Squirrels, they seem cute, what with their small stature and tiny toe beans and their uncanny talent for building and sailing small twig boats. Be warned, though, that's what they want you to think; they want you to believe that they are adorably innocent little snack mongers who just want a single chip, please, but as soon as you offer them one they will pounce upon your hand, ripping off your fingers like the blood-crazed maniacs they inherently are.
That, at least, is what you might choose to read into a recent warning from city officials, who strongly advise against feeding the squirrels in Rockefeller Park, a riverfront oasis in Battery Park City. The squirrels, you see, have become aggressive, instigating a string of attacks on visitors. The Parks Department and Health Department believe that this behavior has something to do with the squirrels being hungry monsters who've come to expect food from humans, and whose foraging skills have dulled as a result.
With that in mind, city agents ask you once again: Please refrain from offering the squirrels a meal or even a portion of yours. The squirrels in Rockefeller Park, specifically, are biting and scratching people with abandon, they don't give a heck whether you're God, or their father, or their boss, they're ready to rip that egg sandwich out of your hands and throw down as if this were a Long Island bagel shop and not a municipal greenspace.
The Parks Department had not responded to Gothamist's request for comment by press time, so we can't tell you exactly how many New Yorkers have been maimed by hangry squirrels in recent days. According to the Wall Street Journal, however, the department typically clocks about 30 squirrel-related injuries in a year, whereas the past week has seen multiple bitings and clawings. (None of the injuries have been serious.) A number of these assaults seem to have taken place on the playground, perhaps because it is littered with what would appear to be readily identifiable hunting targets.
"We don't bring food around in the stroller," one parent explained to ABC 7, "because I've seen them [the squirrels] go in people's strollers and know exactly where to go" to grab up all the snacks.
The Rules of New York currently provide for the legal feeding of birds and squirrels, but the city attracts an increasingly diverse array of animals—rowdy raccoons, yes, but also coyotes and deer and hot birds, on top of the old faithfuls (your megarats, your bodega possums)—and scattering food for one animal most likely means scattering food for all animals. Do you want to embolden the rodent army always writhing somewhere underneath your feet, teaching them to expect from humans delicious treats? Do you want to make these pests feel aggressively entitled to your pizza hand pie? No! No, you don't.
Realistically, the Parks Department would like for you to cease feeding the wildlife, full stop. This week, their officials will also meet with the Battery Park City Authority (which has jurisdiction over Rockefeller Park) to discuss how the squirrels might be barred from running roughshod over park-goers. In the meantime, please just keep in mind that in all its years tracking rabies in the city's wildlife, it has never diagnosed a squirrel with the disease. But, counterpoint, there's a first time for everything.