Ottawa

Red squirrels going nuts for Ottawa couple's Christmas lights, but reason remains a mystery

Red squirrels have again chewed off and carried away hundreds of dollars worth of festive lights from one Ottawa neighbourhood, making spirits not so bright this Christmas.

'We're trying to figure out what they're doing with the bulbs': frustrated homeowner

A red squirrel investigates Christmas lights on Michael and Sarah McCabe's back deck in the Ottawa neighbourhood of Manor Park. (Michael McCabe)

Red squirrels have again chewed off and carried away hundreds of dollars worth of festive lights from one Ottawa neighbourhood, making spirits not so bright this Christmas.

Just why the bulb bandits are doing it remains a mystery, however.

It started last year when Michael and Sarah McCabe hung three 150-bulb strings on their backyard fence outside their home in the Manor Park neighbourhood — as they had for the past three decades. But a couple of weeks into December, the display mysteriously went dark.

When they investigated, the McCabes found the wires chewed through and several bulbs gone.

"We're trying to figure out what they're doing with the bulbs, because they cut the wire to both sides and we can't find them anywhere," Michael McCabe said.

Michael McCabe surveys the damage to the lights on his back deck. (Stu Mills/CBC)

This year, thinking the squirrels had objected to the lights atop the fence because they interfered with their backyard "highway," the McCabes moved the lights to their back deck.

But before December had even arrived, the rodents absconded with more bulbs — about $200 worth.

A few houses down the street, Bob Porter has had the same costly problem.

"I just replaced the strings two days ago. Heaven forbid they chew them again," Porter said.

Manor Park resident Bob Porter, who lives a few houses away from the McCabes, recently replaced his festive lights after squirrels destroyed the old ones. (Stu Mills/CBC)

Picky critters

There are several theories about why the squirrels appear determined to stop Christmas from coming.

Though the rascally rodents don't seem to favour any particular colour, they have indicated a preference for LED bulbs manufactured for Canadian retailers by the Chinese company Ting Shen — the very lights the McCabes began using last year.

But at least one retailer said it's unaware of the problem.

"This is the first time we have received customer feedback about squirrels damaging Christmas lights," wrote Meghan Furman, a spokesperson for Home Hardware, where the McCabes purchased their lights. "We take all customer concerns seriously and are looking into this unusual incident."

Porter purchased his Ting Shen-made lights, marketed under the Noma brand, from Canadian Tire.

Lights out: A squirrel absconds with a blue LED bulb at the McCabe home. (Michael McCabe)

"I feel their pain," said Bill Dowd, a former Ottawa 67's hockey player who started Skedaddle Humane Wildlife Control after hanging up his skates.

Dowd's company also installs seasonal lights and is frequently called upon to replace bulbs that have been stolen by red squirrels.

One theory suggests that the animals are drawn to the bulbs because they're tasty.

"Would you believe the plastic insulation that covers various electrical wires is soy-based?" police in Plainfield, Ill., posted online recently in an attempt to explain the phenomenon before citizens call to report the vandalism.

Rodents have also been blamed for taste-testing the bioplastic insulation used in modern automotive wiring.

WATCH | Squirrels rule the roost over family's festive decorations:

Squirrels wreak havoc on Ottawa family’s Christmas decorations

CBC News Ottawa

1 month agoVideo
1:27
For the second year in a row, Michael McCabe is up against a tiny thief who seems intent on removing the bulbs from his strings of Christmas lights. 1:27

Always experimenting

"They're wired to try out new stuff," explained Ottawa naturalist Dan Brunton.

But Brunton utterly rejects the theory that the rodents have been duped by either the flavour or shape of the bulbs.

"Nope. They'd know that after bite one," he said, explaining that the red squirrel's unique survival strategy is to constantly experiment, testing their environment for possible new food sources.

Before humans, houses and plastics appeared on the landscape, it was a sound strategy.

A red squirrel pauses to consider its next target. (Michael McCabe)

"They're applying wild techniques to urbanized human landscapes, and sometimes it can be really weird. But sometimes it works to their advantage," Brunton said.

The McCabes have had enough of the experimentation — they say that next year, they'll be keeping their Christmas lights inside the house.

About the Author

Stu Mills

CBC Ottawa reporter

You can reach Stu Mills by email at stu.mills@cbc.ca.

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now

now