One day, as I was walking in my house, I saw some movement where there should have been none – in between a window pane and its outer metal grill. I hadn’t opened this window for quite some time, and a quick peek revealed that a Three-striped Palm Squirrel (aka Indian Palm Squirrel) had decided to construct its nest there. There are teak trees on either side of my house and an insulated electric cable running in front; the squirrel could feed on teak seeds and come back to its nest using the cable, without descending to the ground at any point. The window grill also had very small gaps in between, and it became an ideal spot to bear her young. She started bringing coir, pieces of clothes, and other soft materials to construct her nest. Since the window was translucent, I could observe and photograph all her activities without disturbing her.
The Three-striped Palm Squirrel is native only to South India and Sri Lanka, though it has been introduced to other places. This is one of the few species of squirrels that is completely habituated to people and can be found in most of the cities of southern India. In North India, a closely related species, the Five-striped Palm Squirrel, is found.
A few days after the squirrel outside my window completed her nest, she gave birth to three tiny babies. Palm Squirrel babies are born blind, hairless and utterly vulnerable. The mother used to come regularly to nurse her babies. She would also frequently groom them to keep them clean. At night, she would sleep in the nest, curled up around her offspring.
As I observed the young ones, my mind couldn’t help but remember my disastrous childhood attempt to take care of a baby squirrel. My childhood home had a few coconut trees. One day, while harvesting the fruit, a baby squirrel also came down along with the coconuts. Maybe the baby had wandered off from its nest or was abandoned. The mother did not come back for the baby. I had tried feeding it diluted cow’s milk and keeping it warm at night with a hot water bottle, but the baby was too young, and sadly, didn’t survive.
This time around, the squirrel mother was around to look after her children, and I was really hoping that all of them would survive.
In around 3 weeks’ time, the babies’ eyes opened, and they started sprouting fur. At this time, there was a heavy downpour and the nest got wet. The mother squirrel tried getting more coir and other dry nesting material, but putting these on the already wet nest didn’t help; finally, she constructed a new nest on the other side of the window and moved the young ones there.
By 2 months, they started leaving the nest and running around on the window sill. When the mother wasn’t there, they would sit peeking out of the grill. They would try to chew anything – from the material with which the nest was constructed to even the window glass.
As they grew older, they became skilled enough to leap on the electric cable and move to the teak trees or the other floors of the house, but, they always returned to the nest to sleep at night. We had to keep the windows on all the floors closed, to prevent them from getting inside our house.
By 4 months, the babies had become fully independent and stopped coming to the nest. But I could still see them on my terrace or feeding in the teak trees. They would also feast on the fruits I put out for birds. By this time, they had become bold, and I could watch them play, feed, and go about their daily business from just a few feet away.
Around three months passed, and one day, I could again see something moving outside the same window. It was my friend, the squirrel, back to deliver her next litter.
This window has played host to five squirrel litters so far, and I am happy to enjoy my window with a view.