Going nuts: UK’s Squirrel Watching Club is a place for all animal lovers


A campus squirrel sits on a tree branch on Monday, April 6, 2020, at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Jordan Prather | Staff file photo

Olivia Walton, Reporter

Fall is in the air at the University of Kentucky. The students know it, the leaves show it and the squirrels love it.

The recent increase in squirrel activity has been great news for the Squirrel Watching Club, a group made for squirrel fanatics and wildlife enthusiasts alike.

“To have a club where you can have similar interests over an animal and make it grow from that — I feel like I know a lot more about people because of the club,” club president and senior forestry major Haley Phillips said.

Every Friday afternoon, the club gathers outside the Starbucks entrance at William T. Young Library. Meetings begin with a very informal group discussion about animals. There is also time set aside for members to share photos of pets and animals.

“We talk about animals a lot. If someone wants to show a picture of their dog or their cat doing something funny, we look at that,” Phillips said.

Sometimes Phillips shows pictures of squirrels and shares facts about the tiny mammals with the group before moving on with the meeting.

After they have finished sharing, the group begins their weekly walk through campus.

Starting at Young Library, the club makes its way toward Sorority Row, past the Boone Center and into UK president Eli Capilouto’s backyard.

The club spends a decent amount of its meeting time in the president’s yard. Acorns crunch under their feet as members walk through the lawn to try and get a better view of their favorite animal friends.

“There’s all these different birds that come to the pond. The squirrels also make an appearance,” Phillips said.

Club members can be seen bending down, camera in hand, to try and get a snapshot of the squirrels before they climb up a tree or dart into a bush.

“I love the personalities of animals, and capturing a photo in the right moment can tell a story,” Kaylee Bliss, a freshman and new member in the club said.

Most of the time, club meetings are relatively small, but the crowd is still excited about watching animals and looking at plants.

“I’ve had multiple members say that their favorite part of the week is going to the meetings and just looking around at nature,” Phillips said.

Though in-person meetings are usually only five to 10 people, the club still sees a lot of activity in the club GroupMe, which boasts over 200 members. Club members send squirrel photos, memes and facts in the chat all week long.

“I do think the GroupMe is a big part of people’s enjoyment. I know I get really happy when I see a cute picture of an animal,” Phillips said.

The Squirrel Watching Club does not have an official advisor and is not listed as an organization on BBNvolved. The club Instagram account is its source for outreach and recruitment.

Oddly enough, the club’s biggest source of promotion does not come from its social media account but a rather non-traditional source — the UK tour guides.

“We all mention Squirrel Watching Club. I think most people on campus know that it exists because we mention it,” Joshua Griffith, a junior neuroscience major and a first-year tour guide, said.

Griffith gives two to three tours a week and mentions the Squirrel Watching Club to every group as he leads them through campus.

Most tour guides highlight the organization at the stop at Capilouto’s house.

As far as the future of the Squirrel Watching Club goes, Phillips is optimistic that many more members will join and meetings will start to draw more people. She wants to start adding more items to the club’s weekly agenda.

“I would love to get into more activities during meetings. There was an idea of getting rocks and painting them. That’s the next thing I would like to do, ” she said.

Phillips strives to make the Squirrel Watching Club a relaxed and inclusive group for everyone. When new members join, whether at in-person meetings or via GroupMe, she makes sure to send out a very clear message.

“Be welcoming and kind to everyone,” she said.