Grey squirrels drinking alcohol

When Stu Bullen set out on his survey, he never expected to tangle with some bushy-tailed lager louts.

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BBC Wildlife Magazine, March 2014
© Sam Hobson

 

Bourne Wood seemed to be enjoying an afternoon siesta.

In the energy-draining 
heat of the best August we’d had in years, 
the only sound I could hear was the 
buzzing of bumblebees as they supped 
on the profusion of wildflowers in bloom.

My wife Sarah and I were here to do some botany. I was looking for wildflowers for the charity Plantlife, and she was accompanying me mainly for the fun of it.

But in the warmth of this dog day afternoon, our survey had turned into more of a sleepwalk.

Bourne Wood is an ancient woodland on the edge 
of south Lincolnshire.

It’s a bit of a mongrel, if truth be told. There are oaks that have been coppiced for centuries – legend has it that the Anglo-Saxon rebel Hereward the Wake hid here while making his last stand against the invading William the Conqueror.

On the other hand, there are also conifer plantations that date back just a few decades.

Drinking party

It wasn’t long before the heat had bested us and we 
were heading home, salivating at the thought of an icy drink and cold compress.

On the edge of a forest track, 
I crouched briefly to admire some lovely red campions. But as I stood up, a can of Special Brew plummeted to the ground from somewhere above me. 

I looked up, half-expecting to see a jeering gang of adolescent boys, only 
to catch sight of a grey squirrel scampering up a nearby tree. He was carrying another can of the iconic beverage, 
so distinctive in its unique gold and crimson livery.

Was it a heat-induced mirage, I wondered? Had the crazy weather finally got to me? No: Sarah had seen the squirrel too, and pointed the animal out as he clambered into the canopy.

We wondered if he might be using the can as building material for a drey – perhaps he’d picked up a tip from watching Grand Designs.

On closer inspection, we could make out three more squirrels together among the branches, and noticed several more empties at the base of the trunk – someone must have thrown them away.

When the first squirrel reached his friends, he perched the can horizontally so that the dregs started to spill out. All four vied to drink the beer, arguing and scrapping noisily over this not-quite-amber nectar.

One of his mates scrambled down the trunk to select another can from the ground. The squirrel was about to take a swig – he can’t have been the sharing type – when he noticed us for the first time.

He alerted the trio above with his distinctive chirping alarm call, and the whole gang scarpered. Suddenly it was just us again, and that pile of tinnies.

I was telling a friend about our close encounter of the furry kind a few days later, who mentioned that he’d once seen a squirrel slurping out of a Coke can.

He’d assumed that it was because of the sugars in the drink, and thought the same could be true of beer – though not as sweet, it still contains plenty of calories.

Without wishing to dismiss the problems associated with wildlife consuming foodstuffs meant for humans, the incident certainly provoked a few chuckles. We’d seen a young gang of 21st-century invaders out boozing, scavenging empties that could well have been left by wayward teens.

Best of all, it turns out that Carlsberg came up with Special Brew to commemorate a visit to Copenhagen by none other than Winston Churchill. What would he have made of my tale? “Never, never, never give in”? Well, in this case, perhaps the squirrels should.

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View more brilliant photography by Sam Hobson. 

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