What do squirrels in San Jose oaks speak about all day?

DEAR JOHANNA: We live in the hills and often hear tree squirrels in our oak trees screeching and cackling. I assumed they were warning others about predators, but you may have alternative information.

Mike Conniff, San Jose

DEAR MIKE: Most of the cluck and screeches are warning messages, but they rattle for other reasons.

Although sometimes it sounds like they’re talking, they aren’t. They “speak” and others, including predators, listen, but they do not speak back.

The most common noises squirrels make are sounds that warn of danger, be it from a predator or from another squirrel invading each other’s territory.

The primary warning sound is called “Kuk”. Depending on how great the danger is, it can be issued in quick succession, and a click often follows. Researchers believe it’s an instinctive sound and any squirrels that hear it know it’s in danger.

Predators also recognize the call and often give up their attack, as the call signals that they have lost the element of surprise.

Another sound that squirrels make is called “quaa,” which sounds a bit like a cat screeching. This means the threat level will drop, but squirrels will need to stay on the alert. It can also be a goodbye shot at predators that says, “We’re with you, don’t bother coming back.”

The “Quaa” is often followed by a “Quaa moan”, which is described as a chirping followed by a meow. Unlike other alarm calls, this one starts low, builds up, and then fades out. This makes it hard to tell where it came from and indicates that the squirrel can no longer see the predator, but since it could still be around, the squirrel doesn’t want to attract attention.

Squirrels also make a “muk-muk” sound, which has been described as a choked sneeze. Baby squirrels use it to tell their mothers that they are hungry, and horny male squirrels use it when they want to hunt females and mate. The call apparently reassures the woman that the man is not a threat and is only looking for love.

DEAR JOHANNA: Thank you for the information on rat elimination. We have had a visitor in the house for a while, but we don’t know what it is.

At first it looked like a lizard, but now I think it could be a rat. I’m trying to set up a camera because it likes my cat George’s dry food. Whatever that creature is, it actually took George’s whole plate, food and everything.

Where can I buy an electronic rat zapper and rat trap box? I bought the snap trap at a hardware store and used rat poison, but haven’t used it either.

Mary Ann Vigilanti, Oakland

DEAR MARY: You definitely need to find out what you are visiting and how it gets into the house before setting any traps other than those that capture but don’t kill. If it’s a lizard the size of a rat, someone’s escaped pet may come in.

You can find rat zapper and trap protection boxes in every hardware store. Please do not use the poison that could harm George. Find the entry points and seal them to avoid return visits.

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