Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Hunting for squirrels, but not how you think April 10, 2019


FROM AFAR, I THOUGHT Peter Jacobson carried a bow and arrow, hugged near his body.



But then, as I drew near, I saw instead an antenna and hand-held radio device. Not one to pass by, I stopped and asked about the equipment.



Turns out this science teacher was tracking collared squirrels for the wildlife field biology class he teaches at Faribault High School. If only biology had been this hands-on decades ago, I may actually have liked science. And, yes, we dissected frogs, which held zero appeal for me.



But this, this live trapping, collaring and tracking of squirrels at River Bend Nature Center to learn about their territorial behaviors would have grown my interest in science. Jacobson’s students are out in the field, observing, formulating questions, gathering data.

The study is Minnesota Department of Natural Resources approved with students also earning college credits from Vermilion Community College. Jacobson mentioned a DNR study of moose as we talked about his small scale tracking of squirrels.



I had one question for him. I asked if he could determine how to keep squirrels out of flower pots, a perennial problem for me. I’ve tried to resolve the issue by laying sticks and stones in and across pots around newly potted flowers and plants.

Jacobson laughed, noting the squirrels likely enjoy the challenge. And that was my wildlife biology lesson for the day.


TELL ME: I’d like to hear about any creative and interesting science projects that were part of your high school education.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


23 Responses to “Hunting for squirrels, but not how you think”

  1. Marilyn Donnell Says:

    Here in Australia the golden Easter squirrel is now featuring in a certain brand of chocolates. Why? Squirrels are experts in finding the best nuts.

  2. Beth Ann Says:

    I knew exactly what he was doing when I saw the equipment. 🙂 Squirrels are masters of getting into things that we don’t want them to get into and I have to admire their tenacity. I have one bird feeder that I thought was squirrel proof but I have been proved wrong. Having a brother who is a wildlife biologist and having been able to go on pronghorn surveys with him I know that there is a plethora of information that can be gotten from radio collars. Can’t remember too much hands on I did in science but I did dissect a cat in college which was definitely not my fav activity.

    • You definitely have the inside scoop with your brother working in the field.

      I could not picture you dissecting a cat. Ever.

      When I took animal science in high school, we went to the local locker to watch a pig being butchered. That was not a good experience. One student fainted, the student who teased me prior about not being able to handle the butchering. Why this teacher took us on this field trip is beyond me. I can’t remember a thing I learned that day.

  3. Littlesundog Says:

    The most creative science project – most memorable because it was horrifying to me, was that each student had to bring some kind of animal that could be killed, then skinned or defeathered, meat cooked off, and the skeletal remains glued back together. We had to chart the various bones via a drawing or copied diagram. Like most farm kids, I brought a chicken. In fact, so many kids brought chickens that the school had a soup supper benefit. What did I learn? I was so scarred by the experience that I’m super protective of the chickens I have now, and I often thank that poor chicken for giving its life to science. I’m not sure how learning the various bones has benefited me.

    • OK, then. That’s pretty awful. So kids, here’s your assignment… Unbelievable. I would have reacted the same as you, even though, to this day, I am not particularly fond of live chickens. Bad childhood experience with a mean rooster.

      • Littlesundog Says:

        My grandparents sold eggs to the “egg man” who came to pickup eggs 3 times a week. They had 300 or more chickens. They had one rooster and he was protective. I think that’s how my siblings and I learned to run fast!! ha ha.

      • I can relate to the running fast from a rooster part. One day my dad had enough and he got out the axe. The rooster could not run fast enough.

  4. Almost Iowa Says:

    Scooter wants to know where you can get one of those squirrel locating devices. I tried to explain, but when he gets excited, there is no getting through to him.

  5. Missy's Crafty Mess Says:

    I flat out refused to participate in those classes. I wish that I could have knit something like these instead.


  6. This is so COOL – squirrels are fascinating creatures! I particular love when they are in the street then stand up with their hands up when I am trying to drive down the road – REALLY?!? – get out of the road. I would have enjoyed more hands on science when I was in school. I remember the dreaded frog thing and then the suggestion to not wear hair spray in hair on bunsen burner days. I grew up on a farm and that was my hands on education into many subjects. Happy Day – Enjoy 🙂

  7. Kathleen Cassen Mickelson Says:

    I love that you asked about squirrels and flower pots at the end! My favorite memory of high school science is the teacher who combined gasses in such a way that he made a little explosion and a drop of water. That got my attention but do I remember the lesson beyond that? Nope. Back to the flower pots – try cayenne sprinkled around the dirt in the pot. Or little shavings of Irish Spring bar soap. Looks a little weird but seems to be a deterrent.

  8. Gunny Says:

    Kathleen hit the nail on the head. Cayenne, white and black pepper and even fresh coffee grounds deter squirrels. My own squirrel friend, I try to keep amused and out of my bird feeders (not much hope of that). We Vasaline a pole to keep the squirrels off of a pole that holds two bird feeders. (it does work). I hand feed one squirrel peanuts, then toss some to his buddies. A friend came over Monday and stated: “that is the fattest squirrel I have ever seen!”.
    Gotta admit that this squirrel could pass for a over-stuffed toy! (I now buy raw peanuts by the 50 pound sack).

  9. Neil Says:

    In one of my high school science classes, we had an assignment to bring in some fruit and/or vegetables, which were diced up and placed in bottles. We then added a mixture of sugar, water and yeast. This concoction was then allowed to ferment. About a week or so later, we set up make-shift stills that were created from the lab glassware, tubing, etc., and we distilled the alcohol from the fermented mash. After that, we had to do some additional lab work to determine the exact alcohol percentage.

    Lest you think we had a big party afterwards, the teacher made certain to add something toxic to the mash so as to prevent us from getting any big ideas. Nevertheless, this might still prove to be an important life-skill to fall back on should the necessity ever arise!

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