Washington Post readers love Squirrel Week

Squirrel Week? It makes perfect sense to Washington Post columnist John Kelly.

“The Discovery Channel’s Shark Week is celebrating its 20th or 30th anniversary this year,” he says (25th, actually), “and I can see Squirrel Week going equally as long. People are more exposed to squirrels than to sharks.”

Kelly is wrapping up his second annual Squirrel Week in the Washington Post, and has given his readers well-researched stories about “speaking squirrel,” eating squirrels, and “famous” squirrels.

“Some of the columns are kind of silly, but I always try to get some science in there, and some facts,” Kelly tells Romenesko readers. “I’m amazed and delighted that there are people who study squirrels scientifically.”

The columnist got the idea for Squirrel Week after a reader asked him last year how long it would take for a squirrel to grow its tail back. Kelly found a university researcher in Illinois who was able to answer the question, then provide a list of other squirrel experts.

“I realized that there’s enough here for more than one column…and that there’s lot of people who study lots of elements of squirrels.”

Of course, there are critics of his squirrel coverage.

“I hear things like, ‘Look how far the mainstream media has fallen — the Washington Post is doing Squirrel Week.’ That comes from people who don’t know the Washington Post has a feature side, a playful side. Some think it only has a political side.

“I wouldn’t want to work for a newspaper that won’t make room for Squirrel Week.”

Kelly believes he’s found a new audience via his squirrel coverage.

“The column I [normally] do is very traditional, and I’m heartened to see that there are young, hipster-ish people reading it because, I’m sure, of the ludicrousness” of the stories about squirrel pot pie and the like.

Post deputy local editor/digital Jane Elizabeth says squirrels are an online hit. She writes in an email:

Our general squirrel gallery, in which readers upload their own photos, has been one of top “user-generated content” galleries since we published a “Squirrel Week” preview earlier this year. It’s remained in the Top 10 most popular user galleries, just slightly behind user-generated Cherry Blossoms photos. And well ahead of the “Post your Own Peeps” photo gallery. It even beat “Your Pet Photos.”

And people aren’t getting tired of squirrels. Squirrel-content page views so far this year already are 4 times greater than all of 2011.

Kelly is already preparing for Squirrel Week 2013 — there’s going to be an intriguing piece about squirrel robotics — and has plans to introduce Squirrel Week T-shirts, an idea that came from readers.

* Read this year’s collection of Squirrel Week stories