Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Squirrely characters

By Larry Cornelis – President, Sydenham Field Naturalists

Like them or not, you have to admit squirrels are industrious, have great ingenuity, are skillful
acrobats and sometimes entertaining.

I’m talking about the Eastern Gray Squirrel, Sciurus carolinensis.

The Latin name means ‘one who sits in its own shade’, referring to the large bushy tail.

The Eastern Gray has two colour phases, gray and black.

The gray isn’t actually gray and has black, brown and white hairs tipped in white which gives it that gray colouring.

Gray phases are more common in the south, blacks more common in the north of their range.

It’s suggested that the black colour keeps the squirrel warmer in the winter sun, a bonus in the cold north.

Submitted Photo

The eastern gray squirrels’ range matches that of the eastern deciduous forest, basically any wooded habitat from the Mississippi to the east coast including our Carolinian Life Zone.

Gray squirrels have been introduced from California to British Columbia and even England where it is out-competing the English Squirrel which is now a species at risk there.

Bad move!

In our region, we see more black phases than gray.

There is also a rare white phase and if you would like to see one, go to the town of Exeter, lots of whites there for some reason.

The eastern gray squirrel is very common in urban settings.

They can be overpopulated, having few predators controlling their numbers.

This can be a problem, as too many squirrels in your backyard can result in some damage of trees, gardens and buildings.

They love to get into buildings and build nests (called a drey) which is not a good thing.

Their natural predators include mink, weasel, fox, fisher, lynx, bobcat, coyote, wolf, raccoon, large snakes, hawks and owls.

Not too many of those in town with the exception of raccoons.

Dogs and cats kill squirrels too and cars are their number one enemy in urban spaces.

They eat a lot of plant materials including plump spring buds on maples, elms and basswoods, flowers, and later the developing seeds like the samaras of maples and elms.

They will also peel bark from the branches of maples to get to the sweet sap, damaging and sometimes killing the branch.

They are predominately nut eaters, oak acorns, walnuts… but will also eat bulbs, insects, bird eggs, baby birds and other seeds.

They’ll also eat your pumpkins in the fall.

Squirrels can be frustrating for people with a backyard bird feeder station.

I finally built a squirrel-proof feeder station which has saved me a lot of stress and money.

Money because of all the expensive food they eat and the feeders they destroy getting at the feed.

Still, I think I have the fattest squirrels in town as there is sometimes quite a crowd of them below the feeders.

Squirrels are in the rodent family.

I have stated that if I could catch all the squirrels in town and shave their tails and release them, people wouldn’t come out of there homes afraid of the rat invasion.

That bushy tail of the eastern gray is pretty.

In our region we have four species of squirrel.

The gray, fox, red and southern flying squirrel.

Submitted Photo

Red squirrels, which are smaller and tend to have a less bushy tail, are found in areas with evergreens.

They eat cone seeds a lot.

Fox squirrel is an introduction to Pelee Island from Ohio.

It’s a larger, more docile squirrel.

In the Carolinian Zone, we also have the southern flying squirrel.

Basically, a nocturnal species that is seldom seen.

North of the Carolinian Zone, in the mixed forests is the northern flying squirrel.

I’m trying to love my squirrels and they can be fun to watch.

For more details about the group, visit: http://www.sydenhamfieldnaturalists.ca/

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