Jeff Green | Feb 16, 2006
Back toHomeNature Reflections - February 6, 2006
The Red Squirrel
by Jean Griffin
There it goes, scampering quickly across the snowy lawn, its tail held above its body in a half-curl. This opportunistic animal knows that there will probably be sunflower seeds underneath the bird feeders and it is on the way to collect them. Reaching its goal, it soon sniffs out the seeds that are good, sometimes stopping to sit up on its haunches and holding the seed in its front paws, quickly having a snack. At other times it seems to be collecting only, and after finding a reasonable load will run off to a more sheltered area to enjoy a full dinner, or to hide a supply of seeds for future use.
Meanwhile, a second Red Squirrel has come to get its share of the loot, and when the first returns there is a scolding from one or the other, sometimes both, and the one that seems to be dominant will suddenly put the other to flight, rapidly chasing it over the ground, up, down, and around trees, or along fence rails. This chase goes on until one disappears, and usually the ‘winner’ will find a perch on a tree limb where it appears to be proclaiming victory, and telling the rest of the world "This is My territory". I sometimes wonder if the apparent disregard for possible danger during these chases results in a predator having dinner.
Back at the feeder the supply of uneaten seeds has disappeared - except - maybe up there in the bird feeder itself. An attempt to climb the pole is checked by a baffle - that won’t work. There is not a limb of a tree close enough to jump from, so on to a second feeder. Here, the wily animal is able to climb the pole and reach the feeder. But what is this? When it climbs onto the ledge from which the seeds are available - it shuts! It is a squirrel-proof feeder (at least, that’s what it claims to be!) which closes the feeding area when the weight is too heavy. Now the squirrel has to come up with a different plan of attack.
Over the years at least one and maybe more of the squirrels have learned to climb inside the feeder where the seeds are abundant. The answer to this has been a protective cover of wire mesh over the seeds, which foils the squirrel. Not to be outdone, the animal now tries a new approach. Coming out of the space under the overall cover of the feeder, it uses its hind feet to hang onto the upper lip of the feeder and is suspended upside-down so that it can now reach into the feeding area without causing the feeder to close. Upside-down feeding doesn’t seem to bother it at all!
As winter draws to a close the female will be interested in mating for a brief period and usually following an animated chase she will allow the male that privilege. A few weeks later she will give birth to three to seven young, which are weaned after seven to eight weeks, and three or four months later will leave the mother. From then until another mating season, each squirrel will live a solitary life - collecting leaves, seeds, fungi, cones, and maybe bird eggs or young. Those that survive predators will be back under the feeders next winter!