Photos and article by Donna Iverson
A lot of backyard animals, like rabbits, are hibernating. Many birds and ducks have flown south. And turtles are burrowed into the sides of creek beds. But squirrels seem not to notice that winter has arrived. Near me, numerous grey and black squirrels are hopping from tree limb to tree limb and occasionally foraging for nuts below. With leaves off the trees, their nests are visible everywhere.
One tree looks like a hotel for squirrels. These nests are made of twigs, leaves, and moss and lined with grass. It’s where the squirrels sleep at night unless the weather is extremely bitter cold. In that case, they find a cavity in a tree and make a leaf-lined den.
Often a squirrel will make three or four waterproof nests in different trees for easy getaways. Mostly, it is one squirrel per nest although they will occasionally double up. Their feeding range is around one to two miles from the nests. Food preferences include nuts, berries, pine seeds, and unripened corn. In Michigan, their favorite nuts are acorns and hickory nuts. And no, in my experience, no bird feeder is squirrel proof. Predators include foxes, coyotes, raccoons, cats, hawks, owls, snakes and weasels. Their life span is, on average, five to ten years.
The grey and its cousin the black squirrel are the most commonly seen in our area. But it’s the fox squirrel that delights me most. (Both squirrels are native to North America).The largest of our native squirrels, it is more often found on the ground rather than in the trees. It is a solitary animal, even described as anti-social. But that hasn’t been my experience.
It is the squirrel that hops alongside of me when I walk through the local park. And holds a pose for a photo while I fumble with my smartphone.
The fox squirrel’s coloring is more orange and grey with white circles around its eyes. Its food choices include flowers, insects, tree buds, and bird eggs, as well as the usual grey squirrel fare of acorns and other tree nuts. Although it is more of a ground squirrel, it can jump from tree limb to tree limb, an impressive 15 feet.
And the fox squirrel is smart. “I find them amusing and smart,” said a fellow admirer. “They have certainly outsmarted me.”