Central Park Squirrel Census is happening and needs volunteers

The Central Park Squirrel Census will take place between Oct. 6 and Oct. 20.
The Central Park Squirrel Census will take place between Oct. 6 and Oct. 20. Photo Credit: Ivan Pereira

This might sound a little nutty, but bear with us: Volunteers are needed to help count how many squirrels are in Central Park.

The Squirrel Census, an award-winning project dedicated to documenting Eastern gray squirrels, will count the furry four-legged creatures in Manhattan’s largest park from Oct. 6 through Oct. 20. The results of the data gathering will be released as a multimedia, interactive map of Central Park.

"It just made sense to give ourselves the biggest challenge that we could," Jamie Allen, creator of the Squirrel Census, said of his decision to tackle Central Park. "We consider it the moon of parks."

Allen works with a team of seven people who specialize in fields ranging from cartography and design to animal science, field command and logistics.

The Central Park Squirrel Census is looking for volunteers.
The Central Park Squirrel Census is looking for volunteers. Photo Credit: Getty Images / iStockphoto / art4stock

In order to achieve their goal, they’ll need to rely on hundreds of “responsible, detail-oriented” volunteers who are 14 years or older, according to the Squirrel Census website. Younger children can also participate as long as they’re accompanied by an adult.

"It’s a unique way to look at the urban greenspace," Allen said. "You will see [the park] through the eyes of the squirrel and you will learn the personalities of the Central Park squirrels."

So-called squirrel sighters can sign up for 2.5-hour shifts (7:30 a.m.-10 a.m. or 4 p.m.-6:30 p.m.) to peruse one of four areas of the park and document as many squirrels as possible.

New volunteers will receive an orientation packet and in-person tutorial before their first shift. Volunteers also will be provided with all the tools needed for squirrel counting, including pencils, clipboards, tally sheets and maps.

Allen said the census is not only fun but educational. "There’s a lot of value in gathering the data that we’re gathering and I think when we present our census people will really see that."

The mayor’s office tweeted about the census on Tuesday, encouraging people to sign up but also reminding everyone to, “count with your eyes, not your hands.”

While New York City squirrels – especially in heavily tourist-trafficked Central Park – may seem friendlier than the kinds you would find up in the mountains, it is important to remember they are wild animals that can bite.

The city Department of Parks and Recreation also warns parkgoers against feeding squirrels.

“Feeding a squirrel can make them less fearful of humans, which can also hurt them in the long run,” the parks department website says.

Anyone who spots an injured squirrel should not get too close and call 311 to report it.

NYC Parks Wildlife Unit Director Richard Simon, who supports the census, said the more that New Yorkers can learn about squirrels, the easier it is to coexist with them.

"We like to think of squirrels as the unofficial mascots of New York City," Simon added. "We hope park-lovers will come out and help count these furry New Yorkers in the name of science and the great outdoors."

This will be the third official census by Allen and his team. The group previously counted squirrels in Atlanta’s Inman Park in 2012 and in 2015.

There will be a kick-off event at Mineral Springs, north of Sheep Meadow between 69th and 70th streets, at the beginning of the morning shift on Oct. 6. Volunteers who sign up for four or more shifts will also receive a package of Central Park Squirrel Census merchandise.