Brooklyn's Elusive White Squirrel Returns

Mr. White Squirrel pauses on a trunk with an acorn.

Mr. White Squirrel pauses on a trunk with an acorn.

The mysterious white squirrel of Prospect Park is back. And, better yet, it might be more than one, with a chunk of the population carrying the strange leucistism gene that makes them lack the regular color.

The big question is: is it the same squirrel? At least one, maybe two, snow white squirrels live on the western edge of the park, in the same general area where a white squirrel has been spotted on and off since 2006. (The white squirrel has an excellent publicist and has appeared in the Brooklyn Paper in 2006; Gothamist in 2010; and Park Slope Stoop in 2012 and possibly the New York Times in 1998, which mentions an albino squirrel in the park.) Pedantic fact: this squirrel isn’t an albino. Because he has brown eyes and white fur, he’s leucistic. If he were an albino, he would have red ones and possible problems seeing, hearing, fighting infections and being in the sun.

The first I heard of the Prospect Park white squirrel was over this summer when a birder mentioned she’d seen it near the Tennis House. Yeah, right, I thought. Maybe you saw a mangy squirrel.

Of course, though skeptical, I searched the area repeatedly, but saw nothing. Then, weeks later, I saw the white squirrel hoping around near the intersection of the 9th Street path and West Drive (basically a few blocks away). The white squirrel was was romping around with some other young squirrels. All had tails that weren’t completely bushy. Through I bored my family considerably, I returned to this new area over and over and ended up with two more sightings. I also asked as many wildlife watchers as I could and found this out: many people saw the white squirrel in previous years by the Picnic House, where the squirrel even popped up in wedding photos. This year people have seen the squirrel between the Picnic House and 3rd Street and then, more frequently, over by 9th Street. The man who runs the nearby food cart and I compared phone photos.

Mr. White Squirrel contemplates his next move.

Mr. White Squirrel contemplates his next move.

The skinny tails were a good sign that Mr. White Squirrel is a youngster playing with his siblings–as opposed to an old geezer of a squirrel that’s been haunting the same area for nearly a decade and was chasing a potential mate. The squirrel is definitely a male–which I figured out from a closeup of his hindquarters.

Now it’s possible this is the same squirrel that’s been around since 2006, but I doubt it. Gray squirrels (the species is Scurius carolinensus) have an average lifespan of one or two years, but if they make it to adulthood, they average six years. The oldest wild squirrel we know of lived to 12; in captivity one made it to 20.)

It’s also possible that the squirrel near 11th Street is the same one by 3rd Street. In that wild that mile-long territory would be nothing. In an urban park where squirrel densities are high and territories are small, that’s a stretch. Between the two sighting areas are lots of fenced off woods and garage facilities where a freakish squirrel or two or three could live without the general public seeing.

The Mr. White Squirrel I saw was very aware of me watching him. He looked right back at me. He dropped acorns–I don’t know if by plan or accident–on me when I hung around too long under a tree he wanted to leave. He certainly gets a lot of love. New Yorkers have gotten used to the black squirrels that excite visitors, but the white squirrel still makes people giddy.

People throughout history and the world have thought of white animals as magical and lucky. Think of the white buffalo of Native Americans, the white deer of King Arthur or the white elephant of Buddha.

White squirrels in particular are quite popular in America, which has a few competing white squirrel capitals, some of which evict squirrels with normal gray coloring. Untamedscience and thewildclassroom both have white squirrel mapping projects.


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