According to students at Portland State, squirrels on campus—especially in the Park Blocks near campus buildings—seem to be getting braver.
There have been instances of squirrels making their way inside Montgomery Hall and Blumel Hall as well as unsubstantiated claims that squirrels have been stealing illicit goods from dorms, including Adderall and marijuana.
Savannah Swartz, a residence director at PSU recounted a few instances of squirrels inside Montgomery Hall. “They are very comfortable in our spaces. We just see them going in and out of windows to get loaves of bread and bags of chips.”
Swartz continued, “Last Friday was a hot day so we had the windows in the back open, and a squirrel came inside the desk space and walked right up to the desk member working. She had to encourage the squirrel to go back out the window.”
Saqif Maqsud, a PSU student who lives in Blumel Hall, said, “My apartment faces the PSU Honors house, and the tree branches line up perfectly with our windows.”
He said one winter he left the windows open and stepped out of the building for a moment. When he came back, there were a few uninvited guests in his room.
“I opened the door to find two squirrels, one sitting on my chair and the other going through a box of papers I had near my desk,” Maqsud said. “I wanted to take a photo, but they quickly darted out the window as soon as I pulled my phone out.”
According to Swartz, incidents like this might have started because of a particularly caring squirrel-lover who used to live in Montgomery.
“She would just feed them every day for two years,” Swartz said. “They’d come into her room, and then when she moved out, she asked to please tell the person who moves in after her that they really like peanuts, and she feeds them twice a day and whoever moves in after her needs to keep up that tradition,” Swartz said.
The large amounts of friendly squirrels isn’t unique to PSU. Reports of squirrels have been documented at universities across the country. A Twitter thread recently blew up when user Rodger Sherman posed two questions: “Did you attend a college with squirrels on campus?” and “Did people assert that your school’s squirrels were, in some way, different from most squirrels?”
Thousands of users responded with reports of their favorite campus squirrels, raising the question of where all these squirrels come from, and why they seem to love universities so much. Squirrels were introduced at the turn of the century into urban areas by humans in order to make cities feel more like nature.
In an article entitled “The Urbanization of the Eastern Grey Squirrel” published in the Journal of American History, author Etienne Benson said, “The people who introduced squirrels and other animals to public squares and commons in Philadelphia, Boston and New Haven sought to beautify and enliven the urban landscape at a time when American cities were growing in geographic extent, population density and cultural diversity.”
The eastern grey squirrel—the same breed of squirrel climbing into windows on PSU’s campus—isn’t one of the four native species of squirrels in Oregon. According to the article, eastern grey squirrels disrupt the natural ecosystem. According to The Oregonian, author Marci Degman writes, “We already know these Eastern squirrels cause trouble for the native squirrels by outcompeting them in many ways. Eastern squirrels reproduce quickly, adapt to the local environment well, consume more diverse foods and are highly tolerant of human activity.”