PHOTOS: Denver squirrels eat at tiny picnic tables, having breakfast with this elderly couple

Buddy looked up from his feast of animal crackers, Oreos, peanuts, Nutter Butters and wafers Tuesday morning to regard his friend, Nutty, an occasional companion at these daily buffets.

“They take my best shelf in the pantry,” said Sherry Tenenbaum, whose feeding of the squirrels has become a daily, family-like ritual. “I gave (Buddy) M&M’s once and he just took the shells off and ate the chocolate. I don’t do that anymore.”

Sherry and husband Allan’s balcony-visits at their penthouse condo south of Denver have become important parts of their day. More important than they first realized.

“We don’t have any kids in the house anymore,” said Sherry, whose walls are covered with photos of her kids and their seven grandchildren. “I want a dog, desperately, and (Allan) won’t get me one because he doesn’t want to go up and down the elevator with it.”

As such, the feedings — which take place at a tiny wooden picnic table Sherry bought online (yes, the squirrels stand on the benches while eating) — are part of their wake-up routine, kicking off around 7:45 or 8 a.m. The Tenenbaums have lived in their sprawling condo for 24 years, but only recently stumbled upon this novel activity.

It started shortly before the pandemic, Sherry said, a sort of pigeon-feeding lark that happened spontaneously one day. COVID lockdowns brought them into sharper focus, though. What once was amusing, albeit strange, evolved into an emotional connection.

The trend is not unique to the Tenenbaums, though many devotees found it of their own accord. Atlanta’s Angela Hansberger, a freelance food writer, started setting out a tiny picnic table that her uncle custom-made for her, expecting squirrels to gobble up the walnuts. Instead, it attracted a hungry chipmunk. She began digging through her kids’ toy boxes for toys for the visitor, which she named Thelonious Monk.

“He’d taken a seat like a little person and had gobbled up all the nuts,” Hansberger said in a November profile in The Washington Post, which depicted her “tiny restaurant.”

TikTok and Instagram are full of such videos and photos; see Leslie the Squirrel, a Denver-based interloper who eats from a picnic table and has amassed a couple hundred followers on Instagram. Like the others, her tiny wooden table is often decorated with fresh flowers in miniature vases, and blue-and-white ceramic bowls that offer pine nuts and acorns.

As the Tenenbaums and others grappled with stay-at-home mandates, the wild seemed to be coming to them (or, at least, more people noticed it). Urban squirrels and birds eat food out of trash cans and dumpsters to begin with, and their attraction to these delicacies is no mystery.

Sherry knows the diet is often ridiculous. She’s mashing up sweet things, as if for a grandchild, despite having looked up what’s appropriate for squirrels to eat. Carbs are the breakfast of champions, sugary or no, and tiny donuts aren’t easy to find. (Don’t worry — Sherry and Allan also feed the squirrels pistachios and other healthy items.)

“He watches him for hours,” Sherry said of Allan. Perhaps unsurprisingly, she and her husband are both retired.

“I, along with other friends, find this story the sweetest, most endearing chapter of day-to-day life among the traumas facing all of us these days,” wrote Janey Lozow, a friend who plays in a mahjong group with Sherry, in an email to The Denver Post.

The scene contrasts with the sprawling interior, which is meticulously decorated with miniature glass-art pieces and fancy furniture. It’s cozy but (at least on this visit) orderly, whereas the squirrel-picnic seems to demand some sort of wobbly calliope soundtrack.

“Sometimes the birds (magpies, by the look of them) come and I shoo them away, but the squirrels don’t seem to mind,” Sherry said of the regular avian companions. “What surprises me is that there aren’t ten of them.”

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