Bucky the squirrel a tourist attraction

When the weather turns warm, Bill Prahofer always ends up giving in to a certain freeloader who begs for free food from his restaurant, Buck’s Four Star Grill in Grant Park. He doesn’t mind sharing because the penniless patron is actually good for business.

Also, he’s a squirrel.

“Every year, there’s one squirrel that gets super friendly,” he says. “He will actually climb on me when I come every morning to deliver food.”

For the past three or four summers, the squirrel has not only become part of Prahofer’s daily routine, but he has also achieved fame with tourists who visit the restaurant specifically to meet the furry diner.

They call him Bucky.

“Some Australians found out about him because we post pictures on Facebook,” recalls Prahoffer. “They wanted to see squirrels because they don’t have them down there. They brought peanuts all the way just to feed him and take pictures.”

According to Liza Lehrer, Assistant Director of Lincoln Park Zoo’s Urban Wildlife Institute, Bucky’s behavior is typical for his species.

“The animals that thrive in Chicago are sort of flexible and can take advantage of human food resources,” she says.

“The tree squirrels that you often see are grey squirrels. We also have Fox squirrels. They’re a little bit bigger and have a rusty, orangish-red coloration. Research by UIC and the Nature Museum indicates that grey squirrels are better foragers and competitors.”

The Urban Wildlife Institute observes the animals that live in Chicago through a “long-term biodiversity camera project” that Lehrer describes as “the longest and broadest study of urban wildlife.”

With hundreds of covert cameras installed throughout Chicago, the project furthers the Institute’s mission “to understand how animals live in the city” and “learn how to coexist as our planet becomes more diverse.”

Besides squirrels, who spend most of the winter nesting in trees and surviving on carefully stored nuts, the cameras have recently begun to capture a good deal of foxes and coyotes.

Chicagoans can see the action by logging into the Zoo’s wildlife page.

— Daniel Patton, Staff Writer

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