Squirrels Nature Study December 6, 2022
Squirrels Nature Study December 6, 2022
We have a number of different squirrels in B.C. Some are indigenous and two are invasive. They can keep us entertained with their antics and inquisitive nature. Given a food source, most squirrels will go to tremendous lengths to get to it and have a snack. There are always stories of the mischief and destruction caused by squirrels. Most of us have heard the tales of squirrels that have filled up vehicle engine compartments with cones or damaged insulation in house walls. For all of that, they are engaging intelligent creatures with boundless energy.
Let us start with the most common squirrel in B.C.
American Red Squirrel /Tamiasciurus hudsonicus
The Red squirrel ranges across our province except in southern coastal regions. Tamiasciurus hudsonicus are one of a number of red squirrels found across north America. Red squirrels do not hibernate and spend most of their summer days gathering fruit, mushrooms, and cones. You will often find caches of empty seed cones and scales in large middens, sometimes several feet deep. Females enter estrus for only one day and will mate with several males. After a gestions of about 32 days she will give birth to 2-5 young. Young squirrels are mature and reach adult body size in about 125 days. They will breed sometime after their first year.
Nest are constructed of grass woven into the branches of trees. They often have several nests in a territory, and females with young move between nests. Red squirrels normally live from 3-5 years. Their most common predators are lynx, coyote, great horned owl, red-tailed hawk, crow, marten and fox.
Northern Flying Squirrel / Glaucomys sabrinus
Like the Red squirrel, the northern flying squirrel is found across most of the province. Glaucomys sabrinus are one of two species of flying squirrels in North America. They do not actually fly, but are able to glide by extending their fore and hind legs and unfolding a furred membrane. They have been observed gliding up to 100 meters. Most of their time is spent in the trees, but are able to hop or leap when on the ground but not run. They are nocturnal and live in dense forest of evergreen and sometimes aspen and cottonwood. Their diet consists mostly lichens and fungi. They will also consume berries, seeds, cones, insects and bird eggs. They also cache cones and nuts for the winter. They do not hibernate, but may sleep for several days during very cold weather. Nest are made in tree cavities and between forked branches close to the trunk. The nest consist of twigs, branches on the outside and moss, lichen and fine grass on the inside. Mating takes place in May and the young are born about 6 weeks later, typically 2-4 kits are born. They are weaned at about 2 ½ months and will try their first glide when they are 3 months old. It takes several week of practice to become skilled and hit your target. These squirrels often come to feed at feeders but because they are nocturnal, we seldom see them. It is a thrill when you hear that shrill chuck chuck chuck sound and can shine your flashlight of those big round eyes staring down at you from the squirrel feeder.
Douglas Squirrel / Tamiasciurus douglasii
This diminutive red bellied squirrel is found in the coastal rainforests of B.C. They are constantly on the lookout for seed bearing cones. They will spend the early morning hours at the tops of evergreen trees sniping the cones off and letting them fall to the ground. When they have dropped enough, they gather them up and cache them by a stump and under fallen logs. They will also eat berries, nuts, mushrooms, and birds eggs. Douglas squirrels are active year-round and collect large amounts of food to get them through the winter months. Like the red squirrel they have a single location of debris, a midden. These can be several feet deep and across.
Mating occurs in April and after a gestion of four weeks the young are born. Four is an average litter size. When they are weened at 2 months the young go off to establish their own territories. Juveniles are sexually mature after their first year. Douglas squirrels are very territorial and will defend their areas with loud chattering and scurrying up and down trees. During the summer they sleep in ball-shaped nest that they make in trees, but in winter they use tree cavities. Predators include martens, bobcats, owls, hawks and house cats.
We will continue with our squirrels next week.