Squirrels

Squirrel Life

Just as squirrels grace our backyard gardens with their abundant activity, so too there has been a great deal written about squirrels. So I have decided to focus on a few (hopefully) unusual questions I have about squirrel life.

Where do squirrel babies live?

Squirrels' favorite nest location is a hollow tree. For this reason, it is important not to cut down dead trees on your property.

If a hollow tree is not available, fox squirrels (a common tree-dwelling squirrel in the United States) build nests out of leaves. They do this so carefully that the nests become waterproof. Inside they place softer materials such as moss.

Even with these nest-building precautions, baby squirrels still sometimes fall out of trees. If you discover a baby squirrel on the ground, check the surrounding area for its siblings. Warm the squirrels up with your hands and leave them at the base of the tree. Then leave the area. The mother squirrel will usually rescue them within an hour (do not worry about her being put off by your scent; it is more important to warm the squirrels up before leaving them). If the mother does not arrive within an hour, it is possible that the babies are orphans. Then it is best to take them a local wildlife rehabilitation organization.

Why are squirrels so important to forests?

Squirrels play a vital forest-building role that they do not intend. When they collect food for the winter, they bury it or place it in piles called middens. They never really know how much food they will need for the winter. The seeds and acorns that they fail to dig up often sprout into new plants. Squirrels not only enliven the forest by helping plants to spread, but they also make the forest lively through their acrobatics and chattering noises.

Squirrels also eat flowers, seeds, insects, and even frogs. Fox squirrels locate their hidden caches of food by following a scent trail.

What is the function of a squirrel's tail?

The lovely curved tails of tree-dwelling squirrels are their key characteristic. California's Western gray squirrels have long tails to assist in climbing. The tails of fox squirrels are shorter. These squirrels rely more on their hind legs for climbing and jumping.

A Quest for Squirrels

It is easy to view squirrels in most neighborhoods. In our old neighborhood full of 20-year-old trees, tree-dwelling squirrels were abundant. In our new neighborhood located in former ranchland, ground squirrels are more common.

In our old neighborhood, as a Christmas treat for the animals, I decided to build what I hoped would be a bird feeder for our backyard. My daughter, who was 15 months old at the time, helped make a simple feeder from an orange peel. Instructions are available here.

Within seconds of hanging this feeder, a daring squirrel came along and through stretching worthy of a yogi, gobbled up all of our Christmas gift to the wildlife! My daughter giggled at the scene, and I took blurry photos.

I have just tried to do a correct identification on this squirrel, and it actually looks like the Eastern fox squirrel, also known as the Eastern red squirrel, a species introduced to California. Our local wildlife rehabilitation center received 435 squirrels of this species in the year 2000, so that data would indicate that they are common in our area. The largest tree-dwelling squirrel native to California is the Western gray squirrel. It does not have a reddish tinge to its fur. Now that I am more attuned to the differences, I will be on the lookout for a Western gray as well.

Another interesting fact about squirrel habitat and range is that one squirrel usually has a range of 10 to 40 acres, which I consider to be a huge number. When I think of my old neighborhood, there certainly seemed to be way more squirrels than 1 per 10 acres. However, I then found out that ranges can overlap. Probably multiple squirrels visited our old yard daily.