Fifty Shades of Grey - The Secret Lives of Squirrels

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Feeling a bit like you're stuck in a bad dream?   Tired of waking up to the view outside your window? It sure has been an interesting winter, not one we'll forget anytime soon.  If we're lucky spring is only 34 days away!  Don't know about you, but I can't wait.
There's a day for everything....really....I don't know who comes up with this stuff, but January 21 was National Squirrel Appreciation Day.  I can't figure out who declared an "appreciation" a day for these pesky creatures, but National Wildlife Federation had a blog about it so it must be true.  In weeding through and deleting old photos, it came to my attention that I have quite a few shots of my backyard visitors, some of which are pretty entertaining, so I thought it might be fun to poke a little fun at these little comedians and share some fun facts you may or may not be aware of.


Let's start with some facts:  Squirrels are from the rodent family, specifically the Sciuridae family.  Sciuridea means "shade-tailed" and refers to the bush tail which can shade a squirrel's whole body.  Squirrels account for about 40% of all the living mammals in the world, partly because they have successfully adapted to alterations made by humans and the environment.  Not surprisingly, squirrels prefer to live in urban areas and woodlands, especially where there are oak, beech, hickory or any tree that produces nuts.  Although squirrels are mostly vegetarians living mostly on nuts, berries and seeds (they are quite happy to share sunflower and other type seeds from your bird feeders), they are also known to enjoy tender spring buds from the trees and shrubs.
Sometimes just before spring when their buried stash has depleated, or when buried acorns have sprouted making them inedible (squirrels actually know this and don't eat them because once they sprout, they lack nutritional value!), squirrels might even eat eggs, or birds or smaller rodents.  I was shocked to see a squirrel sitting in my pine tree dining on a junco......Yuck!
A squirrel's lifespan is 3-7 years.  They normally have two litters a year, mating first in January with litters arriving about six weeks later generally consisting of 2-4 young..  The second mating occurs in late spring or early summer.  Baby squirrels are kits or kittens.  After about 7 or 8 weeks, the babies are weaned and leave the nest but never go more than two miles from their "home", unless the area is heavily populated and there is too much competition for food.  Now I know why I have such a large population!!
Squirrels teeth never stop growing.  They must gnaw on wood to keep them trimmed and sharp.  It takes some special choppers cracking all those acorns.  A squirrel's hind legs are double jointed allowing them to run up and down trees quickly, it's sharp claws helping them to 'hang-on'.  And when they let go - they can jump 20 feet and can run up to 20 mph!  They are quite the athletes!

-Squirrels are also clever.  Did you know that a squirrel will actually pretend to dig a hole and bury a nut, then cover it up when he hasn't actually buried anything?  That's to trick potential thieves.
-Squirrels can smell their buried treasures in up to 12" of snow!  They dig a tunnel and follow the scent of their (or their friends') buried snacks.  This year must be particularly challenging for them.



-Their memory is not quite as sharp as their sense of smell resulting in plenty of forgotten buried acorns - consequently, squirrels can be credited with replenishing the tree population!
-When squirrels feel threatened, they run in a zig-zag pattern to confuse their predators.  That might explain why they never just run straight across the street!
-In order to keep warm over the winter months (grey squirrels do not hibernate), they beef up by adding some extra fat.  I think this a good example of that....
-Squirrels have been known to be imposters, pretending to be something other than the furry creatures they are.  It is not uncommon to catch these bandits pretending to be hummingbirds.  After finding my feeders drained dry more than once, I finally set up a sting operation and caught the thieves red-handed!

- Although a newborn baby squirrel is only about an inch long, weighs about an ounce, has no fur and is blind, an adult squirrel weighs about 12-28oz and is between 9-12" long plus an additional 7-10" for their tail.
- Female squirrels only mate twice a year, but males mate more often.  (Yeah, you knew that!)  A male might try to get a females attention by slapping the bark of the trees with their paws and chattering loudly.  I think we refer to that as show-boating.  LOL.  Once the squirrels mate, the male has no responsibility in rearing the young.  C'mon guys, get with the program!
-Squirrels make their  homes (called dreys) in nests built in forks in tree branches using leaves, in tree hollows, or in empty bird houses - unless of course they can find better accommodations in your attic.  Grey squirrels often build several nests, using them all.  Females live alone in their nest with their young, but in the winter, nests are sometimes shared for warmth.
- A squirrels tail acts like a parachute.  It can fall 100 ft and land on earth unhurt!!!  That must come in hand when performing these sorts of tricks.....

- It's eyes are large and placed on either side of its head enabling it to see things behind it!  Their eyesight is said to better than a human's.  Human mothers only dream of having eyes on the sides of their heads!
- A very clean animal, the male squirrel takes twice as long to groom himself as a female!  (I'm not making this stuff up folks!)


It would appear that squirrels might be holy creatures as this guy seems to be particularly attached to St. Francis.
 So, as much as these mischievous critters make birdwatching a challenge, they do provide some warm-hearted entertainment.  Next time you're about to chase one from your yard, remember some of these facts and what interesting creatures they are.....and then chase them away!
Hope you enjoyed reading about the Secret Lives of Squirrels.  Come back soon to Life As I See It and if you like what you read, please tell a friend!  To read more about squirrels, links provided below!
 



Sciuridae
Sciuridae

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