it got to the point where more squirrels would come, and they would come closer,” Thompson said.

“I actually have a few squirrels now, I have been doing this all semester, that will actually climb up my leg and sit on my lap.”

As she became more familiar with the squirrels, she named more of them.

Today she can spot four different squirrels.“I name the ones that I can recognize, so there is Todd, Gunther, there’s Brutus who has a tear in his ear, and I swear he is not afraid of anything… I’m not sure if it’s true that squirrels have all different personalities, but I personally think they do. There is also Oakley, who I have not seen yet today,” said Thompson.

She said she feels that since she has started, the squirrels around Old Main have not only become more adept to her but also to all humans.

When she sees them, she notices that they are more likely to approach her even without food to offer them.

“People think it’s crazy for sure, they come by, and people will stop and ask to take a few pictures. I don’t really care I mean yea, why not? It’s kind of crazy that I am sitting here with a squirrel on my lap,” said Thompson.

Her appreciation for the creatures as well as understanding of them has also changed since she began.

She has spent almost a full semester observing their behaviors and watching them grow more comfortable in her presence.

“I realized how curious they can be actually, so I had one-I think it was looking for peanuts-just jumped into my bag, and I didn’t realize it, and I turned back and having to like shove it… To get out of there,” said Thompson.

Thompson has found out a lot about squirrels, and she conducted thorough research to make sure that the squirrels will be healthy when she feeds them.

Squirrels can be fed peanuts and walnuts, but it Is best to avoid sunflower seeds because they are a choking hazard.

“It was just a lot of testing out which foods they liked, and which they didn’t. They did not like any healthy greens at all. Those were recommended because it’s healthier but no, they did not appreciate that,” said Thompson.

The squirrels on campus are already used to humans and are slightly domesticated.

It is safe for them to eat the peanuts and walnuts that she provides.

“The squirrels have discovered that they can find food and a friend,” said Thompson.

“Each Squirrel has a different level of how far it will go, so Todd will come sit on my lap willingly because he knows that’s how he gets peanuts now. For other squirrels I do have to toss it to them to get them to come closer and closer. It really just depends on who is out that day,” said Thompson.

She said many of her friends didn’t believe her when she told them about the squirrels.

She now brings them with her to show them the bond she has formed with some of the squirrels.

She also mentioned how curious they are about her items such as her camera.

She said that Todd is her favorite, since he was the first to trust her, but Brutus is one of her second favorite squirrels.

“Brutus is probably my number two, just because I think he is so funny.

One day he decided to try out my kickflips, so he would climb up to my knee and then just do crazy jumps off of it. I don’t really know why… But that was really cool, and I was so excited about that,” said Thompson.

She said she hopes to continue with the squirrels even as it gets cooler outside.

She learned after naming Brutus, that the squirrel is female.

Brutus recently had kits and Thompson has watched them grow up.

She even sets aside some peanuts for the little ones so that the older squirrels don’t push them around.