Acrobatics Nearly Beyond Belief From Bushytails
Gazing absent mindedly recently from the window in my living room, my eyes suddenly focused near the base of the large oak tree in the front yard. Three squirrels took shape, leaving a small, nagging question. I could not decide whether the squirrels were the wrong size or wrong color. I picked up my nearby binoculars for a better look; the squirrels were clearly gray.
Adult red squirrels are very small, but I wondered why a spring litter of gray squirrels were still so small. From my bookshelf I selected several reference books and found the answer.
Gray squirrels, it turns out, do not have one litter of young per year, they have two. The first litter is born from February to April, and the second litter, the little ones now out and about, are born in July and August. With two months to finish weaning and put some size and muscle on, my squirrels are just right to be chasing each other up and down the trees and across the lawn. While I watched, though, they did not seem inclined to travel far from the tree trunk that offered them some degree of safety aloft.
Squirrels have many predators, and not all of them are wild. Cats regularly kill squirrels. Suburban squirrels also must elude foxes, hawks and the occasional quick, aggressive dog. Squirrels in rural areas must escape from weasels, snakes, bobcats, coyotes and other predators that are always on the prowl.
Being wild creatures themselves, gray squirrels occasionally eat bird’s eggs and young birds. Primarily, though, squirrels eat nuts of multiple kinds, various seeds, grains, fruits, buds and more. Before my two large maple trees died I often watched squirrels feed on their seed pods that look like one-third of a helicopter’s rotor blades. I can remember tossing those pods in the air as a kid to watch them spiral to the ground.
Interestingly, the maple trees’ spiraling, flying seed pod serves the special purpose of spreading those seeds to allow maples to spread and grow. Gray squirrels sometime cache maple tree seed pods underground to eat later, but instead the seed pods occasionally grow into trees.
I love having squirrels on my property, the more the merrier. I marvel that many of those that feed birds hate squirrels for eating the birdseed they leave for their feathered friends. First, it seems only fair to share some seed with the squirrels. Second, all those people need do is change to bird feeders squirrels cannot reach.
Just for fun it might be worthwhile to have a bird feeder or two that squirrels have a chance to feed from, just use cheaper seeds. Watching the acrobatic antics of squirrels trying to defeat bird feeders can be outrageously funny, and certainly worth some bird seed.
Another reason I like squirrels on the property is because watching their climbing and jumping ability makes one shake his head with appreciative wonderment. There appears to be no end to their physical abilities. I have rarely seen a squirrel overestimate its ability by making a long leap and missing. Factually, squirrels can run up to 14-miles-per-hour, and jump six feet between trees or branches. Believe it or not, those pretty, bushy tails actually help squirrels balance when necessary.
It is likely that my squirrels do not travel outside an acre of where my oak tree stands. Some travel up to several acres, but usually if plenty of food is available they stay pretty close to home.
One thing I have never seen in my neighborhood is a melanistic, or black squirrel. They are not common in our region, though I had a friend that lived just off the Schuylkill Expressway near Philadelphia that had at least a half dozen melanistic squirrels on his street. They are also relatively common in northern Pennsylvania. An area of Lycoming County I frequented long ago housed many of them. Fact is the jet black squirrels are beautiful, and I would love to see them locally.
I love the hint of autumn in the air, and autumn is my favorite time of year. Autumn means winter is coming, but gray squirrels hold no fear of winter. They do cache food for tough times, and they do tend to move inside a den in a tree cavity to help stay warm and safe in winter.
My oak tree has long held a large, leafy squirrel nest, and I am sure it is put into use regularly – just not during winter.