Neighborhood Critters – Squirrels

Squirrels consistently win the “most popular” title among urban wildlife. These endearing little creatures are skilled acrobats that thoroughly entertain us as they scurry through relatively short lives of 3-4 years.

Numerous squirrel species in North America are commonly defined as either tree or ground squirrels.  The variety most often found in the city are tree squirrels.

Stature: Depending upon species, a tree  squirrel’s body ranges from 4-15 inches with a tail of equal length.  Weight at maturity varies from just 8 ounces to 3 pounds.

Personality:  Squirrels are diurnal creatures that are most active at dawn and dusk when they look for food. They can jump distances of up to 20 feet and can land safely from 30 foot heights. Their double-jointed hind feet are an asset for scrambling up and down trees, and their thick tails help them balance. They like sitting upright on their hind legs to leverage their good eyesight and sense of smell.  Tree squirrels store and hide food in the fall for winter consumption since they do not hibernate.

Habitat: Lucky city dwellers find these sweet furry faces in local parks and gardens. As you might suspect, this squirrel makes its home in trees, either a cavity or a nest of twigs and leaves located in the upper branches.

Diet: Everyone knows that squirrels love nuts and acorns, but they also enjoy tree bark, fungi, buds, leaves, fruits, shoots, and flowers.  Perhaps surprisingly, squirrels are not passive vegetarians and will occasionally eat bird eggs or nestlings. Squirrels are also inadvertent tree planters when nuts hidden in the ground sprout in the spring if not eaten.

Getting Along: Squirrels are the undisputed champs at living in human altered environments.  They present no dangers to people, but can sometimes be annoying even to those who treasure their presence.  If the resourceful critters take up residency in your chimney or attic, you can exclude squirrels humanely. Wait for them to leave as they usually do during the day.  After making sure that no babies were left in the nest, seal the opening. If young squirrels are present, you will need to wait until they are old enough to join parents on the daily hunt for food.  While some solutions to keeping squirrels out of bird feeders are inhumane, there are acceptable “squirrel proof” feeders on the market that do the trick.  The other squirrel problem you may encounter is their inclination to help themselves in the garden or fruit trees. Solution: stop and think!  When were you last able to eat all the fruit and vegetables you grow?  The opportunity to share extra food is a small price to pay for the joy squirrels can bring to your city life.

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